When Larry Jansen took over as CEO five years ago, Grinnell Mutual was losing $50 million every year on its farm mutual book (which is a third of its business), its employees were unmotivated, and its future was uncertain.
Wells Media editors Andrew G. Simpson, Stephanie Jones, Amy O’Connor and Elizabeth Blosfield spoke with top mutual executives for their views on growth and related hard and soft issues.
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The past three years have been the best years in the firm’s history financially. In 2016, premiums written were nearly $612 million, up almost 19 percent from $515 million in 2013. It took 102 years to grow to about $300 million of surplus, and in the last five years it’s almost doubled that. At year-end 2016, policyholders surplus stood at $589.9 million, up 47.5 percent from $400 million as of Dec. 31, 2013.
Grinnell Mutual added two states to its roster in the last three years, bringing the total to 15. Partnerships also factor into its growth story, with Mutual Boiler Re, Beazley, Risk Control Technologies, Guidewire, Cynosure and Palomar Specialty Insurance Co. among the partnerships struck in the last five years.
“If you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a future,” Jansen likes to say. Here are some highlights of Grinnell Mutual’s growth plan with some of Jansen’s comments:
A top priority was to gain rate increases on the underpriced farm mutual business. Today the company is making—not losing—$50 million a year on this business.
“I went out to every one of our regional meetings with our farm mutuals that we reinsure. I gave them some bad news. I said, ‘Over the next three to four years we’re going to have to double the rates.'”
Grinnell Mutual became one of seven founding investors of the Global Insurance Accelerator Program for InsurTech startups. It’s already paid off. One company, DriveSpotter, has a telematics for fleets product that Grinnell Mutual is using as part of its expansion of its commercial trucking program.
“I had two ideas when I went with this. One was that if they could bring some new ideas to us as a company, to help us produce and grow more business from a technology standpoint, I thought that would be a great situation for us. The other piece was if I could find some companies that we can invest in from an investment standpoint, almost like a venture capitalist, we would do that as well to help grow revenue in the company.”
Although traditionally focused on rural areas, Grinnell Mutual has begun expanding into faster-growing suburban and metro areas by appointing unaffiliated commercial lines agents.
In 2016, the company added New York and Montana members. Next up: Arizona and Virginia.
On the product side, the company is now writing cyber liability and data breach response coverage in partnership with Beazley.
Grinnell Mutual’s new online auto insurance offering designed to target millennials—myCompass—should go live in Pennsylvania in 2017. Eventually it will be expanded to other states.
Grinnell Mutual created a college and high school internship program to address the fact that within the next 10 years, 25 percent of its employees will retire.
The company also made wellness a priority, with an onsite medical clinic that provides free urgent care medical services to employees and their families, as well as a fitness center.
“There’s a vibrancy here in this company that just wasn’t here five years ago…Once you have an energized group of employees, it’s amazing the things you can get done.”
Jansen admits to one weakness in the wellness agenda.
“We give everybody free ice cream at lunch every day.”