Marketing Agency of the Month

Bringing passion to insurance

Swimmer personnel are ardent advocates for clients

By Dennis H. Pillsbury

“Ray walked into the office and he was as white as a ghost,” Swimmer Insurance Agency President David Swimmer, CIC, remembers. “He told me he’d just come back from a vacation and his condo was a wreck. A water line had come loose from the third-floor toilet and flooded the place.

“So I said what every agent would say: ‘Ray, that’s why you have insurance.’” David continues. “Then I suggested that we take a ride over to the condo in my car so we could get things moving on the claim so Ray could be back in his condo as soon as possible. Naturally, he was still upset but relieved that we were there to help him.

“We pride ourselves on being there when our clients have a loss. When the client needs an advocate, we’re in their corner,” David says proudly.

Unfortunately, that advocacy was needed in this case. There are some adjusters who believe it is their job to find a way to deny a claim, and that’s what happened in this case. The adjuster told David that this was not a covered claim because the damage was caused by slow seepage. When the adjuster saw the incredulous look on David’s face, he said, “You didn’t tell the client it was covered, did you?”

David’s reply was quick and sharp and not printable in a family publication. “I made it very clear that payment of the claim was the proper position and to find a way out was patently wrong. I’ve been doing this for some 30 years and know that, when a client leaves a home in perfect condition and it’s damaged by a broken water line, it should be covered,” David says. “Fortunately, we have a Jenny, who is our claims manager. For those who remember ‘Crocodile Dundee,’ Jenny is our answer to Donk.” (For those who don’t remember the movie, Donk is an imposing presence who protects an individual who appears to be alone and vulnerable out in the middle of the Outback—appearing from out of the bushes and disarming the bad guy.)

“When someone has a claim, Jenny is prepared to do significant battle if necessary,” David continues. “She has tremendous energy and will leave no stone unturned. In this case, she went to the water department and checked their records for the condominium in question. The bill showed that there was a sudden gush of water in a very short period of time.”

The claim was paid.

Serving the community

Swimmer Insurance has been serving the Charlotte, North Carolina, community since 1953 when David’s father, Harry Swimmer, founded the agency. It moved to its current location two miles south of the center of the city in 1961. “We’ve been here ever since,” says Craig Katzman, CIC, executive vice president. “It’s a great location in a nice neighborhood.

“Some of our customers have been with us since 1953,” he continues. “We are heavily involved in the community and they count on us. We keep our accounts for a long time, and part of that is the result of our operating as a risk management adviser for our clients.”

Craig goes on to point out that there is both a good and bad side to that. Obviously, the high retention rate is the good side, but the bad side is the fact that “we weren’t a real sales organization. That is something we have been working on lately as the continuing soft market makes new business production imperative.

“We also took a 23% hit to revenue three years ago when we lost our biggest account to one of the large brokers. We didn’t lose the account because of anything we did or didn’t do. It was simply that management changed and the new risk manager decided that a large broker was the way to go. But that really forced us to develop a sales culture.

“I’m proud to say that we managed to recoup that loss through new business production,” Craig continues. “We added two new commercial lines producers, bringing us to a total of six, and, this year, added a personal lines producer. We’ve really grown in personal lines, which now accounts for 28% of our revenue, with the balance in commercial lines. New business is a passion with our new personal lines producer. She started in February and it’s really moving.

“The way we do personal lines is contrary to conventional wisdom where a lot of agents just write it and turn the service over to the companies. We provide superior service and expertise. I would put us up against anybody in that area. Of course, high-value accounts make up a large percentage of our personal lines business.

“Our reputation for excellent service gets us in the door of most businesses in the area. We have grown strictly through relationships, with our current customers often serving as our best salespeople. That has really helped our commercial lines producers as they work together to identify companies that represent potential new accounts. Our senior producers, including David and I, work with the new producers to follow up on leads that our relationships have opened up. I make it clear that my goal for them is that they make a lot more money than I do,” Craig says.

“We’re working very hard at keeping the commercial lines pipeline full.”

