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When disaster strikes, one of the first calls placed is often to insurance companies as people look for help to pick up the pieces. Present day, however, some human operators have been replaced with chatbots as companies aim for a more automated process.
That said, clients of Farm Bureau Financial Services (FBFS) can expect both a rapid response and to speak with a real person who cares about their situation, CEO Daniel D Pitcher tells The CEO Magazine.
The same can be said of the purchasing experience when potential customers deal with a real person providing professional advice as opposed to an AI alternative.
“We’re really focused on the client–member experience and being accessible for our customers to pick up the phone, talk to somebody and not be driven to a chatbot,” Pitcher says.
“I think the personal touch – walking alongside our clients and members – is definitely our focus and how we stand out in the marketplace.”
That’s not to say FBFS eschews innovation. Pitcher describes the team as a kind of ‘innovation clearing house’. Nonetheless, FBFS prides itself on providing a personal touch.
It’s an approach extending to its complete suite of financial services which cover property-casualty, life insurance and wealth management needs.
“We’re really focused on the customer experience,” Pitcher says. “I think the personal touch – walking alongside our clients and members – is definitely our focus and how we stand out in the marketplace.”
Founded in the late 1930s and based in West Des Moines, Iowa, FBFS has become one of the most comprehensive financial service providers in the United States.
The insurer serves customers across 14 western and midwestern states with wealth management and financial planning services as well as insurance products including home, auto, life, farm–ranch and business.
Pitcher joined FBFS in 1998 after 14 years with Nationwide/Allied Insurance. He became COO of Property Casualty Companies in 2011 and was promoted to CEO in the later months of 2019. He assumed the top position in January 2020 – on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That was kind of my indoctrination to be the CEO,” he explains. “People ask me now when I do employee meetings or interviews: ‘What were your greatest accomplishments in your first three or four years?’ Of course, it’s all about the COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m trying hard to move past that now.”
Try as it might, the pandemic didn’t derail Pitcher’s plans for fine-tuning the company. In 2021, the Farm Bureau Life Financial Group, the holding company for Farm Bureau Life Insurance, went private.
Today, three separate companies including Farm Bureau Life Insurance, Farm Bureau Mutual Holding and Western Agricultural Insurance make up the FBFS go-to market brand.
“Our roots are in agriculture and today we continue to focus on rural areas and smaller communities as opposed to big urban areas where many of our friends and competitors are focused.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to get the strategies aligned when you have a publicly traded company and a private mutual company,” Pitcher says.
“We have clients and members that have multiple insurance products with us. Operating under one consumer brand supports our efforts to offer a unified client–member experience.”
Pitcher says the company’s roots are in agriculture and today it continues to focus on rural areas and smaller communities, as opposed to big urban areas where many of its friends and competitors are focused.
“We believe, even with the shifting demographics, there are a lot of opportunities in the areas we serve – in those rural, small and medium-sized communities,” he explains.
With a deep history and focus on farms, the company has been the number one agriculture insurer across an eight-state territory for the past 25 years, according to the SNL P&C Group.
FBFS introduced its wealth management division in 2018 and today offers a comprehensive suite of products and services.
“Our agents are often located in these small communities. They’re part of these communities.”
“Farm Bureau Wealth Management is new compared to our property-casualty and life insurances companies,” Pitcher explains.
“We’ve long offered annuity and investment products that help our clients and members protect their future. With the addition of wealth management services, we increased the number of agents, advisors and wealth management consultants to better meet the needs of our clients and members,” Pitcher says.
“It’s another area that we think we can execute a lot of growth on.”
Critical to this future growth are the exclusive agents and advisors who live and work in the same rural communities as the clients and members they serve. This means FBFS agents and advisors are able to offer unique insight into the challenges their clients and members face, Pitcher explains.
“Our agents are often located in these small communities. They’re part of these communities. They’re sponsoring the sports teams in those small communities. There’s a strong personal relationship both with our agents and our staff at the company.”
FBFS strives to provide the personal touch and rapid response times in the face of tragedy.
“Our goal is always to be first in and first out when we have large storm events,” Pitcher says.
Being the first in requires strong relationships with suppliers and partners.
“Our goal is always to be first in and first out when we have large storm events.”
“That helps us staff up at a rapid pace when we have large storm events in any of our geographic areas,” he explains.
These partnerships often prove invaluable in the insurance sector, especially for medium-sized companies such as FBFS.
Along with strong partnerships, success for FBFS requires a strong team. Pitcher has promoted better teamwork across FBFS. He’s also invested heavily in leadership development for a company serving unique clientele.
“Our company’s unique,” he says. “We have a very unique culture and we often struggle to find leaders externally that fit into our culture, given the farm and ranch focus – the rural markets focus.”
The combination of embracing innovation while prioritizing the personal touch and understanding the unique needs of rural Americans has FBFS poised for future growth.
“Growth is really strong right now,” Pitcher says. “And we expect that strong growth to continue in the three-to-five-year window.”