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Marketing Agency of the Month

Taking the extra time

At Litwin Castle, automation efficiency allows more time for relationship building

By Dennis H. Pillsbury

What we often forget about clichés is the fact that they nearly always have a strong basis in fact. Phrases become hackneyed simply because they describe something that happens again and again. In the insurance industry, two such phrases that have become clichéd are: "It's a people business" (often enunciated ironically by individuals from the number-crunching side of the business), and "It's all about relationships" (the mantra of agencies who understand that customers who are 'raving fans' become the agency's best sales people.)

Of course, building relationships takes time and that is often something that seems to be in short supply. And that is becoming even more critical today, as customers expect everything immediately, if not sooner. At the same time, independent agencies are expected to do many of the functions that were once the purview of their insurance company partners. And there has been no concomitant increase in compensation.

Jo Ann N. Litwin, president of Litwin Castle Insurance Agency, Inc., Orchard Park, New York, points to one result of this pressure on the bottom line. "When I look at how the agency has changed from when I first started working here in 1992, it is that the volume has increased but the number of employees has not. Each individual is asked to handle more volume and, at the same time, provide superior service that builds on the relationships we have developed with our customers."

Steven P. McCarville, vice president, adds: "We are always looking for greater efficiencies that will free up our people to spend most of their time cultivating relationships."

The art of listening

"Here in the Buffalo area, we are in a very competitive environment, with nearly all of the direct writing companies represented, as well as a number of bank-owned agencies. Our differentiator is that we take the extra time to listen to customers and prospects and get the big picture so we can truly tailor a program to meet their risk management needs," Steve continues.

It hardly comes as any surprise that automation was a key part of making the agency more efficient. "Even before I joined the agency, my dad, Donald, and the other members of the management team had moved to automate the agency," Jo Ann points out. "We adopted the Applied Systems management system in 1987. It was clear even then that we needed to take advantage of every tool available to be efficient in our delivery of the insurance product. When I joined the agency after working in the personal lines department at Aetna Insurance Company, I was committed to making certain that our use of automation would benefit our agency and our clients.

"Early on, I got involved in professional agency automation groups like the Applied Systems Client Network (ASCNet) and ACORD so I could learn from my peers what they were doing to improve the efficiencies at their agencies. Our goal was to become paperless and we have. Well, at least as paperless as is possible," she adds with a smile, noting that "it seems like a certain amount of paper always will be part of this business. There are documents that our companies insist that we keep in paper form."

At the same time, Jo Ann also worked with all of the agency's insurance company partners to get them to work through Transformation Station so that "information would flow seamlessly from our management system to the company system in real time, making it possible to provide quotes quickly and accurately.

"By removing the double- and triple-entry of data that characterized the industry model for doing business," she continues, "we were able to eliminate many of the errors that occurred. Our companies quickly saw the efficacy of this approach. It was truly a win-win for the agency and our companies—and for our clients, who received quicker service in all aspects of the insurance transaction."

Time is on their side

"With a vast majority of the 'paperwork' now being handled by automation," Steve notes, "it allows us to spend time with our clients to really find out what their risk management needs are. We don't just look to quote the current coverage. Instead we investigate whether the current coverage is what is needed. We look to close any gaps that may exist, as well as find out if any new exposures have emerged that may necessitate additional coverage."

Jo Ann picks up on this theme: "A lot of smaller companies don't understand the need for employment practices liability (EPL) coverage. They have the misperception that this is a 'big company' problem. We explain to them that even the cost of defending an EPL claim could jeopardize the company's bottom line. When they see the numbers associated with the defense costs even when the company wins its case, most company executives understand the need for this coverage.

"Another area that is gaining increasing interest is cyber liability," Jo Ann continues. "We are constantly seeing companies and even individuals who have Web sites with information that could result in potential liability. And this area is growing rapidly as companies change the way they do business to accommodate social networking opportunities. A small operation here in the western part of New York State could suddenly find itself running afoul of requirements in other parts of the country as their Web presence makes the company a multi-state or even multinational organization in the eyes of consumers and attorneys."

The secret sauce

In addition to taking the time to help clients find their optimal risk management program, Jo Ann and Steve also take the time to give back to the community in a positive way. And this is a tradition that goes back to the agency's founding by Jo Ann's father in 1970 when Donald Litwin and William Castle merged their family-owned businesses to form a full-service agency. (Jo Ann's grandfather ran the agency business out of his home starting in the 1930s.) Don served as president of the school board for nearly 15 years and, interestingly, Steve's dad, Terrence McCarville, was the school attorney during that time. This tradition of service continues with both Jo Ann and Steve serving on the Orchard Park Village and Town Boards. Steve also has served in the Erie County Legislature. "We learned at a young age the importance of being involved in and serving the community," Steve says.

"We are lifelong residents of Orchard Park," Jo Ann says proudly. "The people and companies know us and respect our commitment to the community and our long history of operating a business in town that has always operated with integrity and honesty, putting the needs of our clients first."

Steve continues, "We also actively market our services in the community with local flyers, sponsorship of local events and advertising on several local radio stations. But our most important marketing is in cultivating relationships with our clients and their circle of friends and business peers. Our number one marketing push is keeping our current customers happy. That's why we have such a high retention rate and a large number of referrals."

Expanding their niche market

Jo Ann's dad, in addition to founding the full-service agency, also recognized a need for a segment of the community that was having difficulty finding coverage--churches. So he worked with a number of agents across the country and started a church program for his own church, the United Church of Christ. The denomination's insurance board created a master policy. Since then, the insurance board has expanded the program to include the Presbytery. 

The agency insures more than 50 United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ churches on a master policy that provides coverage that a single church could not afford. United Church Home Society is included on this master policy. The society provides affordable care for seniors.

Their attitude shows

"If you had to sum up what has allowed us to grow nearly every year," Steve says, "it's the fact that we enjoy what we do. We truly enjoy the relationships we have with our clients and we enjoy being in the insurance industry. How many people can say that they work in an industry that provides a vital service to nearly every member of society? Not many. But we can."

Jo Ann continues, "That's why we always step up to give back to the industry. Steve is on the local Big 'I' board and I've served on the board twice. This industry has been so good to us and we want to be part of the groups that make the decisions that will carry us forward. I'm very proud to be part of this industry."

And Rough Notes is very proud to recognize Litwin Castle as our Marketing Agency of the Month.


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