CEOs Praise Hudson Valley N.Y. Market

October 10, 2004

The Professional Insurance Agents of New York State Inc. celebrated its second annual Hudson Valley Regional Awareness Program recently as about 250 insurance professionals attended the conference in Suffern, N.Y.

During the panel discussion, regional and national company representatives agreed—the Hudson Valley region provides many opportunities for the insurance industry.

During Current State of the Insurance Marketplace—moderated by Kevin Ryan, director of PIANY and president of The Valley Group Inc.—panelists discussed the factors that contribute to the insurance industry’s success in the Hudson Valley; the need to make the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act permanent; the value of the independent insurance agency system; the importance of perpetuation in the industry; and more.

The panel featured Patrick Kinney, regional vice president, northeast region of St. Paul Travelers Select Accounts; Zane Morganstein, president, Associated Mutual Insurance Cooperative; Janet Weinstein, regional vice president, The Hartford; and Richard Zick, president and CEO, Utica First Insurance Co.

When asked how they viewed the insurance industry in the Hudson Valley region, all of the panelist agreed there are many factors that make it an optimum place to do business.

“The Hudson Valley is one of our most profitable territories and is desirable for a lot of reasons: the economy is reasonably good; the growth in business services and technology has a lot of strong profit potential in the commercial lines area; and the demographics are excellent for the personal lines business,” said Weinstein. “Also, we aren’t subject to some of the issues we face in Upstate New York and Long Island and there aren’t the same exposures regarding terrorism we have to face in the New York City.”

On a national level, each of the panelists agreed that making TRIA permanent is vital to the insurance industry. The act gives the industry stability in the event of possible terrorist attacks and is necessary to preserve the industry’s ability to pay claims.

“As an industry we are far better off today,” said Morganstein. “We can better withstand the impact of another attack. And TRIA is just the underpinning for what allows us to continue to provide the services we provide.”

Some of the recent industry changes for the independent insurance agency system include the ability to purchase insurance policies via the Internet and the willingness for consumers to shop around. Nevertheless, most panelists agreed that Internet insurance sales have not grown as expected because the need for professional advice grows as their insurance needs become more complex.

“The independent agency channel is growing,” said Weinstein. “And that growth is probably coming from captive-agent companies. People want the assistance of an agent but they don’t always see the difference between the captive agent and the independent agent. However, once that difference is explained to them, they understand the value of an independent agent. You should be stressing this difference to your customers.”

“St. Paul Travelers is seeing the independent agency channel grow,” Kinney agreed.

He and the others on the panel emphasized the need for insurance agents to stress their value to policyholders—the personal relationships, the ability to view each situation as unique and write the best policy to fit their needs.

“You, as agents, have to realize there has to be a ‘level of service,'” said Zick. “In my mind, you need to be able to instill upon clients that they still want that level of expertise and that professionalism [which agents can offer].”

A common problem among insurance agents and carriers alike is the struggle to introduce the industry to younger insurance professionals. The panel stressed the importance of reaching out to younger generations—even starting at the high school level—to foster an appreciation and interest in the insurance industry as a career choice.

“If you look around the industry today, one of the challenges we’re faced with, on the agency side as well, is that we have done a poor job over the last 10 years of bringing young people into this industry,” said Kinney. “We need to attract talent. It’s probably five years off before it becomes a predominant issue. We need to step up to recruiting.”

During the morning education session, Understanding and Preventing Mold Issues for the Insurance Professional, Rob Gallo, company director, Leadsafe Environmental, discussed the different types of mold; how it can affect people and the steps necessary to determine a course of action to remove the problem. Jeffrey Gross, C.R., senior project manager, Maxons Restorations, outlined the processes by which mold is removed from a structure.

“Mold definitely has not been linked to all health issues,” said Gallo. “The challenge with mold is that, unlike asbestos and lead, there are hundreds of thousands of types of varieties.”

According to Gallo, the hard data regarding the harmfulness of mold has not been determined. He maintained that it is difficult to get legislation or regulations passed because the people affected have a wide range of symptoms or none at all.

When asked if there was any advice agents could give to their clients to limit their exposure to mold, Gross said it is important to dry out water-damaged areas as soon as possible; put a dehumidifier in the basement; replace materials, rather than clean them; and keep maintenance up on the house—replace washer hoses to prevent ruptures; clean out gutters, etc., to keep water out of the house.

At the awards luncheon, Donald Liebert, past president of The Liebert Agency, received the Hudson Valley RAP Distinguished Insurance Service award for his long-standing commitment and service to PIANY and the insurance industry. The award also commemorated his dedication and hard work on numerous issues critical to insurance providers and consumers.

Liebert has been a member of PIANY for more than 30 years and has served on numerous PIANY committees, including Government Affairs and Education & Conference committees.

Additionally, Richard Zick accepted the Hudson Valley RAP’s Company of the Year award on behalf of Utica First Insurance Co.

“The philosophy at our company is that our agents are our livelihood,” said Zick. “This recognition shows we use the personal touch with our agents and we certainly thank PIA.”

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