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A Downtown Institution

CCSF President Bob Stewart

CCSF President Bob Stewart

Bob Stewart says that when it comes down to the fine print, there’s not a lot of difference in the cost of insurance policies from one company to the next.

“It’s all about relationships,” said the president of Chase, Clarke, Stewart & Fontana (CCSF), an independent insurance agency with deep, 144-year-old roots in Springfield. “Any insurance purchaser can go down the street and find another policy that may be a few dollars less than the policy they have. But it’s not all about being the lowest price on the street; it’s about providing the best coverage and providing the best service you can for your clients.”

He said his firm isn’t unique in that respect; in the era of managed competition, a time when large, national insurance chains have flooded the market with marketing campaigns focused on bottom-line promises, independent insurers have been forced to focus on the personal touch, or, as he called it, “servicing the heck out of it.” Fortunately, he added, that’s long been key to the culture at CCSF.

“That’s how we keep business — return the phone calls, answer the e-mails, go see clients,” he went on, noting that house and office calls make even more sense as downtown Springfield prepares for three years of construction hassles related to the MGM casino and the I-91 viaduct reconstruction.

“With what’s going on downtown, the parking is horrible, so we don’t encourage any of our clients to come into our office; we will go out and see them. We’re always hopping in the car; that’s just routine. We’d rather go see our clients in their office or home and talk to them there. That’s part of the service aspect, too.”

And those clients are diverse, Stewart said.

“We don’t necessarily specialize in any one thing; we do an awful lot of personal-lines insurance — homeowners, auto insurance — but we do a large amount of commercial insurance as well, a lot of professional liability, medical liability, social-service-agency liability, lawyers’ liability. I have a small program of accountants’ professional liability, with clients all over, from Boston to Pittsfield. My brother [Jim Stewart] runs a church program; he’s a broker for a national church organization, the United Church of Christ.”

Jim Stewart is one of three vice presidents, along with Dan Fontana and Raymond Lukas, and they all bring different types of expertise to the table, Bob explained. “We’re all over the map. Ray is a financial planner by trade, so he’s done a lot of life insurance, employee benefits, and financial planning, so any stuff we need done on that end, that’s always his bailiwick.

“It really is a fun business,” he went on, “and I wish we were able to attract more younger people into the field because it’s a great business. It might not have all the glitter of a Wall Street job, and we are in downtown Springfield, which doesn’t appeal to a lot of people. But it’s a wonderful business, and we’ve been very successful over the years. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

For this issue and its focus on insurance, BusinessWest sat down with Stewart to talk about why he’s a believer not only in his industry, but in Springfield itself, and why he’s still excited after 42 years in the business about helping people and businesses protect what’s important to them.

History Course

Since William Fuller opened an insurance business in downtown Springfield in 1871, that firm has never been headquartered more than a couple blocks from where it sits now, on the corner of State and Main streets.

“We’re probably the oldest independent agency in Springfield — maybe in Western Massachusetts,” Stewart noted. “Basically, our history is a series of mergers and purchases over the years.”

Fuller’s agency was later acquired by Samuel Sherwood and William Cone, growing under their leadership and then with Sherwood’s son, Malcolm. Raymond Redfield then added the business to his own agency, along with the Oppenheimer Agency, which had started around 1880. In 1957, Redfield invited the Russell D. Chase Agency and the Arthur H. Clarke Agency to merge together as Redfield, Chase & Clarke.

Meanwhile, another agency had been thriving in Springfield — the Lewis J. Stewart Insurance Agency, started by Stewart’s grandfather just after World War I and later run by his son, Robert Stewart Sr. In 1966, that agency joined with the growing Chase agency, which was renamed Chase, Clarke, Stewart. Bob Stewart came on board in 1973, followed by Jim in 1980.

Click HERE for a listing of area insurance companies

But the consolidation process was far from over. In 1995, the agency merged with the R.J. Fontana Agency — bringing Dan Fontana into the fold — forming Chase, Clarke, Stewart & Fontana.


CCSF, located in the office building on the corner of State and Main Streets, has had a presence in downtown Springfield for nearly 150 years.

In 2000, the company purchased the Mutual Insurance Agency of Springfield, whose history dates back to 1827. Finally, in 2004, CCSF purchased the Lukas Insurance Agency of Springfield.

Through it all, the commercial-lines business has changed little over the years, save for occasional shifts in rates, but the same can’t be said of personal lines.

“That has changed drastically since what they call managed competition,” Stewart said. “Take auto insurance — back in the ’80s, we had probably about 12 insurance carriers writing auto insurance in Massachusetts, and not the big ones. No one wanted to come in because the state set the rates and said, ‘this is what you’re going to charge.’ Insurance companies were bound by those rules, and most of them felt they couldn’t make money in Massachusetts.

“But then the gloves came off and managed competition started,” he went on. “Insurance companies could set their own rates within certain parameters, so the field is much more wide open now. We’re now competing with the big insurance carriers from all across the country.”

Before this new era, he explained, independent agents wrote some 80% of auto policies, which was unheard of across the U.S.; that figure was closer to 40% or 50% in most states.

“That market share has dropped, and we knew it was going to,” Stewart went on. “And it has caused the insurance carriers we do business with, the independent-agency carriers, to really come up with some unique and unusual coverages and pricing to compete with some of the big companies that have come into the state. They’ve been very responsive. They’ve stepped up to the plate when they needed to compete from a pricing standpoint or from a coverage standpoint, by enhancing policies.”

Marketing has changed in some ways as well, particularly with the emergence of social media, which CCSF has put to effective use with a blog, where it shares information with various types of clients — for example, an article about cybersecurity for business customers, about insulation for homeowners, and about child car safety for motorists, just to name a few recent entries.

“That’s one way to stay in touch with them, let them know what’s going on in the industry, what kinds of things they can do to lower their premiums, protect their properties, and lower their risk,” he explained. “We’re been fortunate to have a young woman in the office who is really versed in social media. I’m kind of old-school, but everyone says it’s beneficial, so we’ll continue to do it.”

Selling a Promise

Stewart is just as pleased to see the changes emerging in Springfield — not just the casino, but a surge of activity and new business in the central business district that give him hope for the city’s future.

“When I started here in 1973, it was an entirely different downtown area. We had Steiger’s, Forbes, A.O. White, Johnson’s Bookstore — all sorts of stuff down here,” he told BusinessWest. “We went from that to seeing not much of anything in downtown Springfield. But I’m positive about the changes that are proposed and are happening. I they will benefit the city as a whole, not just downtown. I’m very positive about it. For those of us who work right in the center, what’s going on now in construction is inconvenient, but it’s an inconvenience that will be short-lived.”

