Insurance brokers have an appetite for mergers and acquisitions (M&A)1. Of those who are business owners, almost half have contemplated M&A to boost their bottom lines, broaden their portfolios or geography, and strengthen their competitiveness. One-third of insurance brokerage owners with annual revenue of more than $5 million plan to explore the sale of their businesses in the next five years. 

Belvedere Pacific Insurance Services, a well-respected and thriving San Francisco Bay Area employee benefits consulting and insurance brokerage firm was acquired by Relation in 2015. It was founded in 2008 by Michael Stallone, an industry veteran with more than three decades of experience delivering outstanding employee-benefits and client relationships. 


The Partnership Was a Good Fit for Both Sides

As Michael considered M&A, he knew what he wanted in a partner—a place to call home where he could access in-house resources he’d previously had to outsource. Of all the potential partners he investigated, he believed joining Relation would be the best fit and would allow him to offer better service at competitive rates to his valued clients2. Additionally, he wanted to be part of an organization where he could not only grow his business but also have a direct impact on the growth and direction of the company’s employee benefits practice.

Michael was an exceptional fit for Relation’s President of Employee Benefits, Keri Lopez, who was looking to expand the employee benefits team with seasoned brokers. Stallone promised to bring innovative ways for Relation to reduce costs, complexity, and the administrative burden to the table.


“They prioritized my goals and interests, and I could tell they were there for my benefit just as much as for their own.”

Michael Stallone


Early on, the Partnership Yielded Great Results

Upon joining Relation, Michael immediately added value through his wealth of experience with technology outsourcing for large, sophisticated clients and was able to step in as a senior advisor for several of Relation’s more substantial client relationships. 


“Michael has brought additional capabilities to Relation that have added a huge amount of value for our clients.”

Keri Lopez


Two Cultures Aligned

From the earliest conversations, Relation and Belvedere Pacific both expressed the need for a culture fit. Finding alignment can be an obstacle during mergers and acquisitions3. That wasn’t the case with Relation. Michael believed that, at the end of the day, all things being equal on the economics, technology, and available in-house resources of a potential transaction, it was the people at Relation and the culture they created that made it a destination of choice for him as an acquisition partner.


“From the leadership team, through every level of management, to the client service roles, the people who make up this company are in a league of their own. Insurance doesn’t have to be where fun goes to die. No amount of new technology or updated processes can make up for not having great people. We have fun at Relation–people truly enjoy providing great service to our clients, and it’s a good place to be.”

Michael Stallone


Four Years Later, The Partnership Has Been a Win-Win

Partnering with Relation allowed Michael to service more clients faster than ever with in-house marketing, employee, and compliance resources. Backed by Relation, he’s continued to adapt to the rapidly evolving employee benefits environment and has more than doubled the size of his book, placing him regularly on the company’s leaderboard for sales.


“They showed they were willing to invest the resources and provide the support necessary to help me grow my business. Joining the Relation team has allowed Belvedere Pacific to continue offering the same great service to our valued clients, in addition to having the in-house resources to analyze and respond to the rapidly evolving employee benefits environment—especially when it comes to complex areas such as healthcare reform and compliance.”

Michael Stallone


Michael has also become an invaluable resource to Relation by helping solve one of the industry’s biggest challenges—talent training and retention4.  He has paid his success forward by mentoring up-and-coming employee-benefits producers, several of whom themselves are now top producers at Relation.

To learn more about becoming a Relation acquisition partner, visit our M&A page. If you’re searching for the resources to help your business grow, a rewarding culture, being part of an increasingly recognized team, and a chance to influence a business being built to thrive for 100+ years from the ground up, let’s chat. 


[1] Deloitte Insurance M&A Outlook 2019

[2] PwC Global Survey Consumer Intelligence Series: CX in M&A: What consumers think when companies combine

[3] PwC’s 10th Annual Global CEO Survey

[4] PwC’s 21st CEO Survey: Insurance



By Joe Dunn, Angel Mendez, and Scott W. Dunn


Agribusiness clients are acutely aware of the high premiums they pay for workers’ compensation, premises liability, health insurance and the steps they can take to mitigate those costs. On the other hand, automobile liability has historically been a low-cost, low-visibility afterthought. Not anymore.

The risk associated with catastrophic vehicle-related losses is on the radar of underwriters who insure agricultural operations.

Many have seen loss ratios spike to 90 percent or higher on their auto liability book of business and are alarmed by the skyrocketing frequency and severity trends. In an informal poll, agricultural insurers expressed concerns that the market for auto coverage is seriously underpriced, and some are considering rate increases as high as 30 percent. Said one underwriter, “If you can’t get enough rate, you just have to walk away from some accounts.”

Consider the following scenarios:

  • As he does every day, a California farm labor contractor transports employees to and from job sites. One evening, while driving six workers home, the contractor drifts off the highway. He overcorrects, causing the van to flip several times. All six passengers, including two underage girls, are ejected from the vehicle. Three men are pronounced dead at the scene and one of the underage girls later dies from her injuries.
  • After inspect-ing a field to be harvested, a farm labor contractor employee stops at a bar and consumes five shots of whiskey and two 22-ounce beers in a three-hour period. He subsequently climbs into his truck and, while texting, rear-ends a car stopped at a red light. A four-year-old boy in the rear-ended car is killed instantly, while his mother and sister are injured.

