Southeast Insurance Employment: Agency, Carrier Plans Brighten Picture

By Andrew G. Simpson | April 18, 2012

Those interested in new or better positions in insurance might want to grab their suntan lotion and head to the Southeast. They might also want to brush up on their Spanish.

The unemployment rate remains higher in key Southeast states than it is nationally. Over the past year, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have all seen unemployment go down but some of the states in this region with the exceptions of Alabama, Tennessee and West Virginia still lag behind the national average in the jobs recovery.

But the Southeast economic and employment picture could be getting brighter.

In March, the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta reported that Southeast businesses were describing economic activity as “expanding at a somewhat stronger pace” in January and early February compared with late last year. Expectations were said to be “generally more positive, although firms continued to express caution with regard to the outlook.”

There have been other positive indicators as well. Middle Tennessee State University’s consumer confidence index rose in late January to the highest level since February 2008. The University of Alabama’s Business Confidence Index found business sentiment improved for the first quarter of 2012.

The Atlanta Fed said it expects 2.5 to 3 percent growth in the Southeast for 2012.

However, the Atlanta Fed also said that while many businesses are also hesitant to increase their workforces. Most smaller businesses appear to be trying to rebuild margins before increase payroll. “So, even though economic performance and the business outlook may be improving, that improvement may not immediately translate into additional hiring for most firms, at least in the short term,” the bank said.

Property/casualty insurance, while not as large an economic factor as housing, manufacturing, energy or tourism in the region, tends to grow as other economy sectors grow and may be one of the bright spots for employment in the year ahead in the Southeast.

Several commercial lines oriented insurance carriers expect to be expanding operations in the Southeast this year. Patriot National, FCCI Insurance Group and Best Doctors are among the firms with openings in the Southeast and in Florida, in particular.

Several national personal lines powerhouses— Allstate and Progressive — are looking to hire in the region. Military-focused financial services firm USAA is hiring call center personnel in the Tampa area and has insurance openings in Georgia and North Carolina, too.

The region’s insurance agencies and brokerages may be even more promising for job seekers than insurance carriers.

According to an Insurance Journal survey of independent agencies, slightly more than a quarter (27.1 percent) of agencies in five Southeast states (Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama) increased their staffs in 2011, while slightly less (24.6 percent) cut staff.

For 2012, 28.0 percent of Southeast agencies said they expect to add staff in 2012 and only 5.1 percent said they would be reducing staff.

Some of the largest brokerages located in the Southeast, including AmWINS and Brown & Brown, were busy buying other firms during the past year— a better omen for the local economy perhaps than if they themselves had been bought out.

Some large national brokers from other states — Lockton and Confie Seguros among them — recently established offices in the region with intentions of growing.

Insurer Best Doctors and international broker Willis are particularly bullish on the south Florida area, viewing it not only as a growth market itself but also as a gateway to more business with Latin America.

Here is some of the positive insurance employment news for the Southeast:

Allstate

In February, Allstate Insurance announced it was looking to appoint 124 new agency owners in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina this year.

“We see a significant opportunity in the current economy to attract entrepreneurs and mid-career, mid-level managers who are looking to own and operate their own business and represent Allstate,” said Jay Wischum, Allstate regional sales leader.

He said the insurer is working with existing Allstate agents, business brokers and recruiters to find professionals with financial or sales backgrounds. Candidates need a minimum of $75,000 of liquid capital to invest in their agency.

The company is also taking its recruiting one step further: offering consumers the opportunity to cash in by helping to identify candidates who are dedicated to customer service. The insurer is offering a $5,000 referral award to anyone who refers a candidate who is qualified and appointed as an Allstate agent in 2012.

About one year ago, Allstate embarked on a mission to appoint nearly 50 new agency offices in Florida, about half of them in north Florida, which the company said has shown “incredible growth” for its agencies.

Bob Jackson, regional sales leader in St. Petersburg, said then that each new office would mean multiple job opportunities for licensed staff, perhaps as many as 130 new jobs statewide.

