Insurance firm sticks with traditional business model

Deep local roots

Insurance Services of Augusta long thought its local roots extended to 1917. It’s even in its website address – 1917ins.com.

 

Now, in the year the company thought it was marking its centennial, it discovered its roots go much deeper.

Insurance Services pegged its beginning on the founding of the Lockhart and McAuliffe Co. in 1917. However, research by The Augusta Chronicle found that the partnership actually began in 1922.

The original company was founded even further back, in 1902.

“I knew about the Lockhart-McAuliffe connection, but not in the detail that you have uncovered,” said Insurance Services President David Goodbread. “Wow – we were always told it was 1917.”

Real estate agent Milledge Lockhart founded Lockhart and Co. in 1902, selling both property and insurance policies. Then, as it is today, it’s not uncommon for real estate firms to also broker insurance, often on the homes they sell.

In 1922, Alvin McAuliffe bought out Lockhart’s partner, J. Milo Hatch, and the company became Lockhart and McAuliffe. After Lockhart’s death in 1949, it became McAuliffe Realty, and still represented insurance agencies to clients.

In 1972, Insurance Services began operating under its current name as a division of McAuliffe Realty. By the end of that decade it was emphasizing the Insurance Services name more in advertisements and downplaying the McAuliffe affiliation.

Though the company does business under the Insurance Services name, its official corporate name still is legally the McAuliffe Realty Co., even though namesake McAuliffe died in 1968.

The names have changed over the years, but not the characteristic way Insurance Services conducts business.

“We’re different, in that we really preach relationships with clients,” Goodbread said. “And we have that relationship with most of our companies. Back when I started there was a bond between the agent and the company that was just amazing.”

Insurance Services represents about 18 insurance companies. About 70 percent of its business is in commercial insurance; the remainder is preferred home and auto.

“We insure the trucks, we insure the buildings they have to have insured, the worker’s comp,” Goodbread said. “We don’t have to go out and beat the bushes just looking for dollars. That’s not what we’re about.”

Goodbread, who grew up in Harlem, arrived at Insurance Services in 1974 after trying to break into the advertising business in Atlanta as a copywriter. He previously worked in Augusta at Southgate Bank, and at First of Georgia Insurance as an underwriter.

Back in Augusta to finish his English degree at Augusta College, he was hired by Insurance Services partners Berry W. McIntyre and J. Richard Blanchard to handle a growing workload.

“Back when no-fault insurance was hitting Georgia, they were worried about the influx of business and how they were going to handle it,” Goodbread said. “I came back, finished college and worked with them part-time to do that, and we had to deal with all that mess. That was big business back then.”

Georgia did away with no-fault insurance in 1991. Under no-fault, all drivers involved in an auto accident can seek damages from their insurance companies. Now Georgia is a traditional tort insurance state, which means drivers pay for the accidents they cause.

That’s just one of the changes Goodbread has seen in his long insurance career.

Some of Insurance Services’ clients have been customers since the 1960s. Goodbread said customers appreciate the more traditional way the company does business – the way more companies used to do business.

“Big agencies in town, there was no worry about things being done incorrectly or dishonestly. It was all above-board, very ethical. A lot of that has changed,” he said. “You know, we used to sell insurance to people and develop a relationship and get their confidence. Now a lot of agents are just trying to find money in life insurance and annuities.”

Goodbread also sees fewer local and family-run businesses becoming clients. “It’s just changed a lot. The kinds of accounts we used to call on just aren’t there as much anymore,” he said.

Then there’s the internet. What online shopping is doing to pinch brick-and-mortar retailers, online insurance shopping is doing to firms such as Insurance Services.

“The young people coming up, they’re not used to calling up local agents and talking to them. They’ll go online and buy it,” Goodbread said. “We’re going after people who still want a warm body to take a call if they have a claim, or to talk to.”

But Insurance Services is continuing to expand. In January it moved into new offices on George C. Wilson Court, near Doctors Hospital. It had been at 2945 Walton Way since 1992, and before that in the former Georgia Railroad Bank Building since 1967.

Its 20 employees are a mix of “youngsters in the agency who are well-known, very civic-minded, very involved in a lot of things,” Goodbread said, and several long-term employees. One worker, Roberta Powell, left the business in 2015, capping a 51-year career with Insurance Services.

And Goodbread’s favorite part of his career? He said other agents might disagree, but for him it was the 2014 ice storm that paralyzed Augusta and caused an estimated $45 million in property damage.

Even though the office, like thousands of residents, had lost power, Insurance Service employees worked with their cell phones day and night to mediate between their clients and their insurance agencies to file claims and quickly hand-deliver claim checks.

“It was nice to be able to respond because everybody had a problem or a concern,” he said.

“It’s a people business. It’s customer relations. A lot of people are in it strictly for the money – hit it quick, make money and move on to another policy. But it’s the relationships.”

 

Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or joe.hotchkiss@augustachronicle.com.

 

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