Trust, expertise elevate Glatfelter Insurance in niche market

It’d be nice if all business-success stories were as simple
as that of Glatfelter Insurance Group.

It’d be nice if all business-success stories were as simple
as that of Glatfelter Insurance Group.

The company has built a large portion of its business in a
niche market, Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance Services Inc. (VFIS). Approximately
half of the company’s business and a similar proportion of human resources are
dedicated to this business line, said Anthony Campisi, president and chief
executive officer of Glatfelter.

To listen to Campisi tell the story, it’s nothing more
complicated than seeing a need in the market and then satisfying that need.

In 1968, Art Glatfelter presented a proposal to a volunteer
fire department for a group accident and sickness program. He was surprised by
the lack of availability and the lack of understanding in the marketplace.

“As he presented the proposal, he was apologetic that he
couldn’t provide anything better,” Campisi said.  “The group liked Art’s genuineness and his
concern. He wrote the business despite the fact that he was offering an
inferior product.”

 Glatfelter went to
work on his research to find out how the fire service worked in Pennsylvania.  He discovered that Pennsylvania had the most volunteer
departments in the country (3,000). He also found that the state provided money
for health and welfare benefits through fire-

relief associations. He determined that this was a group
that no one was paying attention to; there was funding available to protect
them and their families; and this was an opportunity to meet an unmet need.
Eventually, Glatfelter found a carrier to write the coverage and the policy,
and the carrier allowed him to be the exclusive agent in Pennsylvania to distribute that coverage.

Today, Glatfelter’s VFIS product provides insurance,
education, training and consulting to more than 15,000 emergency-service
clients in 49 states and Canada.
In the mid-1970s, Glatfelter began adding additional lines of business:
coverage for portable equipment, automobiles and other coverages. Today, it is
a fully integrated program of coverages tailored specifically to the needs of
fire departments and emergency services. Campisi stressed that VFIS is no
longer strictly for volunteer fire departments, but is focused on the nonprofit
and EMS markets. The face of fire and
emergency services in communities has changed, and Glatfelter has adapted to
meet that change.

“Art had a vision, and he built this from scratch 35 years
ago,” said Norm Basso. Basso is executive vice president and chief operating
officer of E.K. McConkey & Company, one of the largest insurance brokerage
firms in Central Pennsylvania.

“It’s a specific business that not many companies are
comfortable with,” Basso said. “It’s small premiums and large risk. Art dove
deep into the business, has the best statistics on analyzing that market and
understands it better than anyone else.”

Basso added that in the insurance business, you can run with
a niche for a long time; but if you’re successful, eventually others will try
to follow. Twenty years ago, Glatfelter was the “lone ranger,” but today there
are others in the market. Even so, Glatfelter remains the major player in that

“The barrier to entry (into that niche) is pretty high,”
said Robert Lieblein, managing partner at Hales & Company, an advisory and
investment-banking firm dedicated to the insurance industry.

“But it’s more than just getting into the niche,”
Lieblein said. “They (a potential competitor) would have to get a carrier to
given them the ‘pen’ to write the business. Carriers, and more importantly, the
partners, are not going to let just anyone underwrite that business. The
carrier is going to give the ‘pen’ to people in whom it trusts and who can
write profitable business.”

That highlights the key component to Glatfelter’s success in
all of its business.

“Competitors can try to compete by lowering their prices,”
Campisi said. “They can copy our forms and they can copy our coverages, but, at
the end of the day, they can’t copy our people.”

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