Major change came to one of Bellingham’s largest local insurance brokerages earlier this month.
The Unity Group, which was also one of the largest independent insurance agencies in Washington state, was acquired by a regional subsidiary of Hub International Limited, a firm with reach across the U.S, Canada and into South America.
The acquisition, which was made by Hub International Northwest, was announced in an Aug. 2 news release.
The Unity Group, founded in Bellingham in 1929, is a full-service insurance brokerage offering an array of products and services, including commercial and personal insurance. It specializes in large-group employee benefit programs, as well as in real-estate and education-related accounts, according to the company.
With the move, The Unity Group’s president, Barry Hanson, will shift to an executive vice president position with Hub Northwest, whose main offices are in Bothell, Wash. Hanson will lead Hub’s Bellingham operations and report to Andy Prill, the regional subsidiary’s president and CEO.
A local representative with The Unity Group directed media inquiries to Hub’s main press office based in Chicago, Ill., where the company’s headquarters are located.
Cara Siegel, Hub’s media relations director, who responded to questions via email, said The Unity Group’s current clients will likely see few changes with the transition. Unity’s existing sales and service staff will continue handling local accounts and client relationships, she said.
Robert Dale, who served as CEO for The Unity Group, will continue with the company after the transition, Siegel said, although his new capacity with Hub was not made clear.
Siegel said that, for now, The Unity Group will retain its company name and identity, operating as a division of Hub Northwest.
“We will eventually make a phase-out of the name over time, as we think is right in the marketplace,” Siegel said.
While company mergers and consolidations have been common in the insurance industry over the past few decades, a more unique trend has begun emerging in Whatcom County with long-established independent brokerages selling their assets to major national and global firms, said Daniel Holst, executive vice president of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Washington, a trade group.
Holst noted the 2011 sale of Snapper Shuler Kenner Insurance, which has offices in Bellingham and Lynden, to a regional subsidiary of Brown & Brown Inc., a top national insurance intermediary organization based in Florida.
Snapper Shuler Kenner, which was established locally in 1925, still operates under its original business name.
Although firms with the backing of large, global companies offer strong competition for smaller, independently owned insurance brokerages, Holst said he doesn’t believe these recent acquisitions will have a negative impact on business for small-scale operators.
“Historically, small and independent agencies have done very well competing in the marketplace,” he said.
Executives with The Unity Group and Hub Northwest said they expect their consolidation will strengthen their existing business in Washington state.
“Hub and Unity share a common vision that is customer-centric,” said Barry Hanson, in the Aug. 2 news release. “With the addition of Hub’s value-added services, our team of professionals will be able to provide our clients with the many offerings of a top global brokerage firm.”
Siegel said that Hub believes The Unity Group’s strong reputation in the regional insurance business will help create new synergies between the companies in markets north of Seattle. In addition to its Bellingham office, The Unity Group also operates a location in Everett.
Siegel added that The Unity Group and Hub share complementary expertise in several areas, including employee benefits and surety services.
No information was made available on whether the acquisition might lead to staff cuts or new staff additions. The terms of the deal were also not disclosed.
The Unity Group has traditionally declined to offer The Bellingham Business Journal information on its annual premium value. According to the last available records from the BBJ’s annual Book of Lists, the company reported having 49 employees.
Siegel declined to provide updated information, saying that Hub generally does not disclose such data.
The Unity Group has a long history in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
The firm was originally founded by Earl Griffin in 1929, who opened an office in downtown Bellingham at the corner of Commercial and Magnolia streets, according to company history posted on The Unity Group’s website.
In the 1970s, the Griffin agency merged with several of its local competitors to form a single business called Griffin, Garrett, Johanson and Schacht, or GGJ&S.
That company was renamed The Unity Group in the late 80s, after several acquisitions expanded the firm’s market area into Skagit County and the San Juan Islands.
After additional buyouts and expansions, The Unity Group consolidated some of its offices in the 1990s, solidifying its home base in Bellingham and maintaining a second office in Everett.
Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.