P/C Mutual Insurers
Expansion Spurs Growth for US P/C Mutuals Moving Up the Charts
Three property/casualty mutual insurers identify the keys to their increases in business. See the Best’s Rankings list of the Top 25 US Property/Casualty Mutual Insurers – 2022 Edition.
- Anthony Bellano
- September 2022
- The Standings: Four property/casualty mutuals in this year’s top 25 made double-digit gains in net premium growth in 2021, but the rankings for the top six insurers remained the same from last year.
- Strategies: Two companies that were founded in Wisconsin have expanded beyond the Midwest in recent years. Acuity Insurance is now available in 30 states, and West Bend Mutual is growing through independent agents.
- Business Plan: Sentry saw big gains in four of its five commercial line segments last year and has spent $600 million in the last 15 years to upgrade all of its technological and analytical systems.
Business growth is measured by many factors, and in the insurance industry, an increase of net premiums written is one of them. Three mutual carriers, Acuity Insurance, Sentry Insurance Co. and West Bend Mutual, appearing in Best's Rankings of the Top 25 US Property/Casualty Mutual Insurers in 2021, cited several trends that fueled their double-digit growth in net premiums written.
However, it's not just adding more business but how you add it that is important. Two of the three insurers said expansion into new states was the reason for their NPW growth.
Acuity President and CEO Ben Salzmann said expansion is more of a logistical challenge but it pays to have all of your products available in each state in which you have a presence. “You can enter a lot of states with a single product. When we enter a new state, we enter with all the personal and commercial lines products,” Salzmann said.
Other business strategies cited are the expanded use of independent agents and the creation of new technology to support that partnership.
“We were willing to spend significantly [to upgrade all technology and analytics systems]. We are ahead of the industry by a wide margin in terms of having replaced all of our legacy systems. Having replenished all of our technology has been a real boon to us.”
Sentry Insurance Co.
Acuity Insurance had an 11.5% change in net premiums written, up from $1.7 billion in 2020 to $1.9 billion in 2021, according to Best's Rankings. A company spokesman reports that $6.5 million in written premium came from Oregon, a state the company entered for the first time last year.
West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., which started in Wisconsin in 1894, has added 10 states in which it does business since 2017. At the end of 2021, those states represented 17% of the company's $1.5 billion in written premiums, according to a company spokesperson. In 2021, West Bend recorded a 12.9% change in net premiums written from 2020.
Sentry Insurance Co. also expanded in 2021, although President and Chief Executive Officer Pete McPartland said the expansion came within states where the company already had a presence. The company saw an 11.2% increase in net premiums written, from $2.6 billion in 2020 to $2.8 billion in 2021.
FM Global also saw double-digit growth in 2021. It had a 12.3% change in net premiums written, up from $4.7 billion in 2020 to $5.3 billion in 2021.
The company, which declined to be interviewed about the increase, was the highest ranked of the four companies, at No. 6. Sentry was ranked No. 7, Acuity was ranked No. 14, and West Bend was ranked No. 16. State Farm Group topped the overall list with $69.6 billion in net written premiums, up 6.1% from 2020.
In fact, the top six companies in Best's Rankings of the Top 25 US Property/Casualty Mutual Insurers – 2022 Edition all maintained their ranking from last year, while Sentry moved up one spot, West Bend jumped three spots and Acuity remained unchanged.
How Expansion Works
Successful growth in new markets can mean offering new products, building relationships with independent agents and considering the spread of risk in new geographic locations.
“When you enter with workers' comp, general liability, commercial property, commercial auto, along with homeowners and personal auto, it would be like taking one product into eight new states,” Salzmann said. “Different insurance department personnel are looking at each of the different products.”
In 2022, Acuity expanded into Georgia, its 22nd state in the last 20 years. Founded in 1925 in Wisconsin, the company is now set up in 30 states, with a move into Arkansas targeted for January. The ultimate goal is to be set up in almost every state, Salzmann said.
At the same time, the company is working on rolling out six new products, Salzmann said. Acuity Vice President of Sales & Communications Wally Waldhart said its current product line already allows the company to “handle virtually any type of commercial or personal lines account.”
West Bend Mutual also was founded in Wisconsin. It initially expanded into Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, where it operated for many years before expanding further, President and CEO Kevin Steiner said. He said its relationship with independent agents helped fuel the company's growth into states such as Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Arizona—locations that were unaware of what West Bend was all about.
There was a question as to whether the strategy they had in place in their core states could work in these new states, but they have seen tremendous success because they've built strong relationships, Steiner said.
“We find ourselves in the No. 1, 2 or 3 spot for all of our independent agent partners,” Steiner said. Those relationships also give them greater access as the independent agent landscape changes due to mergers and acquisitions.
“Some of our traditional independent agents have sold to national brokers, private equity firms or become part of an aggregator,” Steiner said. “Even though they become a little different when they're part of a national broker, we've put ourselves in a good position with [those entities].”
It's paid off, financially. Over the last 10 years, West Bend's combined annual growth has been more than 8%, while the company has recorded a combined ratio of less than 100 each of those years, according to a company spokesman. In seven of the last 10 years, it has been under 95.
West Bend also offers all of its products in each state in which it has a presence. “Initially, we just took our specialty division to the new states, but in the last five years, our strategy has been to take our entire company,” Steiner said.
“We have a commercial lines division, our personal lines division and we have a specialty division. Now we're taking all those, which has also helped our growth.”
