From a single brick and mortar storefront in Wyoma Square in Lynn, the Duffy Family of Insurance Agencies has grown over the past three decades to become one of the largest family-owned independent insurance agencies North of Boston. An integral part of that growth has come from the second-generation owner and President Marc Duffy, who has placed a premium on growing his agency through targeted acquisitions focused mainly on the North Shore and in embracing his late father’s philosophy of “surround yourself with good people.”
In our ongoing look at independent agents who continue to grow and thrive as consolidation within the marketplace increases, Mr. Duffy was kind enough to answer our questions sent to him via email. He is what he had to say:
Thank you for taking the time to share your insurance story with us. Just quickly, could you share who you are and what your position is?
Thank you for the opportunity. I truly appreciate it. I am the President and owner of Duffy Insurance and all affiliated agencies, collectively known as “The Duffy Family of Insurance Agencies.”
How and when did The Duffy Family of Insurance start, and where is it located now?
My father, Paul Duffy, founded the agency in 1996. We currently have 7 locations in the Greater Boston Area: Lynn, Peabody, Gloucester, Chelmsford, Georgetown, Salem, and Marblehead. Our original location was in Lynn, and we still operate out of this original location.
What was the idea behind the start of the agency?
My father was a VP/Operations Manager for an insurance agency in Lynn from about 1975-1996. The owner decided to sell the agency to an insurance company in 1996. However, he was kind enough to carve out a small book of business from the agency and sell it to my father. And that is how Duffy Insurance began. My father was 50 years old and he brought along 3 employees with him including his brother, Steve Duffy, who is currently the EVP of Duffy Insurance.
How big is Duffy Insurance today?
We are projecting that we finish 2022 at $40M in annual written premium.
What is the agency split between Personal & Commercial Lines?
The agency split is about 67% personal and 33% commercial.
Everyone seems to have their “How I got into insurance” story – Could you share yours with us?
I grew up playing baseball and dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. I played in college at Bentley University, but it became evident early on in college that my dream of playing beyond college wasn’t going to happen. My attention almost immediately shifted to Duffy Insurance. I started working in the agency in high school and continued working during semester breaks in college.
The idea of helping build the family business was exciting and attractive to me. Quite honestly, it did not matter that the family business was an insurance agency-I think I would have wanted to join the company regardless of the industry. The more I learned about the business and the more I learned about insurance, the more potential I saw. I had countless and endless conversations about all aspects of the business with my father and pretty much anyone who would listen. I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. I graduated from Bentley in May of 2006 and started at Duffy Insurance on a full-time basis within a week of graduation and have been here since.
You talk about your father and his impact on you and Duffy Insurance. Tell us more about his impact and your relationship.
As mentioned, my father started the agency when he was 50 years old in 1996. I am forever thankful that he took the leap of faith that he did. I was only 12 years old at the time. I saw how hard he worked and what he did to get Duffy Insurance off the ground. When I joined the business on a full-time basis, we made big plans together and talked about the business endlessly. He was a tremendous boss/father and an even better person.
Unfortunately, a few years into my start at Duffy Insurance we found out he had cancer. He passed away in 2011. This was an incredibly difficult time for the agency and our family. His guiding principles were to “surround yourself with good people” and “treat people the way you want to be treated.” The fact that he treated people well and had good people around him were big reasons why Duffy Insurance got through that very difficult period.
Even with the addition of technology, running an independent insurance agency in today’s marketplace appears to be getting more complicated by the day. Would you agree? What do you see as the biggest challenges facing independent agents in the increasing consolidation of the independent insurance agency system?
I agree, at times, running an insurance agency feels more complicated than ever. In recent years, things may have gotten more complicated for independent insurance agents: COVID-19, a hardening market, the dramatic increase of new technology available and used, the aging of our industry workforce, increased competition, etc.
At Duffy Insurance, the most important thing that has helped us navigate these challenges has been our ability to attract and retain good people. In recent years we have added several key team members. These additions have played a huge role in allowing us to grow during these complicated times.
Moving forward, I believe our biggest challenge will be continuing to attract and retain new talent. We have a lot of long-time employees who not only work hard and have extensive technical insurance knowledge, but they also have strong personal relationships with customers. Finding, training, and keeping great people will always be a challenge and a top priority for us. It’s worth noting that, despite all these challenges and changes, the independent insurance agency system continues to provide tremendous value to customers and insurance company partners. And I strongly believe we will continue to do so.
What are the major issues and challenges you currently see as the most important for the independent insurance agent?
There will always be challenges in any business, and as independent insurance agents, we will always need to deal with challenges and adversity. Some of the bigger challenges specific to our industry are attracting and retaining talented people, implementing/executing new technology, and continuing to demonstrate our value to customers and insurance company partners.
The difficulty in attracting new talent to the industry is a bigger issue here in Mass. than in other states. People have so many different options when it comes to career paths: Tech, Real Estate, Higher Education, Health Care, etc. Insurance is oftentimes overlooked because people may not appreciate the long-term stability and growth opportunities within the industry. As seasoned employees retire, replacing them is going to be a huge challenge.
As for implementing/executing new technology, when the right new tools are used, they help us improve the insurance buyer experience. An example of this is e-signature. We have been using e-signature in our offices for several years now. This tool has saved an incredible amount of time for policyholders and employees.
