Michael LaRocco

An ex-Fireman’s Fund CEO will become the new leader of State Auto Financial Corp., replacing the company’s long-time leader as he readies for retirement.

Michael LaRocco assumes the president and CEO slots of the Ohio-based super regional property/casualty insurance holding company in two phases. State Auto’s board of directors said his hiring becomes effective on April 27, and LaRocco’s formal executive duties begin on May 8. LaRocco replaces Robert Restrepo, who plans to help LaRocco with the transition and stay on as chairman until he retires on Dec. 31, 2015.

In bringing on LaRocco, State Auto gains a 58-year-old leader with more than 35 years experience in the property/casualty insurance industry. He was also part of a parade of executives that ran Fireman’s Fund under Allianz’s controversial ownership of the iconic U.S. Insurer. LaRocco left his CEO slot at SAFECO to become CEO of Fireman’s Fund on March 17, 2008. He departed Fireman’s Fund in July 2011 to pursue other professional opportunities.

LaRocco most recently served as president and CEO of AssureStart, a Seattle-based startup that sells general liability and property insurance to small businesses on the Internet. He left that position last July, citing family reasons.

Paul Williams, State Auto Financial Corp.’s lead director, said in prepared remarks that LaRocco’s diverse experience lets him understand “the dynamic nature of the insurance marketplace, while sharing our strong commitment to the independent agency system.”

As far as Restrepo’s departure, State Auto said the change is very much routine. A State Auto spokesperson explained to Carrier Management via email that Restrepo, who joined the insurer in February 2006, “has publicly discussed his intention to retire at the end of the year in which he turns 65, which is this year.”

Bob Restrepo
Bob Restrepo

Restrepo has been active in pushing the property/casualty industry’s agenda on a national level. Last fall, he completed a one-year term as chair of the board of governors of the 1,000-member Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. He also previously chaired the American Insurance Association.

Restrepo presided over a number of improvements at the State Auto during his tenure. Among them: In January, State Auto announced news that it had strengthened its prior year loss and loss expense reserves by $72 million pre-tax, reflected in the 2014 fourth quarter. Restrepo told Carrier Management at the October 2014 PCI Annual Meeting in Scottsdale, AZ, that he had expected State Auto to resolve its reserve strengthening issues by the end of 2014.

The company would begin 2015, he said at the time, with “a good run rate of underwriting profitability, restored capital,” and a more diversified company thanks to targeted acquisitions.

State Auto also sealed an adverse development cover reinsurance deal earlier this year with Munich Re that gives $40 million of coverage for adverse development beyond carried reserves for the terminated Risk Evaluation & Design restaurant program, which represents nearly 60 percent of carried Risk Evaluation & Design reserves.

Jim Kunk, lead director for subsidiary State Auto Mutual, said in a statement that Restrepo led State Auto “through an important period” in the company’s long history and left it with “important and necessary infrastructure.” He said that State Auto under Restrepo’s leadership expanded its geographic footprint, “made key acquisitions” and boosted its talent base despite “some significant challenges.”

Restrepo, in a statement, said that “following the board’s well-planned change in CEO leadership, my highest priority will be to work with [LaRocco] and the boards to help State Auto reach its full potential.”

State Auto companies include State Automobile Mutual, State Auto Property & Casualty, State Auto Wisconsin, Patrons Mutual, Plaza Insurance and Rockhill Insurance.