trusted advisor

I find problems before they occur

Dan StepperFor many people, getting an insurance policy is pretty straight-forward. You have something you need insured, you call an agent, he or she takes your application, calculates your payment, the company issues a policy and presto! You’re insured.

That works in some cases, but in many others – especially farms and businesses – it’s more complicated.

I’m one of 13 loss control specialists for American Family Insurance. My job is to go to a farm or commercial business we insure (or want to insure) and assess their current level of safety. After I inspect a property, I’ll go over my findings with our customer – or potential customer – to explain how they can reduce their potential for accidents, injury, and property damage.

I actually do two very important jobs for American Family.

The first is to consult with our largest accounts and help them reach the highest safety level possible in their operations. I look for potentially dangerous conditions and recommend ways to head off a problem before it occurs. If I see something that’s dangerous, I can suggest ways to correct the problem, or, if necessary, suggest replacement equipment that is safer. I can also train a customer’s employees in proper safety procedures and show them how to do their job with safety in mind. This creates a win-win since it reduces their likelihood of a loss, but also bolsters our retention and profitability.

My second job for American Family is to look over a property or business we’re considering insuring. An agent or an underwriter might ask me to see if there is anything that might be unsafe, dangerous, or could cause an injury. My safety review not only benefits the company, but is a real help to a prospective customer. In some cases, I’ve seen unsafe equipment that presented a fire hazard. When I explained it to the prospective customer and told them everything in the building could be destroyed if changes weren’t made, (in one case, the building was filled with antique tractors!) they were very grateful since they never realized the risk was there.

Many times I point out something a prospective customer sees, but didn’t realize was dangerous such as a missing machine guard or hand rail on stairs. I often hear, “I’ve seen it that way for years and never thought it was unsafe. Thanks for pointing it out.” Hopefully, by pointing out an unsafe condition or piece of equipment, I can prevent an injury or loss.

Some people may think, “Why bother? That’s what insurance is for.” Truth is no one wants to see someone injured, equipment damaged or property lost because of unsafe conditions. By working with our customers to identify and correct unsafe conditions, I can hopefully prevent an injury or death and avert an accident that puts someone out of business.

Editor's note: Small business owners, farmers and ranchers can receive free monthly tips and loss control information from American Family Insurance. Sign up for our Business @dvisor email newsletter on our website

Posted by Dan Stepper on Tue, Mar 26 2013 8:47 amDan Stepper is a commercial/farm-ranch loss control specialist for American Family Insurance.

What a long, changing trip it’s been

Larry ShipmanContrary to what many of my fellow agents think, I have not been with American Family for its entire 85 years!

I have, however, been here for more than half that time and American Family Insurance has been part of my family even longer than that.

My father, Earl, started as a Farmers Mutual agent in 1956. At that time, agents were required to have an office in their home, so I got to see how things worked up close. Needless to say, things were done differently back then. For one, sales were made and premiums collected in the customer’s home – a far cry from the billing system we have today.

In 1963, the company changed its name to American Family, and soon after that, I started as a part-time agent. I also was working as a salesman at Leed’s Shoe Store in Topeka, Kan., and I have to admit, I was a poor part-time agent.

In 1967, my National Guard unit was activated, and I was up for active duty in Vietnam. Thankfully, I never had to go, but I spent two years at Fort Carson, Colo. The last six months I spent with Project Transition and worked at a different insurance company in Colorado Springs. That agent showed me a different way of running an agency, and in June of 1969, when I was discharged from the Army, I opened my own American Family office.

I was following in my father’s footsteps; however, I wanted to do better. He had a great work ethic, but I knew there had to be easier ways to build a large business and still have fun and a strong work-life balance.

There have been countless changes through the years, and of course, that can be difficult. Around 1983, the company introduced the Wang computer system. It was supposed to solve all the problems of writing insurance and make our offices paperless. That’s when my father decided it was time to retire, as he had no desire to learn a computer system!

But technology continues to make us stronger. Here’s a personal example:

The hailstorm of 1989 hit my office hard. We had more than 1,200 losses. At that time, CAT loss forms were five copies, with carbon paper between each sheet. When filling out the form you had to press very hard to make the information go through – and it took a long time! With our current system, the customer or agent calls the claim office, and it’s all computerized. The process is so much easier for everyone.

The future of our success, as I see it, will be how we stay ahead of what customers and prospects expect. It’s about continuing to look forward – while also learning from and celebrating our great past.

Happy birthday, American Family!

Editor’s note: Read more about American Family’s 85th anniversary from this Dream Protectors blog post by Chairman and CEO Jack Salzwedel. 


Posted by Larry Shipman on Fri, Nov 30 2012 6:14 am

Snowmobile safety is key to snowmobiling fun

Snowmobile safety tipsAs the fall weather gets cooler and the leaves fall from the trees, I get more and more excited! This means snow will soon be here, and snowmobiling is just around the corner. It also means it’s time for my family’s snowmobiling safety checks.

Even before the snow comes, there is significant work to be done. We have to check over the snowmobiles, make sure all our gear fits: snowsuits, gloves and most importantly, helmets!

As my children grow from year to year, we buy new helmets for them to ensure they fit properly and we never snowmobile without a helmet, not even just going down the trail a little way.

My husband does a detailed inspection of our snowmobiles to make sure they work properly. These inspections include: changing the oil, checking the carbides (or blades on the bottom of the skis), making sure the track has no nicks or tears, checking the sparkplugs and making sure the snowmobile insurance is up to date.

You never know when you are going to need insurance, so making sure you have the proper coverage is very important.

A couple of years ago, my husband was in a snowmobile accident, and he wasn’t even going very fast. He was going around a corner at 20 m.p.h. when his ski caught a rock on the trail and the sled went over. Luckily, he flew one way and the sled the other.

The worst part about it was the kids and I were following him and we came around the corner to find him lying on the ground not moving. It was one of the scariest moments of my life!

He did get up and ended up hurting his knee a little, but the sled was totaled. When we calmed down a little, we called some friends to get us, then promptly called American Family’s customer service center to report the claim. Our agent called back immediately to make sure we were all OK.

An adjuster visited the dealership within a day, and we had a check within three days. My husband was back on a new sled in a week, and we were back on the trails good as new.

It’s important to prepare your snowmobiles and the riders. Go snowmobiling, but do it safely so you can enjoy the wintertime and all its beauty.

Posted by Dawn Mortimer on Tue, Oct 30 2012 12:11 pmDawn Mortimer is Innovation Director at American Family Insurance. She and her family are snowmobiling enthusiasts who love to hit the trails near their home in southwest Wisconsin.

New blog helps us share your stories

Helping customers in JoplinThis month, we introduced this public blog on our website called Dream Protectors, the American Family Insurance blog.

It’s a new place for us to share our American Family stories. In creating this blog, we were motivated by an internal blog we have, where employees and agents share their experiences and inspiration. Why not share the stories about how we take care of customers or ways we are involved in our communities with the world, too?

These posts will be an opportunity for you to get to know us better. From taking care of customers during a big storm (like after the Joplin tornado in 2011) to agents going the extra mile to help a customer cut down a tree, to our focus on sustainability and our support of community agriculture, it all paints a rich picture of who we are as a company, and what we stand for.

If you have any thoughts or ideas about our blog, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me an email at mwingate@amfam.com

I hope you enjoy what you read in this space, and it gives you a little more insight into American Family. 

Posted by Michele Wingate on Wed, Oct 10 2012 7:08 pm