Steve Stein – Peoria Journal Star
MORTON — Nothing has changed and everything has changed for one of the village’s best-known businesses.
That contradictory statement accurately describes Kuhl Insurance Agency’s merger with HUB International, the world’s fifth-largest insurance broker.
Kuhl Insurance celebrated its 43th year in Morton in February.
It became a division of HUB International on March 1, about six months after it selected the Chicago-based firm from among six possible merger candidates.
In merging with HUB International and becoming part of the HUB Midwest West division, Kuhl Insurance joined the ranks of nearly 2,300 independent insurance agencies across the country that have joined forces with larger agencies the past three years.
Without merger, ‘vulnerable to competition’
In Kuhl Insurance’s case, said President Mike Kuhl, it didn’t want to lose employees or its identity of being a local boutique insurance agency that provides commercial and personal insurance and employee benefits services, or stop being a supporter of community events and causes because of a merger.
Kuhl, the agency’s president for 12 years, said the merger with HUB International achieved those goals.
All 26 Kuhl Insurance managers and employees kept their jobs following the merger and there are job openings at the agency because of expected future business growth.
“If you call our phone number, you’ll be calling our office and you’ll be transferred to the same person you’ve always been transferred to. You won’t go to a call center,” Kuhl said. “Human capital is the most valuable resource in our business.
“Would our agency have continued without a merger? Yes. Would we have been vulnerable to competition? Yes.
“Now we’re positioned to grow. We’ve gone from working with 36 insurance carriers to 124. We can now do business across the country, which is great for our clients who have a home or business in states like Florida and Arizona.
“The bottom line with this merger is we made a strategic move to perpetuate our company.”
Consulting firm MarshBerry of Cleveland represented Kuhl Insurance in the transaction with HUB International. Kuhl Insurance has worked with MarshBerry for 24 years.
John Wepler, president and CEO of MarshBerry, said the nationwide trend of independent insurance agencies merging with larger firms is a result of the insurance business transitioning from risk management to risk mitigation, which requires extensive resources.
The transition began before the COVID-19 pandemic, Wepler said.
“COVID accelerated the change,” he said. “Customers want more out of their insurance agencies now. They want a trusted partner, not just a vendor.”
Dave Zern, Kuhl Insurance senior vice president for 26 years and Kuhl’s brother-in-law, helped Kuhl Insurance make the selection of HUB International as its merger partner.
“We did our due diligence,” Zern said. “We didn’t want a merger to disrupt our agency’s culture. We still have the same service model. We didn’t cut any employees. We’re still involved in the community.
“This is the best fit for our customers and employees.”
Zern was handling time-consuming accounting chores like payroll and employee benefits and IT work in addition to sales prior to the merger.
HUB International is now handling accounting and IT, giving him more time to focus on sales.
Evelyn Becker, Kuhl Insurance business development director for eight years, said her biggest transition since the merger has been “learning all the resources that we now have available for our customers.”
She said she’s enjoyed working with HUB International employees, many of whom previously went through a similar merger.
HUB International has more than 14,000 employees in offices throughout North America. Its Midwest West division includes Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. There are 29 HUB divisions across the world.
Steve Stein can be reached at 248-224-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.
Source: Peoria Journal Star