He said they started with geography when considering expansion. “When you write business in Indiana, when you get to southern Indiana, you're right by Louisville [Kentucky],” Steiner said. “Well, of course the agents all want you to write business there. Initially, it was expansion just by expanding our Midwest footprint, but now it's expansion to look at spread of risk. For example, we're now in Arizona. Arizona doesn't have the same conductive storms and hail that you would see in the Midwest. Now we're looking at geography to help us diversify our company.”
Even as it has expanded outward, though, Steiner said West Bend has not forgotten where it came from.
“We still are really focused on how we grow in Wisconsin,” Steiner said. “In those other states I mentioned, we still are interested in growing our relationships with our agents, in growing our premium volume in those states. It's not like these new states are going to take over. We have a good mixture of growth in our core states and growth in our expansion states.”
“You can enter a lot of states with a single product. When we enter a new state, we enter with all the personal and commercial lines products.”
The Tech Connection
West Bend works with 1,500 independent agents across 15 states, according to a company spokesman. Acuity and Sentry also expressed their strong ties with their independent agents as reasons for their success.
Acuity relies heavily on independent agents, who prefer to work with Acuity, in part, because the company writes its own software, Salzmann said.
“Acuity's building the latest, greatest cutting-edge software that you can imagine. Independent agents want to choose the software they like the most,” Salzmann said. “Instead of buying one software out of 100, we built a headless architecture that can work with all 100, so that the agents can say 'I want this one instead of that one.' OK, we interface with that one, too.”
Wisconsin-based Sentry offers a full line of property, casualty, and life insurance products, as well as personal insurance through its Dairyland brand, which provides non-standard auto, motorcycle, and off-road insurance.
It recently branched out into the independent agent regional business. “That's middle market commercial insurance written through independent agents who have strong market shares in the communities they are in,” McPartland said. “That is a startup business for us, and it's now approaching $300 million. It will continue to grow.”
Over the last 15 years, Sentry has dedicated more than $600 million to upgrade all technology and analytics systems, according to a company spokesperson. This makes it easier for independent agents to access their systems and do business with them, McPartland said. He said it also makes the company more efficient and competitive.
“We were willing to spend significantly on that initiative. We are ahead of the industry by a wide margin in terms of having replaced all of our legacy systems,” McPartland said. “Having replenished all of our technology has been a real boon to us.”
In 2021, Sentry saw growth across all its target markets. Highlighted by growth in its regional and trucking businesses, the company saw double-digit growth in net premiums written across its commercial lines.
It saw 30.3% growth in inland marine; 22.7% growth in general liability; 19.6% growth in commercial auto; and 11.5% growth in commercial property, according to a chart provided by the company. Adding in the 5.8% increase in personal auto brings the company to the 11.2% overall premium growth number.
The commercial auto growth was largely in the trucking business, McPartland said.
“We're one of the largest insurers of long-haul trucking in the country,” McPartland said. “We sell that business through about 75 independent agencies, and all those agencies do is sell long-haul trucking, for Sentry and one or two other carriers. We have someone who runs a long-haul trucking business for us. That person will have an actuarial team, an underwriting team, a product development team that focuses exclusively on long-haul trucking. They have underwriters, and distribution that is dedicated exclusively to it. By having these businesses be separate from each other, we're able to specialize and drill down.”
The regional initiative resulted in Sentry opening an office in Portland, Oregon, a little more than a year ago, and it is currently opening a new office in Colorado.
“We'll get disproportionate growth in the Rocky Mountain states, but we're not moving into those states for the first time as a company,” McPartland said.
While Sentry has expanded within the states in which it already exists, McPartland said the true story of its growth is found in its climb within the Fortune 1000. This year, the company was ranked No. 650 in the magazine's annual ranking of the 1,000 largest companies in America. That's an upward movement of 167 spots since 2012.
Sentry also converted to a full mutual holdings company in 2021, which McPartland said “gives us a lot more flexibility, and it helps us organize our results more illustratively. It doesn't affect how we run the company at all. It gives us, technically, more mutual policyholders.” He said it's become a trend among mutual companies.
“It's a more evolved, sophisticated structure within the mutual than a mutual company structure, but it's happening quite a bit,” McPartland said.
Top 25 US Property/Casualty Mutual Insurers — 2022 Edition
Insurers were ranked by 2021 net premiums written.
||State Farm Group
||Liberty Mutual Ins Cos
||Amer Family Ins Group
||Auto-Owners Ins Group
||FM Global Group
||Sentry Ins Group
||COUNTRY Financial PC Group
||Amica Mutual Group
||Shelter Ins Cos
||EMC Ins Cos
||Federated Mutual Group
||Acuity, A Mutual Ins Co
||State Ins Fund WC Fund
||West Bend Mutual Ins Co
||TN Farmers Ins Cos
||Farm Bureau P&C Group
||Alfa Ins Group
||Grange Ins Pool
||Utica Natl Ins Group
||Texas Farm Bureau Group
||State Compensation Ins Fund
||KY Farm Bureau Group
||Encova Mutual Ins Group
||Top 25 Writers
||Top 50 Writers
||Top 100 Writers
||Total U.S. P/C Mutual
||Total U.S. P/C Industry
Note: Data for some companies in this report has been received from the NAIC.
Source: - Statement File - PC, US; data as of June 21, 2022.