Three years of construction and traffic snarls may not seem short-lived to some business owners, but with his company’s history sprawling back 144 years, he finds it easy to take the long view. Besides, there’s always someone new to get in the car and visit.

“For me, it’s really all about the people I deal with. We have a tremendous staff in our office, it’s fun to deal with them, and it’s fun to deal with all my clients — I really enjoy talking to people, going out to see them. That’s what makes it interesting. If I had to sit behind my desk all day, every day, I’d probably be miserable.”

Stewart is also gratified by a job where he helps people protect themselves against the worst, or at least mitigate hardships when they do strike.

“One client I’m dealing with now, his house was badly burned — a very extensive, very serious loss,” he said. “I talked to them a few times the last few weeks, and things are going smoothly, and the checks are getting cut. It’s good to see that what we’ve provided for them is actually going the way it’s supposed to, and things are being put back together without any further issues.”

At its heart, he concluded, “all we’re selling as an insurance agency is a promise, so we’d better be able to deliver on that promise when the time comes.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Insurance Sections

Take Charge of the Situation


David Griffin

David Griffin

The nationwide shift to EMV is well underway.

EMV — which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa — is a global standard for cards equipped with computer chips and the technology used to authenticate chip-card transactions. In the wake of numerous large-scale data breaches and increasing rates of counterfeit card fraud, U.S. card issuers are migrating to this new technology to protect consumers and reduce the costs of fraud.

“These new and improved cards are being deployed to improve payment security, making it more difficult for fraudsters to successfully counterfeit cards,” says Julie Conroy, research director for retail banking at Aite Group, a financial industry research company. “It’s an important step forward.”

Most of all, it means greater protection against fraud.

Approximately 120 million Americans have already received an EMV credit card and that number is projected to reach nearly 600 million by the end of 2015, according to Smart Card Alliance estimates.

Here are six frequently asked questions to help you understand the changes:

1. Why are EMV cards more secure than traditional cards?

It’s that small, metallic square you’ll see on new cards. That’s a computer chip, and it’s what sets apart the new generation of cards.

2. How do I use an EMV card to make a purchase?

Just like magnetic-stripe cards, EMV cards are processed for payment in two steps: card reading and transaction verification.

3. Will I still have to sign or enter a PIN for my card transaction?

Yes and no. You will have to do one of those verification methods, but it depends on the verification method tied to your EMV card, not if your card is debit or credit.

Chip-and-PIN cards operate just like the checking-account debit card you have been using for years.

4. If fraud occurs after EMV cards are issued, who will be liable for the costs?

Today, if an in-store transaction is conducted using a counterfeit, stolen, or otherwise compromised card, consumer losses from that transaction fall back on the payment processor or issuing bank, depending on the card’s terms and conditions.

After an October 1, 2015, deadline created by major U.S. credit card issuers MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express, the liability for card-present fraud will shift to whichever party is the least EMV-compliant in a fraudulent transaction.

Consider the example of a financial institution that issues a chip card used at a merchant that has not changed its system to accept chip technology. This allows a counterfeit card to be successfully used.

“The cost of the fraud will fall back on the merchant,” says Martin Ferenczi, president of Oberthur Technologies, the leading global EMV product and service provider.

EMV Cards and Retailer Liability

Most insurance carriers have a coverage called either “data breach” or “cyber liability.” Presently the coverage has been undersold. With the conversion to EMV cards, it is very important for retail merchants using credit cards to become familiar with this coverage and its options. Coverage varies by carrier coverage forms. The important thing to know is that local businesses have a larger exposure.

In addition, EMV debit cards will roll out at a slower pace; only 25% of debit cards will utilize EMV by the end of 2015. This number will increase to 96% by the end of 2017. Automated fuel dispensers will have until 2017 to shift to EMV cards.

5. If I want to use my chip-card at a retailer that doesn’t support EMV technology yet, will it work?

Yes. The first round of EMV cards — many of which are already in consumers’ hands — will be equipped with both chip and magnetic-stripe functions so consumer spending is not disrupted and merchants can adjust.

If you find yourself at a point-of-sale terminal and are not sure whether to dip or swipe your card, have no fear. The terminal will walk you through the process.

“For example, if you enter a card into the chip reader slot but the reader isn’t activated yet, it will come up with an error and you’ll be prompted to swipe the card in order to use it,” says Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance.

And vice-versa.

6. Will I be able to use my EMV card when I travel outside the country?

Yes and no.

The U.S. is the last major market still using the magnetic-stripe card system. Many European countries moved to EMV technology years ago to combat high fraud rates. That shift has left many U.S. consumers who have magnetic-strip cards looking for other forms of payment when they travel.

Finally, as criminals become more and more sophisticated, it is important to make sure, as a business, your crime coverage does as well. Do you have cyber liability coverage, electronic fund transfer fraud coverage, and employee dishonesty coverage?

Crime coverage in the future will be as important to buy as general liability coverage.

David Griffin is a principal and the executive vice president and treasurer of The Dowd Insurance Agencies. He is a licensed insurance advisor (LIA) as well as a certified insurance counselor (CIC); [email protected]; (413) 437-1005.

Insurance Sections
Insurance Agencies Raise Their Profile Through Blogs, Social Media

In an industry as competitive as insurance, Maureen Ross O’Connell succinctly stated what must be the goal for every agency: “we want people to think of us when they think of insurance.”

Bill Grinnell

Bill Grinnell says social media is limited in how much business it can attract, but it’s still important to maintain an online presence.

But in an era when Americans, especially the younger crowd, aren’t reading as much print media as they used to — the striking decline of daily newspaper readership over the past two decades testifies to that trend — how do agencies reach out to potential new customers?

One answer is social media, from Facebook pages to LinkedIn listings to blog posts, said Ross O’Connell, president of Ross Insurance in Holyoke. But the messages and techniques used on these media are strikingly different than what might be considered traditional marketing.

“We don’t talk much about insurance on Facebook at all,” she said of the company’s lively Facebook page, which is updated virtually every day. In the weeks before this article went to press, Ross posted an article about a major airbag recall, but also one about how parents feel when their kids start driving and another about identify theft.

Meanwhile, the agency shared congratulations to the region’s high-school and college graduates, recognized National EMS Week, shared information on the Great New England Air Show, polled readers on favorite cookout foods, and solicited comments on Deflategate. In short, the page mixes helpful information — only occasionally touching on insurance-related topics — with a healthy dose of fun and human interest.

