100 Years of Relationships

By | May 2, 2011

Fourth Generation Family Owned Moreton & Co. Honors Traditional Values


Top 100 Agency Profile
Rank: No. 18*
Agency Name: Moreton & Co.
Main Office: Salt Lake City, Utah
Additional Locations: Sandy, Utah; Boise, Idaho; Denver, Colo.; Johnson, R.I.
Year Founded: 1910
No. of Employees: 183
Agency Principals: Owned by the Moreton family and producers.
Management: Edward Moreton, chairman; Bill Moreton, president; Craig Smith, EVP; Earl Hurst, EVP; William Tingey, CFO, treasurer; Susan Stoddard, secretary.
2009 Total Premiums Written: $426.50 million*
2010 Total Premiums Written: $557.50 million
2010 Total Commercial P/C Premium: $210.00 million
2010 Total Personal Lines P/C Premium: $500,000
2010 Other Than P/C Premium: $347.00 million
2010 Commercial Lines P/C Revenues: $23 million
2010 Personal Lines P/C Revenue: $250,000
2010 Other Than P/C Revenue: $13.20 million

* = ranked by 2009 total premium.

Strong relationships, family values, hard work and a commitment to innovation have kept Salt Lake City, Utah-based Moreton & Co. on top for more than 100 years. This fourth generation family owned independent insurance agency has been able to weather the often turbulent insurance market, thriving, not just surviving, soft market after soft market. With five locations in Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Rhode Island and 183 employees, Moreton & Co. ranked 18th in Insurance Journal‘s 2010 Top 100 Privately Held Property/Casualty Agencies list with $426.50 million in total premium for year-end 2009, including property/casualty premium and other than P/C premium. In 2010, the agency wrote $557.5 million in total premium, including $210.50 million in P/C premium and $347 million in other than P/C premium.

Along with the agency’s impressive growth, 2010 marked Moreton & Co.’s also centennial anniversary; no small feat for an independent agency today. And this family owned business again received accolades by the community it serves by being named as one of Utah Business magazine’s 2010 trailblazer companies.

‘We keep our word. We sell a promise. If we don’t keep our promise, no one is going to buy from us.’

Bill Moreton, president of Moreton & Co., says success is about great relationships – with clients, vendors and carriers. When asked about the agency’s vision for the future, Moreton replied: “We do what we say, we say what we do. We keep our word. We sell a promise. If we don’t keep our promise, no one is going to buy from us.”

He’s referring to promises made to clients, carriers, vendors and employees. He adds, “We keep our promises with our employees and vendors. We’re very proud we have maintained great relationships with carriers for years.”

Family Ties

Founded in 1910, Moreton & Co. has grown and prospered through four generations of leadership that began with Bill Moreton’s great-grandfather, J.B. Moreton. Serving as the first clerk of the Salt Lake City Board of Education and the county recorder before starting up the agency, Moreton’s great-grandfather saw a growing need to insure the area’s mining businesses. The firm started with humble beginnings, providing surety bonding for contractors and insuring miners. J.B. Moreton also saw the business as a means of providing a place for family members to work. Even though many family members worked in the agency, ownership of the agency remained with one individual family member. One family member has always been a designated successor, something Bill Moreton believes may have been the key to helping the agency transition through generations of ownership.

“I think that’s how we have managed to transition through four generations,” Moreton said, which may have limited family drama at work, he added.

Through the years the company was no stranger to adversity, dealing with tough times by focusing on hard work and customer service. Moreton points out two memorable events in the agency’s history that could have easily spelled its demise. One such instance occurred in the 1950s, when a large street contractor client went on to start their own agency. Another instance occurred in the 1970s, when Moreton & Co wrote an electrical utility company in the area that was eventually bought out. Because of the agency’s location within the small Western state, Moreton’s grandfather and father thought the loss of each account, both amounting to a large percentage of the agency’s income, might be the end of the company.

Instead, the loss of income forced the firm to search for new lines of business, opening the door for new growth, he said.

During the 1960s, the company broadened its niche markets to include public entities, municipalities and states. During the 1970s, the agency expanded into the health and life insurance markets. More recently, Moreton & Co. has continued to expand by extending their expertise into retirement planning and securities.

But the biggest challenge for the agency today is not competition from other agencies, Moreton says. Instead, Moreton views challenges from pending legislation as the biggest hurdle for the agency now.

“The biggest threat to our business doesn’t come from competitors; it comes from government,” Moreton said. “It is very difficult to keep up with all of the legislative mandates.” Moreton says the agency does business in 47 states, which means the firm must keep up with the laws in each of those states.

In New York, for example, agency compensation disclosure is required. He also points to new laws in Utah and Idaho on inducement and rebating that could pose challenges.

Moreton says he’s also concerned about health care and employee benefits and the future role of government in this arena.

Relationships Matter

There’s no denying the importance of relationships in the insurance business. Strong relationships with carriers, clients and the communities Moreton & Co. serves have led to prosperity for this Top 100 Agency.

Moreton takes pride in the relationships his firm has made over the years, and believes strongly in being a good corporate citizen in every market they do business in.

He says some agency relationships span as long as 70 years thanks to this commitment. Moreton says to think that his grandfather sat down with his client’s grandfather is simply remarkable. He credits the quality of those long-term relationships to the customer service his company provides.

A strong family work ethic also contributed to the agency’s success, Moreton says. His grandfather worked six and a half days a week; his father worked five and a half days. Moreton says that his father, now 78, still comes into the office regularly.

