Written by Joe Tatum, CEO

Today we announced to the world that we’ve changed our name from Ascension Insurance to Relation Insurance Services. I’m personally thrilled about this new name–it speaks to who we are and the legendary service we strive to deliver, every day.

Our clients have always faced a wide array of operating challenges and we’ve been by their side as a partner and an advocate to help them manage risk. As we head into 2018, we’re facing an increasingly complex world. Media headlines on topics as diverse as cyber-attacks, blockchain/cryptocurrency, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, drones, and the difficulties in attracting and retaining employees in an ever-transforming business environment, were unheard of just a few short years ago.

Business leaders are wondering how these challenges will impact their organizations and it’s our job to help clients understand the risks. To help them connect the dots between data and analytics, and leverage our insurance expertise and strategic relationships to develop and implement solutions that mitigate those risks. The name Relation emphasizes our ability to do all that, and from here on out, we’re proudly putting it front-and-center, on everything we do.

Looking back, 2017 was a strong year for us. We had excellent year-over-year revenue and EBITDA growth, which was driven by a combination of factors:

  • Through Pan American Insurance Services, our wholly owned subsidiary, we made strategic acquisitions in the west and welcomed two outstanding firms, Yosemite Pacific Services and Agro Crop Insurance Agency, to our brand family. Both firms are leaders in what they do and we couldn’t be more excited to have them on board. These acquisitions combined have now positioned us as one of the largest agribusiness insurance writers in California.
  • We expanded our personal lines and small commercial lines reach by continuing to integrate our Greenpoint acquisition in the east, (made late in 2016, it broadened our North Carolina footprint and extended our operations into Virginia), and purchasing a commercial book in Hollister, California from The Liberty Company.
  • We invested a lot to make sure our production and service teams, which are some of the best in the business, had access to a full suite of sales techniques, tools, technologies and best practices to serve our clients. Our industry-leading retention rate is a result of their tireless efforts.

We also made executive and strategic regional hires with an eye toward managing our continued growth and aligning the business units with the evolving insurance and risk landscape. What follows is by no means an inclusive list, but our team grew even stronger in 2017 with the following, key additions:

  • Natalie Zensius joined us as Vice President of Marketing and Communications to identify opportunities to strengthen our brand, increase awareness of our products and services, and attract and retain top talent.
  • Scott Machado came on board as Vice President of Information Technology to implement customer-experience initiatives that build scale and drive value through employee and customer satisfaction.
  • Kari Doeckel joined as Vice President, Operations to Pan American, to lead account retention, carrier management, and client-service efforts.
  • Rob Bauer became our Corporate Legal Counsel to provide solutions in corporate governance, carrier and partner relationship negotiations, and regulatory compliance.
  • Michael Williams joined as Loss-Control Consultant in our eastern region to provide comprehensive risk-management and loss-control programs.
  • Kristine Fox brought account management and crop insurance expertise to the Pan American team.
  • Jennie Hunsberger added additional retirement services expertise to the western region benefits team.

In addition, we recognized some outstanding individuals with new leadership promotions:

  • Keri Lopez from President of western division employee benefits to President, employee benefits to manage our national Employee Benefits practice.
  • Kate Rager from Corporate Legal Counsel to General Counsel.
  • Greg Merrill from Senior Vice President to Executive Vice President of Pan American.
  • Michael Lorente to Sales Leader, Western Region.

Wherever they sit on the org chart, our people and the culture they create, are our greatest strength and are what contribute to making this a great place to work.

We were also honored to be included alongside our esteemed peers in the industry in 2017:

  • We were named as an “Elite Agency” by Insurance Business America for the third year in a row.
  • We were named to Insurance Journal’s 2017 Top 100 Property/Casualty Agencies.
  • We moved up from #47 to #42 on Business Insurance’s Top 100 Largest U.S. Brokers.

While we appreciate the accolades, at the end of the day it matters most to us what our clients need and we know that they need their broker to stay ahead of the curve and to provide intelligent, tailored solutions backed by deep experience. They need a broker to apply data-driven technology solutions to drive efficiency, innovation, and a competitive edge and to bring strategic carrier partnerships to collaborate with them. As we look forward to 2018, our new name Relation underscores all of the connections we make for our clients. This is always who we’ve been. Now we have a name that better reflects it.

I wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to continuing to create great things in 2018!


Written by Greg Merrill


For more than 15 years, Pan American has been fortunate to count one of the oldest family-owned wineries in Northern California amongst our clients. This vineyard enjoys unique geology and diverse soils that enable the production of high-quality wine labels.

We began handling the winery’s crop insurance in 2002. Since then, our business relationship has strengthened, and the client has become familiar with our expertise in the agricultural sector. In 2009, the client entrusted Pan American to place all other lines of coverage.

This decision was heavily influence by Pan American’s recommended approach on covering their property risks. As we explain to all current and prospective clients, vineyard and winery operations have unique property-and-casualty exposures, yet many brokers default to a simple Package Policy to cover stock. As a result, there can be numerous exclusions and policy-form limitations. Rather that instituting a one-size-fits-all strategy, our approach comprises investing significant time with our clients to fully understand their potential risks, followed by outlining a range of alternative strategies.

For this particular client, we explained the advantages of using a “Stock Throughput Policy” (STP) rather than the Property Coverage part of a Package Policy. (An STP is an “all risk” insurance policy that provides seamless coverage from the field to final sale.) Unlike the Property Coverage in a Package Policy, a properly tailored STP can offer growers and distributors comprehensive protection against numerous perils, including earthquake, flood, and contamination.