“People are not on social media to be sold to; they get annoyed when you try to sell to them on Facebook,” Ross O’Connell said. “We run contests, share relevant information, but we’re not trying to sell insurance on Facebook. They have an opportunity, if they’re so inclined, to request a quote off the Facebook page, but mostly, we just want to be part of the conversation.”

Meanwhile, Agawam-based Insurance Center of New England (ICNE) maintains its Facebook page with several posts per week. Recent topics range from auto safety and roadside emergencies to photos from the company’s recent Paint Craze Night to benefit the YWCA; from congratulations to clients that have won awards to an infographic about financial literacy in childhood. Meanwhile, several articles posted to the ICNE’s website delve into weightier insurance topics, from Affordable Care Act compliance to workers’ compensation.

“We definitely are embracing the tools — not to say we’ve mastered them,” said company President Bill Trudeau, noting that ICNE also engages with the region’s professional crowd through LinkedIn. “Our Facebook persona tends to be more community-oriented. We do put some things about insurance in there if it’s something of interest, like the windshield-wiper thing, using headlights when they’re in use. Or we might say something about fire-safety reminders. But it’s not filled with insurance stuff.”

The goal in posting any item on Facebook, he continued, is for people to read it and find it interesting — and hopefully keep coming back. Meanwhile, sharing news about local events and causes ICNE or its employees are involved in drives home their connection to the community. “We see it as a way to demonstrate what we’re all about, Trudeau said, “what we’re up to besides insurance.”

Bill Grinnell, president of Webber & Grinnell Insurance in Northampton, said his firm has focused increasingly on social media and online communications over the past two years, but the jury is out on what the agency gains from such activity.

“I am still unconvinced how we benefit,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re certainly doing it, but I don’t think it’s a silver bullet that will propel my business forward by any means.

“People just don’t go to insurance-company websites to hang out,” he added. “When we post something on Facebook, we want to make it interesting — but it’s not the most exciting business in the world. Obviously, we try to get people to follow us on social media, but that doesn’t replace old-fashioned ways of getting new business. Still, I do feel we are ahead of the pack in terms of our social media.”

Home and Oughta

Most effective, Grinnell said, is the company’s two online newsletters — the Guardian, geared to personal-line (home and auto) customers, and the Protector, which goes out to business clients, business prospects, underwriters, vendors, and other people the agency associates with. The contents of those newsletters then get posted to Facebook and LinkedIn.

“We do keep it somewhat relevant,” Grinnell said. “For example, in our personal-lines newsletter, we had an article over the winter with a lot of great information about ice dams — what causes them and how to prevent them. We also had a nice article on how your insurance company responds to water damage. We followed that up with what’s covered in flood coverage, seepage, and so on. That got good response from people.”

He’s currently drafting an article on how points affect auto-insurance premiums, and another on the pros and cons of different deductible levels and what kind of savings customers should expect. Meanwhile, the business-insurance newsletter recently featured a piece on workplace injuries and the impact they have on business income, business interruption, and insurance coverage.

“I went recently to an Employers Association meeting about employee engagement and got a couple of jewels from that on helping me run my business,” Grinnell went on. “Then I put an article in my newsletter; I took what I learned from it and shared it with my customers.”

Similarly, Ross O’Connell said the blog on her agency’s website — updated regularly by a full-time social-media architect, and featuring articles on everything from employee benefits to motorcycle safety to health-insurance plan options — is also geared to customers as well as prospects.

That architect, Krystal Carvalho, also writes for a second Ross blog, insurance-boss.com, which mixes hard information with lighter fare, like a piece on Easter desserts, and profiles of agency clients. But there is some crossover among the two blogs and the Facebook page.

“Everything changes in the social-media world,” Ross O’Connell said, “so much so that we’re shifting our philosophy and bringing our soft social stuff onto our website as well. So charity work, community events, that used to be all on insurance-boss.com, but the ultimate goal here is to drive people to our website. So our strategy is shifting a little bit now as we speak.”

To varying degrees, all the agencies that spoke with BusinessWest said social media can be a branding tool to keep a company’s name and community connections on people’s minds. Trudeau said this happens when ICNE posts a photo of a newly hired employee.

“We might stay more top of mind the next day,” he said. “And if someone asks them, ‘I don’t have a good agency; who do you use?’ hopefully they’ll think of us just a tiny bit more than if they had not seen anything.”

Social media has other practical uses, Grinnell added, noting that LinkedIn can be a solid recruiting tool. “We can communicate with all our LinkedIn friends about positions that are open and also look at individuals who might fit the job description. That has been useful to us.”

Brand Names

Trudeau said businesses that post regularly on social media have to strike a balance between being interesting and annoying; no one wants their feed clogged with material they have no use for.

Still, Ross O’Connell said, “it’s absolutely important to have a presence on social media — we have to be part of the conversation, branding ourselves.”

She added that the agency’s initial goal when starting to delve into social media was to reach out to the younger generation. “Of course, the average age on Facebook is now 55, but that was not the case when we started. We’re reaching a diverse audience.”

Trudeau also sees value in being part of the daily conversation on people’s news feeds.

“People have a lot of choices in the marketplace, where they can buy house and car insurance. If they see they can get competitive prices from someone who’s engaged in their community, we think people will choose to work with us as opposed to what we call a black box: ‘OK, time to get on the computer for a quote from State Farm, Geico, Progressive, or Allstate.’ You’re not going to run into those people at the local Red Cross board meeting; they don’t really have a specific presence in the Pioneer Valley.”

In short, the company’s pitch is that it represents many different carriers and can offer attractive products, he added. “But social media gets out the message that we’re engaged in the community, and here are some things we think are interesting and fun about us.”

Grinnell said there’s an element of client retention as well, and making sure customers are engaged with the agency and even expanding the relationship.

“It’s a very competitive world in the insurance business these days, and the insurance companies do most of the billing, most of the processing, so typically people don’t hear much from their agent unless they have reason to call them,” he told BusinessWest. “We felt it was important to get out in front of them and remind them who we are. We bring value to the table, and we try to bring value in that newsletters.”

As Ross O’Connell mentioned, however, the landscape is always shifting, so insurance agencies are constantly challenged to change with the times.

“We don’t always have all the time we need to do it,” Trudeau said. “It took a while to build those muscles, to have everyone remember, ‘hey, if you’re going to be at such-and-such event, get us some material.’

“We’re all students of social media,” he added, “and we’re doing what we can to do it better.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Insurance Sections
Insurance Is Personal — and Business, Too — at Moulton


It has been exactly four years since tornadoes struck Western Mass. on June 1, 2011, an event that insurance agents remember well.