Catastrophic vehicle losses have a significant impact on the agribusiness industry and create turmoil for both insureds and insurers. The emotional and financial toll in the case of a death or severe disability resulting from a vehicular accident can affect victims and their families forever. Employers dealing with vehicle-related claims involving their employees also face the devastating financial consequences of insured and uninsured costs increasing exponentially.

The insured costs most likely to be impacted arise from automobile liability, umbrella/excess liability, workers’ compensation and employers’ liability policies. Insureds typically have deductibles, or self-insured retentions and claim costs will need to be paid. In the longer run, a poor motor-vehicle or employee-injury-loss history can result in premium increases, mid-term cancellations, or worse yet — the unwillingness of any carrier to quote the account. Uninsured costs, including the following, are frequently overlooked but can be even more costly:

  • Lost production time;
  • Damage to crops/other products;
  • Increased overtime for existing employees;
  • Loss of experienced staff;
  • Need to hire and train new/temporary labor;
  • Damaged employee morale;
  • Investigation and legal expenses;
  • Governmental agency audits/fines;
  • Loss of management’s time; and
  • Negative publicity.

The risk associated with catastrophic vehicle-related losses is on the radar of underwriters who insure agricultural operations.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2016 was a deadly year on the roads with 37,461 deaths — a 5.6 percent increase over the number of deaths in 2015. In addition, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths, accounting for 24 percent of all occupational fatalities, according to the National Safety Council.

The silver lining in the NHTSA study is that more than 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error and are thus preventable with proper training.

For employers, the best preventative tools are careful driver recruitment and comprehensive driver and fleet safety education. The “gold standard” of driver training is the National Safety Council’s Certified Defensive Driver Courses, which are available in either a classroom setting or online. For employers that are unable to commit their workforce to the time and expense of an intensive certificate program, insurers and broker loss control and claims consultants can tailor short “tailgate talk” training sessions that focus on, amongst other things, the following topics:

  • Driver-selection tips;
  • Drug-and-alcohol testing protocols;
  • MVR-review policies;
  • Defensive-driving techniques;
  • Cell-phone usage;
  • Vehicle inspection and maintenance;
  • Accident response and investigation procedures;
  • Post-loss claim-mitigation strategies;
  • Driver-incentive and discipline programs; and
  • Mock DOT and OSHA audits.

Employers’ negotiating positions on auto liability, umbrella/excess and workers’ compensation program renewals are strengthened when they can demonstrate to underwriters the tangible steps they have taken to become a better-than-average risk. The potential return on investment? Objectively, a well-designed safety program that has achieved meaningful reductions in auto and employee injury claims can yield the following financial benefits:

  • Increased competition for the account as underwriters vie for quality risks.
  • The ability to effectively counter upward premium pressures.
  • The confidence to increase deductibles or retentions, thus lowering premiums.

Subjectively, employers will have a safer workplace and more contented workforce.

The farm labor contractor from the first scenario did not have a driver’s license and ended up being sued by multiple parties. He filed for bankruptcy and ultimately went out of business. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor sued the grower that hired him for violating worker safety and transportation laws.

The alcohol-impaired driver from the second scenario was sentenced to a mandatory 16-year prison term for gross vehicular homicide. His employer’s auto and umbrella liability coverage ended up paying out a multi-million-dollar settlement.


This whitepaper was featured in Insurance Journal’s Workers’ Compensation Newsletter on March 1, 2018 and published as an eMagazine on February 19, 2018.

Joe Dunn is the claim services manager, Mendez is a senior loss-control consultant, and Scott W. Dunn is vice president/risk advisor specializing in agribusiness, all of Pan American Insurance Services, a Relation company.

by Natalie Zensius
Vice President of Marketing and Communications

I recently made the decision to leave a successful marketing communications consulting practice to join Ascension, full time. It wasn’t triggered by a desire or need for a career change. I was comfortable where I was, and doing what I loved.

Almost a decade’s experience, consulting with some of the top for-profit and nonprofit organizations in the country, has given me lots of challenge and variety. It’s made me a rapid problem solver and has had both an entrepreneurial and altruistic aspect to it. Why then, return to a “job,” and “limit” myself to just one industry?

For one thing, I’ve come to learn that the insurance career path offers myriad opportunities for smart professionals to combine their skills, talents, and interests and apply them in different ways to help serve a wide range of industries and clients. I still get to work on a variety of projects and industries. I’m focused on learning fast and solving the problems big and small that will help my team create world-class marketing products.

And, because what Richard Branson said.

Ascension is much more than just a job. It’s an organization that places great emphasis on culture and teams. It recruits people at the top of their game who highly prize respect, courtesy and relationships and then takes good care of them. As a consultant, I collaborated with the extremely talented professionals at this company. Now, it’s an awesome place to come to work every day–I get to grow and be challenged alongside those same client contacts I established strong relationships with and I’m personally excited to have joined a leadership team that values not just results, but all the team members who create them.

Ascension is continually looking for the best. We’re hiring. Visit our careers section, to learn more.

Natalie Zensius is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Ascension Insurance, Inc.

Ascension Insurance, Inc. is a premier insurance agency that offers superior risk management and benefits consulting services across the U.S. It is ranked within the top 50 largest agencies in the country, by revenue, with more than 450 employees in 35 locations nationwide. Ascension is a privately held corporation; together with its private-equity partners, Parthenon Capital and Century Capital Management, the company expects to continue its strong growth trajectory through additional acquisitions and organic growth.