To search for jobs at Allstate, visit http://www.allstate.com/careers/job-search.aspx

To learn about buying or starting an Allstate agency, visit http://www.allstate.com/careers/agents.aspx

AmWINS

Charlotte, North Carolina-headquartered global wholesale broker AmWINS Group was among the active buyers in 2011, making a bid to acquire London broker THB. The acquisition, which closed in February, further positions AmWINS as an international specialty insurance distributor placing over $6.7 billion in annual premiums. The company now has more than 2,300 employees in 21 countries worldwide.

Leslie McNeice, communications director for AmWINS, said the firm’s Atlanta and various Florida offices grew “quite a bit over the last few years” and the firm expects continued growth.

“We are very interested in training and developing young talent and will continue to do so, especially in the Southeast,” McNeice told Insurance Journal.

AmWINS Group: www.amwins.com

Appalachian Underwriters

Cate Semrau, human resources director for national wholesale broker Appalachian Underwriters, said her firm and its affiliate companies would be looking for new people in 2012 in the Southeast. She said areas of expansion include underwriters and underwriting support staff, claims management and related staff as well as some general back office positions.

Most of the hiring will be concentrated within the organization’s Oak Ridge, Tenn. corporate headquarters, with some additional expansion and replacement staffing opportunities in its Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina offices.

Appalachian Underwriters: www.apund.com

Best Doctors

Who says government can’t create private sector jobs? Last year, Florida lawmakers changed a provision in state law that limited the operations of foreign insurance companies. Before that change, Boston-based Best Doctors had a small presence in Florida.

“We were helped a lot by the support and good sense of the Florida Legislature and governor who agreed to change state law to make a company like Best Doctors serving foreign nationals do business and grow,” said Evan Falchuk, president.

Since the law change, Best Doctors has moved beyond a back office operation and added 60 people and is planning for further expansion.

“They are good, highly-skilled jobs,” said Falchuk.

Best Doctors provides access to medical services for people coming to the U.S. from Latin America and other foreign locations. It also provides medical and claims services that insurers sell to supplement what they offer large corporations in their employers’ group plans and workers’ compensation programs. Best Doctors also sells health insurance in Latin America that covers people anywhere in the world.

Best Doctors says it provides its services globally to more than 30 million people, serving large employers, insurance plans, government, and other groups in more than 40 countries.

Falchuk said people all over the world are struggling with medical services, with studies showing that 25 percent of patients don’t get the right diagnosis.

His company looks to become a trusted resource to help people find the best answers to medical questions.

“The best care may not be available right where you live, but then it might be,” he said.

Best Doctors recently combined several smaller offices into a single office in the Blue Lagoon section of Miami. The company is headquartered in Boston and has another office in Toronto.

Falchuk said his company has viewed Latin America as a great opportunity for years and thinks more trade and interaction will mean additional growth. He believes Florida is the place to be to capture this growth.

“If you are trying to grow the Latin American market, Miami is the capital,” Falchuk told Insurance Journal.

As its business grows, Best Doctors will need more employees in its Florida office to serve customers in Latin America, according to Falchuk.

Falchuk has found the Florida talent pool to be filled with good candidates. “In this economy, one of the challenges is that there are people who are really skilled but who don’t have work. But that’s an opportunity for growing companies to tap into this resource,” he said.

It is also helpful that many are bilingual. “That’s one of the things we like about Florida is the highly-skilled bilingual workforce. That has helped drive our growth,” Falchuk said.

For current career opportunities at Best Doctors, visit http://www.bestdoctors.com/us/Who-We-Are/Careers.aspx

Brown & Brown

Brown & Brown Inc., one of the world’s largest insurance brokerages, is headquartered in Daytona Beach and Tampa. The company operates more than 170 offices in 38 states. The company prides itself on allowing each office to be operated as an “entrepreneurial entity, making it possible to respond rapidly to the needs of local customers, with local knowledge.” In 2011 alone it acquired a half-dozen agencies across the country, including Tennessee Banks’ First Horizon Insurance.