Cindy Moulton St. George (center), daughter Katie Gagner, and husband Roy St. George

Cindy Moulton St. George (center), daughter Katie Gagner, and husband Roy St. George represent the second and third generations of this family business.

Cynthia Moulton St. George, president of Moulton Insurance, recalls her employees climbing through downed trees and over debris to get to clients in the days following that unexpected disaster, which resulted in some $150 million in damages.

“We had gotten authority from our companies,” Moulton St. George said, “and they would refund our accounts. And we would just go and write checks … because people had nothing.”

She added that some people victimized by the twisters had everything “sucked right out of their house — if their house was even there.”

Katie Gagner, who manages the company’s Belchertown office — Moulton has additional offices in Palmer and Ware — added that “it was crazy” in those hectic first days of writing checks and consoling clients and residents after the disaster.

As a third-generation family business launched by Moulton St. George’s father in 1952 (Vice President Roy St. George is her husband, and Gagner is their daughter), they say they understand the needs of both families and businesses — a commitment put to the test by the tornadoes, but one in play every day.

“We are an advocate for our clients,” Moulton St. George said, adding that the image of agents sitting behind a desk is inaccurate, and that getting out into the community — though usually not scrambling over tree branches — is every bit as important as doing the paperwork of a claim.

Moulton St. George said it’s that personal connection to the community that sets independent agents apart from the large, national direct sellers of insurance.

For example, she went on, many auto service centers, and especially auto-body repair shops, won’t even do business with motorists who have direct-seller auto insurance. “They have signs right in the shops, many of them, that say, ‘if you have XYZ Insurance, don’t bother asking us to do your repairs.’”

Independent agencies like Moulton are different for many reasons, she said, but especially because they actively advocate for clients, particularly “when it comes to the claim, which is why you buy insurance.”

Setting Their Sites

When she and St. George sat down with BusinessWest, the company was both celebrating some recent successes and taking steps to further raise its profile.

Specifically, the agency had just received the Long Term Service Award from the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce, and was preparing to launch a new, content-rich website.

The website — which will offer more information on business and commercial lines of insurance — is important, Moulton St. George said, because people don’t always associate the company with those areas of expertise, even after 63 years in business.

“Businesses may not look at Moulton Insurance as the go-to agency for commercial lines,” St. George said, but added that perceptions will change once people become aware of the extensive list of business and commercial products offered by their company.

However, he explained, auto, home, and life insurance will continue to play a vital role in the overall mix of products Moulton offers to residents of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

A stronger web presence is important for an agency based in the Quaboag region that aims to reach across Western Mass. and beyond. St. George said the company probably could have better advertised its experience with commercial lines in the past, which is one reason the website is getting an overhaul.

“We can handle anything from a Main Street type business to a manufacturing facility,” as well as the fleet of vehicles associated with that company, he said, adding that Moulton represents more than 15 insurance carriers, both regional and national, to provide options should a situation require specialization.

St. George is equally proud of the employees representing those products. He noted that many agencies in Western Mass. have relatively low ratios of full-time licensed agents to total employees. In other words, an agency might have three licensed agents and a total number of 14 employees, meaning that the majority of employees can only handle administrative work, and not the actual work of determining the best insurance product for a given situation.

Of Moulton’s 16 employees, however, 14 are licensed agents, ranking in the top 20% of agencies in the region by ratio of agents to employees. Further, the agency boasts five certified insurance counselors (CICs), three in the commercial area alone.

The CIC designation, he explained, is a mark of distinction that represents a commitment to professional excellence and leadership within the industry. CICs are recognized as among the best and most knowledgeable insurance practitioners in the nation. The designation is earned by attending five intensive CIC Institutes: agency management, commercial casualty, commercial property, life and health, and personal lines. The formal training required to become a CIC includes 100 classroom hours and the successful completion of comprehensive exams in these five areas of expertise.

Moulton also boasts eight certified insurance service representatives (CISRs). These agents have gone through a program that offers additional learning opportunities in the commercial-lines and personal-lines arenas, as well as courses in health and risk management.

Earning Trust

However, St. George and Moulton St. George both stressed, knowledge of insurance products alone won’t make an agency a trusted entity within its region. That comes from years of dedication and service to a community.

“Our reputation is a big part of what we do,” Moulton St. George said, noting that her father, Charles Moulton, had the foresight in 1952 to start an insurance agency that strived to bring personal service and cost-effective insurance coverage to area customers. Since then, she said, the company’s agents have made deep connections to the community.

The new website, they say, is just one way of raising the agency’s profile and letting insurance shoppers know what Moulton can offer to protect against the storms of life and business. Sometimes literally.

Insurance Sections
Insurance Companies Enlist Help from Homeowners to Prevent Losses

When recalling the bizarre weather that descended on Western Mass. in 2011 — tornadoes in June, midsummer flooding, the freak pre-Halloween snowstorm — it’s easy to forget that, even absent all of that, the year would have been a challenging one for home insurers.

The reason? A January and February riddled with ice dams and roof collapses, thanks to snow that seemed to fall every other day for weeks on end, gradually building up the weight on houses and damming under the eaves, causing water to pour into homes.

“We paid a lot of claims. That was a big deal,” said Kevin Ross, vice president of Ross Insurance in Holyoke. But while the past few weeks have brought a similar onslaught of snowstorms, he doesn’t expect nearly as many claims this year.

“A lot of people are absolutely more attuned to this; everywhere I go, people are talking about getting a roof rake and cleaning off their roof,” he told BusinessWest. “People are well aware of ice dams and the problems they can cause. I just contacted a roofer to clean off my roof because ice is starting to build up in the gutter. In general, the population understands what can happen, and everyone is cleaning off the roof now.”

It’s a learned behavior being observed across the industry.

“We’ve had a couple of claims come in,” said Corey Murphy, president of First American Insurance in Chicopee. “Fortunately, it’s not as bad as it has been in the past, even with some of these strong storms we’ve had.”

John DiStefano of Preferred Mutual Insurance agreed.

“As I drive around, I see homes where people have used roof rakes to get some snow off around the edges, or they have people going up on the roof shoveling for them. That’s always a proactive approach,” said the personal-lines territory manager for Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

That’s good news for both homeowners and insurers, he said, considering that such events are covered by most basic plans. “Roof collapses and water damage, where water seeps into the home, is covered under most forms. That is a pretty common thing.”

Therefore, it’s good news for insurance companies — which implemented rate increases of 5% to 15% regionally after the 2011’s series of unfortunate events — that customers are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by keeping their roofs and gutters as clear of snow as possible.

