Beyond the Locker Room
Companies to Watch - September 2011
Company: Sutton Special Risk
Year Founded: Started as William J. Sutton and Co. In 1978
Public or Private: Private
Premiums per year: $25 million for 2011
# of employees: 25
In 1978, William J. Sutton launched a Managing General Underwriting (MGU) firm after his own name, with a goal to provide special risk coverage for professional sports teams. It was a visionary move, considering the professional sports industry was on the verge of becoming an economic powerhouse.
“We started by providing accidental death coverage for groups of athletes travelling together, which was the major liability for team owners,” says Greg Sutton, William’s son, and the president of what is now Sutton Special Risk in Toronto. “As the athletes started to earn more money, agents became aware of the need to protect the future value of these players, which led to a significant business in career-ending disability coverage.”
Riding on its success in the world of pro sports, the firm began looking for ways to diversify, customizing its coverage for the entertainment industry, and building a portfolio in corporate special risk.
Reason to Watch
Within the last twelve months, Sutton has expanded its products to respond to the needs of expatriates, frequent business travellers, and high-salaried executives. Its coverage offers a full package of employee benefits including life, AD&D, disability, medical/dental, war risk, and kidnap and ransom (K&R).
“We offer coverage to business people involved in high risk occupations or expats deployed to high risk locations,” explains Sutton. The firm’s K&R product has become popular for Canadian-based and expat executives, offering coverage at inexpensive premiums. “We also provide war risk coverage on all our benefits, so clients aren’t forced to go to two carriers to get full coverage.”
Sutton now has licensed capabilities in more jurisdictions than many of its competitors. “Lloyd’s, which is our primary supporting underwriter, is licensed in about 80 countries, so we have long had a presence worldwide,” says Sutton. “For the last 18 months, we’ve focused on building strategic partnerships with other international carriers to help us fill any gaps.”
“Sutton Special Risk has built its business model on fostering strategic relations with and between its underwriters, brokers, corporate clients and consultants,” says Sutton. “We have large company capabilities with small company accessibility.”
Sutton Special Risk has more than doubled its expat portfolio premiums within the last year. As a third party administrator, the firm has developed its online capabilities to make it easier for employer groups and expat clients to go online, enrol in benefits, or check the status of their claims.
The firm has also partnered with P&C carriers to embed its specialty products within existing commercial packages. “We can attach our accident and health products to help our partners create a much broader program for their clients, while at the same time growing our own client base,” explains Sutton.
“We’re seeing a number of companies venturing into special risk, but I’m not always sure they understand what special risk is,” says Sutton. “This can be dangerous for everyone, because it tends to result in the under-pricing of our business.”
As the market becomes more competitive, Sutton wants to be seen as a pioneer in corporate special risk. “One of the biggest challenges has been to make people think of us as more than just a sports underwriter,” says Sutton, who adds that pro sports still accounts for 40% of the firm’s premiums. To meet this challenge head on, Sutton Special Risk has recently rebranded, with a new logo and a new name, meanwhile expanding its product offerings with a focus on its expat portfolio.
After overseeing his father’s company for the last 11 years, Greg Sutton officially became the president of Sutton Special Risk in August. He is examining the potential of broadening the firm’s geographic representation by opening additional offices in Canada and the U.S.
Children’s Wish Foundation, the NHLPA Goals and Dreams Fund, and MLSE Team Up Foundation.
Headquarters: 33 Yonge Street, Suite 270, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1G4
Telephone: 416.366.2223; 1.800.461.3292
Copyright 2011 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the September 2011 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.