This past Friday over 500 Massachusetts insurance industry professionals came out to celebrate the career of Francis A. Mancini, Esq. as he received the 2014 Insurance Professional of the Year award
An ardent supporter of the American Agency System and of the important role that independent insurance agents provide to both the economy and communities within the Commonwealth, Francis A. Mancini, Esq., has been championing the cause of the independent insurance agents of Massachusetts for over 40 years; First as the predecessor of the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents (“MAIA”) Director of Government Affairs, and then eventually as the MAIA’s President and CEO. Over the course of his career, and the ups and downs that have occurred within the Massachusetts insurance industry, Mr. Mancini has remained a constant, helping the independent insurance agents of the Commonwealth navigate, survive and thrive through Association mergers, Legislative Bills, industry consolidation and the introduction of Managed Competition.
On October 31st, the industry took a moment to reflect upon Mr. Mancini’s dedication and service not only to the over 10,000 members he represents as the head of the MAIA, but, to the Massachusetts industry as well. Over 500 members of the Massachusetts insurance industry came from every corner of the Commonwealth to help celebrate Mr. Mancini’s career and selection as the 2014 Insurance Professional of the Year.
Established in 2002 by the Richard Simches Fund, the Insurance Professional of the Year Award is presented each year to “…a person who demonstrates leadership and exemplifies those qualities that engender understanding of and respect for the insurance industry.” The selection process is conducted by a cross-section of the insurance industry and as such carries with it that added significance. In honor of his achievement, Agency Checklists spoke with Mr. Mancini to get his thoughts about winning this award, the state of the Massachusetts insurance industry and how the independent insurance agents and businesses he represents are faring here.
How does it feel to be the 2014 Insurance Professional of the Year?
Well overall, I would say that I am very humbled by the recognition and happy that this award is coming my way. Certainly, when you look at the list of past winners, there are some very big names there on that list that I will be joining.
I do think a lot of this recognition has to do with my role here at the Association, and so it’s important to note the fact that I am not the only person who works here. A lot of the credit also goes to the Association’s staff, many of whom have been here for decades.
I am just the person who people see waving the baton around, but I share this award with a lot of people who have helped and continue to help me: the Association’s staff, my family, the independent agents on the MAIA’s Board of Directors, to name a few.
The Insurance Professional of the Year Award is presented each year to “…a person who demonstrates leadership and exemplifies those qualities that engender understanding of and respect for the insurance industry.”
Looking back over your career, tell us how you started as a lawyer and ended up as the President and CEO of the MAIA?
Well I first came to the MAIA in 1974. At that time I was in graduate school at Tufts, studying to get my Masters in Political Science. In addition to my studies, I also was working in the State House as an administrative assistant to a Representative on the Committee on Insurance of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
While working there, I learned that the then Massachusetts Association of Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers, the predecessor of the MAIA, was looking for a lobbyist. I thought it a great opportunity and so I decided to go and work for them. I ended up working there for 14 years as the Association’s Director of Government Affairs.
In 1988, I left the Association for a job with the Insurance Institute for Property Loss Reduction. The current organization is a lot different from the one that I worked for. When I joined them as their Counsel and Corporate Secretary, they were doing Legislative work around the country and in Washington, D.C. Today the organization is now more focused on mitigation rather than legislative work.
After about five years with the Institute, I was contacted again by the MAIA. The then Executive Vice President of the Association, Bill Kilmain, was retiring from the Association. A couple of folks called me to see if I would be interested in coming back to become the head of the Association. I was, and so in 1994 I came back to the MAIA and have been here ever since.
And now 20 years on, why do you think you have stayed so long at the Association?
That’s easy – the people that I work for, the insurance agents, is why. They are just great people to work for. They are not just agents, but small business men and women in their communities who are active in all sorts of community and charity organizations. Agents are just down to earth people and I enjoy working for them.
The other thing that keeps the job interesting is helping our members by fighting for them. Whether in providing information to companies or regulators; the DOI or RMV or wherever; or helping advise the Legislature on legislative matters; the challenges of providing these entities with the right information they should have in order to help not only our members, but the consumers that our members insure, has always been and continues to be a challenge that I enjoy.
For example, when Managed Competition came into Massachusetts, one of the things that was going to disappear was the Board of Appeals. The former Commissioner of Insurance, Nonnie Burnes, said that insureds could simply go to their companies to appeal a surcharge.
We fought in the Legislature to get the Appeal Board to remain in place in the new system because we knew that not only was this good for our members but that it was also good for the consumers they represent. There are a number of pieces of legislation similar to that that have been a challenge to work on but that have kept me at this job this long.
What do you think has been your greatest challenge during your tenure at the MAIA? Your greatest achievement?
The greatest challenge I guess that we have face as an Association was the move to Managed Competition for private passenger automobile insurance. We had had a system here that was really entrenched and had existed for decades and decades, really since the 1920s. The rates were fixed and established, it was a plain vanilla type of automobile insurance, everything was the same, no competition, and then practically overnight, it all changed. I believe from the time the Commissioner announced the change in July or August of 2007 to the actual implementation of Managed Competition in April 2008, there was less than a year. This was a real shock to our members as well as to many of the small regional companies who did business here at that time.
I can remember some long days working with companies and with CAR at the time. We had to do so much in such a short time, it was quite a challenge. With our efforts, we helped our members continue to be viable in the marketplace, I am so proud of both the independent agents of Massachusetts as well as the MAIA in what we did during that change in order to meet the challenge of the new system.