For its various retail, brokerage and service operations, Brown & Brown has more than 30 locations in Florida, six in Georgia, five in Kentucky, three each in North and South Carolina and Tennessee, two in Alabama and one in West Virginia.

The company has the region in its hiring plans for this year.

“We plan to continue hiring many high-quality individuals in 2012. We will hire producers, account managers, marketing managers and accounting leaders. We will be hiring in the Southeast, as well as the rest of the country,” Cory Walker, chief financial officer for Brown & Brown, told Insurance Journal.

For current openings with Brown & Brown, visit http://www.bbinsurance.com/careers.shtml

Confie Seguros

Confie Seguros is a network of insurance agencies catering to the Hispanic market that is growing every year through additional acquisitions. It is currently in nine states and generating revenues close to $180 million. Its leaders are on a mission to build a national insurance distribution company with revenues exceeding $300 million.

The company has more than 275 offices in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Washington, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, and Nevada. It expects to continue its expansion in those and in other states, including Illinois, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Confie Seguros entered Florida in 2011 through its acquisition of Trustway, a Miami agency with 26 stores in the state that now employ about 60 people selling and servicing mostly personal lines insurance accounts.

Norm Hudson, chief operating officer, said the firm is on the lookout for people to manage and staff its stores.

“We’re hiring and to the extent there are people out there with an interest in furthering their career, we are a fast growing company. The one thing that holds us back from growing even faster is talent,” Hudson told Insurance Journal.

Hudson said he is seeing signs of an improving economy.

“I see some upward trends in premiums and that improved income potential for organization and individuals,” he said.

The fact that more people are unemployed and looking for new opportunities is not as helpful to insurance firms looking for talent as one might think, according to Hudson. He says it is because there is a misconception about entering the insurance field.

“My experience tells me that people believe that it takes a lot more education and time to get into insurance than it does in reality. And so I think people shy away from approaching the insurance industry because they are not sure how to get in and they might be intimidated a little by the licensing requirements and exactly what it takes to enter the industry,” he said.

Confie Seguros will provide training and licensing assistance for those new to insurance.

Confie Seguros: http://www.confieseguros.com/

FCCI Insurance Group

FCCI Insurance Group, a popular Florida-based commercial lines insurer, has offices in Orlando and Sarasota, as well as in Mississippi, Georgia and Indiana. FCCI is expanding into additional products including surety as well as into other states including Texas, Maryland and Virginia.

The company, which has won several “best places to work” honors, is focused on being “close to the customer,” according to Lisa Krouse, senior vice president for human resources.

FCCI has been in Florida since 1959 and prides itself of knowing the state and its local communities well and on having good relationships with local agencies. These community and business relationships are a regular source of candidate referrals, along with current employees, Krouse told Insurance Journal.

The company has more than 665 employees, with about 400 of them in Florida.

To staff FCCI’s expansion, FCCI will be adding to those numbers. Krouse is recruiting for a variety of positions including senior level staff, underwriting and claims professionals in trainees in underwriting. Positions are available in all of its offices and, given its focus on being close to the customer, Krouse will also consider employees who can telecommute and work from remote locations.

Skills and attitude are important.

“We really do interview both for technical skills as well as behaviors,” she said, “Customer skills are as critical to FCCI as technical skills, if not more important.”

The economy may have more people thinking of insurance as a career option but finding people with insurance technical skills is still a challenge, according to Krouse.

“What we are missing are the strong technical skills. Although we are attracting very good candidates at many different levels, I think it is fair to say that there is a strong need for technically proficient individuals,” she said. “Sometimes your good folks are staying where they are and enjoying the security so I think the economy works both ways.”

For FCCI job postings, visit http://www.fcci-group.com/

Lockton

Lockton may be the largest privately-held insurance brokerage in the world but there’s nothing private about its growth and ambition. The Kansas City-based broker, which has 58 offices around the world, sees the Southeast as a major area for expansion and has shown its commitment by expanding two offices over the past year —one in Memphis, Tenn. and the other in Charlotte, N.C.

