Agency Of The Month: Leading With Flood

Dennis H. Pillsbury

An expertise in its community’s greatest risk spells success for this Charleston agency

When you live and work in Charleston, South Carolina, flooding is always top of mind. As Spatial Analyst Matthew Carey from the NOAA Office for Coastal Management in Charleston puts it: “For many, the idea of sea level rise and its associated impacts are thought of as future events. But, here in Charleston, it’s already part of life. Coastal flooding is a major issue that the city faces. All it takes is just the right tide or, even worse, an extreme high tide paired with a torrential downpour during rush hour, and Charleston’s streets become fingers of the Atlantic Ocean that no car can ford.”

Carey goes on to point out that many of the areas that experience the greatest flooding “are atop man-made land. The aptly named Water Street in the South of Broad neighborhood was originally Vanderhorst Creek, until it was filled in 1792.”

And then, of course, there are those occasional rude visitors to the Charleston area that bring both high tides and torrential rains—hurricanes—the most recent standout being Hugo.

Regardless of the cause of the flooding, when your business is helping people deal with risk and you’re in Charleston, you better know something about managing, mitigating and insuring against flooding.

“We’ve followed the flood insurance debacle for many years and have learned everything we can about the program,” says Andrew Muller, CIC, AAI, PRIS, president and owner of the Mappus Insurance Agency in Charleston. “We see a big part of our job as being educators, letting our clients and prospects know what flood insurance covers and, most important, what changes are coming, because, like any government program, there are always changes coming and they aren’t always beneficial to insureds.

“For example,” Andrew continues, “we fully understand the Biggert- Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 and how each of these bills will affect home owners, and property buyers and sellers and their real estate agents.”

Thanks to this thorough understanding of the vagaries of the flood insurance program, Mappus is able to help policyholders reduce their insurance premiums including making certain that every policyholder policy is being rated with an elevation certificate. “This has saved our clients hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars annually,” Andrew points out.

Another technique that has saved clients hundreds of dollars is adding flood vents. “By simply investing as little as $200 into flood vents, policyholders can reduce premiums significantly,” Andrew says. “And, of course, we recommend carrying higher deductibles as another way to lower premiums.”

Third generation

Andrew, who at the age of 30 purchased the agency earlier this year, represents the third generation to head up this 55-year old agency that was founded by Charleston native Theodore “Ted” Tobias Mappus Jr., who, after working briefly for a local agency, decided there was a better way to do insurance and founded his agency in 1960. In that same year, he earned the CPCU designation and brought a risk management approach to the residents of Charleston.

Ted’s son, Theodore “Teddy” Tobias Mappus III, joined the agency in 1974 from Fireman’s Fund. He succeeded Ted as president in 1990 and held that position until he sold the agency to Andrew earlier this year. He earned his stripes the year before he took over the presidency when Hurricane Hugo devastated Charleston and the surrounding area. Teddy and staff stayed up for days, visiting every client of the agency to make certain that they were taken care of properly and respectfully. “One thing Teddy always says when he talks about Hugo is the long line of people outside the office waiting to file claims,”

Andrew notes. “The line seemed to be a mile long.” Andrew joined the agency in 2013 after working as a claims adjuster with Amica and then two other agencies. “I handled a lot of significant claims and worked with high-net-worth clients. That gave me a good understanding of the things that can go wrong and how to make certain that they didn’t.

“I know this sounds a little weird,” Andrew continues, “but I always wanted to own an insurance agency, ever since I was about 12 years old. My dad and stepmom were both in the insurance industry. I visited agencies regularly with my stepmom, Carolyn Muller, who is senior vice president of claims at Auto Owners and a member of the board, and my impression was that the people at the agencies were having fun and were helping people and I wanted to do that. I was especially fortunate that Teddy gave me the opportunity when he was looking for a successor.”

Not just flood

“I was also fortunate to come into an agency that has such a strong reputation in the community and a process that meshes with my own belief that mitigating risk should be the most important job of an insurance agency.

“The Mappus process, which we have dubbed Mappus365, is simple,” Andrew says. “We listen.

“Okay,” Andrew admits, “it’s not that simple, but listening is the first and most important step. We want to learn everything about the client and, while we often start with educating them about flood insurance because we know that nearly every resident of Charleston faces some type of flood exposure, we also know that is just the tip of the iceberg. We provide a thorough risk review and then create a risk management plan that will help each client protect their assets. And once that program is in place, we continuously monitor the plan to make certain that it continues to provide the needed protection in light of changing market dynamics as well as changes in a client’s risk profile.

