LONGWOOD, Fla. (Aug. 27, 2019) – Insurance Office of America is pleased to announce that the latest key industry rankings, which show continued growth is strong after its recent leadership change. IOA co-founder John Ritenour stepped down as chairman at the end of 2018 passing the torch to his son, Chairman and CEO Heath Ritenour.
Insurance Journal recently released its 2019 Top 100 Property/Casualty Agencies list, on which IOA continued its No. 13 ranking. The announcement followed the prior month’s release of the Business Insurance Top 100 Brokers of U.S. Business list, on which a No. 23 ranking also continued. The two lists comprise rankings of the top insurance agencies in the United States. Being among those ranked is a testament to the strength of IOA, particularly as a privately held independent agency amid unprecedented mergers and acquisitions activity.
In 2018, M&A for the insurance industry broke several records with 626 transactions, according to OPTIS Partners’ year-end report. This activity surpassed what had been considered a highly active and unprecedented year with 611 transactions in 2017. As agency values continue to rise, experts contend that there is no end in sight for aggressive M&A activity.
For the approximately 38,500 independent insurance agencies in the U.S., perpetuation planning and technology have played pivotal roles in determining which agencies would thrive decade after decade, especially considering that only 52% of agencies have a perpetuation plan in place, according to the 2018 National Underwriter/PIA Independent Agent Study. Those built with the right structure, such as IOA, would stand the test of time and survive the M&A frenzy of the last 10 years.
IOA’s beginnings not only show determination and vision but also deeply held values. Co-founders John Ritenour and his wife, Valli, who met in the ninth grade, set out to reinvent how insurance brokers could be compensated and build their own businesses. Their idea was to create a place that clients and employees would never want to leave. It was a move that has produced growth beyond their wildest dreams and a trajectory their son, Heath, now continues to accelerate.
“At one of my first agencies, my commission structure changed three times within nine months and never in a better direction,” said John Ritenour. “That’s when we decided to build something different. I wanted to design a place that provided what I looked for as a sales representative.”
That opportunity came in January 1988 when John Ritenour secured carrier appointments and purchased his own book of business from his broker. From that point, John and Valli created an agency model that provided an entirely new commission structure so that the insurance producer would receive equal commissions on new business and renewals.
The concept took off like wildfire and soon began attracting top producers in other regions. A friend in New Jersey approached the Ritenours to open an office in his state. He was a great salesman and still is today. “Despite trepidation, we decided to open a new office there, and that led to expanding Insurance Office of Florida, the agency’s original name, to Insurance Office of America,” said John.
When growth occurs at a high velocity, leaders are faced with scaling a business, which can be daunting. As John puts it, “When we began to grow, I honestly didn’t feel equipped to run a multimillion-dollar agency. Yet God sent the right people at exactly the right time to support me and complete the skill set needed for every stage.” When John stepped down in 2018, the company reported over $200 million in revenue.
As John and Valli see it, Heath coming on board in 2005 was a total blessing for the company. “In the beginning, Heath observed and listened. Later, he started critiquing me, which made me pick up my game. Heath was always an overachiever and the hardest worker on his athletic teams growing up. So, I knew he had it in him to achieve excellence in business as well,” said John.
At first, Heath says he hoped to meet some of his dad’s friends and clients, which would be a great way to explore other businesses to find out what he really wanted to do. However, during those early days, he realized how much value IOA adds to its clients, and that got him excited for what he could to do in the industry.
“When I began, I was agent No. 10. Today, we have over 300 producers across the U.S. and London,” said Heath. “I couldn’t be more excited about where we’re headed and to know that our unique culture, the foundation of our success, is stronger than ever. We believe that when you focus on taking care of customers, growth will take care of itself. These new rankings reaffirm that our growth path is strong for the foreseeable future.”
