CAC Specialty CEO Mike Rice on Post-Pandemic Business Travel and What We Can Expect Moving Forward

Like many CEOs, Mike Rice of CAC Specialty enjoyed the financial windfall of plummeting expenses — but he plans to be aggressive as travel resumes so his fast-growing business can flourish.
By: | May 27, 2021

Mike Rice estimates that he travels 200,000 miles per year. In 2020, that came to a halt due to COVID-19 — and his typical travel cadence has likely changed forever.

“I can’t imagine that I’ll ever do half of those miles again,” Rice said.

Rice is the CEO of CAC Specialty, a fast-growing insurance brokerage in New York.

A sizable portion of the company’s growth strategy is centered around personal meetings with clients, insurance companies and others. Yet the company’s expense budget is way down due to travel restrictions and the emergence of virtual meeting platforms like Zoom.

In fact, CAC Specialty’s workforce increased by approximately 50% over the past year, yet monthly expenses are down 90% compared to February 2020, the final month before pandemic restrictions began.

It’s a microcosm of the insurance industry during the pandemic. Expenses are way down as companies stopped paying for conference fees, flights, hotels, site visits and client entertainment. Instead people met remotely, and companies reaped a massive financial windfall.

As business leaders forecast future budgets, many will naturally choose to keep expenses low — even as pandemic restrictions ease. Others will ramp back up quickly.

Rice and leaders at CAC Specialty can’t wait to get more people back on the road. In fact, some are already traveling where comfortability and vaccinations have allowed. Expect more of that as the pandemic continues to wane.

“We are going to be among the most aggressive in the industry in getting people back out there in front of our markets and clients in person,” he said.

Despite that aggressiveness, he doesn’t expect travel to look anything like it did before the pandemic — at least for a while.

“I don’t see a day in the next five years that we’re going to be operating at the level we were pre-pandemic,”  Rice said. “We have all invested so heavily in technology and proven that we can be effective in our jobs using things like Zoom and Teams; so it’s not just the savings, it’s the efficiency.”

Business travel can be excessive — particularly in the insurance industry. Pricey dinners. Fancy hotels. Costly airfare. As business after business experienced serious cost savings, it’s fair to ask the question: Are the days of big travel budgets gone?

“No, but I don’t think those budgets are going to be as large as they were before. I think appropriateness is something people are probably focused on more now,” Rice said.

After all, human interactions are better than Zoom calls. At the moment, CAC Specialty is focused on individual meetings while staying away from larger conferences and gatherings.

“We’re social beings and people want to be together and they want to go out for the occasional good meal and celebrate a great deal or innovation in the marketplace,” he said. “You get something extra when you meet in-person. There is an intangible connection. It’s hard to replicate the collaboration that can happen in person when you’re online.” &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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