Those complement existing Southeast offices in Miramar, Florida and in Atlanta.

“I just think the insurance industry will be a good growth industry over the next five years in general in the Southeast. I think that Lockton has positioned itself to be at the top of those performers,” Peter Clune, chief operating officer of Lockton, told Insurance Journal.

Clune said the fact that Lockton opened offices in Memphis and Charlotte shows its commitment. “Rather than just having some people make some cold calls down to there, we’re going to go in, get community leaders and build there. We don’t do that unless we feel like we can really grow in those areas,” he said.

He said the company also sees “huge upsides” in Florida and Atlanta, whether in property/casualty, employee benefits or financial services.

Regarding Charlotte, he thinks Lockton can double in size in the next couple of years. “There just so much business there.”

Lockton is actively recruiting insurance, risk management, employee benefit and financial services professionals to expand its sales and service teams.

Clune thinks the pool of available talent in the region is a plus.

“I’m pleasantly surprised with the people that we’re talking with. The numbers, the education, and the experience — it all bodes very well for us,” he said.

When he spoke with Insurance Journal, Clune was in the process of interviewing four producers about having them join Lockton in Memphis and growing their books of business.

The hiring of new producers will eventually lead to other jobs. For every million dollars or so of business a producer brings in, Lockton will need to hire people to help service accounts, he said.

Clune said firms like his need to consider both experienced producers and young recruits interested in learning the business.

“It’s like a sports team. You’ve got to do both. You can’t just go out and take everybody else’s star players, you’ve got to be able to grow your own, too,” he said.

In addition to hiring people with proven track records in insurance, Lockton is also bringing on people who have been in business to business sales and then teaching them insurance.

The company offers producer training, but it’s not just for the inexperienced.

“We’ve added quite a lot of additional producer training to help our most experienced producers kind of go from good to great, like a professional golfer taking their game to the next level,” Clune said.

As a private company, Lockton is also able to invest in new talent that might not produce a return right away, according to Clune.

“I think, as a privately held company, there’s a little advantage to us. You know that you’re not going to see great returns on those guys in the first three or four years. But when you’re really looking out, in five and 10 years… and they all start getting up to a million five or two million, that’s where your next $15 million of growth comes from,” he said.

For information on a career with Lockton, visit http://lockton.com/Careers

Main Street America Group

In 2011, The Main Street America Group hired 24 new employees in the Southeast, mostly in Florida. This includes positions in the company’s home office operations as well as in its Southeast region office operations (the region covers five states — Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia). Twenty-one of these 24 new Main Street America employees are housed at the in Jacksonville corporate office, according to Mark Friedlander, spokesman. The new hires included corporate counsel, commercial lines underwriter, IT experts, surety specialists, senior actuaries and claims representatives.

In addition to Jacksonville, MSA hired a business development executive (field sales representative) in both Georgia and Virginia, and a casualty claim specialist in Richmond, Va., satellite office.

In 2012, Friedlander said the company expects hiring in the Southeast to be at “a similar level” to last year. Through mid-March, the company had hired three new employees this year in Jacksonville – head of reinsurance operations, senior commercial lines underwriting analyst and organizational development and training technical consultant.

Main Street America currently has 10 current openings in Jacksonville, including regional sales director; application systems developer/programmers; reinsurance financial analyst and surety development executive and specialist.

For information on career opportunities with MSA, visit http://www.msagroup.com/

Patriot National

Patriot National Insurance Group is a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based provider of workers’ compensation programs and services that is in growth mode. Right now it has more than 40 additional openings from entry level to management, including jobs in accounting, loss control, investigations and human resources.

Patriot National has two operating subsidiaries – Guarantee Insurance Co. and Patriot Underwriters Inc. Guarantee Insurance Co.’s workers’ compensation product line includes large deductible, segregated cell captives, agency-owned captives, and investor-owned captives. Patriot Underwriters is a program administrator offering alternative market and traditional workers’ compensation insurance plans for insurance companies.

