CREATING A FRIENDLY DIGITAL AGENCY
Ohio agency utilizes technology to enhance their personal touch rather than to replace it
By Barley Dennison
Hertvik Insurance Group, Medina, Ohio, traces its origin back to 1946 when “my grandfather started a life insurance agency out of his house,” says Jack Hertvik, president. Other lines of business were added slowly until the early 1980s when “my father joined and turned it into a primarily property/casualty agency.”
Scott Ewers, who was then serving as marketing manager for one of the agency’s leading carriers, joined Hertvik in 1999. Scott’s background in commercial lines would help the agency transition from a personal lines focus to the more balanced entity it is today. Scott was named president in 2001 and purchased the agency along with Jack in 2004.
Jack served in a number of positions in customer service and accounting, until his promotion to vice president in 2007. In 2010, he was promoted by Scott to serve as president of SIA of Northern Ohio, which was founded by Scott in 2001. SIA of Northern Ohio is an SIAA Master Agency consisting of more than 60 independent agencies across 11 counties in northern Ohio.
Hertvik underwent a major evolution in 2017. “We had grown from eight employees to more than thirty, so we wanted to create a more collaborative environment for our growing team,” says Scott. The decision was made to build a new office building in Medina, twenty miles south of the previous location. By the spring of 2019, the organization had moved into the building, which provided room to grow, improved teleconferencing capability, and a state-of-the-art training facility.
In 2021, Jack became president of Hertvik Insurance, while Andrew Ryan,CIC, was named vice president. Andrew had joined the agency in 2018 as a commercial client manager specializing in small commercial accounts. He helped spearhead the agency’s efforts to create a “digital experience designed to remove as much friction from the customer experience as possible.” Jack points out that “we realized we needed to bridge that gap between relating digitally and relating personally.”
“[Our relationships] are partnerships, where it is incumbent on us to reach a win-win solution in all our dealings with our companies, our employees, our customers, our community and, most recently, our technology.”
“That process started with assessing our original tech stack,” Andrew says. “Our evaluation started with two main objectives: improve our company’s client experience and create efficiency within our organization. We enhanced our tech stack by adding SaaS (Softw areas a Service) products like Agency Zoom, Tarmika, and Aureus Analytics.
“Our utilization of technology has changed the trajectory of our business,” he adds. “We have made rapid progress towards our goal of having the transactional part of the agency business be handled digitally, while freeing up our people to spend more quality time with customers and prospects.”
A tech-friendly staff
“I grew up with the internet,” Andrew explains, “so modernizing our existing workflow using tech was natural for me. I can’t give our team enough credit for how quickly they adopt new ways of doing things. We benefit by having a relatively young agency, with an average employee age of around 32. So, we are all comfortable with technology and the constantly evolving environment that the digital world has brought about.”
“It says a lot about the agency and its commitment to the community that it was named ‘Agency of the Year’ by the Medina local paper, and we’ve been here for only three years.”
SIA of Northern Ohio
Scott points out that the “efficiency in handling the transactional aspects of the business allowed the agency to take advantage of opportunities to scale by partnering with strategic entities that would provide a large number of leads.” Jack adds, “The threat of embedded insurance was something that our leadership group was concerned about. Insurance is being offered as part of many transactions consumers make today. We wanted to turn that threat into an opportunity.”
One of these opportunities was a partnership with a large Midwestern real estate group that provides about 24,000 leads on an annual basis. Andrew and Griffin Ewers, Scott’s son, created a technology platform to prioritize prospects that were most attractive to the agency and its carrier partners. They also developed a sales process that utilized multiple layers of communication such as social media, texting, video, and voicemail drops on top of emails and outbound calls. “The data provided by our system allows us to segment those prospects so we can tailor our marketing campaigns to fit their profile,” comments Jack.
“And the great thing about this is that it can be easily replicated with other strategic entities,” Andrew adds. “One of the things that makes us unique is our ability to connect directly into our partners’ systems. We want our staff to be less involved in low-value activities like filtering through leads and more involved in high-value activities such as establishing client relationships of trust and integrity and serving as insurance advisors.”
Doubling down on “neighborhood feel”
“As we increased our digital presence in a way that we hoped would enhance our ability to bring a personal touch to our relationships, we also doubled down on being a good neighbor through the establishment of the ‘Hertvik Cares’ initiative, where we donate time and money to local charities,” Jack says. “Every quarter, the staff gets together and picks a charity for donation. The staff members share stories about the charities and really get involved in helping out. And the agency donates $20 for each new policy that we write.”
