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Sams: MEMIC on Top, According to Some Group Few Have Heard Of

By Jim Sams

Thursday, January 25, 2018 | 1096 | 0 | 283 min read

I didn’t learn until this week that the MEMIC Group is the nation’s “top” workers’ compensation insurer.

Jim Sams

Jim Sams

That was a big surprise, because usually when a business is called the “top” of something it means the most sales, or at least the most profit.

MEMIC — short for Maine Employers Mutual Insurance. Co. — barely makes a peep in that ranking. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners had it at No. 38 in its 2016 U.S. market share report, with $340.4 million in direct written premium. Travelers Group was No. 1, with $4.4 billion.

But ACORD, a nonprofit corporation that develops electronic standards and standardized forms to the insurance industry, has its own way of measuring things. 

It’s president and CEO, Bill Pieroni, said unequivocally in a Jan. 23 press release that MEMIC was on top because the carrier “simultaneously pursued four key strategies — operational efficiency, customer experience, product differentiation and innovation.” ACORD summed up those qualities as “value creating.” 

To explain what the Association of Cooperative Operations Research and Development means by "value creating" would require me to go into a lot of mumbo jumbo about methodology that was posted in the press release. I’ll just go ahead and jump to a conclusion.

The values that made MEMIC a top carrier, in ACORD’s view, are the same values held by the immediate past chairman of its board of directors, John Leonard.

It just so happens that Leonard founded MEMIC in 1993 and retired as its CEO in 2017. The ACORD chairmanship was a part-time gig.

That’s one hell of a hurrah. A little more than a year after Leonard wraps up a long career, the organization that he led names the carrier he founded the nation’s very best. Excuse me, “the top.”

ACORD was so excited to announce the news, in fact, that it named the winner even before releasing the study. ACORD said the study and “additional analysis” will be released later this year.

Some additional analysis would help me understand what MEMIC is on top of, because the only metric mentioned in the ACORD press release was that the carriers evaluated were among the top 50 insurers in terms of written premium, accounting for 85% of all U.S. premiums. ACORD defined “value creating” as better-than-average underwriting expenses and lower-than-average claims costs, but didn’t list any actual measurements.

But who needs a study when you can just call it one? Obviously, some in the media aren’t going to quibble over details. 

Mainebiz, an online business newspaper, posted a shorter version of the press release mostly verbatim under a header that said it was written by "staff." The report featured a photo of MEMIC CEO Micael Bourque, without a trace of a smile on his face even though his carrier was just named the nation’s top.

The Portland Press Herald also posted its own story, this one written by a staffer. It was also accompanied by a photo of an unsmiling Bourque, and included a few paragraphs about recent good deeds by MEMIC on behalf of charities and employers.

Neither of those reports included the one line from the press release that was arguably the most illuminating. ACORD did not try to hide the fact that Leonard was its former chairman. It said so straight out. But the Press Herald made no mention, and that sentence was deleted from the abbreviated version of the press release posted by Mainebiz.

I’m not making any dig against Leonard or MEMIC. By all accounts he retired after a remarkably successful career, transforming MEMIC from a startup state fund into a formidable force in the workers’ comp sphere. Hell, WorkCompCentral even wrote a story about his retirement. Our news department isn’t exactly known for running puffy personality profiles. We don’t even write stories about our own Comp Laude Gala award winners. 

But the fact that this story turned up in Google news searches illustrates how hard it is to be a news consumer these days. There’s an incredible volume of information, with an equally incredible lack of attention to its value by the media that publish it.

Jim Sams is senior editor of WorkCompCentral.

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