As a self-taught app developer, when Hayden Kopser sees a problem, he seeks to build a solution.
So, when he observed during his time working at AIG that some brokerages weren’t adequately servicing high net worth accounts, he saw an opportunity to build an independent brokerage that focuses on the specialized coverage needs of affluent clients.
“Some of the exposures that myself and most people in the country don’t ever have to think of or worry about are big needs for these folks,” he said. “And I found a lot of brokers may be focused on the middle market type business and then somehow one of these [accounts] fell into their laps and they just didn’t know how to properly handle it.”
With this mission in mind, North Improvement LLC was born in April 2019. Kopser is co-founder and president of the boutique risk advisory and insurance brokerage based in New Jersey and New York City. The brokerage provides coverage solutions for home, auto, business, liability, condos and co-ops and art and jewelry, all geared toward the needs of high net worth clients.
While it recently celebrated one year in business, the idea for the brokerage first crossed Kopser’s mind several years earlier when he was promoted to a senior underwriting role at AIG after initially being hired as a temporary employee in June 2014.
“All of the while, my goal really from when I became an underwriter and got inside the brokerages was to start my own,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t something I could do overnight, but that was in the back of my head, and it was really just a matter of when I could go ahead and do that.”
Perhaps a familiar story to many in the industry, Kopser said he wasn’t initially seeking a career in insurance.
“I was a self-taught app developer,” he said. “I put seven apps on the iPhone and iPad app stores and that was my intent, building a career around that.”
After beginning at AIG as a temp, he liked the industry and the people he worked with so much that when he was offered a full-time position a few months later, he took the opportunity.
“From my experience, the people in the industry are awesome,” he said. “There are probably few industries that are more relationship-driven than insurance.”
Within four years of starting at AIG, Kopser rose seven levels through the company to hold the dual titles of senior underwriter and national cyber expert. In these roles, he was responsible for servicing and growing a book of more than $21,000,000 in annual premiums while educating the internal workforce and brokers on cyber insurance, according to his bio on North Improvement’s website.
Maybe the future of wealth and the high net worth space looks different than in the past and the present.
He credits his time at AIG for helping him launch his insurance career as well as gain insight into how various brokerages operate.
“If I had only worked with the big shops, I would have only seen how maybe an Aon or a Marsh operates,” he said. “So I was able to see how those guys operated, but also how the mom and pops worked, how they structured their businesses, how they grew or didn’t grow depending on what their goals were.”
This is when Kopser first noticed that some high net worth clients were being underserved by brokerages, especially among an aging insurance workforce, he said. In 2014, management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. reported that the average age of an insurance agent in the U.S. is 59.
“When you’re 59, you’re starting and have already began to think about your retirement, so the last thing on your mind is growing,” Kopser said.
As a result, he said he noticed some older brokerage owners sitting on renewals, which provided an opportunity for someone hungry for growth to chase those accounts. On the carrier side, he said mergers and acquisitions of the last several years, as well as the formation of new companies, have led to a flourishing affluent market space. These two scenarios created the perfect opportunity for him to launch North Improvement, he said.
“For me as a broker, there’s no better time to serve clients because I often have so many opportunities for them to get better coverage, to save money, to do any number of things,” he said.
Although plenty of opportunity exists for young people in insurance, Kopser said, he also emphasized that founding an independent brokerage doesn’t come without its challenges.
“When I say we started from zero, we may have even started from negative some number,” he said.
After leaving AIG, Kopser needed to register North Improvement in each state in which it does business, which currently include New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and Pennsylvania. He also needed to set up its agency management system, as well as its accounting, technology and marketing platforms, he said.
“A lot of this work was in the way of even being able to do the normal insurance work,” he said. “I knew the industry, I knew how to sell, I knew what the products were, but I didn’t know some of the tedious things behind the scenes…I think that the biggest challenge was really keeping my eyes on the prize of what we were intending to do and not getting bogged down in the frustration of, ‘Oh, I can’t immediately start selling insurance.'”
Another, more unexpected challenge for the brokerage has been operating in its infancy during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
“If this pandemic had hit six or seven months earlier, we’d be in a very different scenario probably financially,” he said. “You can never predict a pandemic, but you certainly need to be able to budget to financially ride out some type of storm.”
Kopser said not only did he focus on creating a detailed budget and gaining startup capital early on, but capitalizing on his app development background has allowed him to focus on the brokerage’s digital presence, which has also served it well during this crisis.
“Thankfully, we were started as a digital brokerage,” he said. “So now, we’re really getting back to basics and improving our digital presence, which I think in the long-run, it will be tremendously beneficial to do that.”
Indeed, North Improvement aims to serve clients using technology to simplify the quoting process and allow policyholders 24/7 digital access to policies, as well as give clients the ability to request changes, send claim information and access certificates of insurance through its mobile app and website.
These early lessons from his own experience serve as some of Kopser’s advice for anyone seeking to start their own independent brokerage.
“You need to have that startup capital,” he said. “You also want to have people available who are going to be willing to invest down the road.”
Kopser added that it’s important to gain several years of experience first, including experience on the carrier side.
“You could be a tremendous salesman, you could be good as a broker, a great negotiator, but unless you understand how things like rates are developed, how to read an insurance contract and how to be able to speak to how it’s going to react to certain claims scenarios, you’re never going to be able to provide the ultimate value to your clients,” he said.
Now after a year in business, North Improvement is continuing to focus internally to build upon its foundation, as well as build up its digital presence and improve on its technology, Kopser said. Its long-term plans are to seize the opportunities presented by an aging insurance workforce through agency acquisitions and an increased focus on millennial high net worth clients.
“Maybe the future of wealth and the high net worth space looks different than in the past and the present,” he said. “You can already tell that it does in many ways.”
However, at this stage, Kopser has one primary short-term goal for the brokerage.
“We’re one year old,” he said. “So grow, grow, grow. That’s it. We’re really looking to grow organically.”
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