Customer Testimonial: Growing Through M&A
Kim Grathwohl: Hello. I am Kim Grathwohl with Oak Street Funding, and I'm here today with Richard Braun, who is the President and CEO of Choice Financial Group. Tell us a little bit about your experience and your background.
Richard Braun: In 1998, I started a scratch agency and it's not the easiest route to go. I'm not sure that I recommend that for everybody. It's not for the weakhearted, right? So we started one policy at a time and I was doing sales and service and marketing, the whole nine yards. I acquired my first agency in 2002. We did another small acquisition in 2003 and a third one in 2004, where we took over a majority interest. And we grew organically for many years leading up until about 2017 when I first met Oak Street. And I believe that for us to be successful in the insurance distribution space, we need to scale. We need to be larger and more efficient. If we're going to attract the talent into our organization, if we are going to afford the investments in technology that are needed to provide a superior client experience, and if we're going to be able to maintain and attract the carrier relationships that we need to always be competitive, it is really critical to scale.
Kim Grathwohl: What was the difference in your strategy to be the one who secures these acquisitions, again, because everybody is looking for the same type of agency to acquire?
Richard Braun: I would say up till now, probably the biggest factor that we had in bringing partner agencies on is that I know exactly the problems that every single agency principal is in, not because we're just acquiring agencies, because I actually operate an agency, right? I know the trials and tribulations of finding the right people, making sure you've got the right carriers, of making sure the technology's right and the day- to- day trials and tribulations of running an agency. So I find it really easy to relate to the other agency principles when we're having those conversations. And I think that they gravitate to us for the culture, right? At the end of the day, we are a growth- oriented culture. We want to take their agency and their legacy and build on from what they've done from there. So we want to take their team. Every single team member, and this is pretty important to a lot of principals, they want to make sure their team's taken care of. And when we come on, every single team member is offered a position with Choice and we make sure that every single team member is better off on day two than they were before our partnership. And whether that's the employee benefits or whether that's growth opportunity or a combination of all those things, we make sure that everybody is in a better position the day after we close. So I think that at the end of the day, it really comes down to culture. It comes down to relatability and a kind of alignment of interest. Going forward, we're looking for like- minded, entrepreneurial, growth- minded principles that want to maximize the value of their asset and want to really do something even more significant than what they've already done, and that's who we're looking for now. Before I started my relationship with Oak Street, we were a few small offices in Southeast Virginia and we were about 95% personal lines. And we've been very, very fortunate. But through the mergers and acquisitions that Oak Street helped us accomplish, we are now 12 offices throughout the whole Mid- Atlantic. We've got from Wilmington, Delaware down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and we are over a hundred team members strong and we are on a growth trajectory far beyond what I would've expected.