Personal lines insurers don’t need to be big in order to excel, according to a new study. In fact, only two companies on Conning Inc.’s list of Growth and Profit Leaders are in the top 10 for either personal auto or homeowners premium volume, and more than one-third had total personal lines premium under $100 million.

Conning’s 2015 list of Growth and Profit Leaders, listed alphabetically:

  • Agency Insurance Co. of Maryland
  • American Access Casualty
  • ASI Cos.
  • Everest Re
  • Florida Family
  • Germania Mutual
  • Loudoun Mutual
  • Milo Trust
  • National Unity
  • Nodak Mutual
  • North Star
  • Pioneer State Mutual Insurance Co.
  • Progressive
  • Standard Casualty
  • Tower Hill
  • United Heritage
  • Universal Holdings

Those personal lines insurers that are managing to grow profitably are doing so by specializing, Conning found—whether by product, distribution channel, customer or geographic niche.

Conning’s analysis of the most recently completed 10-year period (2005-2014) found that 19 companies were standouts, leading their peers in growth and profitability over both long-term (10-year) and short-term (five-year) measurement periods.

“It became clear that, regardless of the significant market share advantage of large companies, size by itself does not appear to translate into a key differentiator for success,” said Alan Dobbins, Conning’s director of insurance research. “However, more than half of the members of the successful group have clearly identifiable product or customer segment specialties, while others have a regional specialization, sometimes in addition to a product niche.”

Only two of the companies making Conning’s 2015 list of Growth and Profit Leaders are in the top 25 largest personal lines underwriters: GEICO and Progressive. The majority are small to midsize insurers.

Seven members of the group are pure or nearly pure specialists by line of business or product type: personal auto for Agency Insurance Co. of Maryland, American Access Casualty, GEICO, National Unity, Producers National and Progressive; personal property for ASI, Florida Family, Standard Casualty, Tower Hill and Universal Holdings.

During the 10-year period studied, companies on Conning’s list grew their personal lines portfolios between 4 percent and 73 percent per year, while the total market for personal lines grew at a compound annual growth rate of 2.5 percent.

Personal auto premiums for the industry grew less than 2 percent on average during the study period compared to 6 percent for those companies on Conning’s list.

Growth in homeowners was more volatile for these insurers, Conning said, with annualized growth rates ranging from negative 100 percent to more than 50 percent.

For the personal auto line, the aggregated 2005-2014 combined ratios of companies on Conning’s list ranged from a low of 90 percent (North Star) to a high of 103 percent (United Heritage). The group produced a 10-year combined ratio of 94 percent (weighted average) compared to 99 percent for the personal auto market as a whole.

On the homeowners side, combined ratios ranged from a low of 69 percent (Milo Trust) to a high of 113 percent (National Unity) for the period. The group produced a 10-year combined ratio of 96 percent compared to a total homeowners market result of 104 percent.

The lowest pure loss ratio in the group was National Unity (42 percent), followed by American Access Casualty (44 percent). Conning noted that the companies specialize not only on a focused segment of personal auto (short-term tourist coverage and nonstandard auto, respectively) but also on specific demographic groups within those markets.

For homeowners, Milo Trust recorded the lowest loss ratio (44 percent) over the 10-year period, while National Unity was the highest (80 percent).

* Updated to include Pioneer State Mutual Insurance Co., which was inadvertently left off the list of 2015 profit leaders.