But when it comes to winter home hazards, they say, roofs are only part of the picture.

Peak Problems

Typically, Ross said, homeowners facing winter roof damage don’t have to scramble to see if they’re covered.

“The standard policy doesn’t have to change to provide coverage of interior or exterior dmage caused by an ice dam, or even the collapse of a building,” he noted. “However, there are certain exclusions for the collapse of a fence, a patio, a swimming pool — those are not covered. Collapse of foundations or retaining walls, bulkheads, are not covered.”

Kevin Ross

Kevin Ross says homeowners have become more proactive about preventing roof damage during the winter, and insurance companies have become better at educating them.

But once an ice dam is reported, “right away, the insurance company will pay a reasonable amount to remove ice and snow from the roof to prevent further damage,” he explained. “But only once the damage has begun — we’re not going out to clean off everyone’s roof.”

The immediate drama of an ice dam, pouring water into interior spaces, can panic policyholders, Ross added. “They’re wondering, ‘what should I do?’ Call the insurance agent right away; they will only take one deductible until all the snow is gone from roof.”

That could encompass the entire winter, he noted. “Don’t be afraid that a week later you might have more water coming in. It’s considered one event until all the snow is off the roof. So, once it starts, once you notice water inside the house, call your agent right away.”

As for roof-collapse concerns, that’s a tricky area to navigate, because the weight of the snow isn’t always clear from a visual check, forensic meteorologist Steve Wistar noted at accuweather.com.

In the Northeast, he explained, roofs are generally designed to support 30 pounds per square foot, but some are built to support 40, 50, or even 100 pounds per square foot. Further complicating matters, that weight is determined by water content, not merely depth.

Specifically, dry, powdery snow weighs less than wetter snow, and its flaky texture makes it prone to drifting, which is ideal for roofs designed to handle drifting snow. But, over time, snow compacts and settles down, meaning the snow won’t be as deep, but the weight will be the same, Wistar said.

Finally, when temperatures rise and snow becomes rain, the snow already coating rooftops can become saturated with moisture, weighing it down. And even when the snow does begin to melt, it can refreeze around gutters and drains, trapping more melting water on the edges of the roof — which, of course, can cause ice dams.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts recently issued yet another concern for homeowners regarding rooftop snow accumulation — specifically, a number of incidents involving large icicles and snow accumulation falling from rooftops onto natural-gas meters, causing gas-line ruptures and gas leaks.

The company noted that it’s important that natural-gas meters and exhaust vents for heating equipment and other appliances are free of snow and ice, as gas equipment requires adequate airflow for safe combustion — and proper venting of appliances — to prevent dangerous carbon-monoxide situations.

prevent ice dams

Recent winters in Massachusetts have seen brisk sales of roof rakes as homeowners try to prevent ice dams from forming.

Columbia Gas president Steve Bryant encouraged homeowners to use a broom — not a shovel — to clear ice and snow from gas meters, and to avoid kicking or hitting the gas meter to break away snow and ice.  “Don’t shovel snow up against your meter.  Be careful when using a snow blower or snow plow near your meter. Where possible, have a clear path to your gas meter in the event a technician or emergency responder should require access.”

Cold Snap

When protecting their homes from cold-related damage, Ross said, customers shouldn’t look outside only.

“Losses can occur if you don’t keep adequate heat inside the home,” he noted. “Sometimes, when you leave for a week in Florida, you figure, ‘I’ll just turn my thermostat down and save on energy costs,’ and you come back to find that a pipe froze and burst. That’s something else from a loss-control standpoint. You need to keep adequate heat in home to keep things from freezing. It’s important to maintain the heat at 60, 62 degrees so they don’t have that problem.”

DiStefano agreed. “Do everything you can to maintain temperature,” he told BusinessWest. “Also, if you’re going away, shut off the water. That way, if a pipe breaks, it’s not a major problem. It’s easy to do, but so many people don’t do that.”

Because home insurance covers personal liability in addition to property damage, he also encourages customers to keep sufficient ice melt handy to prevent slips and falls by the mailman, UPS driver, or neighbors.

“The policy does provide personal liability coverage for slip-and-fall types of claims,” Ross added. “The owner of the property has a responsibility to keep their walkways and driveways, safe for pedestrian traffic. That’s definitely another area people really need to be cognizant of right now.”

It’s not like winter necessarily poses more weather-related insurance hazards than the rest of the year; damage from warmer-weather events, like tornadoes and hurricanes, are typically covered, Ross said, although policyholders might want to check on whether they’re in a covered flood zone and, if not, whether they’d like to add that to their plan as well.

But cold-weather threats are typically slower-developing, DiStefano said, giving insurance clients a chance to prevent them with tools as simple as roof rakes and sidewalk salt.

“More and more companies, like Preferred Mutual, have our websites set up with information for the general public to look at,” he said, “and we talk about what to do during the winter months to prevent losses.”

That pleases Ross, who clearly recalls the surge of claims in early 2011, when roof collapses and ice dams caught too many Western Mass. residents off guard.

“It was huge,” he said. “But it’s not going to be quite the same this year from a claim perspective, because people are more proactive; they’ve learned from it. A lot of people are raking the snow off already, getting the snow out of the gutter before the next storm. You have to stay on top of it. It’s a big maintenance issue.”

And one with no end in sight, Bryant added. “With record snowfall over the past month,” he said, “this winter season continues to be a challenge for us all.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Insurance Sections
High-deductible Health Plans Find Fertile Soil

Jody Gross

Jody Gross says the percentage of insurance consumers using high-deductible plans is still small, but growing quickly.

Pay now or pay later?

Employers and consumers shopping for health insurance have to ask themselves a version of this question when considering the option known as high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), which offer lower premiums than traditional plans but much higher deductibles, or the expenses that must be paid out of pocket before the plan begins footing the bills.

HDHPs typically feature deductibles exceeding $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for families — often by a lot. In fact, according to the 2014 Employer Benefits Survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation Health Research & Educational Trust, the average deductible for individual coverage paired with a health savings account is $2,098, but 18% of workers have a deductible of $3,000 or more. For family coverage, deductibles average $4,059, with almost one-third topping $5,000.

“This makes for a potentially dramatic shift in patient behavior and thinking,” Leah Binder, president and CEO of the Leapfrog Group, wrote in Harvard Business Review. “In traditional plans, even if you have a deductible, you skim to the section of the bill that says ‘patient responsibility.’ It’s usually a nice, round co-pay like $25 or $50 — the same, predictable amount regardless of which services you received. In contrast, with an HDHP, the whole bill is yours to pay.”