Earlier this year, during production, a valve malfunctioned and several hundred gallons of fine wine in process—valued at more than $250,000—were lost. Coverage could have been excluded had they relied on a basic Package Property coverage, but because they had already implemented the “all risk” STP, it was fortunately a covered loss.

Do you have the correct coverage in place for your unique exposures? Contact us for a consultation today.


About the Author:

Greg joined Pan American more than a decade ago focusing on crop insurance. He soon began to practice other lines of insurance and is now versed in both Property/Casualty and Life/Health. In 2009, Greg was appointed Director of Pan American’s crop insurance division. Greg is dedicated to excellence in his field and is committed to providing comprehensive insurance coverage solutions to his clients. He specializes in agribusiness and has clients throughout Northern, Central & Southern California.

Designations & Achievements:
CIC – Certified Insurance Counselor
AFIS – Agribusiness & Farm Insurance Specialist
National Alliance School for Producer Development (Graduate)
2009 President’s Award

Nut theft is no joking matter—it’s a significant and growing threat to California’s $9 billion+ nut-tree business. With more than 30 nut-theft events in 2015 compared to just one in 2009 and four in 2014, what once warranted only local agricultural area media coverage now garners national mainstream attention. The 2015 price tag? $4.6 million.

That’s enough of a hit to a vital California industry to make the state’s legislature sit up and take notice. Last year, both houses passed a bill—in record time—to establish a statewide, cross-jurisdictional “Agricultural Cargo Theft Working Group.” This funding mechanism would have activated and aligned numerous law-enforcement agencies in helping target these crimes, but Governor Brown unexpectedly vetoed the legislation on September 21, 2016. Additional legislation is in the works to increase criminal penalties for thieves from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Tailoring Insurance Coverage
In the event they are the victim of nut theft, growers should have a strong post-loss solution. As such, it’s important they work with an agent or broker with specialized expertise to ensure they have properly structured insurance placements. The analysis starts with contract review: Who bears the risk, and are there “handoffs” along the path from tree to processor to final end-user? Only when these terms are understood can insurance coverage be negotiated and implemented.

Why Steal Nuts?

  • They’re valuable: A truckload of nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, can range from $100-500K.
  • They’re in demand: Touted health benefits and drought have strained supply.
  • They’re not easily traced: Unlike electronics, nuts don’t have serial numbers!
  • They vanish quickly: By the time a theft is discovered, the nuts are often already on a ship or broken into smaller loads and dispersed to out-of-state destinations.

The following approaches are available to growers and distributors:

  • Commercial-Package Policy
    There may be some coverage for Business Personal Property Stock in Transit under the basic policy form. However, this transit coverage tends to cover only a limited number of perils, so relying on this extension could lead to an uncovered loss.
  • Cargo/Transit Policy
    Once the shipment is in the correct trucking carrier’s control, ensure the trucking carriers’ cargo policies do not exclude theft for any reason other than employee dishonesty, which is excluded by most cargo policies (this can be easily covered with a separate crime policy). Many trucking cargo policies will exclude or limit theft coverage if the vehicle is unattended or if a trailer is dropped. Additionally, consider requiring a crime policy to cover theft by employees of the trucking carrier (including theft by the dispatcher and/or the driver).
  • Stock-Throughput Policy (STP)
    An STP offers growers and distributors the most comprehensive protection: Goods are covered at all times whether they’re being moved, processed, or stored. An STP can be an “all risk” type of insurance policy that provides seamless coverage from end to end and protects against perils including earthquakes, floods, and contamination.

Pre-Loss Risk Control
Growers and distributors should do everything possible on their end to prevent a theft situation, but orchard premises security (i.e., fencing, cameras, a guard service, etc.), is not an end-all-be-all solution. Nut theft is more commonly an act of fraud rather than an act of force.

Perpetrators are often part of organized crime groups, using sophisticated technologies to hack into trucking firms and utilize Department of Transportation databases. “Drivers” show up with high-quality, legitimate-looking paperwork. These forged documents incorporate burner phone numbers and enable thieves to steal shipping information and to quickly move the product to the black market stream of commerce. The thieves, and their loot, become immediately untraceable.

Growers/distributors can take any of the following precautions to prevent theft:

  • Develop a relationship with a few select trucking carriers with whom a consistent protocol can be established to confirm the correct drivers are picking up the loads.
  • Ensure your computer systems’ security is state-of-the-art, and ask carriers about their data integrity.
  • Call the carrier on the phone number provided during the originally contracted shipment and not the phone number given on any shipping documents (given their potential fraudulent nature). Require those firms to advise detailed information at least 24 hours in advance of pick up.
  • Get each driver’s license number and thumbprint.
  • Photograph both the driver and his/her truck.
  • Consider using radio-frequency trackers to ensure the loads end up where intended.

Because of the potential high profits and low risk, nut theft continues to be alluring for thieves and a challenge for growers/distributors. Taking a 360° risk-management approach—contract review, insurance program design, and pre-loss prevention can go a long way towards minimizing or, at best, avoiding exposure to loss.


About the Authors

Greg Merrill is Senior Vice President and Director of Crop Insurance Services of our Pan American business unit. Greg has been helping agribusiness clients manage a wide range of operating risks for more than 13 years.

Andy Sharpe is Regional Transportation Leader for Ascension’s Transure business unit. For more than 15 years, Andy has focused on transportation risk management and insurance, and is a renowned industry specialist.