In the 1970s, I was living in Colorado when I first learned about the surety market. I was selling life insurance with a general brokerage division of Connecticut General. We sold to the principals of construction contracting firms the surety guys had as clients. From my perspective, the surety guys seemed more like order takers than true salespeople.
Sensing an opportunity to improve how the bonds were sold, I decided to see if I could make a go of it in my home state of New Mexico opening Burke Insurance Group in 1980. But, while I could get surety bond access, I needed insurance market access, too. Finding an insurance brokerage in New Mexico to associate with as an independent contractor solved that problem and I began calling on contractors. Knocking on doors and striking up business-focused conversations, I put my theories about a better approach to the test.
The approach centered on being a problem solver. I am a big believer that a sale closes itself. Instead of simply pushing a sale. I wanted to know what was working for contractors and what wasn’t. Once those problems were known and ways to address them identified, the sale closed naturally. That has always been the key to my success - then and now.
As this approach succeeded, my book grew dramatically in Southern New Mexico, specifically around Las Cruces when I moved there from Albuquerque in 1990. Burke began growing as we ventured eastward, while maintaining accounts in Albuquerque. The firm’s leadership expanded in 2006 when my partner, Shawn, joined the team. In 2015 my son, William, came on board, rounding out our leadership team.
Over the course of 40 years, fueled by specialty expertise and a consultative, problem-solver approach, we grew into a leading expert in the surety bond, construction, and oil and gasoline sectors in the New Mexico.
In recent years, Shawn, William, and I saw that further growth and expansion would mean moving into El Paso and other parts of West Texas. This expansion would be a heavy lift. Realistically, we’d need to find a partner, a larger broker with more resources. We also had national-scale brokerages in our accounts doing things we couldn’t, like employee benefits, creating a constant danger that we could be displaced.
When looking into brokerages to become part of, trying to find the right fit, there were a few things that stood out about Risk Strategies.
First and foremost, like us, they are a true specialist. We didn’t want to join a general insurance agency. We built our business and competitive advantage on specialization. We were looking for a company that understood the value of a focused business like ours.
Secondly, when we spoke to others who sold to Risk Strategies, we liked hearing that their culture didn’t change and that we would still be able to operate with some degree of autonomy.
Finally, we are insurance guys, not accountants. Many of the other firms we talked to seemed more like CPAs or bankers. Risk Strategies is insurance minded. When we attended the Risk Strategies national sales conference, we were really impressed by the amount of specialty expertise and industry knowledge embodied in the firm. It further confirmed our decision to join forces.
Since joining Risk Strategies, we have been really pleased that our instincts have proven correct. We’ve been able to preserve our culture and specialty focus, maintaining our local presence while expanding our relationship with our clients. One account we’ve had for a number of years regularly asked if we could write their health insurance. We’ve never been able to. Now, as a part of risk Strategies, we were able to give them the services of an entire employee benefits specialty practice.
And that was not a one-off. Risk Strategies has experts stepping up to help us win and expand new business and coming forward with great ideas for expanding our business - captives and other things that just weren’t in my vocabulary before the acquisition. This is all now going to be possible as a part of the Risk Strategies family. Opportunities like this make us excited about the future.