Good corporate citizens

In addition to serving the insurance needs of the community, Swimmer Insurance also is well known for its eleemosynary contributions to the community. Harry Swimmer, who at 81 still occasionally comes into the agency, “to tell me how to run things,” David says with a chuckle, is the founder of the Swimmer Family Foundation.

The foundation provides funds to a number of charities, including the Misty Meadows Mitey Riders, which enables young people to engage in therapeutic horseback riding. The charity started when Harry met Stacey Marx, a youngster who was born with cerebral palsy. He introduced her to the horses on his farm and the rest is history.

Harry returned to his alma mater, Penn State, to enroll in hippotherapy courses and opened the farm up to special needs children. More than 70 children have taken advantage of this therapy each week at no cost to their families.

Harry was the fifth recipient of The Rough Notes Company Community Service Award in recognition of his many humanitarian efforts. (See the April 2004 edition of Rough Notes for the complete story.)

David and Craig also are very active in the community and are personally involved with a number of charities in the area.

The intellectual capital

“We have an extremely experienced team,” Craig points out. “Most of our people have been with us more than 10 years, and a number more than 20 or 30. Basically, our people’s tenure is measured in decades rather than years. When we meet with potential clients, we are able to provide an expertise that is second to none. The only time having a senior staff doesn’t pay off is when we have to pay our health insurance premiums,” he adds wryly.

“We’ve really parlayed our experience into a sales and marketing asset,” David says. “We’ve buckled down and focus on one client or prospect at a time. Then we move on to the next one. It’s a very disciplined approach. Nothing dramatic, but simply building on what we do best. Our job is to create a solid and respectful relationship with our companies and then loan that relationship to our clients. That’s what we have to be experts at. Our clients respect us for that.

“We’ve also joined the Keystone Insurance Group to help us achieve the size to take on some additional insurance companies,” David says. “The force of the volume of Keystone behind us has helped us gain markets and grow in new areas.”

He continues: “We also make it clear to the staff that we appreciate their loyalty and show that, not just verbally but monetarily as well. We’ve always rewarded our staff with a very good pay scale and benefits. We’ve maintained our investment in every one of our associates in the 401(k). We also share our results with them so they understand that revenues on incumbent business have dropped, and that we need new business. They see that we are investing in new production staff to help develop that business. It’s a balancing act where we try to continue to pay the best salaries and offer good benefits, but need to slow down increases to reflect the economic conditions.

“We operate the agency like a family, and families have bad times as well as good,” David says. “My goal is to have everyone in the agency understand how valuable they are to this organization. I would like to change the name of the company so that everyone’s name is on the door.”

Swimmer Insurance Agency has remained true to the independent agency philosophy of always doing the right thing for the companies it represents and the clients it serves. We are proud to recognize Swimmer Insurance as the Rough Notes Marketing Agency of the Month.


David Swimmer, CIC, President of Swimmer Insurance Agency in Charlotte, North Carolina.


David Swimmer and Jennifer Hardman, Account/Claim Consultant.


Commercial Lines team members (from left): Dot Williams, Associate Account Executive; Marisa Hanley, Account Executive; Irene Ruse, Account Executive; and Deborah Mullins, Account Executive.


"We have grown strictly through relationships, with our current customers often serving as our best salespeople. That has really helped our commercial lines producers as they work together to identify companies that represent potential new accounts."

—Craig Katzman, CIC
Executive Vice President

Personal Lines team members (from left): Nancy Breithaup, CPIW, API, Account Executive; Christa McMillan, CISR, Account Executive; Phyllis Conley, CIC, CPIW, Personal Lines Manager; Linda Stewart, Personal Lines Producer; and Georgia Burke, CPSR, CPIW, Account Executive.

Some of the people involved in creating "a solid and respectful relationship" with companies and clients (standing from left): David Boling, AIC, CWCA, Senior Vice President; Matt Frazier, CIC, AU, Account Executive; Craig Katzman;
and David Swimmer. Seated from left are: Brian Meltsner, CIC, Vice President; Melanie Stowe, Account Executive; and Christa McMillan.