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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



May 31
10:24 2022


California agency helps clients navigate the E&S world with ease

By Dennis Pillsbury

For many businesses that specialize in areas deemed high hazard by the traditional insurance industry, the only way to obtain insurance coverage is through the excess and surplus (E&S) lines market or, as one business owner called it: the exotic and strange market—with manuscript forms that make comparison shopping almost impossible. Fusco Orsini & Associates, an independent agency in San Diego, California, has focused on making navigation of the E&S market easier and quicker for the businesses that choose to use them as their risk management partner.

The agency was formed by Mike Fusco and Valeri Orsini in 2010, when they left an agency whose client base they both felt was too concentrated in one niche market. “There was no diversification,” Mike recalls, “and we felt that could be a problem if economic exigencies negatively affected that market.”

Valeri explains that the owner of their previous agency “wasn’t invested in diversification, so we had to move on if we wanted to branch out.” Another colleague, Dan Morton, joined the fledgling operation when Mike and Valeri opened their doors. Today, Mike serves as chief executive officer, Valeri is chief operating officer, and Dan is small business sales manager. The agency has grown from these three to 20 employees, handling some $3 million in revenue—mostly in commercial lines and employee benefits.

Getting started

“Our approach starting out was to develop previous relationships and get involved in local groups in order to get our name and our focus on ease of doing business in front of as many businesses and centers of influence as possible,” Mike says. “At the same time, we were working on our digital footprint as a way to build on our successes.




“[Our podcast] acts as a unique sales tool for us, since it shows how we have contributed to our clients’ success.”

—Mike Fusco
Chief Executive Officer





“We have a strong, consistent blog that always includes video content and that’s been an important ingredient in our success,” he adds. “A lot of customers come on our podcast. They have a chance to talk about their businesses and products.”

According to Mike, this approach serves to strengthen the agency’s relationship with customers. “It also acts as a unique sales tool for us, since it shows how we have contributed to our clients’ success,” he

explains. “That often opens the door to other companies in the same or similar business, as well as others in unrelated businesses who like our way of supporting clients.

“Of course,” Mike continues, “none of this would be possible if we didn’t have our act together. While we were out getting business, we were also engaged in developing strong processes and workflows that allow us to find the best coverage for each of our clients and, thanks to technology that we have developed, explain that coverage to them in a way that is understandable.

“Internally, we have an almost assembly line way of working each request for a proposal that allows us to get back to clients in minutes instead of the many hours it norm

Team members gather for a meeting. From left: Dan Morton, Small Business Sales Manager; Cathy Burkhardt, Senior Account Manager; Tina Adams, Receptionist; Brent Cherniss, Broker; Mike Fusco; Kaitlyn Losch, Customer Service Representative; Sonya Persaud, Employee Benefits Assistant; and Rylie Williams, Account Manager Assistant.

ally takes to get through a ‘traditional’ E&S proposal,” he adds.

Valeri points out that training is a big part of developing a team that, as she puts it, can “make what we do look easy. We have automation systems go

ing to keep up to date with the E&S marketplace. All our workflows cater to our clients who can find out everything they need via automation if they choose.

“Some clients rely on it,” she adds. “Others opt out. But the key point is that we keep clients informed almost instantly whenever there’s a change in coverage

or when they might be looking at a premium increase and so on. This transparency allows us to act quickly in concert with our clients whenever they need to make an adjustment in coverage or risk management mitigation.

“I like to see us as the Nordstrom of insurance,” Valeri says, “and I’m pleased that many of our customers see us that way, as well. That’s why we get so many referrals.”

Unafraid of change

“One of the  reasons that we’ve been able to make E&S look techie,” Dan says with a smile, pointing out that the market still depends on an awful lot of paper, “is our willingness to look at new products and technologies.“We’re not afraid of change, at least Mike isn’t,” he adds. “He seems to know every new product, and we’re never timid about trying it and testing it to see if it will help with our efficiency and enhance the client experience. Either Mike or I will test it first to make certain it makes sense for our customers and, if it does, we’ll figure out a way to make it work.



