On March 23, 2016, the New England Insurance Group Network (Network) (“NEIGN”) held its first- ever annual joint meeting. The event, held at the Newton Marriott, united the Network’s sixteen member agencies along with NEIGN’s partner commercial lines insurance carriers. Three additional vendors the Network recommends were also in attendance. The purpose of the event was to hold a structured series of short individual meetings between the insurance carriers and insurance agencies attending, in order to foster a stronger and better partnership between the Network’s members and the Network’s commercial lines carriers.
An invitation to see the kickoff event
The Network’s principals invited Agency Checklists to attend the kickoff event to see the round-robin format in action and to interview members of NEIGN as well as the companies. Delighted to be invited, we were interested to attend and to see first hand how the event would go. From what we saw and heard, the event generated good attendance and favorable comments from both carriers and agency attendees.
It’s 10:30 AM- Do you know where your next table is?
The agenda for the meeting had events planned from 8:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. The schedule opened with breakfast in the ballroom, followed by opening remarks from Ed Lukatsky, president of the network. After welcoming company and agency personnel, Mr. Lukatsky explained the format for scheduling the 3‑hour round robin of company agent agency interactions.
Insurance companies and vendors had assigned tables in the Grand Ballroom. Beginning promptly at 9:00 a.m., the agencies started table hopping via a “table rotation chart” contained in the meeting’s playbook. Each meeting at a company or vendor’s table lasted seven minutes. At the end of each seven-minute session, the agencies had one minute to move to the next table in their rotation, while company representatives remained at their assigned tables.
In total, the movement through the sixteen tables took the Network’s agencies approximately three hours, which also included three short coffee breaks for all of the participants.
After the morning round-robin, lunch followed from 12:00 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. The Network engaged a local comedian, Mr. Steve Sweeney, as a guest performer for the entertainment of the luncheon attendees. Mr. Sweeney, a well-known Boston comedian who got his start in Cambridge at Inman Square’s Ding Ho Comedy Club, has performed with then up and coming comedians such as Lenny Clarke, Denis Leary, and Jay Leno.
Purpose of meeting to develop information exchange between agency-company partners
According the Ed Lukatsky, President of the Network, the main goal of the meeting was to allow the member agencies to bring the personnel that interact the most with the Network’s partner companies. Unlike other network meetings, Mr. Lukatsky believes the NEIGN is unique in that it emphasized the importance of bringing an agency member’s staff to the event. As a result, in one day, agency staff members were able to meet every underwriter for their companies and to accomplish things that could otherwise take a year or two in the ordinary course of company agency meetings.
Another important goal of the NEIGN event was to gather both a company’s marketing and underwriting personnel at the same table. Agency members were given an opportune time to meet and discuss, all in one place, a company’s appetite for business, and the criteria for submitting risks. Finally, it was also an invaluable opportunity, in many cases, to let agency and company people to meet in person and most importantly to put a face with a name. For many who already have done business together, it was a way to cement interpersonal relationships that are so important in agency-company partnerships.
For, Mr. Lukatsky, an event like this create a better communication channel between parties which will result in a more efficient business relationship. Emphasizing the fact that companies are now more frequently changing their appetite for types of business, this type of meeting, in his opinion, allows more rapid communication between company personnel and the agencies as to what business presently might find a home with what company.
Citing a perfect example, Mr. Lukatsky recounted how he had just come from a table where a company agency meeting had resulted in the agent learning that the company had decided to offer garage coverage. For this agent, that new information had tremendous value for his book of business.
Mike Michel of the R. S. Gilmore Insurance Agency, a Network agency located in North Attleboro who attended the event, summed up his thoughts on the meeting and its format this way, “The insurance companies that we have invited here today are, are true partners, so, it’s nice to get to meet the people face to face and go through all the different products and services they offer. I think obviously those relationships lead to more business for them and, and more business for us…”
Company and agency response ranged from positive to glowing
As for the insurer’s response to event, the Network’s agency-company meeting appeared to be a success simply by the number of employees insurance companies and vendors in attendance. The contingent, from all of the companies combined totaled forty-five managers, underwriters and marketing representatives.
When asked about the meeting format and the opportunity to meet with the agents attending, Leanne Ross, the regional sales executive of The Hartford said, “It’s a great opportunity to meet with a lot of our agencies all at one time and one place…it makes it easy for us to get around and make sure they’re up‑to-date on what we have going on …”
Ms. Ross also complimented the New England Insurance Group Network on the organization of its first ever event stating, “It’s one of our partnered agency groups that we work with across all our segments, but especially in small commercial…They are great partners of ours.”
Another Network agent expressed his thoughts noted that, “It’s a great concept. I think all the network agents really liked it and I think the carriers [also] liked the opportunity to come and sit down with so many different agents at once.”
The success of this first meeting bodes well for the Network’s future plans, which according to Mr. Lukatsky, include making this an annual event for carriers and the Network’s agencies in the first quarter of each year. The annual meeting will allow carriers to advise agents as to their changing mix of business and, more importantly, for agency staff to meet with company personnel in order to maintain and strengthen both their business and personal relationships.
The Network has a short history but a long heritage
Surprisingly, The New England Insurance Group Network has only been operating as a separate and distinct corporation since January 1, 2015. Many of its founding members, however, were members of a previous agency network going back to 1997. The 2012 sale of that agency network resulted in the decision, by some of these former agency members, to create a new network, after the expiration of their prior network agreements. For more history of about NEIGN’s origins, see the Agency Checklists, April 5, 2015, “Networking with NEIGN: A New Agency Network Launches In Massachusetts.”
When originally interviewed in April, 2015, the Network that had just begun operations with $60 million in premium and ten members. Little over a year later, the Network now estimates that it will likely reach $100 million “in the next few years.” As of today, NEIGN has approximately $70 million in premium through organic growth and the addition of four new agencies to the Network. Most of the network’s agencies producers each have between $3 million to $12 million in premium.
Membership in NEIGN is by “Invitation Only,” according to Mr. Lukatsky, who explains that “We stay selective [by] bringing on profitable agents that are like minded and have similar business philosophies.” That business philosophy puts profitability as the sine qua non of membership and agency operations. As Mr. Lukatsky stated in Agency Checklists’ prior interview:
…our primary focus is underwriting and profitability. I cannot stress that enough. This is what our carrier partners expect from us, and that is what we expect of our ourselves.