Moreton credits this work ethic, as well as above average employee compensation standards, as key factors contributing to the agency’s longevity. “There’s a lot of pressure to perform and maintain the relationship … you don’t want to mess it up,” he says.

Today relationships may be more important than ever, Moreton says, because clients need a facilitator to assist in additional areas such as risk management and human resources. “We have clients that ask us to become their risk management department or human resources department. It’s a messy business right now dealing with diverse carriers. Our clients need a helping hand. We have accounts where we will have employees spend all day there.”

Moreton says the agency hosts seminars and symposiums throughout the year to help educate clients in some of these areas.

Moreton & Co.’s strong relationships with carriers and the community helped the agency land the 2002 Winter Olympics. The agency competed with several large global agencies for the opportunity to insure the games.

“We stood out because we were already so engrained in the community; we already insured most of the venues that the Olympics were using,” Moreton says. “We insured the stadium where the opening ceremony took place, and the venues for hockey and where they did the ice skating.”

Winning the account for the 2002 Winter Olympics came with challenges, Moreton said. The agency had to bid four times for the business, beating every competing national and global broker each time. Moreton admits the company made no money on the venture. When asked if he would do it again, Moreton says, “sure, but we would charge more.”

Innovation

Throughout Moreton & Co.’s 100-year history, the agency has held a commitment to innovation. Moreton credits his father’s interest in technology as having kept the company at the forefront of brokerage firms.

“I think it’s one of the reasons we have been successful… It’s because my father embraced technology, he still does.”

During the 1980s the company served as a beta test agency for hardware vendors. “We were always the beta side for Frank McCracken and the McCracken System, an early agency system.

Regional Focus

Moreton says insurance is still a regional business and maintaining a regional platform with a national presence has helped the company grow. As a result, Moreton & Co.’s four geographic locations retain regional independence, Moreton says.

“They don’t do business in Boise the same way they do it in Denver,” Moreton says. The sales function, carriers, and community are decentralized among the locations. Each one has its own president and they run it the way they want to; however, the accounting and back office functions are centralized.

Each location also specializes in particular niche areas. The Idaho office has done well focusing on schools, while Colorado’s office has focused on mergers and acquisitions, as well as assisting clients with analyzing liabilities taken on when new businesses are purchased. That office also focuses on alternative risk measures, like setting up captives and funding risks. Utah does well in executive risk and employee benefits. In Rhode Island, the company assists very large insureds with financing, merger and acquisitions, and real estate equity-owned risk.

Moreton & Co. identified early on the need to globalize its business, which has served the agency well, Moreton says. Recognizing that clients needed an agency with global capabilities, Moreton’s father entered into a partnership with Assurex Global in 1984. By becoming a partner-member with Assurex Global, Moreton & Co. could expand and insure clients throughout the world.

“Back then we needed help in Canada and in Florida. Now we insure manufacturers in China, clients with a lot of exposure in Ireland, and in Europe,” Moreton says. The partnership with Assurex Global is critical to serve and maintain many clients today, Moreton says.

This Assurex Global partnership also has proven beneficial when competing against global brokers on larger accounts. Though, Moreton admits the firm’s key competitors remain the local specialty brokers. Moreton also noted that Assurex Global provides a invaluable platform for peer-to-peer networking.

Becoming the largest brokerage firm in the marketplace doesn’t interest Moreton, but size matters some. “We need to have a certain scale to provide the services,” he says. But quality outweighs quantity in his book. “We don’t want to be the biggest; we want to be the best,” Moreton says. “I’m not worried if we’re not the biggest. That doesn’t matter to me.”

Employees Count

Moreton believes the company’s longevity can also be attributed to hard-working employees at the agency.

The firm also values education. “If a prospective employee has taken the time and effort to attain industry designations that shows professionalism; they care about their work,” he says.

While the agency looks to hire quality employees from the industry, Moreton says the firm also looks to the children of current employees for possible hires.

“We also hire a lot of kids of parents who work here. We have no problem with nepotism. We’ve had a lot of success in doing that.” Moreton adds, “At one point I think I counted 12 family combo teams. We’ve got that in Denver, Boise, and Salt Lake and we’ve had great success. It’s been a great hiring tool for us.” Moreton says prospective employees are attracted to his company because of the respect, professionalism, and good working environment and this, in turn, results in their stay.

Another reason for employee loyalty may be the compensation paid to producers; compensation that hasn’t changed since the 1970s.

“One thing we do differently is we pay the same for new (business) as we do for renewals, which I don’t think is common anymore.” Moreton doesn’t feel the need to mess with something that isn’t broken. “We’re growing, we’re successful, and we’re making money.”

Over the years, he has learned not to hire long term employees of global brokers because they don’t fit in at Moreton & Co. Another lesson, the company’s greatest success lies in building agencies from the ground up and in hiring individual producers. He’s had more success building books that way.

Future Goals

The company, which has succeeded in carefully planned growth over the span of a century, continues its aim at what some might call modest goals. Moreton notes the five-year plan includes continued geographic expansion, the marketing of new products, continued growth of the 401(k) and wealth planning business, and continued growth in worksite marketing. But most important to Moreton is just serving its clients, and serving them well. “We just roll up our sleeves and get it done … that is what our clients have come to expect from us and to count on.”

About Denise Johnson

Denise Johnson is editor of claimsjournal.com. More from Denise Johnson

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