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Cross Insurance provides solutions for, and answers only to, its clients

Posted April 19, 2012, at 10:01 a.m.
Last modified April 20, 2012, at 10:46 a.m.

Insurance can be daunting. For Jonathan Cross of Cross Insurance, it’s important for him to know that he has the trust and reliance of his clients.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pride that goes into that, when somebody comes back and says ‘This is my home, this is my car, this is my jewelry, my collections,’” Jonathan said. “It does add a lot of pressure — which is the business that we’re in. You can’t take it casually.”

To some insurance agencies, it might be just another day at the office, but at Cross, Jonathan says it’s vital to treat every client’s needs as the most important thing in the world — because, to the client, it is.

That’s the typical work ethic at Cross, which stems from the company’s proud history. Woodrow Cross founded the business in 1954 at his dining-room table and slowly built it over the years. He bought his first agency in 1963 and grew slowly over the next 30 years. In 1993, the company acquired the Fenderson Insurance Agency, which began the company’s steady expansion. Today, it has branched into New Hampshire and Massachusetts and insures the likes of the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox. And at age 95, Woodrow Cross still comes to work six days a week.

“My grandfather’s slowed down some,” Jonathan said. “He only works a half-day on Saturday now. He says quite often he just wishes he had the energy he did when he was 80.”

Woodrow’s story and the example he sets is at the forefront of Cross Insurance every day. “He had very humble beginnings, and we don’t forget that,” Jonathan said. “We spend a lot of time talking about that. You’ve got to stay humble; you don’t want to be too full of yourself. Then you stop being client-focused.”

The Power of Questions

Everyone should have insurance, but many don’t know what we need. If you own property or a vehicle, it seems easy: you need property and liability insurance. Renters might assume they don’t need property insurance, because the landlord’s insurance covers them. Right?

Wrong, and that common misconception is just one of many. If your apartment burns, you’re on your own, so you’d better carry renter’s insurance. Not doing so is choosing a unwise level of risk, especially since renter’s insurance is generally inexpensive.

“They say, ‘Well, we can’t afford to buy the renter’s policy,’” Jonathan said. “Then we’ll ask, ‘If you were to lose it all in a fire, can you go out and buy it all?’ You can’t afford not to have it.”

Cross agents apply deep experience to ask the right questions. Where is the property? Is it near water? Are there natural hazards? How close is it to other buildings? What is the construction quality? What’s inside the home? Meeting clients’ needs all comes down to what amounts to detective work and knowing what to ask.

“You’ve got people on one side that have a need that has to be met, with a whole lot of things they don’t think about,” said Royce Cross, son of the founder. “On the other side, you’ve got an insurance company… that has a lot of things they do think about. No two people are the same, and no two risks are the same.”

Finding out the particulars, and mitigating insurer concerns, is key. For example, Cross insures many coastal properties. Various insurers have different requirements, so Cross knows what to ask to determine where the best fit is. Is there wind exposure from the ocean? Is there an island that serves as a wind break? Is the property right on the shore or elevated above the water? Is there a history of wind or water damage in that area?

The same is true of any situation, such as addressing potential safety issues or hazards on the property. Insurance companies are often quick to deny coverage based on such worries, but Royce said that, very often, such things are either easily solved — or already have been.

“One thing that I have found is that a lot of the problems the customer has already solved if we ask the right questions,” he said.

Finding Solutions

Many insurance agencies are publicly held companies, and often are operated by banks or other companies for whom insurance isn’t their first game. Cross is privately owned, answers only to its clients, and has done only insurance for 58 years.

“This is our life, and our product portfolio isn’t really large; we sell property and casualty and employee benefits — that’s it,” Royce said. “Everything we do is within that narrow spectrum. The company is not run by financial gurus or investment bankers; it’s run by insurance people.”

A company like that doesn’t solve clients’ problems by giving up, either. Royce offered a real-world example of a current client who needs to safely store and insure explosives. Needless to say, his last agency released him from representation, and insurers were balking at the situation. That’s no way to solve a client’s problems.

“He’s coming from someone else who abandoned him,” Royce said. “We’re not going to abandon the guy. We will solve his problems… A lot of it is the presentation and just staying long enough to understand what the problem is, explain the problem — and people will solve it.”

Royce’s brother, Brent Cross, specializes in risk management, even teaching it at Husson University. And asking the right questions involves a deep understanding of what the client does, so he has to step beyond just being an insurance agent. Like a translator who has to know two languages, the agent needs to understand insurance and his client’s business. And for Cross Insurance, it starts with a tour of the client’s facilities.

“You have to get at the origin and the process that flows through the business,” Brent said. “When you follow the processes, you uncover a lot of the risk challenges that the company faces. You have to see it with your own eyes.”

Recently, Cross had a situation with an insurer panicking over a client that installs geothermal wells. The insurer, making assumptions of perceived dangers, didn’t want to insure the client. Enter Cross Insurance.

“We met with an expert, learned what a geothermal well was, and explained to the insurance carrier what a geothermal well is,” Brent recalled. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, that’s not anything to be concerned about.’”

The “crisis” was averted, the client was insured, and everyone was happy.

Brent says not all agencies are geared to step out of the comfort zone of prepackaged insurance products and deal with such crises, and that’s okay.

“I think they’re making the right decision,” he said. “They’re better off sending them on to someone who has the skill set to help someone solve their problems. We set ourselves apart by taking on these challenges.”

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