“[O]ur workflows cater to our clients, who can find out everything they need via automation if they choose. … I like to see us as the Nordstrom of insurance, and I’m pleased that many of our customers see us that way, as well. That’s why we get so many referrals.”

—Valeri Orsini
Chief Operating Officer




“Our communication system is one example of a new technology that really paid off during COVID,” Dan continues. “The system lets us know how busy each producer is. It shows what they are working on and what’s in their pipeline. This is invaluable when a request comes in over the internet.

“We get a lot of inbound leads, and I have to navigate them throughout the agency,” he explains. “The communication system lets me assign the lead to a producer who has the time to handle it quickly. It


also lets me pair the request with a producer who has expertise in the particular business segment that is represented by the requester.

“And that brings up a key point: We don’t take everyone,” Dan says proudly. “If a request comes in from a business where we have no expertise, we’ll tell them we aren’t a good fit. And, if we know of a competitor who does a good job in that arena, we’ll let the requester know that.




“Our communication system … lets us know how busy each producer is. It shows what they are working on and what’s in their pipeline. This is invaluable when a request comes in over the internet. … [It] lets me assign the lead to a producer who has the time to handle it quickly.”

—Dan Morton

Small Business Sales Manager



“Our goal is to make certain that each lead that comes in has a good experience, even if the end result is that they wind up with a competitor,” he adds. “And word gets around that we do that. We’ve heard from people who say that they came to us because they know that they can trust us precisely because we turned away business where we couldn’t help with their risk management needs. It shows them that we’re in this to provide good advice and service, not just to make money.”

Dan continues, “We’re always trying to get better. It can be exhausting when Mike comes in with yet another new technology. Every day is a challenge and an opportunity to get better, but never comfortable.

“This atmosphere of constant change has resulted in a team that is focused on developing the best ways to serve our clients—each and every client,” he adds. “That is a big part of the philosophy here: We treat all clients the same. Each one is treated as if they’re our most profitable. We did have some people who didn’t believe in that, and we had to let them go. The result is that we have a family of like-minded individuals with a common goal.”

Restoring drive

“One of the problems that occurred during COVID,” Dan says, “is that people who became used to being slightly uncomfortable because of the daily challenges at work became comfortable working at home. After all, we’ve equipped our homes with all the things that make us comfortable. I know that was happening to me and I’m sure that was happening to others, as well.

“But we often need to have dialogue with others to keep us sharp,” he adds, “and we were missing that. So, I started calling people on a regular basis just to talk, not always about work, but just about life and how things were going. The idea was to simply remind every-one that we were still part of a team doing a very important job, even if we weren’t seeing each other every day.”

Valeri, who as COO does a little bit of everything, including human resources, also is working to restore the team atmosphere by bringing people together for special events. “Even after COVID restrictions

Mike Fusco produces his podcast, Team Business, out of a corner room in the agency’s San Diego office.

were lifted, a number of people continued to work from home, which was fine,” Valeri says. “But we also needed opportunities to meet with each other in a casual way.

“We now have Foody Fridays, where we get out-of-office employees into the office for a free lunch and conversation with their colleagues,” she explains. “This is especially important for new people who depend on some mentoring from veterans. It gives them a chance to ask questions about, for instance, the best way to handle certain situations with clients. They can pick their brains a little to find new ways to support customers.

“We’re also having a once-a-month Happy Hour that brings teams for certain niches together—a kind of get-to-know-your-colleagues, one month at a time,” she adds. “These meetings have allowed new employees to find ways to grow in the agency by finding out how others have progressed and succeeded.”

Rough Notes is proud to recognize Fusco Orsini & Associates for living up to its promise to provide “struggle-free insurance and risk management services for busy people.” They truly deserve recognition as our Agency of the Month.

The author

Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.


About Author

Jim Brooks

Jim Brooks

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