Posted on 18 May 2012 by Annie George
In this issue of Insurance Unplugged, we’re featuring one of our newest storefronts this year, National Trust Insurance Services (NTIS), LLC, a leading insurance wholesaler that offers comprehensive insurance solutions to historic property owners and preservation organizations. NTIS provides quality insurance products and services for thousands of historic properties throughout the United States, from the turn-of-the-century Victorian house museums, to nationally recognized theatres, art & cultural institutions.
We spoke with Paul La Vardera, Program Director at NTIS on how the firm got its start, the coverages and expertise they provide, and what makes them so unique in this space. Paul joined NTIS three years ago as Program Director after working on both on the carrier and wholesale and E&S side of the insurance business.
NTIS began nine years ago when it became obvious that there was a real need for expertise in insuring historic properties. There were serious gaps in these properties’ insurance coverage. Standard policies often did not include coverage for the features and characteristics that make museums and historic properties special. Further, it was often discovered that agents and underwriters were not addressing the unique exposures of non-profit organizations. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the largest non-profit for the preservation of historic America, teamed with Maury, Donnelly & Parr (MDP), a Baltimore insurance agency that knew this space well and, in fact, have their own offices in a historic building since 1875, to deliver the expertise and secure the insurance solutions required for these special properties. Their joint venture formed the National Trust’s subsidiary, NTIS.
“NTIS began as a retail agent insuring Main Street organizations and businesses in historic buildings across the country,” explained Paul. “Over time, we honed our product offering, and started to grow in this niche, working with several insurance carriers to provide property owners and organizations with the solutions they needed, including placing business with Fireman’s Fund and its Historic Property product. In 2009, Fireman’s Fund partnered with NTIS to provide policyholders with enhanced historic property coverages, expertise, and customer service. Further, the historic property product is solely distributed through NTIS, which took us to the program-based wholesale operation we are today. We serve exclusively as a wholesaler, and are licensed in every state except Alaska and Hawaii.”
Fireman’s Fund Historic Property product is NTIS’ flagship product for middle-market business where they conduct the pre-underwriting involved and have some binding authority. NTIS also has a small business product for Main Street with CNA, D&O insurance with Great American, and supplemental medical coverage for volunteers with ACE. Additionally, NTIS works with several carriers to insure historic homes and with Fireman’s Fund and other specialty insurers to provide coverage for collections and fine arts, including Aspen Insurance, which specializes in higher value or more intricate schedules. Vacant/Builder’s Risk coverage for buildings undergoing renovations is also available from NTIS.
Liability, Workers Comp, and Umbrella coverages can also be included in an insured’s program with NTIS as long as the Property coverage is written through them.
When writing a property, Paul explained that they’re not limited by occupancies. “We focus on pride of ownership. This is true whether it’s a non-profit whose sole mission is to protect the property, or a for-profit organization such as a real estate organization that recognizes that the historic significance and character of the building is what is critical to their business income,” said Paul.
“The sole reason we became so appealing to carriers is that our story was based on the fact that you shouldn’t shy away from insuring old buildings, once the standard in the insurance industry. You shouldn’t be afraid to touch a building that is listed on a national register because you don’t how to handle it in terms of valuation or a claim. We focused on the fact that these are indeed the buildings you want to protect. They’ve been around, stood the test of time, have organizations solely in existence to protect them, and have thousands of volunteers who love and care for these buildings. Furthermore, if they are for profit, owners or organizations know what separates them from other operations – and that is the character of the structure.”
What distinguishes NTIS from others in the space – in addition to their expertise and the backing of the National Trust – is their focus on property valuation. “We spend the majority of our time when we first touch an account talking with a client to make sure the property is valued properly. It’s not only the key to the sustainability of our program but also our reporting obligation and responsibility to the National Trust to make sure we are doing right,” said Paul.
“Many properties are not insured properly between being underinsured and having a coinsurance value on the policy. We’ll review the policy’s coinsurance to make sure the client understands what would happen if they have a loss. Everything that we touch is on an agreed value basis. Whether there is a partial or total loss, the building will be restored back as close possible to what it once was – with the same craftsmanship, artisanship, and materials that are readily available. Our coverage takes it a step further than straight replacement cost, and provides real peace of mind.”
As Paul explained, this type of account is an educational and product sale, not based on price. “We are very competitive when it comes to rates, but sometimes we’re more expensive because we’re insuring properties at their real values. What’s more, all accounts we write with Fireman’s Fund include an appraisal remedy to confirm the valuation we have determined. This is included and built into our program.”
NTIS has developed unique enhancements that they believe are critical to this space and separate their products from others. One such enhancement involves the green movement. “Insuring green and LEED Certification,” explained Paul, “go hand in hand with preservation buildings. Preservationists feel these buildings are greener than any new construction you can build, so we came up with some coverage extensions to address the green build movement.
Historic Tax Credit insurance is also available, which is designed to help protect owners and developers against the potential loss or recapture of the Historic Tax Credit. Under federal, state, and local tax codes, there are incentives for non-profits and organizations and individual investors involved in rehabilitation and restoration projects to receive tax credits. There are situations, however, where this tax credit can be lost, such as when property damage during rehabilitation or post rehabilitation is deemed great enough to change the significance and structure of the property, causing the building to no longer qualify for the credit. NTIS has worked with several of its carriers to create insurance coverages designed to eliminate that risk.
When speaking about how NTIS helps agencies with insuring historic properties, Paul explained that they are available to participate on prospective client calls when invited, and will go with agents to client meetings. Additionally, where appropriate, they’ll bring in the National Trust with a letter of recommendation supporting the programs they provide. “We’ll do whatever we can to help the agent,” said Paul. “As I mentioned, the entire process is educational for the client…we go over why we do what we do in terms of the property valuation, how we do it, and why it’s important. We’re very successful once we have an opportunity to tell our story and show our expertise. People are very proud of these historic properties and see that we share the same passion and that this is all we do and want to do. We speak their language.”
In fact, NTIS’ program has a 97% retention rate. “When you find the right insured and you have them as part of your book of business, once they know they’re backed by us – an organization vetted by the National Trust – you have a client that is very comfortable with their insurance program. They refer you to their associates and friends. It’s a great product,” said Paul.
NTIS works on an open-brokerage basis. You can go online at http://www.nationaltrust-insurance.org/agents.html to review the agency agreement. You can also contact Paul at 410-547-3058 or email at email@example.com; or Hayward Howard 410-547-3169 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.