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I came to know Tom Sternberg when he was president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Westchester County some years ago. It comes to me as no surprise that his agencies continued to grow in the manner of so many across the country. In fact, the demography of Westchester County's insurance agencies' mergers and acquisitions and consolidations mirrors the entire agency system in the state of New York.

The merger of which I am speaking is SKCG Agency (Sternberg & Partners Agency) merging with the Parker Group in White Plains, New York. In total, the agency will have 80 people. Many years ago, agencies such as this one would have been seven or eight separate, small agencies, or maybe more.

It's happening across Westchester--in New Rochelle with the New Rochelle Agency--and a host of others in the county that are consolidating for economy scale. The trend imports several things for customers, good and bad, but mostly good. We wish Tom and all of those who are seeking to merge or consolidate our best wishes, together with our hope that the fundamentals that made the agency system great when agencies were truly local is not lost in the mix.

The cachet of becoming a large corporation can inebriate people and compromise the very basis for their operations. In an age when independent agents compete with the "GEICOs" of the world, their personal services are a great advantage. As a longtime customer of an independent agent, I can certify just how valuable that is.

As far as gaining advice for mergers and acquisitions, there are many agencies right now who find that easy to obtain. What's harder to obtain is exit strategy positioning for the chief executives. A company called "Optrans" bases on Long Island is a specialist in exist strategies, together with Price Raffel & Brown based in New York, a pension and financial services specialist. I have heard that their combined services are cutting edge.

Financial Services Commission Should Look To Past and Future

There is enthusiasm for the new panel to be chaired by Superintendent Eric Dinallo on the regulation of financial services. It comes at a time when New York's competitiveness to London has been greatly criticized on many levels, from availability of office space all the way to the important matter of regulation. AIG's chef executive officer Martin Sullivan said recently that he preferred to have a single regulator for financial services activities including banking, insurance, and security. Sullivan is a member of the commission, and his comments as head of AIG make sense for AIG and other companies of its size. The group, however, would do well to look back to the mid 80s, where the same topic was constantly brought up and defeated. There are good reasons for some firewalls in the business. Others, of course, can and should come tumbling down. As a matter of fact, there are redundancies in regulation and there are also new areas being explored such as a secondary life market which requires a different kind of oversight from the regulations we "grew up with." We look forward to the dialogue and observations of this new panel.

The Insurance Federation of New York has indicated that it will hold its Annual Luncheon on November 7, 2007 at Cipriani's and the Free Enterprise Award winner will be CNA's James Tisch. Put it on your calendar, for sure.

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Title Annotation:THE CIRCUIT
Author:Acunto, Steve
Publication:Insurance Advocate
Date:Jul 2, 2007
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