In 2022, the agency raised over $30,000 for the JCH Foundation through donations and grants from carriers and other organizations. This nonprofit helps combat mental illness and prevent suicide in northeast Ohio. Their key initiative is creating “John’s Safe Places” that were designed in conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic to be a place of peace in a school where a person who is feeling suicidal can decompress in a quiet, safe environment.
The “Safe Places” are named for Andrew’s brother-in-law, who commit-ted suicide in the fall of 2017. “Six months after John passed, my in-laws set up the foundation,” Andrew says, “which is designed to take the stigma from mental illness so that people who are suffering in silence no longer feel like they have to.”
“In commercial lines, we focus on market niches that are complicated and require expertise. Our organization emphasizes the education of our staff to better equip them to handle these complicated risks.”
—Andrew Ryan, CIC
In addition to the JCH Foundation, the agency also supports other local charities like Empower Sports, Collin Cares Cure Cancer, Friends of Medina County Parks, and the Cleveland Metropark Zoo. National programs also supported by the agency include Petco Foundation, American Forest Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, and Semper Fi & America’s Fund.
Andrew notes that, in addition to monetary contributions, “the staff really is committed to helping out. [When] we have a volunteer event, at least half the staff is there. Our marketing people also provide assistance to the charities we support, including creating video presentations to help with fundraising.”
“It says a lot about the agency and its commitment to the community that it was named ‘Agency of the Year’ by the Medina local paper,” Scott points out, “and we’ve been here for only three years.”
A plethora of partnerships
“Our relationship with our community is just one of many important partnerships,” Jack points out. “In fact, we view our relationships as much more than mere acquaintances. They are partnerships, where it is incumbent on us to reach a win-win solution in all our dealings—with our companies, our employees, our customers, our community and, most recently, our technology. As long as we continue to focus on each of these constituents as partners, we are convinced Hertvik Insurance will succeed and be able to provide excellent service that transcends that which is offered by our competitors.”
Scott adds that “our relationship with SIAA has made it possible for us to be one of the premier agencies in our region. This important partnership allows us to provide the best possible products for our clients and for the members of SIA of Northern Ohio. Although we are a fairly large agency on our own, by being part of SIAA we are seen as an $11 billion entity by our carrier partners.”
“Our access to excellent programs has certainly helped us grow and attract commercial clients,” says Mike McAvinue, vice president of commercial lines. “Although our personal lines business has really benefited from our technology’s ability to cull the best customers from the large number of leads we’ve received, I’m proud that our commercial lines business has grown even faster than personal lines and now represents approximately 65% of total premiums. This business comes from a combination of our increased marketing efforts and referrals from existing clients.”
Although our personal lines business has really benefited from our technology’s ability to cull the best customers … our commercial lines business has grown even faster … and now represents approximately 65% of total premiums.”
Vice President, Commercial Lines
“In commercial lines, we focus on market niches that are complex and require expertise,” Andrew adds. “Our organization emphasizes the education of our staff to better equip them to handle these complicated risks.”
MariLou Franczkowski, CIC, CISR, CPRM, vice president of personal lines, praises the “great team of people working in personal lines. They enjoy working with people and doing their best to make certain that every customer is properly insured. What really sets us apart and makes us so effective at working with people is the support we get from management. They listen to us and care about us.
“When they say they view employees as partners, it isn’t just lip service,” she adds. “They mean it, and that gives us freedom to try new things that we think will benefit clients. We are allow-ed to make mistakes, although we certainly try not to. The support has resulted in tremendous success and a feeling that we all are a part of the team.”
“What really sets us apart and makes us so effective at working with people is the support we get from management. … [It] has resulted in tremendous success and a feeling that we all are a part of the team.”
—MariLou Franczkowski, CIC, CISR, CPRM
Vice President, Personal Lines
Jack wraps up by pointing out that when technology began its exponential growth, there were a host of atrabilious prognosticators who declared the death of the independent agent was coming. However, as Mark Twain quipped about a newspaper report concerning his own demise, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” So, too, was the report of the independent agency system’s passing.
“Our commitment to partnering with technology was never meant to replace human interaction or decrease the amount of communication we have with our customers,” Jack says. “It was meant to provide efficiencies to our staff to free them up to have more high-level conversations centered around guidance and expertise while at the same time improving the experience for our clients … .
“If anything,” he adds, “the proper implementation of technology will strengthen the independent agent’s position with its customers.”
Rough Notes is pleased to recognize Hertvik Insurance Group as our Agency of the Month. Their commitment to partnerships with all constituents should serve as an in-spiration to all agencies in the system who are looking for a way to advance forward.
Barley Dennison is a freelance insurance feature writer.