Mission Underwriting Managers LLC (Mission Underwriters) is a general agency in the P&C market which specialises in taking entrepreneurial underwriters and setting them up as a semi-autonomous entity within its own structure. The firm strives to de-risk the concept of having your own business, by providing a packaged solution that addresses the challenges of going it alone. Led by Keith Higdon, winner of our Most Influential CEO, 2022 – Arizona, the USA award, we got in touch with him to learn more.
Mission Underwriters aims to be an innovative and diversified general agency that leverages the best underwriting talent and carrier partnerships in order to drive continuous growth and profitability. CEO, Keith Higdon tells us, “Our strategy is to create an environment that others find desirable, utilising cutting-edge technology in a SaaS model and services, and de-risking the idea of entrepreneurship while sharing more of the benefits of ownership with the series heads.”
With an approach of “be in business for yourself, not by yourself,” Mission Underwriters offers a truly unique solution that provides a range of benefits for clients. First of all, it ensures the client company’s structure and employment, so they don’t need to wonder where income is coming from, or how to find a benefits administrator. It also means greater interest in the profitability of their business and insolation from other series, making the client the master of their own destiny. Making the most of this cutting-edge technology, which enables the underwriting process from policy administration to data source feeds, severely improves underwriting accuracy.
As CEO of Mission Underwriters, Keith Higdon’s focus is on the customer while empowering team members to try new approaches – and be accountable for their responsibilities – keeping processes lean and effective and recognising that plans need to evolve. This has all created a solid foundation for the company which he believes will continue to reap benefits for the firm well into the future.
Consistent throughout Keith’s career is his attention on the customer as well as making effective use of technology to improve each company’s offering and relationship. He began by working in consulting for a small firm and transitioned to one of the world’s largest, which gave him an abundance of perspective on what works and what doesn’t in a very short time. Keith shares, “Active listening and the ability to communicate difficult concepts into manageable ideas was critical to success in both environments, while organisational size and complexity highlighted the value of resources and the crushing effect of bureaucracy.”
He continues, “My work in claims has always been consultative in nature either by definition or by my approach. Finding solutions is both far more exciting to me and beneficial to the customer, rather than focusing on the past or current approaches.”
During these years, Keith further developed his technology and analytical skills, as these two areas continue to drive most value in the insurance industry. He says, “Recognising my skills rather than focusing on my past responsibilities was a benefit I received from two managers that allowed me to branch out, leverage my experience, and attempt different approaches to meet and exceed client expectations.”
Keith seeks ambitious individuals to join his team. He looks for people who have an entrepreneurial spirit while providing a lifestyle conducive to the digital age – one that is both highly collaborative, and virtual, to meet the needs of talent and keep them engaged in the enterprise of insurance. He leads with empathy and sensitivity, vowing to practice what he preaches.
He tells us, “I believe too many executives lose touch with their employees and forget what it means to be in the trenches. It’s easy to create a cycle of unnecessary hardship, or at least, lack of empathy. Too often executives get desensitised, and I think they lose their culture and a lot of loyalty in the process. All of our lives are different – hopes, dreams, challenges, hardships – recognising this and reminding yourself of it is critical. You may be part of too large an organisation to know everyone, but you can always remind yourself of the reality of diversity in background and experience. It does exist.”
Approximately every six months, the firm conducts an environment interview with all employees which provides opportunities to communicate directly with each audience, evaluate progress, obtain feedback, and strategise for the future. In today’s virtual world, staying connected is critical, so executives are sure to have additional meetings with departments throughout the year. Clients are also talked to on at least a monthly basis with both quarterly reviews that provide a comprehensive view into programme health and opportunities for improvement and growth.
Indeed, process clarity and ongoing, consistent communication is key, coupled with candour and expectation setting. At the beginning of the client’s programme, an in-person kick-off meeting is scheduled. This generally stretches across two days, providing both work and social time to create a partnership between the Mission Underwriters team and its client. Keith comments, “From a structure perspective, we recognise the different skillsets required to onboard a programme versus ongoing relationship management. Therefore, we bifurcated the departments to leverage individual strengths while placing both departments under one executive to add continuity in messaging and escalation.”
Keith genuinely wants to see not only his employees succeed, but series members as well. Under Keith’s leadership, Mission Underwriters is actually doing something to change how insurance is done. He understands the pain points and the struggles experienced by series members in their careers, and he puts the time, people, and resources in place to ensure their career with the firm is first-class, autonomous yet supportive, and successful.
While Keith is ambitious, devoted and successful, that’s not to say that his role doesn’t come without its challenges. For Keith, the main challenge is ‘time,’ and he says, “I think the word ‘time’ sums up the overriding challenge that, in essence, causes other hardships. Time to find talent, time to find and connect with all prospects, time to expand into new markets, and time for oneself. This encompasses all employees, goes to culture, and goes to the priorities we have set. Leaders need to be stewards for their employees and their clients, so I don’t think this changes my role, it defined it from the beginning.”
Now, Keith’s sights are set on Mission Underwriters’ future, where the goal is to continue on its innovative and diversified path while nurturing and making the most of the best underwriting talent. He believes that Mission Underwriters version 1.0 has met its goal and the team is now looking to define version 2.0 to continue the momentum. This means remaining focused on technology in the areas of automation, AI, and production analytics to be more efficient and improve its speed to market. Keith will also continue looking for underwriting staff with niche expertise and that entrepreneurial spirit and look to connect them with capacity that enables both parties to share in a growth story.
Specifically for 2022, Mission Underwriters is expecting to roll out AI technology for uploading submissions, enhance its programme analytics with a new SaaS business intelligence suite, add another 3-4 series to its current 15 (as of April 2022), provide capacity through a portfolio of approximately six carriers, and look to expand operations into Canada.
Keith concludes, “Mission Underwriters has just begun to write its story in the marketplace. I am proud of what we have accomplished and 100% of my attention is on the continued health and future growth of the organisation. I also hope to leverage my experience to promote thought leadership in the market and mentor others as they begin or redirect their career journey.”