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How ‘friendly rivals’ in Texas became collaborators



How ‘friendly rivals’ in Texas became collaborators | Insurance Business America















The two agencies joined forces last month


Insurance News

By
Gia Snape

Higginbotham unveiled its merger with friendly rival Barnard Insurance Agency last month.

The Fort Worth giant joined forces with the family-owned Wichita Falls agency, which specializes in commercial insurance for the energy, construction, hospitality, and manufacturing industries. 

John K. Barnard (pictured), managing director of Barnard Insurance Agency, spoke to Insurance Business about the pivotal move and the long-standing relationships between his firm and Higginbotham.

“We were a small insurance agency driven by the community by giving back and taking care of our folks and many generations of their families,” Barnard said. “[But] over the last 10 years, the need to give added value to our clients has grown.

“For the first time, we can collaborate with [Higginbotham], pick each other’s brains, and network more as teammates rather than competitors.”

‘We’re never going to sell to one of the big firms’

For Barnard, the new chapter in his agency is significant for several reasons. Family-owned and operated since 1931, Barnard is the fourth-generation owner of the 97-year-old firm.

“My great-grandfather started our agency. From a young age, I was always taught, ‘We’re never going to sell to one of the big firms’. It didn’t make sense to us,” Barnard revealed.

Barnard Insurance Agency’s longevity in the industry was due to a deep connection with the community and an unwavering commitment to customer service, Barnard said. However, the insurance landscape was changing, with it, clients’ needs and expectations.

His initial skepticism about merging with a more prominent firm began to shift when he observed the operations of Higginbotham, which has a presence in Wichita Falls.

“Shane Smith, the managing director here, was my next-door neighbor. Our kids were the same age, and we got along wonderfully,” Barnard recalled. “It opened my eyes to the idea that maybe these big firms aren’t so bad after all. They have the same goals and values that we do.”

This personal connection, coupled with industry trends and internal factors, such as his uncle Bill’s readiness to retire, led Barnard to reconsider his stance.

“Perpetuation became an issue, and it was just something we needed to look at,” Barnard said.

Honoring a legacy while embracing change

Barnard has transitioned to being co-managing director of Higginbotham’s Wichita Falls branch, along with Shane Smith. His uncle and former partner, Bill Barnard, retired on March 1 and is helping the team transition over the next year and a half.

Barnard said the merger with Higginbotham brought about significant changes, both operationally and culturally. One of the most impactful shifts was the introduction of employee ownership.

“It’s a unique chance for our employees to go from working for an insurance agency for an extended period to now having ownership,” he noted.

It has also created new avenues for proactive client engagement and enriched service offerings. This proactive stance represents a departure from the traditional reactive approach, enabling the agency to anticipate and address client needs more effectively.

“For the first time, we can be proactive and introduce these [options] to our insureds, and it’s exciting stuff,” said Barnard. “We get to go in with the Higginbotham name, and then we get to go in and shine and make folks aware of our expertise and have opportunities that we’ve never had before.”

Reflecting on the decision, Barnard said the biggest change brought by the partnership with Higginbotham was having a larger team to tap for help.

“We used to feel like we were on an island as Bernard Insurance Agency, the little guy with a chip on our shoulder, always fighting for everything. That’s true from carrier relationships to writing and servicing accounts. Now, we’re part of a much larger team that all works together,” he told Insurance Business. “Small things, like networking, make a huge difference.”

“Barnard Insurance Group … has accounts that are 60 years old, and a wall in their office that celebrates team members who’ve been on board for 30 years or more,” said Reid in a press release. 

“They have terrific relationships with insurance carriers and irreplaceable expertise in the energy industry. Best of all, we already know them and know we’re going to enjoy working with them.”

What are your thoughts on the team-up between Barnard Insurance Agency and Higginbotham? Please share your comments below.

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