“We often find that prospects just haven’t kept pace with the increasingly litigious nature of our society and are underinsured for liability losses,” Andrew points out. “This is especially critical because a liability claim can put a client’s home or business and any savings at risk. And, since we have a specialty niche in the high-net worth arena, liability concerns are even greater, since attorneys often look for ‘deep pockets’ when deciding whether to pursue a lawsuit.”

Automation enables hands-on approach

“We use our process with every client,” Andrew adds proudly. “We want to get to know them and have them become part of the Mappus family. Once they are on board, we remain hands on, with automation playing a key role in maintaining regular contact, as well as providing backroom support so we have more time for interaction with clients.”

In addition to sending out a newsletter and an e-newsletter, “we also have our automation system generate random phone calls so we can call those clients just to touch base and make certain that our information on their needs is up to date,” Andrew says. “In addition, every renewal goes out with a personal letter from me and from the CSR.”

Adding to the constant contact with clients is the fact that staff members have a long tenure with the agency and have a long relationship with the clients. “Although we have a staff of six, they account for 112 years of experience with Mappus,” Andrew points out proudly. Customer Service Rep “Carol Howe has been with us 40 years. CSR Michelle Howard is in her 29th year, CSR Krisi Johnson in her 22nd year and Insurance Advisor Charles Marshall in his 22nd year. They literally know everyone and have helped many of our clients get through crises, including Hurricane Hugo.”

The depth of knowledge about each individual allows the agency to place the business with the carrier that offers the best coverage for their needs. “We work with all the major high-networth carriers including ACE, AIG, Chubb, Ironshore, Universal North America and some Lloyd’s syndicates,” Andrew notes. “Since many of the homes, in addition to being valuable, are historic as well, it really requires a variety of companies that specialize in these areas to get the right fit.

“And, because we are on the coast and occasionally run into situations where the traditional market just won’t write a particular risk, we also have a strong relationship with a local wholesaler, Johnson & Johnson. They are one of our best friends and are a key partner for us. In some cases, they represent the only option for a client.”

Andrew continues, “Although high net worth is an important niche for us, we serve the entire Charleston community and have clients with home replacement costs from $200,000 to $10 million, and for every one of them, we provide the same risk management approach. It doesn’t make any difference if they have one car and one home or four homes and 10 cars. They get the same approach.”

A tradition of service

Both Ted and Teddy were and continue to be active in the community and in the industry and Andrew is following in this tradition. Ted is a past president of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Association of South Carolina (IIABSC) as well as serving as the State National Director to the IIABA. At the community level, he was active in his church and several charitable organizations. For his service at the Charleston Salvation Army, Ted was recognized by receiving a lifelong honorary membership.

Teddy is an active member with the IIABSC and with his church and other community organizations.

Andrew followed both into the IIABSC where he serves on the board as well as being a member of the IIABSC Young Agents Committee. He is active in his church and served on the historical commission until he was elected to the IIABSC board this year. “The time commitment forced me to make a difficult choice,” he acknowledges.

Andrew’s love of history led him both to Charleston and to the historical commission. You only have to speak with him for a short while to hear the enthusiasm he feels for his adopted city. (He grew up in Louisville, Kentucky.) “The stories that you hear when you meet people downtown are fascinating and are part of the great things that you get to see and hear when you become part of this community,” Andrew says. “I’m really lucky. This never gets old. Every day I get to go into these beautiful, historic homes, get to learn the history, actually get private tours from the owners, and get to insure some really cool properties down on the Battery. What could be better than this?”

And that enthusiasm spills over to the other five staff members that bend over backwards to assist clients and build relationships. The evidence of that is the 10 to 15 referrals the agency receives every week. “That’s why we’re looking for a new producer and a CSR and account executive. And we just struck a deal to bring on a life and financial services person. All our new business comes from referrals and we’ve got plenty to work with and need help,” Andrew says.

“We’ve enjoyed double-digit growth and are on target to do that again this year,” he concludes. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else. This is the greatest job in the world.”

Rough Notes magazine is impressed with Andrew’s enthusiasm and success and the fact that a new generation of leaders is starting to emerge in the independent agency ranks, with Andrew as one of its important members. We are pleased to recognize Mappus Insurance Agency as our Agency of the Month.