Winter 2015/16 Catalyst
Erie Insurance has been helping people make things right since 1925, working side-by-side with the best insurance agents in the business. When H.O. Hirt and O.G. Crawford decided to start an insurance exchange, they wanted to base it on “simple common sense, mixed with just plain decency.” They turned to the Golden Rule as a guiding principle, and on April 20, 1925, Erie Insurance and its legacy of service opened for business. That principle has acted as a beacon for 91 years as Erie Insurance has grown into what it is today.
Erie Insurance is a regional insurance company headquartered in Erie, Pennsylvania that offers auto, home, business and life insurance. The company has always been one that frames its future upon the values, principles and successes of its past. These factors are a tribute to ERIE’s key architect— cofounder H.O. Hirt—who led the company for more than half a century. His legacy of vision and perseverance continues today, as ERIE employees work to deliver consistent value to customers and communities, agents and employees.
Today, Erie Insurance is the second largest auto insurer in Pennsylvania, and the 12th largest auto insurer and 11th largest home insurer in the country. The company is the 16th largest property/casualty insurer in the United States. It is also ranked among the 500 largest U.S. companies, in terms of revenue, by FORTUNE magazine.
ERIE’s Property/Casualty Group has an A+ (Superior) rating from A.M. Best; Erie Family Life has an A (Excellent) rating. Erie Insurance is also on Forbes magazine’s list of “America’s 100 Most Trustworthy Financial Companies.” These rankings reflect a force of agents and employees who strive to uphold the mission that Hirt set in stone in 1925: To provide Policyholders with as near perfect protection, as near perfect service as is humanly possible and to do so at the lowest possible cost.
Here’s how they do it.
The company seeks out people who have a philosophy of service at their core. One can quickly tell if they’re talking with someone who believes in providing excellent service. When a company finds the right people, its company culture bears witness to that.
Erie Insurance employs nearly 5,000 people across its territory that includes New York, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. More than 2,845 employees work at the company’s home office in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Customers want to know that an insurance company will be responsive to their needs, financially stable enough to pay their claim and nimble enough to make exceptions to rules, if needed. When employees engage in this level of responsiveness, they build stronger relationships with consumers, which can transition first-time users of the product or service into regular customers.
That’s why ERIE has built a strong corporate culture that is centered on service, and why the company takes a strategic approach to attracting and retaining the right skill sets and values. The employees engage in a broad array of learning and development opportunities, follow a recognized wellness program, and apply various communication channels to build and sustain the kind of trusted environment that leads to continued employee satisfaction and engagement. ERIE seeks out and hires people with a diversity of talent and a passion for service.
When H.O. Hirt stepped down in 1976 and passed the mantle to his son, Bill, he left a letter on the desk. That letter has been passed to every CEO since. Among the sage advice, one line is capitalized and underscored deliberately: “Never lose the human touch.”
Most customers want dialogue with a human being—in ERIE’s case, an insurance professional. The company is committed to working with nearly 9,000 local, independent insurance agents across its territory, including more than 480 agencies throughout Pennsylvania to deliver the highest level of service to its customers. Erie Insurance agents take pride in what they do, are active in the communities in which they live and work, and are conscientious in their efforts to protect and serve customers. ERIE’s independent agents are licensed professionals who have extensive experience and product knowledge.
The company’s business model is built on a strong and trusted relationship with the agents who represent it. That model goes back as far as 1927, when the longest running independent agency signed with Erie Insurance. The Ralph C. Mehler Insurance Agency, of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, is now led by the family’s third generation. This kind of loyalty is not unusual for Erie Insurance, nor is it taken for granted.
Erie Insurance has always known how to turn a challenge into an opportunity. H.O. Hirt once said “Think or Surrender.” Tough words for sure, but he understood what was necessary to survive and flourish for nearly a century. Ever since ERIE’s Sam Black established the first 24-hour claims number from his room at a nearby YMCA in 1927, the company has sought innovative ways to provide superior service. Erie Insurance offers a suite of innovative products that position it for the future. For example, it was the first insurer in the country to roll out coverage for Uber and Lyft drivers in 2014 and most recently was the first company to successfully use a drone in a claim.
In 2015, Erie Insurance opened a state-of-the art, interactive Technical Learning Center for claims professionals, underwriters and agents to hone their skills and learn cutting edge technologies. The LEED-certified 52,000-square-foot training center features 14 fully equipped auto bays and a three-story home. This house is constructed using hundreds of different building materials to reflect different styles, periods and values
The company has also completed restorations to several historic buildings in Erie, Pennsylvania. Those restorations serve a dual purpose of providing much needed space to its growing organization and reinvesting dollars in the local community. For example, the C.F. Adams Building, which at one time served as ERIE’s headquarters, was restored and now serves as the Erie Insurance Heritage Center, which displays archives of the company and its hometown history. Most recently, ERIE renovated the Erie Armory, former home of the mighty 112th Infantry Regiment, before it was shuttered in 2007. The Armory now serves as work space to more than 100 employees. The Erie Insurance Heritage Center and Armory are both on the National Register of Historic Places.
Becoming an anchor in the community extends beyond the buildings that Erie Insurance restores. Giving back to the community members and organizations that occupy neighboring buildings is also important to the company.
Hirt held a lifelong concern for the less fortunate—a compassion that is shared by the employees and agents of Erie Insurance. For example, when Hirt learned about the Foster Parents Plan for War Children in 1949, he asked employees to make small monthly donations in support of war orphans.
Today, corporate donations support organizations like the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, the United Way and March of Dimes. Employees and agents serve their communities by supporting programs like Serving Together, Erie’s partnerships with local chapters of the American Red Cross.
The wide scope of employees’ community support is due in large part to two helpful programs: The Matching Gifts program and ERIE Service Corps. The company matches every employee’s minimum donation of $25 to eligible nonprofit charities. The ERIE Service Corps gives every employee one paid day off from work each year to volunteer for an eligible nonprofit. These programs are popular among employees and give them the opportunity to extend the limits in which they can serve their communities.
Agents often team up with branch office employees to sponsor charities in which they have a personal connection. Erie Insurance’s Giving Grants program helps them take that support one step further. Giving Grants are corporate charitable funds that branch offices can apply for and then donate to eligible nonprofits. Giving Grants bring ERIE agents and branch office employees together to volunteer side by side.
Erie Insurance continues to thrive, due in no small part to the company’s founders establishing a legacy of service. In the nine decades since ERIE’s founding, generations of dedicated employees and agents have remained grounded in that vision, building upon it in new and inspiring ways. It holds true its promise to work together for the good of its customers and communities and the promise to be “above all” in service.
Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.