In January, Steven M. Mariano, chairman and CEO, said that the Patriot group of companies added 85 new jobs to downtown Fort Lauderdale in 2011. He said a banner year of growth in premium volume and revenue provided a unique opportunity for expansion at the company’s headquarters.

Mariano said he expects that this robust hiring will continue not only at Patriot National Insurance Group, but also at affiliates Patriot Risk Services, Montego Services Group, and Six Points Media Group through 2012.

Patriot National has grown from three to more than 225 employees in Fort Lauderdale during the last five years.

Patriot said it has also has seen growth in its regional offices in Orlando, Charlotte, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

“We look forward to continuing our expansion and presence in Fort Lauderdale,” said Mariano.

The company takes a cautious approach to hiring.

“We are looking to add good people across our organization,” said Christopher Pizza, chief of staff. “But we don’t add positions lightly. We grow as necessary. We pride ourselves on efficiency. Because of our efficiency we can sustain a steady expansion as our top line and bottom line goes up as well.

Pizza said the Southeast region is a core part of Patriot’s business and “critical” for its growth going forward.

For management positions, Pizza said Patriot looks for workers’ compensation or alternative markets expertise and experience and in general, the more experience someone has, the better. For entry level workers it offers training to “introduce people to the Patriot way.”

“We want every one of our employees to understand where we’re going as a company and what their role is in that. We like to think that the model Patriot employee is someone who believes in the company and in what we’re trying to do, across all levels,” Pizzo told Insurance Journal.

Patriot National: www.pnigroup.com

Progressive

Auto insurer Progressive is helping boost the Tampa area economy by filling 390 positions in sales, service and claims at its Riverview call center, the insurer announced in January.

The new hires, partially tied to replacing lost workers, will bring Progressive to nearly 3,400 employees throughout Florida, with 2,300 in Riverview alone. Most of the new hourly wage jobs will be in sales, service and processing claims.

For information on jobs with Progressive, visit http://www.progressive.com/jobs/

Willis

Global insurance broker Willis Group Holdings in January announced the expansion and relocation of its south Florida headquarters from Coral Gables to new digs in Miami. The move is part of Willis’ strategy to elevate its presence in the state and region and drive growth in what it believes is a key market.

Willis’ operations in Florida and Latin America have been expanding. The new facility will serve as the south Florida headquarters of Willis’ retail insurance brokerage operations, which serves more than 3,000 local clients with employee benefit programs and property insurance programs.

In addition, the new location will function as the home to Willis Re Latin America and Willis SCR (Special Contingency Risks).

Willis also operates satellite offices in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to serve south Florida. It also has offices in Tampa as well as in Atlanta and the Carolinas.

In Florida, the tourism, international trade, health care services and private education sectors are expanding. In addition, the global economies of the county’s key trading partners of Latin America, Canada and Asia are growing at a solid pace and will continue to be an important source of growth for Florida’s economy, according to Willis.

Hiram Marrero, managing partner, Willis of South Florida, said he is looking for business development people and account executives.

His office now has about 100 employees, a number he projects will grow by 10 to 15 positions over the year.

He said there are opportunities in Willis’ other Southeast offices as well.

Marrero is interested in seasoned insurance executives, or those with experience in certain industry niches such as healthcare, life sciences or real estate. More people with non-insurance backgrounds have shown an interest during the downturn, he said.

“Florida has a great talent pool,” he said.

Being bilingual “helps but is not critical,” said Marrero.

Marrero believes the stability the industry has demonstrated through the downturn is helping recruiting. “It shows insurance is not a bubble scheme,” the Willis executive said.

For information on career opportunities with Willis, visit http://www.willis.com/Careers

Employment prospects vary greatly by employer, region and job specialty. For a closer look, Insurance Journal editors interviewed property/casualty industry leaders in their respective regions and will be filing the following reports this week:

For insurance jobs listings on Insurance Journal, visit:www.insurancejournal.com/jobs/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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