"Things like cyber and law enforcement liability were not major topics of discussion two decades ago," says independent agent Josh Estelle. "In some ways it is no different than the rest of the world, since all industries face changing exposures."
McGowan Insurance Group
New Castle, Indiana
How did you get started at your agency?
I came into the agency straight out of college and went into a production role. My father-in-law owned the agency and was looking for someone to come in behind him to help with the workload and potentially as a perpetuation plan. I came out of college with a business and communications degree and, looking back, I had no idea what I was getting into. I started from scratch without any insurance experience or business-to-business sales experience. That was 21 years ago and the rest is history, as they say.
Why public entities insurance?
When I joined the agency, we did have a mini-niche in that area, so I tried to learn everything about it. I went to all the meetings and just tried to be a sponge. As we have expanded as an agency—both size-wise and in the public sector space—I've continued to gravitate toward the market and now handle the largest public sector book of business in our agency.
Biggest industry changes?
It is drastically different. There are different markets and different exposures that public entities didn't face 21 years ago. There has been a lot of consolidation on the carrier side. Two of the biggest carriers were St. Paul and Travelers then and they have since merged. Things like cyber and law enforcement liability were not major topics of discussion two decades ago. In some ways it is no different than the rest of the world, since all industries face changing exposures.
There has been a major shift in the last year or so in the law enforcement liability area. A lot of that has to do with the social environment in the country with nationally publicized interactions between the public and police. We are seeing larger claims, larger settlements and larger jury rewards based on the environment around policing.
The casualty marketplace is relatively firm right now. Most municipalities carry higher limits of insurance and higher umbrella limits and those are hard to come by right now. There are some capacity issues getting high limits, especially with heavy auto and casualty exposures. The complexity of public sector accounts, the diversity they have with exposures—all those things present challenges for insurers as they deal with social inflation, law enforcement issues, heavy vehicles, distracted driving and more.
I don't think the issues with law enforcement, distracted driving, technology and cost of vehicles are going away. It will be interesting to see how that all develops. But from an insurer perspective, those are challenges that need to be tackled head-on.
The public sector often can be the last sector to adopt “cutting-edge" technology, but I think we're starting to see some of it happen. From our perspective as an agency, we continue to focus on those value adds: how can we make clients' lives easier? How can we help them with risk management? We make sure we've done all we can to get them the best insurance and insurance-related tools possible, especially in a challenging environment.
Public entities insurance advice for a fellow agent?
If you are going to try to make this your niche, you have to really immerse yourself just like any other industry. Read the forms, learn the coverages, get familiar with the exposures that are specific to public entities. It is very hard to dabble in this field because of the complexity. Also, a lot of carriers either don't use standardized forms or have a number of their own endorsements or forms. There are a lot of nuances.
Favorite success story?
A lot of agencies say they don't want to get into the public sector because it's all political. The entity might select an agent based on the political party they support or whoever is buddies with the next elected official will get the business. We are proud to say that we've been able to transcend that on many accounts and work with the next administration in many cases. We've had some accounts in our agency for 40 years, meaning we've worked with as many as 20 different elected decision-makers on each of those accounts because of our knowledge and expertise.
AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.