Although HDHPs are not a new idea, Binder explained, they’ve received a jolt of life over the past decade, with George W. Bush’s administration pushing for employers to offer the option, and the Democratic-led Affordable Care Act greatly accelerating the adoption of such plans, as the new state insurance exchanges usually feature high-deductible options.

“The IRS has set up some specific qualifications for what constitutes a qualified high-deductible health plan,” said Jody Gross, vice president of Sales at Health New England. “We have a $2,000 high-deductible health plan for an individual, $4,000 for a family, and the premiums are typically much more affordable.

“In order for it to be a qualified plan,” he added, “by definition, all services need to go toward that deductible, whether it’s an inpatient stay, an office visit, prescription drugs … all services need to go toward that deductible. The exception is preventive services — your annual physical, a mammogram, things like that; the government has a list of items that don’t need to go toward that deductible. Even so, a person pays a lot out of pocket before the plan kicks in.”

Accompanying many HDHPs is a product called a health savings account (HSA), by which a plan enrollee — and, in some cases, his or her employer — contributes money tax-free to an account that can be used to pay healthcare expenses. Any unused balance at the end of the year is not lost, but rolls over into the next year.

High-deductible plans and health savings accounts go hand in hand and are often an effective way for consumers to take more control over their care by forcing them to weigh the actual cost of each treatment, visit, or medication, Gross said. “Health insurance — and healthcare in general — is expensive, so the federal government set these plans up, these health savings accounts, in order to drive people down that continuum of healthcare products.”

Meredith Wise, president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, said many employers are moving toward HSAs and high-deductible health plans.

“A lot of it is because of the rising premiums,” she noted. “As you look at the deductibles and the maximum out-of-pocket expenses of most plans these days, you’re just about at that high-deductible threshold, so going to high-deductible health plans is an easy move for companies to make.”

Seeking Savings

The national numbers bear out that trend. According to the Kaiser survey, one in five workers had an HDHP in 2013, up from nearly zero in 2006. Meanwhile, half of all firms with more than 5,000 workers now offer HDHPs.

“High-deductible plans are attractive to employers because they get to bear less of the insurance cost. Many economists also like the plans, because they’re supposed to make people spend more wisely on their healthcare,” noted Jason Millman in the Washington Post.

“The big question is whether employees are prepared to handle potentially big medical bills before they hit their deductible,” he continued, noting that enrollees in employer insurance typically say they’re happy with the services their health plans cover, “but they’re much less satisfied with what they’re paying out of their own pockets.”

That caution seems to be more prevalent in Massachusetts, Gross said.

“At Health New England, 5% to 6% of our membership is on high-deductible health plans,” he told BusinessWest. “In Western Mass., they haven’t taken off like wildfire. They may shortly, but they haven’t yet, because so many services go toward the deductible, and people aren’t willing to pay a lot less in monthly premiums to have all their prescription drugs and everything else go toward that deductible.”

Wise noted that Massachusetts was initially slow to approve HDHPs. “I think, when high-deductible health plans came out, the Division of Insurance was reluctant to approve a lot of them because of the concern over what the out-of-pocket costs could be for the workforce and people in the state, so they dragged their feet on allowing those to happen.”

But that’s changing, Gross said, noting that two or three years ago, high-deductible plans accounted for only 3% of Health New England’s offerings, about half what they are today. And a year or two from now, he expects the figure to be closer to 10% or 12%. “I do see high-deductible plans gaining more steam.

“I think employers are trying to partner with health-insurance plans to find affordable solutions,” he added. “Healthcare is expensive, and there are a lot of expensive medications out there. We all want the latest technologies, but those are expensive too. One way to think about these costs is to share them with individuals.”

In this way, he explained, HDHPs and HSAs fall under the broad category of consumer-directed health plans, which require patients to become much more actively involved in their own care because they’re always acutely aware of what it costs.

“They’re thinking, ‘do I need this service? Are there alternatives? Take prescription drugs, for example; people get tied into thinking, ‘I need this brand-name medicine.’ But if they engage in a conversation with their doctor about generic alternatives, maybe a generic will work in their situation. Another example would be someone with back problems. Do they go right in for surgery, or are there alternative therapies or physical therapy that might be effective? It’s really the consumer driving their own care.”

Employers might be moving toward high-deductible plans partly out of anxiety over the so-called ‘Cadillac tax,’ set to take effect in 2018, that will impose a 40% excise tax on the value of health-insurance benefits that exceed a certain threshold, starting with $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families, Binder noted.

“Employers are determined to avoid that tax, but that means slowing growth now or risk blowing the cap by 2018,” she wrote. “Employers used to hesitate to launch unpopular cost-cutting strategies like HDHPs so that they would remain competitive with plans offered by other employers. But pressure from the looming Cadillac tax is felt by all employers equally, so taking a risk on cost-cutting strategies now has less of a competitive disadvantage.”

Wise said the Affordable Care Act, for the most part, hasn’t scared employers, even small companies, off their current health plans, but the Cadillac tax is absolutely a concern.

“I think employers are concerned about the luxury tax coming up,” she said. “If premiums keep going up the way they are, and they would fall under the luxury tax, many of them are going to move to high-deductible health plans.

By All Accounts

At the same time, employers are finding more acceptance of HDHPs among individual consumers because of the combination of lower premiums and the availability of health savings accounts, which offer a number of tax savings, Gross said.

“As an example, I can deduct money from my paycheck and put it into my health savings account tax-free, and that money in the health savings account earns interest — some work like a regular bank account, and with others, you can invest the money. Those earn interest tax-free, and when you spend money [from the HSA] on qualified medical expenses, your payment is tax-free. That’s three ways, from a tax perspective, to save money.”

For consumers who don’t like being hit in the wallet for every single doctor visit and prescription up to their deductible, Health New England offers a hybrid plan — part of its “essential-products suite,” as Gross called it — that features lower premiums and higher deductibles (anywhere from $500 to $2,000) than traditional plans, but covers regular office visits and prescription drugs from the outset. “Because it’s not a qualified plan, you can’t have a health savings account with it, but people are migrating there; 30-40% of our business is in our essential-products suite.”

Gross uses a qualified HDHP and a health savings account himself and appreciates the flexibility it offers, he said. “I put money into it from my paycheck, and I use it as a way to save some money tax-free. I’ve used the savings account to pay for medical expenses — when I went to the doctor, instead of a co-pay out of pocket, I ran my card and paid the whole bill.”

