April 1, 2007 by Andrea Orazi
If the exterior of a building is a reflection of what lies within, then the independent adjusting firm of Angell, Townson & Williams (AT&W) chose their home wisely. Located within a heritage post office in Aurora, Ontario, the 18-year-old company is a reminder of the grand old days of small businesses.
AT&W was formed in 1989 as a merger of Angell & Townson and A.E. Williams. AT&W president Don Georgevitch and vice president Paul Tersigni have been with the founding companies of AT&W for most of their careers.
“It was a good marriage,” says Georgevitch. “Ironically, 1989 was around the time the markets started to change, [but] we made it through it and here we are still today.”
“We’re the last of the Mohicans of the two companies,” added Tersigni.
Anyone leafing through the Canadian Independent Adjusters Association (CIAA)’s directory can see that AT&W is one of the smaller independent adjusting companies within the nationwide organization.
Georgevitch and Tersigni have a combined total of 80 years of industry experience, although both started off in very different and specific niches.
Tersigni says that when he got out of school, he really had no idea as to what he wanted to do. “I went to a headhunter looking for a job, and an insurance job came up,” he recalled. “I really didn’t know anything about insurance, but I [thought] why not give it a try?”
Georgevitch says he likewise came to the profession by happenstance. “I think I ended up by accident in the claims department…I really enjoyed it and I decided to stay on.”
Both men started in companies and shared a common goal to get out into the field as independents. Nevertheless, each man credits the company training he enjoyed at the beginning of his career. “In-house company training was phenomenal,” says Georgevitch. “The first six months I just read law books and got to know insurance policies verbatim.”
Over time, the men discovered their matching aptitudes and interests; they began working together under the same professional umbrella. They worked on a number of disparate projects in various locations. Tersigni, for example, flew into Panama to handle an art claim, while Georgevitch would fly to New Brunswick to work on a nuclear reactor.
“Your job as an adjuster is to investigate and report,” says Tersigni. “I think that’s what I was drawn to when I first got involved. Investigations never become mundane or boring.”
For Georgevitch, the technical side of the business is what turned him into a self-proclaimed “workaholic.”
Cultivating business relationships based on trust is at the core of independent adjusting. Georgevitch and Tersigni both agree their livelihoods are based on loyalty and keeping their clients happy. They have accounts today that they had 20 years ago; nothing seems to be changing anytime soon. It doesn’t matter whether the account changed to a different insurance broker or insurance carrier, clients still want to deal with AT&W, they note.
Definitely there was a more personal side to the business in the past than there is now, they observe. This holds true of adjusters’ relationships with companies as it does of their professional relationships with the insured. “You became known for certain aspects and qualities [you possessed] that [insurance] companies needed,” says Georgevitch.
Both remember the days of receiving hand-written notes from both the insured and companies. Such gestures are certainly less frequent nowadays, they observe, and in fact today a professional distance appears to be emerging between adjusters and companies.
The times may be a-changing, as Dylan would sing, but old habits do die hard. Georgevitch’s office has the charmingly chaotic feel of a man who hasn’t really bought into the Information Age just yet. His dictation machine sits aside a massive oak desk, which, mysteriously enough, does not have a computer on top of it. Georgevitch says he has a computer at home, but he doesn’t really need one at the office.
Georgevitch is loathe to throw away any of the old books on his shelves — not only because he’s nostalgic, Georgevitch says, but also because some of the information in those books are still relevant today.
“The industry has changed and the people have changed but the product is still the same,” says Georgevitch.
One thing that has changed in the era of globalization is a decrease in the number of ‘Mom-and-Pop’ businesses. “You just don’t find small businesses anymore,” admits Tersigni. “The idea is that bigger is better.” This becomes problematic when everyone does all types of claims, notes Tersigni. The overall effect of this kind of generalization is that the niche market is mostly gone, Georgevitch says. “You can’t become an expert if you don’t specialize in a specific field,” says Tersigni.
Even so, AT&W adjusters are not concerned about competition with national firms. “We don’t feel threatened because our niche is with the companies we’ve been with for so long,” Georgevitch remarks.
Also, the CIAA offers them support in the claims industry. When asked how long they’ve been CIAA members, Georgevitch jokes: “Forever.” AT&W did leave the association for a short period, but rejoined not long after.
“We want to be part of the adjusting community…and if we need information we know we can go to the CIAA. It’s there for us,” comments Tersigni.
Georgevitch and Tersigni both agree independent adjusters are entrepreneurs; there is an opportunity to earn a very comfortable living in this profession, they observe, although it can be tough working out on one’s own. They say it is helpful to know that the CIAA is at least one constant within a perpetually shifting professional terrain.
The pace of change doesn’t seem to be slowing down either, they observe. “I foresee they’re going to be more dramatic changes,” reflects Tersigni.
Neither man believes there will be a shortage of independent adjusters anytime in the near future. “There’s a lot of people like us out there who like to adjust claims,” Georgevitch adds.
Tersigni and Georgevitch say they count themselves lucky, because they are able to do what they love everyday. “[A lot of people] still want us because of the great accounts that we have,” says Tersigni. Georgevitch adds with a laugh, “Or they just really like us.”