Aside from that, I think one of the greatest achievements was finalizing the merger of the two independent agent associations in Massachusetts. When I came to the Association in 1994, the merger between the MAIA and the PIA had just taken place and there was still an awful lot of loose ends that had to be put together. This is not something that I did alone, I had a great Board of Directors working with me, and we all worked hard to make sure the merger worked for the Association and more importantly for the agents.
And I think it’s one of my greatest achievements because I think we are better off here in Massachusetts to have the association merged. We have a united group with one voice in the Legislature and in the industry. So if I had to point to one achievement that would be it.
Looking to the future, what is your outlook on the Massachusetts insurance industry and the independent insurance agency system here in Massachusetts?
I think the industry here in Massachusetts responded very well to Managed Competition. I remember in the summer of 2007, there was a great deal of anxiety, particularly in the agent community, about what exactly was going to happen. At that time, many companies only did business in Massachusetts or other New England states and so the agents here were not so sure that these companies would be able to step up and respond as competitors in this new marketplace by offering competitive auto insurance products, simply because they had never had to do it before.
But, not only did these companies step up to the plate, but I think the agents did as well. Many agents essentially had to change their whole way of doing business. Prior to Managed Competition, many agents simply never had had to sell auto insurance. That all changed overnight. Now, they had to round out their staffs and not only have people taking customer orders but they have to have them sell multiple insurance products.
Overall, I think the Association and our members have weathered these six or seven years well. Even though big companies have come in and agents have lost market share – never a good thing nor something we want to see – they have not lost as much as they thought they were going to lose with the advent of Managed Competition.
Massachusetts agents currently write between 67 or 68 percent of personal auto insurance in the state which is by far the highest percent in the country. I think the average across the rest of the country is 33 or 34 percent. So we are just about double the average.
I am sure there will be further erosion of our agents’ market share, but Massachusetts agents have held their own. Credit should also be given to insurance companies too, as they have offered the insurance products that agents need to compete. Initially, that was one of the things that agents thought companies might not be able to do, but they have.
So, looking towards the future, I think both independent agents and agent companies certainly have a future here and any doom or gloom that might be spread about should be ignored.
Are you worried about the continued consolidation of the independent insurance agency system? What other trends do you see that are worth mentioning?
The consolidation that is going on and that has gone on in Massachusetts for the last few years is a trend that we already had been seeing in other parts of the country. One of the reasons it did not happen here sooner is because of the old “fix and establish” system [of automobile insurance].
Once Managed Competition happened here, it forced many agencies to make a decision whether it was to sell or to merge. Many sold, many merged, many joined aggregators, which besides having their pluses and minuses, allows a small, independent agent to remain independent.
Aside from the consolidation, another interesting trend we are seeing is the number of new agencies being created. While our membership has been reduced by consolidation, it has been somewhat mitigated by the creation of new agencies. A lot of people, who see what a great industry and career owning an agency can be or who were let go because of an agency merger have decided to start their own [agencies], which is great.
As a result, based on our economic impact studies, while there are fewer agencies overall, these agencies still employ about the same number of employees, roughly 10,000 – 11,000.
Next week will be the MAIA’s annual Big Event. In this age of on-line information and social media connections why do you think events like The Big Event are still important?
I think something that agents have gone to for years and years. They see it as the big event of the insurance industry for the year. The networking is the most important part of the big event after the educational seminars. We give a lot of opportunities to have [continuing] ed needs met, after that networking is the most important. We don’t do enough face to face stuff anymore, it’s very important to keep in contact personally, whether it be vendors at the trade show or people they meet at seminars or they might develop a business relationship with people at the reception you meet. For my standpoint that is a very important part, we’ll have 2000 people over Friday and Saturday, it’s the largest agents convention in the country.
Some states unfortunately don’t have conventions any more. It’s a lot of work. I watch the work all year putting together 130 exhibitors and the receptions and making sure the right count for lunch. Some states have decided that their efforts are best used someplace else.
What is the most important thing you think Massachusetts insurance professionals can take away from attending the Big Event?
I think we have something for everyone at The Big Event. The seminars are very important, but for me it is certainly the face time you have with other professionals that is the most important. Maybe you go to your insurance company’s booth and you find that your underwriter is there, someone that you might never have actually met. Or it could be your field person. Or, maybe it’s the agency management system booth where you have the opportunity to learn something new.
It is these impromptu opportunities to meet and establish relationships within the industry that are so important and prove to be valuable to an agent over and over again. It’s the personal relationships that people can make and maintain from The Big Event which is so unique.
What do you do at The Big Event?
Well, I have many different assignments at the Big Event. For example, I run the Association’s Annual Meeting as well as the Gourmet Luncheon we hold on Friday. My most significant assignment, however, is walking around and talking to as many people as I can. Whether they are agency people, company people, the people who come to teach the seminars, or the people who exhibit, it really is a unique opportunity to meet a wide cross-section of our industry face-to-face and to establish personal relationships with them.
Taking stock, what piece of advice would you give Massachusetts insurance professionals today?
I don’t know how many times over the last 40 years that I have heard of the imminent demise of the independent insurance agency system. We heard it 15 years ago when banks were given the authority to sell insurance, and then shortly after that, we started hearing it with the advent of the internet and the ability to sell insurance over it. Going even further back it was the rise of 800 numbers and direct mail – all of these activities at one point were at any moment going to put agents out of business. They haven’t yet and I do not think they ever will either.
So my advice to agents and agent companies is this: You have done a good job building up the book of business and markets share in Massachusetts. Don’t abandon each other, maintain your relationships with one another and your customers will stay.
And how long do you think you will stay with the MAIA and the MA insurance industry?
I still enjoy the job, there are still a lot of challenges to be met and so as long as I continue to enjoy what I am doing and they continue to want to have me here, I’ll be here.