From the Front Lines: Surety

GustafsonShawn Gustafson

Managing Member
Burke Insurance Group, LLC
Albuquerque, New Mexico

How did you get started at your agency?

I had been working in the auto dealership business for 12 years. I had never sold a vehicle in my career, but I was the person you would talk to if your car broke down. I worked my way up the ladder to service manager at a family-owned dealership. Every year, the owner approached me and changed my pay to “motivate” me and my employees to increase revenues.

It got exhausting. I wanted to move to a career where I had control over my own pay. I figured everyone needs insurance. I also figured that the only way someone would leave me as their agent would be if my price wasn’t competitive or I didn’t provide good service—that was enticing.

My father-in-law was a lifelong Allstate life-health agent. He just happened to be approached by my current business partner, who was looking for a new producer that didn’t know anything about the business so he could train them from the ground up. It has now been 10 years, and I unequivocally love the insurance and bond business.

Why surety?

When my partner approached me about working for him, he explained the insurance and bond business, and I felt it was a great fit. In the car business, I already had experience dealing with construction company owners. Also, as a service manager, I had experience reviewing financials. I figured those attributes would make it a a great industry for me to focus on, and one I would be successful at.

Biggest surety challenges?

Good financial presentation. If you don’t have a good construction CPA on your team, it really ties the hands of a surety company in terms of what it’s willing to do for a contractor client. Another challenge I face is clients’ willingness to consult with me about financial changes they are planning to make, as well as the turnover in surety companies and underwriters.

Biggest surety changes over the years?

Technology. With the ability to email financial information, the process of writing a surety account takes a lot less time than in past.

Surety advice for a fellow agent?

Pursue the business. Most producers think the surety bond business is difficult to handle and write. With good education from the National Association of Surety Bond Producers, bonding is a very profitable business.

Favorite success story?

My favorite success stories all come from me being able to help a contractor grow their company through surety bonds. I have been very lucky in my career to take contractors that are bonding $300,000 single jobs, to having the ability to bid single jobs up to $14 million. Watching them grow is a very rewarding part of my job.

Jordan Reabold is IA assistant editor.