These accounts are owned solely by the individual, and unfortunately, most employers choose not to contribute to them, he noted. “Some employers, a small percentage, may put money into health savings accounts to help employees get started. But the majority aren’t doing that.”

Companies, in fact, are more likely to opt for health reimbursement accounts, which the employer owns, and are typically a use-it-or-lose-it proposition; “if the person doesn’t use the health reimbursement account, the money goes back to the employer.”

Wise agreed, noting that “companies are moving to replace the HSAs, and many of the employers are not contributing to them.”

In short, employers are no different from individual consumers when it comes to seeking healthcare savings. And with high-deductible plans gaining acceptance against a backdrop of rising premiums for traditional plans, that trend looks likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

And that, for better or worse, puts the onus on patients to make decisions that are healthy for both their bodies and their bank accounts.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Insurance Sections
At AXiA Insurance, Creating Value Is the Rule — Literally

President Michael Long

AXiA Insurance Services President Michael Long

Everyone who works for Michael Long follows what he refers to as his “Always Rules.”

They are part of a vision he created long before he opened AXiA Insurance Services Inc. and are the cause and reason behind the laughter that peals frequently from meeting rooms and cubicles in his Springfield headquarters, the smiles on the faces of employees, and the myriad perks, rewards, and awards they receive that range from engraved crystal wineglasses and decanters to unusual birthday gifts they are given at employee-appreciation events.

Their happiness translates into superb customer service, which falls precisely in line with Long’s belief system. “You can’t create value for your customers if you don’t create it for your employees first,” he said, explaining the reasons behind the eight rules he originally created and two he added later.

“I had been in the insurance business for 30 years before I launched this company, and during that time, I saw many valuable employees leave,” he said. “So I realized, if I wanted to be the best agency — not necessarily the biggest — I had to train my employees well and create an environment where they felt valued.

“I consult with my employees about where the agency is going and what is coming next. I also allow them to map their own careers and chart their own destination,” Long went on, adding that he posts the courses and/or certifications needed to move from one position to another and gives employees paid time off to get the education they need to move up in the company.

“What difference does it make to my employees if I am doing well, but they are not moving up with me?” he asked rhetorically. “People want to know what will happen to them.”

The majority of employees work four days a week on a rotating schedule, although they can work five instead if they prefer to do so. But longer workdays result in benefits to clients because it allows AXiA to be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There are also three ‘snow teams,’ and if there is a blizzard, two of the teams can work from home. In addition, every employee is given two paid days off to volunteer for any charitable organization they choose.

Long’s belief that employees who feel appreciated provide better customer service has led to measurable success, and he has achieved every goal he outlined in the 10-year plan he created before he opened his full-service insurance agency in October 2001. “We’ve averaged more than 15% growth every year,” he said.

AXiA began as a one-man operation in a rented room in Market Place in Springfield. Today the business has 32 employees in six locations that include Springfield, Easthampton, Natick, North Kingston, R.I., and two offices inside MassMutual.

Long makes it a point to understand his employees’ strengths and weaknesses and avoids delegating any duty to an employee that he or she doesn’t truly enjoy or excel at.

“I’ve seen agencies that failed and others that were very successful,” said Long. “But I also saw many skilled and talented people fail because they were told to do things they were not good at. They should be allowed to become great in the areas they enjoy.”

He learned this lesson as a child and said it remained with him as he matured. Long said his mother and teachers did so many things to try to improve his poor spelling that it robbed him of time that would have been better spent focusing on subjects he enjoyed.

“So, what I bring to the table is a different view. I believe everyone has unique abilities, so I try to structure job duties so people are using those abilities,” he said. “The things they don’t do well are passed off to someone else who is great at those tasks and enjoys them.”

Natural Consequences

Long said the rules he created and the happiness of his employees has a direct relationship on the way customers are treated. A positive attitude must start at the top, he said, as he listed his rules, which are:

• Always create value for employees, customers, and vendors;
• Always plan toward the future with reasonable deadlines and objectives;
• Always support the people you work with;
• Always treat everyone with great respect;
• Always seek out education and growth;
• Always keep a positive attitude and outlook;
• Always work with the strengths of others;
• Always look for lessons from mistakes, not blame;
• Always look for and take advantage of opportunities; and
• Always work within your strengths and unique abilities.

“These principles allow us to provide the best service possible at the best price,” Long said, noting that, whenever the cost of someone’s insurance policy goes up by 10% or $100, they are contacted and given alternative options, which is possible because AXiA represents 20 insurance carriers.

Agents also analyze each client’s policies on a regular basis. “Customers are not insurance experts, and sometimes people are paying for things they don’t need, but lack coverage in other areas they should have,” Long said.

He told BusinessWest that the company began conducting annual team reviews for commercial clients two years ago to make sure their policies do not have any gaps or overlaps. They also do a full review of each personal insurance policy every two years, and clients receive a letter about any areas of concern, which are typically sent via e-mail.

“We have 80% of our clients’ e-mail addresses; the average in the industry is only 20%, and we also text information,” Long added. “It’s very important to our clients to communicate with them this way because they are busy.

“But everything we do comes back to my theory and the name of the company,” Long said, explaining that AXiA is a Greek word which translates to “value, capability, merit, worth, and worthiness” in English.

Director of Operations Alana Sambor said the approach makes a difference. “We have already reviewed the policies of more than 2,500 of our clients this year,” she said. “We want to make sure they have the right coverage at the right price, and we publish information we think they need to know.”

Alana Sambor

Alana Sambor says AXiA goes out of its way to regularly review clients’ coverage to make sure it reflects their needs.

One thing Long believes sets AXiA apart from other insurance agencies is its approach to new clients. “We don’t just ask to see a copy of their current policy and provide them with a quote,” he said. “We analyze it and ask them a series of questions, such as whether they own more than one piece of property, then come back with a report or recommendation about how their policy should look. It’s not an apples-to-apples quote; it’s based on what the person really needs.”

For example, a person may have a $250 deductible on their homeowner’s insurance policy. “But since it’s unlikely they will turn in a small claim, we may advise them to take out a larger deductible and purchase other coverage for things such as backed-up sewers or drains with the money they save,” Long said.

The company also continuously works to improve communications with clients. Two years ago, AXiA put an emergency phone number in place so customers can contact a representative 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “And we are looking at creating a mobile app as well as an interactive website, which we hope to launch next year,” Long said, explaining that it will give clients instant access to their claim history and premiums, so they can see what they paid for a policy years ago.