A big challenge is choosing the right technology to implement. There have been countless new products and services that have come out recently that are designed to help independent insurance agents. Sometimes even hearing the word “technology” scares agents and their staff because they equate it with change and the need to do things differently. A lot of insurance agents and staff have been very successful in doing things a certain way. But to remain relevant, we must continue to invest in technology that helps us meet the demands of the modern consumer. The bigger challenge is picking the right technology, committing to its execution/implementation, and getting complete buy-in from the entire staff.
When looking at the technology or software to invest in, we always ask two questions: 1. Will it help us sell (and renew) more policies more efficiently? and 2. regardless of how good it is, will our staff use it?
Lastly, to remain relevant, we must provide value to our customers and insurance company partners. Otherwise, we will be replaced.
For our insurance company partners, we need to continue to produce good business with better loss ratios and higher retention rates than the direct model. The numbers clearly show that we do this. But we need to continue to do this.
Technology allows customers to do things more quickly than ever before. And since they can do things quicker, they have higher expectations. Therefore, we could not survive and/or thrive without continuing to make investments in technology to help us provide a better customer experience.
Additionally, in my opinion, the biggest reason why customers choose to work with an independent insurance agent is a personal relationship or connection. Maintaining and developing that relationship will be a challenge and opportunity as technology allows us to service more customers.
In terms of attracting talent, what are you doing at Duffy Insurance to attract talented people?
The most important thing needed to attract talented people is the ability to show long-term growth and opportunity. The most talented people want the ability to succeed and grow. So most importantly, to attract new talent, we must continue to grow as an organization.
I am very proud of the team here and what we are building. As mentioned, we have added some great people in recent years, and we have been able to retain key long-term employees. This has helped us successfully manage our recent growth.
We have several ongoing initiatives to help us attract talent. An in-house training program, networking events and career fairs, and general technology investments are just a few examples. We have an internship program that brings college students into our offices during summer and winter break. This program allows both the interns and us the opportunity to determine if there may be a longer-term fit.
Your agency has made some strategic acquisitions over the past couple of years. What is your strategy with respect to your agency acquisition plan?
Yes, we have made several acquisitions recently and plan to continue to acquire independent insurance agencies here in Massachusetts. Strategically, acquisitions help us grow quicker and give us the ability to plan/budget more effectively than other growth alternatives. When it comes to purchases, quality is much more important than quantity or size. We look to acquire agencies that have good books of business and good people. I think one of the most overlooked advantages of acquisitions is the opportunity to add new talent.
How many agencies have you acquired to date?
Duffy has completed 13 acquisitions, five of which have occurred since July 2020.
Are you still interested in acquiring more agencies?
YES! Acquisitions continue to be a big part of our growth strategy. My hope is to stay on our current acquisition rate and growth trajectory for the foreseeable future. Any agency owner looking to discuss a potential merger/sale can email me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org
What type of agencies do you look for?
We are looking for P+C agents in the Greater Boston Area. Again, we are looking for quality over quantity.
We are not overly concerned about size or technology within the agencies that we purchase. We are open to buying smaller agencies that may require some investment in technology or larger agencies that have already made the investment. Our focus is on the performance of the book (i.e., retention and loss ratios) and the people within the agency.
There are a lot of agency buyers out there right now. What reasons do agencies sell to Duffy instead of other options?
Great question. Obviously purchase price is a very important factor. We have been very aggressive recently in our purchase offers. But I’ve found that price is 1 of several factors when agents decide to sell. Selling their agency is an emotional and important decision. They have employees and customers who they have been working with who are like family. What’s going to happen to their customers? What’s going to happen to their employees? How about the business name? The location? These are all factors that come into play.
I think we are unique buyers because in addition to offering a competitive purchase price, we continue to operate like a main street insurance agency after the purchase. We don’t outsource customer service to 3rd party service centers. When customers call a Duffy office, they reach a familiar voice without having to go through an automated phone system. Customers and employees will continue to receive personalized service. This is a very important differentiator of Duffy as a buyer.
What are your thoughts about the Massachusetts insurance industry in general?
First and foremost, I think the Massachusetts insurance industry is full of genuinely great people. I have made so many close friends with fellow insurance agents and carrier personnel. I have only worked in the insurance industry, but I cannot imagine another industry that rivals the comradery that we have here in the Massachusetts Insurance Industry. The term “friendly competitors” is applicable.
It will be interesting to see how the consolidation affects us. As more and more agents sell their agencies and/or retire, my sincere hope is that the comradery and relationships will continue.
What is the one piece of advice that you would share with another agent on how to compete and succeed in the current marketplace?
My advice to fellow agents would be to dedicate time to networking and developing relationships with other agents. I have learned so much from fellow agents. I talk to other agents all the time about different challenges, ideas, and opportunities. And it goes both ways. Not only do I reach out to other agents to ask for advice, but I am also more than happy to share advice when asked. These relationships began at one insurance event or another. So, get involved in the business, network with other agents, and don’t be afraid to share your own ideas with other agents.
What are your thoughts about the Massachusetts insurance industry in general?
Have any other words of wisdom you would like to share with our readers?
The best advice I ever received was to try to improve just a little bit every single day in some aspect of your life or your business.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers.
Thank you so much for the opportunity!