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Stratus: Creativity, Innovation and Focus Drive Its Association-Based Programs

Featuring Chris Van Leeuwen, Vice President, Stratus Insurance Services


Posted on 09 Feb 11

This week we’re highlighting Storefront Stratus Insurance Services, a boutique brokerage that truly specializes in developing custom insurance products for associations, enhancing their member benefit programs with a combination of GL and Professional Liability. They continually expand their individual programs for niche markets, too. We spoke with Chris Van Leeuwen, Vice President of Stratus, about the company, their focus, and how they can help retail agents enhance their own association-based programs and create new programs for unique classes or books of business.

Headquartered in Utah, Stratus has been involved in creating and administering more than 30 different asso¬ciation-based and risk-purchasing group programs on a national basis since 2002. There are 16 employees that make up the staff and, with key staff having more than 20 years each of insurance experience and expertise, bringing innovation and creativity to the programs Stratus offers.

Chris joined Stratus in 2007 after running a retail insurance agency for more than 20 years. He is responsible for overseeing all operations, including developing and marketing new and current programs designed to keep the pipeline full for the brokers and program underwriters who partner with Stratus. “We don’t even try to be everything to everybody,” said Chris, “we focus on those industries or exposures that are underserved by our industry or those that tend to be misunderstood.” Chris continued, “The majority of our programs are under $2 million in premiums, but having a multitude of smaller programs provides us with much higher retention levels, less competition, and higher net revenues to our retail partners.”

The Program Division of Stratus specializes in association based, or homogeneous groups, product liability and professional liability insurance. “We do everything from sporting goods manufacturers to professional artist crafters. We cover the gamut,” said Chris.

Stratus’ association member benefit programs involve designing an insurance product that responds to member needs. “We work directly with the specific association to develop a tailored program that’s based on the unique exposures that members face,” explained Chris. “The program we create is an integral part of the association membership with the insurance premium a part of the dues that members pay. Our programs are often the reason for membership growth within our associations, creating phenomenal relationships with our clients. Offering a competitive product, with the risk being spread throughout the membership base, while providing tailored coverages is very powerful.” General Liability, Product Liability, Inland Marine (depending on the industry), and Professional Liability coverages can be a part of each program. An example of an association member benefit program offered by Stratus is The Handmade Industries Insurance Program.

“Agents who already have a relationship or want to enhance an existing relationship with an association, franchise, or homogenous group of people, and are looking to expand to a national audience for its members, can look to us to do so,” explained Chris. “We can help build their book of business by creating, selling, and marketing a custom product to that association. And, if the program is large enough, we will provide exclusivity.”

Additionally, Stratus provides association-endorsed programs that are open to all agents on a national basis. “These involve programs in which exposures are shared by a particular group and the association endorses the program to its members. It’s not an automatic benefit, but once again the program is tailored to the needs of the group we’re insuring,” said Chris. Programs that are association endorsed include: Chimney Sweeps Insurance Program, Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, Outdoor Recreation Insurance Program, among others.

“Our knowledge and ability to put programs together that are affiliated with associations, whether as a part of a membership benefit or an endorsed product is what totally sets us apart from most wholesale operations,” explained Chris. “This is what we do. We work with five principal insurers that understand our business model, have partnered with us, and provide us with the authority and competitive pricing we need to offer our association members. Recently, for example, an agent approached us needing General Liability for a specific class of business. He was working with carriers for over a year on this account. In five days we put together what he needed. Our turnaround time when it comes to what we do is absolutely unparalleled in the industry.”

Stratus also provides programs that are not association-based yet focus on classes of businesses that are unique and emerging, such as its Tattoo & Piercing Insurance Program and Vitamin & Health Supplement Liability insurance Program.

When we asked Chris how Stratus goes about marketing their products, he explained that in addition to using the Internet, conducting e-mail campaigns, attending association tradeshows and having the associations market on their behalf, a great deal of the business comes from word of mouth. “When someone is under the gun and we put something together for them quickly, we inevitably end up working together on other accounts,” said Chris.

As Emerson proclaimed, “if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” It appears that the Stratus business model is creating just that.

If you’d like to discuss setting up an association member benefit program with Stratus or are interested in any of Stratus’ association-endorsed or individual programs, feel free to call Chris at 866-395-1308, or email him at chrisvl@stratusins.com. You can also visit the Stratus website for more information at http://www.stratusins.com/.


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