The new website will also allow commercial clients to issue certificates of insurance for themselves around the clock by logging into the system. “Many contractors, who range from painters to landscapers to truck drivers, need a certificate when they arrive at a new job site, and they often start work at 6 a.m., before we are in the office,” said Sambor. “We have had truck drivers who found they couldn’t leave California without a new certificate, which can be problematic due to the time difference. This will allow them to print whatever they need, any time of day or night.”

Caring Atmosphere

Long promotes his company by having the name AXiA emblazoned on special vanity license plates that are issued to all of his employees. He also purchases shirts, sweaters, and other articles of clothing that display the company name and logo.

But he believes it is his positive attitude and the gratitude passed on to clients by satisfied employees that most accounts for his growth and success.

Sambor noted the company is growing so fast that it interviews at least one new job applicant every month, but added they are very choosy about who works for them.

In fact, before Long hires someone, he spends a great deal of time making sure he or she will fit in well and comply with the company’s rules. “We always want to do what is right for the customer, so our employees must show up on time, finish what they start, and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to every client,” he said.

“When I began my company, I laid out everything that I wanted to do for clients and told prospective employees about my value plan, and the majority of them are still with me today,” he went on. “But it’s a fast-paced environment, so we screen candidates carefully.”

That extends to making sure their unique abilities fit the role they will play in the business. “For example, our receptionist is not only very pleasant, she has real empathy for people. It’s important because she is the first person people talk to, which sets the stage for further transactions,” Long said.

Sambor agrees. “The atmosphere at AXiA makes it a place that is fun to work at, and even the small perks, such as a hot cookie machine and cappuccino/espresso machine, make a difference to employees. We spend more time together every day than most people do with their families, so we need to enjoy our jobs,” she said. “We have a team-oriented environment, and if one person is struggling or engrossed in a project, another person will cover for them while they complete what they need to do.”

Long also publishes jobs on the company website that don’t yet exist, but will be available in the future, as well as pay grades and levels so people know how much money they can expect to make as they advance through the ranks.

He feels that’s important because it helps him retain employees. “I sit down with each of my employees once a year and go over their individual goals,” he said.

The company is dedicated to going green, which has provided employees with additional perks and also resulted in benefits to clients.

“Eight years ago, we began going paperless, so we don’t have rows and banks of file cabinets. We e-mail policies to customers, unless they ask for a hard copy, and we plan to install solar panels in the building,” Long said. He added that allowing employees to work four days a week provides additional fuel savings and reduces emissions.

The company also recently began giving employees partial subsidies for gas if they drive vehicles that get high mileage. “And next year, we plan to do something smaller for the balance of our employees,” he added. “We don’t do things halfway.”

Bottom Line

Long identifies himself as a problem solver, and said it’s the approach he used when he began formulating the principles that would become the cornerstone of his insurance agency.

“I spend time identifying things that could hold us back, and look at situations and find resolutions other people wouldn’t think of,” he said. “I often tease my employees, but I believe people are supposed to laugh at work. If they are having a good time, they are more effective and efficient, and if they like their jobs, they do better at them, which leads to happier clients.”

Insurance Sections
Homeowners’ Liability Often Extends Beyond the Home


John E. Dowd Jr.

John E. Dowd Jr.

One misconception about homeowners’ liability insurance coverage is that it covers only incidents in the home. In actuality, the comprehensive personal liability (CPL) coverage under a homeowners’ insurance policy is really not associated with any location, other than the limitations and exclusions on the policy.

Here are some examples of what probably would be covered by CPL:

• Sports incidents: for example, you are playing golf and you drive a ball that hits someone in the head and disables them. If you are found liable, as long as you were not doing it professionally, your policy will likely provide coverage.

• After shopping at your local market, you accidentally drop a bottle of olive oil in the parking lot, and it shatters and bleeds the oil onto the pavement. Another shopper comes along, slips, and seriously injures herself on the pavement. While the assumption is that the injured party will take action against the market, the typical practice of attorneys is to go after everyone associated with the incident.

• You are on vacation at a hotel, and you are so excited to leave the room to enjoy a sightseeing tour that you forget to turn off the faucet. The running water causes significant damage to the hotel structure. The hotel decides to go after you for damages. Your CPL will defend you and may pay out damages if you are deemed liable.

• Your kid lends his skateboard to a friend, and the friend, who may not be experienced with the skateboard, gets seriously injured trying to make a maneuver. Parents can be held liable for this injury, and there is a very good chance this will be covered by the CPL coverage.

• If your dog bites a stranger at the park, your CPL will cover you as the owner and responsible party for the dog, as long as the policy does not exclude coverage for your dog breed. Some homeowners policies exclude coverage for breeds deemed dangerous, such as pit bulls.

Additionally, the CPL coverage will usually extend coverage for the following items, even if an incident happens away from the insured premise:

• Trailers that are not attached to a motor vehicle;

• Motorized golf carts;

• Watercraft that does not have a motor or is not more than a specified amount of horsepower;

• Sailboats below a certain length;

• A vacation residence (however, certain conditions may apply, so you also may need to schedule it); and

• Non-motorized bikes.

Here are examples where coverage does not exist and is excluded by nearly every homeowners’ insurance policy:

• Your cars, which are clearly excluded if registered for road use. This is exactly why you need to get a separate auto insurance policy;

• Motorized recreational vehicles, especially if they are off the premises;

• Any incident related to business; and

• Intentional acts.

Policies vary, so it is important to review your policy to see what may be covered and what may not be covered. Additionally, some policies allow you to endorse a coverage that may not be on the policy. This is why it is so important to sit down with your agent to address additional risks you may have and make sure coverage for those risks is addressed.

Liability coverage is perhaps the most important coverage you should have, simply because most of these cases involve attorneys, and if coverage exists, the insurance companies provide for your defense, as well as any settlement up to the limits of your policy. Again, an annual review of your personal risk exposure with your agent is essential. It could be a very short conversation with your agent from year to year if nothing has changed in your life, but more often than not, changes do occur that could expose you unnecessarily to a potentially uninsured loss exposure. Ignorance is never a good defense.

One thing that you should carefully note is that, if you are involved with any activity where you charge a fee of some kind, there is a good chance that the insurance company will deem this to be a commercial exposure and will therefore not cover the activity under your CPL. Your agent or broker is always available to answer these questions, and you should never hesitate to put him or her on the spot.

John E. Dowd Jr. is the fourth-generation president and CEO of the Dowd Insurance Agencies. The Dowd Agencies is a full-service agency, founded by his grandfather in 1898, which provides personal, commercial, and financial-planning needs. The Dowd Agencies has six offices in Western Mass.; (413) 538-7444; [email protected]