Founded on June 12, 1877, the Ontario County Patrons’ Fire Relief Association was launched to protect area farmers from the financial devastation they endured when fire claimed their barns or damaged other property. Now known as the Ontario Insurance Company, the organization has evolved over the years, and this year it celebrates its 140th Anniversary.
“Times have changed, and so has Ontario Insurance Company,” said Keith Fry, president and CEO of Ontario Insurance Company. “But one thing has never wavered: our commitment to our customers, our agents and to supporting businesses that are growing our region’s economy.”
Ontario issued its first policy to C.D. Ansley of Geneva for a property it continuously insured for generations, and the first claim it ever paid was for an October 12, 1879 fire in Richmond, N.Y. The loss was adjusted at $800 for a barn and $550 for its contents. Today, the company occasionally processes individual claims that get close to $1 million.
When it first launched, company directors would visit properties prior to writing a policy and diagram them with pencil and paper. Now, Google Maps has become the go-to tool to review most properties. Similarly, the company was run almost entirely out of one notebook in its early days. Now, employees rely on complex spreadsheets and databases to manage the business.
“The tools we use now are obviously very different,” said Fry, who is just the ninth president in the company’s 140-year history, “but the prudent stewardship that its founders first instilled continues to drive our conservative approach to business. That’s why I believe we have been nationally recognized for our financial strength.”
National recognition for financial stability
Ontario Insurance Company has been ranked in the top 20 nationwide for its strong financial position compared to its liabilities. A.M. Best, a national rating agency that focuses on the insurance industry, calculates the Best’s Capital Adequacy Ratio, or BCAR, for more than 1,000 insurance carriers and ranks them accordingly.
Essentially, this score measures the amount of available capital an insurance company has to support its risk and pay for claims. Ontario has been ranked 20th.
“While we may not be one of the nation’s largest insurance carriers, we are one of its most financially secure,” Fry said. “Or, as I like to say, ‘We might not be the tallest oak, but we can withstand a big blow.’ It has become a benefit for our agents and policyholders who can rely on us to have the capital necessary to cover claims during their times of need.”
Ontario also maintains a rating of A (Excellent) from A.M. Best, which is not common among the nation’s smaller independent carriers.
Remaining flexible to support agents, policyholders
Ontario Insurance Company has vastly diversified from its earliest days. Today, about 60 percent of its business comes from its commercial insurance lines, and the remaining revenues are derived from policies held by farms and homeowners.
The company’s leadership makes it a priority to remain responsive and provide flexibility to the agencies that offer its insurance products, so they can best serve their customers.
“Ontario Insurance Company is more than another carrier option to us. They are a valued partner,” said Gerald Graziano, vice president of the Insurance Division at Generations Agency. “By offering relevant products, expanded coverages, fast but thorough underwriting and an engaging company-agency philosophy, Ontario helps us meet our customer needs. That’s what matters most to us at Generations Agency.”
“Ontario Insurance Company has been a valuable partner throughout my career,” said Charles Bartishevich, partner at Finger Lakes Partners. “Their people and products have helped to ensure the success of our agency.”
This flexibility and its approach to business has driven Ontario to offer unique products that serve emerging industries or niche enterprises.
For instance, it offers an insurance product for home-based businesses, especially individuals who produce items in their kitchens for sale at farmers’ markets. It also writes policies for Bed-and-Breakfasts and tourism-and-recreation businesses, such as golf courses.
“These products represent a small portion of our premium revenues, but they’re indicative of our approach to this business. We try to remain innovative and identify gaps where companies and individuals need us to develop new insurance products or write out-of-the-ordinary policies,” Fry said.
One example is its recently debuted Craft Brewers’ Kit, which offers unique insurance products specifically geared to craft brewers and distillers.
As a passionate home-brewer and certified beer judge, Fry recognized the industry’s growth, and the company took steps to create an insurance product to support and protect craft brewers as they grow their businesses.
“The craft beverage industry is booming in New York State, and these businesses need insurance products that address their unique liabilities and the changing regulations of the industry,” Fry said.
When Ontario Insurance Company celebrates its 140th Anniversary with a party June 12 for employees and agents on the Canandaigua Lady, attendees will have the chance to sample beer that Fry brewed to mimic what people were drinking 140 years ago. The 140th Anniversary brews include an 1877 IPA, an authentic cream ale and a robust dark ale.
Ongoing Growth, Looking to the Future
Last year, Ontario Insurance Company’s premium revenue grew by 14 percent, and it added 20 new agencies to offer its products.
Looking ahead, Ontario aims to achieve ongoing growth. It continues its efforts to promote the company and its products at conferences and with direct outreach to prospective agents and agencies. Ontario works closely with newly added agencies to foster the relationship.
“As a recently appointed agent with Ontario Insurance, I could not be happier with the products offering and the outstanding customer service,” said Nadene Madigan, managing partner of Ferris Insurance Agency. “The agency support and training is superior. We could not be more pleased with joining the Ontario Insurance team.”
“Our agency is a recent appointment for Ontario. We are thrilled to represent them, finding their people well-trained, extremely knowledgeable and disciplined,” said Thomas G. Tuke, president of the Charles H. Tuke Agency, Inc. “We wish them well on their 140th Anniversary and wish them many future years of success.”
Retention of existing agencies remains a key component of Ontario’s growth strategy, too. The company’s focus on service, flexibility and partnership will remain at the heart of their business.
“It means so much to our team when agencies hang an Ontario Insurance Company plaque in their office and offer our products to their customers. It’s what keeps our doors open, and it’s why we will never take our existing agencies for granted,” Fry said.