Hanover’s Push into Specialty Aided by Good Communication with Agents

Hanover’s distribution network acts as a good example of how a carrier can do a better job of getting products into the market through active listening.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 5 min read

Distribution is critical for every insurance company. Hanover Insurance Group, a small- to middle-market player with its own network of agents, sees the relationship it’s built with its agency network as a crucial asset and something unique.


The key is a philosophy of responsiveness based on communication, collaboration and trust.

“I love the fact that they listen,” said Charles Brophy, president and CEO, HUB International New England and U.S. East Regional President, HUB International.

“I love that we have access to the senior management and not just from a perfunctory standpoint. They’re sincere about coming back and helping improve our operations.”

Hanover’s manageable size makes that possible.

“It’s not our approach to try to support and service thousands and thousands of agents,” said Bryan Salvatore, executive vice president and president of specialty at Hanover.

“Our model is actually very focused for a company that lives in the small commercial, middle-market space.”

Fostering Relationships

“The depth of that relationship becomes really important to us,” said Salvatore. “From our standpoint, less is more. And doing it right with a select group is more powerful than trying to service a much bigger percentage of the marketplace.”

“We have a kind of a narrow-distribution franchise view,” said Dick Lavey, president, Hanover Agency Markets. “We think about the agent across all of our businesses, and the only way that strategy works is if we have deep relationships, deep and broad.”

Bryan Salvatore, executive vice president and president of specialty, Hanover Insurance Group

This is not to say that Hanover is small: “Over the last 10 years, Hanover has built a good-sized diversified specialty business,” explained Salvatore.

“We have strong expertise, people with decades of experience — dedicated expertise. We basically built a billion-dollar-premium specialty operation.”

But growth hasn’t changed their philosophy.

“They have the horsepower, the financial strength of a large company, the national breadth, a footprint in product,” said Brophy, “yet they still maintain that local touch, and in my opinion, a true caring.”

One way they do that is through a holistic approach, which avoids the silos of some other companies.

“If the agent has customers and product needs or coverage needs that touch seven different areas, we do the work to align internally so we’re doing the best we can to satisfy all those different needs,” said Salvatore. “He’s not having seven different experiences.”

And he doesn’t have to deal with seven people, either: “We have a key point person with that relationship: our regional vice president,” said Salvatore.

“It’s data plus dialogue that really informs us. My priorities are those needs that come out of the sharing of information and the dialogue that comes from the agent.” — Bryan Salvatore, executive vice president and president of specialty, Hanover Insurance Group

Having a single point person provides powerful benefits to agents.

“Time is money,” said Brophy. “We need to drive efficiencies, not only from technology, but in utilization of our time.

“If we can have an individual who takes ownership and will quarterback that opportunity internally instead of us going through all the different silos within Hanover — to have someone that can take it, build it, know where that talent and skill set in this product lie within the organization, and come back to us with a single solution — that’s tremendous.”

The Benefits of Collaboration

Providing that level of integration is no small feat, said Lavey.

“You can’t just snap your fingers and say, ‘I’m going to do the same thing.’ It takes a lot of commitment and time.”

It also takes a philosophy that values collaboration.

“The environment here is quite special,” said Salvatore. “There is not a lot of parochialism or silos … When we’re building out products, when we’re advancing those products, building out capabilities, we’re doing it in a way that says, ‘I don’t know that it needs to be in my unit. It can be in somebody else’s area, but let’s just make sure we work together to manage the outcome.’ ”

That philosophy extends to the top.

Dick Lavey, president, Hanover Agency Markets

“They’re a fairly large company, yet the access to senior management — Jack Roche, Dick Lavey — they’re very approachable,” said Brophy.

“Their willingness to get in the trenches and work with us to come up with a solution for our customers is great. A lot of other carriers — you get the layers. You don’t necessarily have those layers over there.”

That listening has concrete impacts on Hanover. Salvatore cited one particularly resonant conversation with an agent who told him, ‘Don’t just build something and then bring it to me and say, Here it is. As you build it, check with us and make sure it’s fitting what we need in the marketplace.’

“That’s a more informed outcome,” said Salvatore, “that again reaffirms their confidence in us and that the end-product we deliver is stronger.”

According to Brophy, even Hanover’s expansion into specialty is due in part to listening to their agents.

“They were missing out on the opportunity to provide some of the specialty and some of the wraparound coverages,” he said. “So, to their credit, they listened, and went out and got the talent and grew out the program.”

Data, Plus Dialogue

Of course, effective communication is more than listening. It’s asking questions and sharing answers as well. Hanover drills deep into their agents’ books to understand their business.


“We have some proprietary tools that we use to engage with our agents,” said Lavey. “We have different ways to extract data and then present the data back in ways that put a spotlight on what the opportunities are for us, so there’s sort of a series of data extraction and data analytical tools.”

“It’s data plus dialogue that really informs us,” said Salvatore. “My priorities are those needs that come out of the sharing of information and the dialogue that come from the agent.”

That level of communication is only possible with trust: “You’ve got to have trust between the carrier and yourself,” said Brophy, “because you’re divulging all of your customer base, all your expirations, your premiums, your segments of business, your verticals, and enabling them to grab that data, to turn around and come back to you and say, ‘This segment of your business, we think we can improve. We think we can provide a better product.’ ”

According to Brophy, trust pays dividends beyond insurance products. Hanover provides actionable insights in areas such as Insurtech, hiring and retention and more, including some not directly related to Hanover’s business.

“In this day of disruptors and digital interaction and all the different ways customers want to be delivered, we have to listen to the voice of the customer and come up collectively with a solution that resonates with them,” he said.

“Hanover is willing to listen, talk about it and come up with a seamless solution for our clients.”  &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.


R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.


R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at