USI: A New Way of Doing Business
Insurance is a resilient industry providing a necessary service and product through good and bad economic cycles, with long-term recurring client relationships, large potential for consolidation and an excellent track record of integrating and generating synergies from acquisitions.
From its beginnings as a single office in 1994 with USD 6.5 million of revenue, USI has experienced continued growth by acquiring over 100 high-quality companies, and expanding across most of the United States and the U.K. But in a crowded pool of industry players competing for sales talent and an environment lagging in technological investment, the company launched transformative initiatives that would allow it to optimize its strategy.
Created in 2011, the one-of-a-kind Omni Knowledge EngineTM at the heart of USI’s integrated business model provides brokers with access to real-time, interactive, and dynamic data and customizable insights for each client. Designed to better meet the evolving needs of its clients and developed by USI’s subject matter experts, the Omni builds on the company’s experience with more than 500,000 clients, a national network of thousands of insurance professionals and a track record of over 150 years of business activity by USI’s acquired agencies, to deliver actionable solutions and comprehensive recommendations.
“In 2017, USI’s management team identified the need to make a significant investment in its salesforce and technology infrastructure to enhance the use and applications of its proprietary analytics platform, the Omni, in order to maintain a steady course for long-term growth. To do so, USI sought to partner with shareholders with a long-term vision, a deep understanding of the nature of their business, and patient capital, which could support these initiatives over the period of time necessary to generate meaningful and sustainable results,” said François Boudreault, Managing Director and Deputy Head, Private Equity at CDPQ.
This is how CDPQ and KKR designed a strategic partnership with equal ownership to accompany USI through its next stage of growth.
Driving change from within to focus on higher-value data
At the core of its consultancy and “people business,” USI relies on the expertise of its individual brokers interfacing with each of their personal and enterprise clients. USI’s leadership team recognized the power of their salesforce’s experience and wished to make data easy to retrieve and apply, in order to deliver enhanced, customizable solutions. “None of us individually know all the answers for our clients, but we each have a slice of the pie,” explains Mike Sicard, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of USI. By harnessing USI’s collective knowledge, codifying it, making it simple to access and personalize, the company reinvented how it delivers customized solutions and expertise to clients.
To integrate this new technology system, rejuvenating the internal culture around information sharing was as much a major component of the plan forward as successfully rolling out the enhancements to the platform from which they could draw customer insights.
“None of us individually know all the answers for our clients, but we each have a slice of the pie.”
The company drove the necessary culture change to sustain it over time by having the technology and the frontline employees work hand in hand, involving key influencers who could see the real value of the tool to troubleshoot and apply it to real cases, and also by celebrating the digitization process along the way. In a digital transformation, “as a leader, you have to become a coach, not a manager. You can start the behaviour first, and then add digital to support it,” Mike Sicard underscores.
A trusted partner with a long-term mindset
Over the past five years, CDPQ has been an active shareholder, supporting the company’s world-class leadership on all strategic initiatives.
“CDPQ’s technology experts have helped the management team examine new challenges and improvements related to the Omni platform.”
As David Escalante, Director, Private Equity, CDPQ New York, who is an observer on USI’s Board of Directors describes, “CDPQ’s technology experts have helped the management team examine new challenges and improvements related to the Omni platform; the operating partners have shared experiences from other portfolio businesses in service and people-driven industries and provided M&A support as part of the company’s continued growth trajectory.” Since its initial investment in 2017, CDPQ has also reinvested capital to support subsequent transformational acquisitions by the company.
Since its initial investment in 2017, CDPQ has also reinvested capital to support subsequent transformational acquisitions by the company.
Today, USI invests approximately USD 80 million annually in hiring and training new recruits and has been named Top Insurance Employer by Insurance Business America (IBA) for four consecutive years since 2018. Additionally, its salesforce generates over USD 2 billion in revenue annually.