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Hurricanes, Covid-19 won’t stop growth at this St. Petersburg insurance company

Margie Manning

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Progressive Corp.'s St. Petersburg office

Progressive Home, the property insurance business of insurance giant Progressive, has quietly grown into one of the largest companies in St. Petersburg.

The company has more than 1,400 employees, including 1,150 based in St. Petersburg, and is on track to post $2 billion in written premium in 2020, said David Pratt, general manager.

Employment has more than doubled in the three years since Pratt took over leadership, and he expects to keep adding to the local workforce in proportion to business growth.

David Pratt, general manager, Progressive Home

Progressive Home, with two buildings on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard North near Gandy Boulevard, has its roots in the 2015 deal by Cleveland, Ohio-based Progressive Corp. (NYSE: PGR) to acquire controlling interest in the former American Strategic Insurance and its parent company ARX Holding Corp. That deal allowed Progressive to enter the property insurance business. It’s now one of the 15 largest homeowners carriers in the United States.

In April, Progressive bought the rest of ARX it did not already own. Now, all the products are being sold under the Progressive name.

“One project we finished this year that was a milestone was rebranding all of our policy documents, moving from ASI to Progressive Home. The reason for the acquisition was to be able to sell both auto and homeowners insurance to customers who want to bundle their policies with the same company. It didn’t feel like a bundle when you got a Progressive policy package and an ASI policy package. Now the ASI policy documents all say Progressive Home,” Pratt said.

Premium revenue is up 13 percent year over year, Pratt said, despite a setback in the spring when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“In April and May we saw new homeowner sales decline about 10 percent, but that has recovered and we’re seeing year-over-year growth  now, which I think is consistent with the home sales market in general. Home sales are really strong. We’re back to seeing year-over-year sales growth starting in June and continuing through the summer,” Pratt said.

Hurricanes and a pandemic

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the workforce at Progressive Home.

“It was March 16 when we decided we would send everyone home. We have now more than 90 percent of our people working from home. For our IT team that was a huge rushed effort to make sure they had the technology to work from home effectively, but they got that done,” Pratt said. “We announced in June to everyone at Progressive that we would continue to work from home through the end of the year … Fortunately we have the kind of jobs where we can do that effectively. Most of the customer interactions we have are over the phone and not in person, so we’ve been able to keep productivity high. Our answer performance, taking care of our agents and customers, has remained really good. We’re fortune that we’re able to operate the business effectively but keep everybody safe.”

There are some new employees, hired after March, who have never been in the office. Their only interaction with their teammates is on a computer screen, and that has required some extra focus on maintaining company culture.

The effectiveness of the remote workforce got a test in August.

“We had a couple of hurricanes hit just last month. Our people were not disrupted by it, but our customers were. So we’re having a busy season taking care of people suffering from catastrophes,” Pratt said.

It’s a far different situation than in 2017, when Hurricane Irma hit the area.  

“Our two buildings and our campus in St. Pete are designed to withstand a Cat 5 hurricane, so we offered that up to our employees, saying if they needed a place to shelter from the storm they could stay in the office. We had about 300 people who decided to do that,” Pratt. “But with Covid and not wanting to bring a bunch of people together in the office, this year we said to people if a storm is coming toward St. Pete, you need to make other plans to evacuate. And if you evacuate, please take your computer and equipment with you, because after a storm hits that’s when our customers need us and we’ve got to be online and ready to take care of people. But because we’ve done so well with work from home we’re pretty confident that will work  just fine if we have to do it.”

The Wall Street Journal last year ranked Progressive the No. 1 company for diversity and inclusion. That requires intentionality, CEO Tricia Griffin told Time in an interview earlier this year.

“It’s one of her top priorities and one of ours as well, not only to attract a diverse group of employees, but the inclusion part of that  is really important. How do you make sure people are seeing career opportunities and can advance through their career so they stay with us, and at all levels of the company, our workforce looks like the people we serve,” Pratt said.

St. Petersburg’s diverse and welcoming community has helped recruit more employees.

“We’ve been able to encourage quite a few existing Progressive employees from other parts of the company to move to St. Pete  and join the property business,” Prat said. “I would like for more people to know we are a big employer in St. Pete … We’re bringing a lot of folks to town and we will be here for the long haul.”

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