"The pandemic is putting very heavy restrictions on indoor events, which will squash that market down heavily,” says independent agent Mark Di Perno. “However, outdoor events are a different story.”
Mark Di Perno
Lake Placid, New York
How did you start your company?
My brother and I had been working for my father’s agency, but it was time-consuming. Less time in the office means more time to go skiing! We decided to harness the power of the internet so we could do business remotely, even from the car.
We launched SportUnderwriters.com, a business-to-business, broker-to-broker managing general agent. Our first online application was 18 years ago, back when the internet was nothing like it is today. We have a state-of-the-art platform that goes well beyond providing online quotes. Our site allows brokers to submit insurance applications, receive quotes, bind policies, have insurance documents autogenerate, and manage their business post bind, all online. Our vice president of operations, a fully licensed broker, works closely with our IT department to ensure our technology is industry driven.
Why special events insurance?
The property-casualty side was fun, but we thought there must be more to the insurance business than cars and buildings. We looked at the things that we liked—sports, entertainment, concerts and competitions—and realized that’s what we should be doing.
Before COVID-19, it was all about security: plastic see-through bags, no purses and metal detectors. It was our “new normal” back then, but now that’s shifted to health concerns. There’s much debate about which guidelines and which protocols to follow to have a safe, responsible event. Our response is that organizers follow local guidelines. But the big question is: How do you make this happen?
The pandemic is putting very heavy restrictions on indoor events, which will squash that market down heavily. However, outdoor events are a different story. There are many restrictions, but because those are much easier to follow, organizers are better able to try to conform as much as humanly possible. It’s hard, but if we don’t give it a solid effort, the end result won’t be very pretty either.
At the end of the day, the bottom line is people’s safety. Sport and events are supposed to be fun and entertaining, and we like to keep them on that level.
We need to treat COVID-19 seriously—Novak Djokovic hosted an ill-advised tennis tournament with no social distancing, and now he’s writing apologies to the other players saying, “I’m really sorry you got sick.” It's going to take a lot of cooperation to make this work, but it can and it will. I just heard from a North African country’s sports ministry who want to field a bobsled team for the next Winter Olympics, and they came to us to put together an insurance package for them. So, there’s movement, and there are people who want to make this happen because they see sports as a way of life, including me.
Special events insurance advice for a fellow agent?
Find a wholesaler that specializes in special events. A lot of the insurers took it on the chin with the coronavirus pandemic and are now being very cautious, so it’s important to find a good MGA that you're comfortable with that knows its stuff and will take care of you.
Favorite success story?
The committee for the Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup Ski Race, a 5-day event at Beaver Creek Mountain in Colorado, called us up because nobody could place the insurance for it. The organizers just couldn’t’ get the right coverages to satisfy their contracts. One of our existing clients in the ski industry referred them to us, and they called us last-minute with a plea for help. We put together a package for them in time for the event that filled all their needs and kept the client for 14 years!
AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.