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Insurance agency thrives as part of M&T Bank

John Rumschik got into the insurance business because of stories he heard over dinner.

Rumschik's brother was a claims adjuster and often shared stories about his work at the dinner table.

One such tale: A sheriff was playing golf in a charity event and hit a wayward shot into the parking lot. He heard the crash of a windshield, and went to leave the owner a note – only to discover the ball had smashed his own truck window and landed inside the cab.

Rumschik turned his interest into a career that began 40 years ago. In 2000, he was a vice president at the regional agency of Matthews, Bartlett & Dedecker when one of its clients, M&T Bank, bought the firm. Five years later, Rumschik was promoted to president of the rebranded M&T Insurance Agency, a name change reflecting the agency's growth beyond its Buffalo home base.

M&T's banking operations may capture the headlines, but its insurance agency is following its own growth curve. Since 2000, the agency has expanded from a single office in Buffalo with 39 employees, to nine offices with 148 employees, 92 of whom are based here. The agency generated $31 million in revenue last year, ranking among Business Insurance's 100 largest insurance brokerages in the nation.

Rumschik, 62, an East Amherst resident, talked about the agency's growth under M&T and how it tries to recruit young talent:

Q: You lead an insurance agency within a bank. Do the two organizations cross over much?

A: There is a definite crossover. Being part of a bank, a financial institution brings a lot of financial products to M&T's customers, of which now one is property casualty insurance and group benefits. These are all products that business owners have to have. They're either required by contract or by law, in the case of worker's compensation or automobile coverage, that they have to purchase.

Q: What has driven the agency's growth: acquisitions or organic growth?

A: It's been a combination of both. There have been other acquisitions, but they've been very small agencies. But it's primarily been generic growth, growing our business both through the relationship with M&T Bank, through bank customers, cross-selling, and also just continuing to grow our business from our salespeople from the direct standpoint, community involvement, referrals from existing clients.

Q: What has expansion outside of the region meant for the agency?

A: That was one of (Matthews Bartlett's) decisions, back in 2000. (Then-president) Gerry Saxe and I were talking about, in order to continue to be a viable, strong player in the insurance brokerage world, we had to figure out how to grow outside of Western New York.

So we either needed to make acquisitions or have a good partner to do that. (M&T) had actually approached us, and through the bank, we've been able to identify potential acquisitions in other parts of the bank's footprint, to grow our business by acquisition, from Buffalo to Northern Virginia to the Connecticut border.

Q: How has the insurance industry changed since you joined it?

A: Information moves a lot faster. ... Back when we were (in our previous office), businesses really didn't look at things like employment practices liability, cyber-practices liability, as exposures that they had of their business to loss. And today, probably one of our fastest-growing lines is cyber insurance.

Q: Do companies seem to take that threat seriously?

A: For sure, in the last, I would say, six months. For the first couple of years, just like employment practices liability insurance, it was slow growth because a lot of companies feel, "I have an in-house IT division that's responsible for my security and management of my IT system," that they really didn't need it. ... But even the best IT departments are exposed to hackers and breach of confidential information.

Q: Companies in some industries have trouble attracting talent. How about insurance?

A: We're no exception there. There's a shortage of experienced insurance people, with five to 15 years of experience. What we're committed to doing is hiring our own people, training them and making that investment up front. It's a long investment, but there's just such a shortage that we feel if we can acquire a good, young talented person, put the time and effort into training them, that we'll be rewarded with the loyalty of making that investment, that we'll have a long-term employee.

Another benefit for us to be part of M&T is hiring people under the M&T name, because they get the same benefits, they also get the confidence of a large, top, national bank. And the individuals that we hire don't necessarily have to stay in the insurance agency. If there is an area of the bank that interests them and better suits them, we make every effort to see that that happens. We've had people come from the bank into the agency, and from the agency into the bank.

Q: What advantages does your agency have being connected to a bank?

A: Being part of a bank has enabled us to acquire talent and skill sets in our staff where maybe other brokers can't make that investment up front. We have a full-time actuary on our staff for our group benefits customers. Only 2 percent of the brokers in the country have a full-time actuary or actuaries employed within the agency. We have claims analytics, we have strong underwriting talent.

That all translates to being able to build a stronger, better insurance program for our clients. Being part of a bank has allowed us to make that up-front investment.


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