Third-generation insurance president/CEO discusses reputation, challenges and the future
Bruce Vaaler is the third-generation president and CEO of Vaaler Insurance in Grand Forks. His grandfather started the company in 1947 and eventually handed it off to Bruce’s father, who handed it off to Bruce. He talks to Prairie Business about Vaaler’s reputation, challenges and the future
President and CEO
How has being a family-owned company for three generations benefited Vaaler insurance?
Being a third-generation family business, we benefit from name recognition, stability and a reputation for small-town values, but with that comes responsibility. We are responsible to be accessible to our clients and to provide them with top-notch service. We encourage our clients to get to know their service people, but our entire staff is available to assist. We practice a team approach and virtually anyone in our agency can find an answer for a client regardless of who that client might be.
We are proud of our reputation and work very hard to provide our clients with the service they expect and deserve.
Did you know at a young age that you wanted to someday lead the company your grandfather started?
Yes. When I was young, I would clean the agency on Saturdays while my father worked, so that was my first taste of the business. After high school, I went to a college with one of the few insurance departments in the country, so, at that point, there was no turning back. Insurance was and still is exciting to me. Change is constant with new coverages and coverage forms, unique and complex claims issues, new exposures to loss and the diverse nature of the businesses we insure. Every day brings new challenges and I never stop learning.
What are some of the largest changes you’ve seen in the insurance industry since you started your career?
With the current low interest rate environment, large, national brokers have been looking for opportunities to generate a higher return with their investment dollars, so there has been a surge in the acquisition of smaller, independent insurance agencies. We’ve seen this occur frequently in our region in the last several years.
The presence of the national brokers in our trade area, however, has also exposed us to different services they might provide that we hadn’t previously considered. It has made us stronger, more effective competitors on a local, regional and national level.
Technology has also changed our industry tremendously, from the ways we provide our product to the ways in which we communicate with our clients.
What are some of biggest challenges the company has had to overcome in its lifetime?
We are very blessed with a long-term dedicated staff with many years of service. Adding employees to keep up with growth, however, is always a major challenge. Young job seekers and college graduates rarely consider the insurance business as an attractive option (if they consider it at all) or don’t understand how an insurance agency operates. Many that do enter the industry go to work as salespeople at national brokers where the attrition rate is extremely high. We understand that it takes time to be effective in our industry and try to take a longer-term approach.
What are the most promising areas of growth in the insurance industry that Vaaler might focus on more heavily in the near future?
We are widely known for our expertise in insuring industries that require specialized coverage and services, such as health care (hospitals, clinics, senior living facilities, etc.), schools, governmental entities and trucking. We plan to expand this by adding programs for other industries.
Additionally, new laws and regulations have created new exposures to loss. For example, there are laws requiring potentially costly notification to customers or other affected persons in the event a computer system is breached and private information is stolen. This has given rise to an increasing demand for cyber liability coverage. Other relatively new coverages for emerging exposures include employment practices liability and environmental liability.