For Heath, insurance isn’t what lit his fire; it was consulting and learning about each business. “From roofing companies to high-tech manufacturers to sports teams, we’re advocates for businesses and the people who own them,” said Heath. “We are a part of each company’s strategic team, much like an accountant, attorney, and financial advisor, and we help grow each business and mitigate risk.”
In January 2014, IOA announced its approval as a registered broker from Lloyd’s of London. With the growth of IOA, its entry into the London marketplace was the next evolutionary step. Clients made it clear that they wanted creative ideas and more senior-level attention rather than commoditized off-the-shelf products. They wanted innovative brokers who could provide consistent, exceptional service that is not eroded by several intermediaries.
IOA’s clients range from large real estate portfolios to environmental companies. It also has carved a niche in professional sports and boasts some large clients including more than 20 NFL, NBA and NHL teams. Additionally, the agency showcases its brand at arenas and events across the nation, including the Diamond Resort’s Tournament of Champions, the first leg of the LPGA Tour.
Orlando Business Journal named Heath to its CEOs of the Year list in 2018. The award is given to chief executives who have led their firms to fiscal success, created engaged workplaces, and made central Florida a better place to live, according to OBJ. The same year, IOA was named a recipient of National Underwriter’s 2018 Agency of the Year award.
The agency structure is a generational and entrepreneurial model. Another thing that makes it unique is that the leadership team is filled with people who are also active producers. They own a book of business and stay connected. Most companies IOA’s size are run by people who were never agents or haven’t been one for some time.
One of the key reasons for IOA’s continued success is the leadership’s attention to technology and trends to meet the needs of its clients. For example, working with the input of 32 top insurance carriers, IOA developed RiskScore®, a program that allows producers to help businesses reduce risk and obtain lower premium costs.
“Just like your credit score dictates your borrowing terms, your RiskScore determines your premium,” said Heath. “We met with large carriers and said, ‘What does ‘best-in-class’ look like in each class code that you write?’ Similar to a personal credit score, 850 is a perfect RiskScore. If a client is at 750, we can identify accurately areas they can work on to be viewed as best-in-class, which in turn can significantly lower premiums.”
As part of its investment in digital technology, IOA is creating a personal lines platform that provides a real-time quote and bind experience for customers. The technology allows users to scan information, like a driver’s license, via their smartphones. “We’ll literally be able to give someone a bindable quote on their smartphone in under three minutes,” said Heath. If a customer buys a new car on a Saturday, he or she can scan the VIN number from a phone and add that vehicle to an existing policy right from a smartphone.
As a private agency, IOA is able to invest profits back into the company, creating value for customers and employees, and everyone comes out ahead in the process. Strategic thinking is the key. “If we’re going to invest in something now that might shrink our margin in the short term, but in a couple of years we’ll be taking substantial business from our competitors organically, we’re going to do that all day long,” said Heath.
The agency also plans for the long term through its unique mentoring program. IOA encourages its employees to find mentees several years before they plan to retire. Partners hand pick someone who will fit well with their clients for a seamless experience. Both the mentee and retiree earn a reduced commission for six years. When that time is up, the mentee owns the book of business.
“I’d say that my father is my most important mentor. He taught me more about life and business than anyone,” said Heath. “I watched him, along with my mom, go from the projects and a trailer park to build a successful, generational company through hard work, integrity, perseverance, and an unwavering belief that taking the greed out of the business is a good thing.”
About Insurance Office of America
Insurance Office of America is a full-service insurance agency founded in 1988 by John Ritenour and Valli Ritenour and is one of the fastest-growing independent agencies in the United States. IOA is ranked 13th on Insurance Journal’s 2018 Top 100 Independent Property/Casualty Agencies report and 23rd on Business Insurance’s 2019 100 Largest Brokers of U.S. Business list. IOA was named a National Underwriter Agency of the Year in 2018. Headquartered in Longwood, Florida, part of the greater Orlando community, IOA has more than 1,000 associates located in over 50 offices in the U.S. and London. For more information, visit www.ioausa.com.
Bevrlee J. Lips