Last month CNA announced that Massachusetts-native Charlie O’Donnell would now be based in its Boston office as its Commercial Underwriting Officer for New England. CNA said that in this position Mr. O’Donnell will be adding local underwriting leadership and technical underwriting capabilities to the New England-area branch in order “…to strengthen relationships with producers…” With CNA touted as the seventh largest U.S. commercial insurance entity and the 13th largest property & casualty insurer in the U.S., Agency Checklists thought agents might be interested to find out a little more about Mr. O’Donnell as well as his plans for CNA in New England.
Why don’t you tell our readers a little bit more about yourself?
Sure. I’m a Massachusetts native. I was born in South Hadley which is in western Mass. I started my insurance career with the St. Paul Companies, which has since been acquired by Travelers. I spent 19 years in total with St. Paul, five of them in the Boston office. I went through St. Paul’s underwriting training program and then held various underwriting and management positions with the company. I also worked for five years with Zurich Financial, where I held various management positions. When I left there, I was vice president of commercial markets.
I have been a Commercial Underwriting Officer for CNA for about 21 months. I started with CNA in Dallas where I managed the states of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. I have done a lateral move to Boston with the same position, but now I am responsible for the states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.
What are your plans for the area?
I think the key part of my job certainly will be to execute underwriting strategies for our distributors and producers. That is, to provide specific technical expertise that CNA is driving into the marketplace. I also am going to try to extend or expand CNA’s geographic reach throughout Massachusetts. While we do have agents licensed throughout the state, I would like to be able to expand upon that and to reach all parts of the state. In addition, I also will be managing our mix of business in our portfolio and I plan to try to reach out to our key distributors and establish strong relationships with those folks. I truly believe insurance is a people business and you need to know your agents and distributors. Hopefully I’ll be able to [both] re-establish and establish new relationships with agents.
Are you presently in the posture of looking for quality agents in a particular territory, for example in western or central Mass?
You know I think CNA’s philosophy with regards to distribution of agents is to find agents that a have a good match with our business.
And what would a good match be for CNA? What would be your target market? What products do you have?
Our industry segments are construction, manufacturing, technology, health care, small business, professional services and financial institutions.
For agents in Massachusetts that have appointments or acquire appointments with CNA, what do they get access to in terms of your company dividing its products between its commercial and specialties areas?
Agents have a full contract with CNA.
Now does CNA offer agents services centers for writing small commercial stuff so that it is pretty much handled by the company?
CNA does have its “Agency Center” where agents can go in and which allows the agents direct access and lets them keep control of the customers.
With the small business product, we actually have field representatives that are very visible in the agents’ offices and work directly with them on that product. There’s no service center. It’s all done through our proprietary rating system and then we have field underwriters and managers, BVPs and myself who deal directly with the agents. So, all of our contact with our distribution system is basically through live people.
You used the word “distributor relationships” a couple of times – how broad is that term in your opinion?
Most of our retail is through straight agency appointment. There are certain parts of CNA that will go through wholesalers, particularly on the specialty side of the house. We also will consider aggregators but, that’s a very small part of our operation. So, I would say most of our premium is written with agents. A significantly smaller part is through wholesalers and then there are the aggregators which is extremely small.
Now, if an agent wanted to talk to CNA about an appointment, how would they go about it?
Well, we have business development leaders which is kind of our – I’ll use the term marketing although I don’t really like that term – which is our direct face with our distributors in all parts of the country and that’s probably the first contact point of CNA. Then there is also the branch vice president and the Commercial Underwriting Officer [my position] who get involved in analyzing and deciding if and how we are going to add more distributors to our operation. We have a very strong representation in the state of Massachusetts and I think the agents know who we are and they know how to access us if they are truly looking at CNA.
Do you see CNA having any challenges in the New England and Massachusetts market as opposed to other markets?
I think we face the same challenges as our peer companies. We’re constantly trying to improve our underwriting portfolio, trying to grow the book of new business and do it profitably. So I would say profitable growth and the constant improvement of the existing portfolio are our biggest challenges.
Does CNA offer agents any particular incentives that you can share with us? We know everyone’s got profit sharing and the like – we were just wondering if there are any other things that CNA may offer its agents that other companies do not.
Yes. CNA has what’s called source schools which cover various areas of the company. For instance, we did a manufacturing source school where we brought agents in, talked about our products, the services we can deliver from a risk control side and a claim side. We also have source schools in the construction area for various topics that are important in the contracting area. So I think from a company standpoint we do offer those incentives.
There been sort of these rumblings of hard market. Do you see that potentially coming?
I would say that there’s been probably strengthening over the last couple quarters. I don’t know if anyone in the industry can truly define hard markets. I hate to use that term. But I think we’ve definitely reported out in our quarterly earnings that we’ve seen price strengthening in the insurance market place in the United States.
What are your thoughts if the market does harden? What advice would you be giving to agents?
I just think that we are well positioned to underwrite business given any market condition.
Looking down the line to here, you know, three to five years, what would, how would you measure success for your tenure in this position?
Well, I think first is growing the book and maintaining profitability. So strong profitable growth for the book of business and strong and deeper distributor relationships. I would hope we would be considered a company that provides superior service; service from a policy issuance standpoint to claims to risk engineering to premium audit. I would hope that we are viewed as an innovative and collaborative company. That we solve problems and that we work with our distributors to help them be successful. It is a partnership between CNA and our agents; we succeed when they succeed.