Jewelers Mutual celebrates 90th year, posts 29% rise in business

Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co. (JM), the only U.S. insurer specializing in jewelry and jewelers, marks a double-milestone anniversary this month. It celebrates 90 years since it began in the backroom of a Wisconsin jewelry store, and 50 years since it began offering personal jewelry insurance to consumers.

Today, it insures close to 40% of the U.S. jewelry industry—about 10,000 businesses (retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, appraisers, other jewelry-related businesses)—and more than 120,000 individuals’ jewelry, worth more than $1 billion. It remains a mutual company (owned by its policyholders), with jewelry trade leaders a majority of its governing board of directors, the only insurer with such a ratio. It’s licensed in all 50 states, represented by 350 insurance agencies and more than 500 independent agents, and even provides coverage outside America for manufacturer policyholders with operations abroad.

Appropriately, there’s been a celebratory mood this month at Jewelers Mutual headquarters (whose 2003’s motto is, “Building Relationships for 90 Years”) in Neenah, Wis.; at a gala dinner marking its nine decades, attended by scores of jewelry, insurance and local civic leaders (July 15), and at its annual policyholders meeting (July 16).

“Celebrating a milestone such as our 90th anniversary is truly exciting, especially since statistics show a vast majority of businesses never make it beyond a few years,” said Ron Harder, JM president since 1982, to the policyholders. “Building on a solid foundation of purpose and meeting the ongoing needs of our policyholders [is what] has sustained the viability of Jewelers Mutual.”

JM has had much to celebrate in the past year, alone. It’s been named a “Champion of Industry,” (a national award given companies for excellence in business practices, ingenuity and leadership in their industries); named “2003 Business of the Year” by its local Chamber of Commerce for service, business performance and community volunteerism; and again given an “A+ (Superior)” rating by A.M. Best, the financial rating service of the insurance industry (a rating held by only 10% of U.S. insurance companies).

Just as important, 2002 saw significant business growth for the insurer, said William J. Stoegbauer, JM vice president and treasurer, at the policyholders’ meeting. Premium revenues rose 29%, and net income 48%. Premium writings for the first half of 2003 are ahead of 2002’s, and Harder anticipates a 12% gain by year’s end. The company is also debt-free, with no outstanding loans.

The nation’s largest jewelry insurer was founded in 1913 to provide affordable fire insurance to jewelers. Over the years, it has expanded and enhanced the coverages it offers to include not only jewelers block (since 1948) but a variety of jewelry-related and business policies—from windstorms to equipment failure to employee liability.

Crime, though, is a major focus of concern. In 2002 for example, 73% of claims it paid were crime-related. To address crime risks and reduce losses, Jewelers Mutual over the years has become a leader in safety and security education of the jewelry and insurance industries. Those efforts include requiring jewelers have alarm systems to qualify for coverage (1969); creating a series of award-winning security videos (starting in 1980), used by thousands of jewelers, as well as police, schools and security firms; and enrolling its jewelry trade policyholders in the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (1987), which has helped policyholders cut looses and Jewelers Mutual hold down rates.

More recently, JM has actively lobbied for tougher crime legislation, enforcement of immigration laws and funding to aid the FBI catch criminals who prey on the jewelry industry.

“Our focus on loss prevention has certainly impacted the criminal activity within this industry, saved our policyholders’ assets, and reduced the frequency and severity of the losses that we see,” Harder said. Looking ahead, he said JM will continue focusing on “ways to write new business, strengthen our employee talent, and grow our presence in the jewelry and insurance industry.” Immediate goals include:

* Enhancing JM’s technology “to give our customers and agents direct access via the Internet to our data bases,” enabling them to submit applications online, look at accounts and review coverage, and to make on-line applications for personal jewelry coverage easier and quicker.
* Topping $100 million in premium writings by 2006. Last year, the figure was $82 million and could near $90 million this year.
* A new security film in 2004. JM is also considering DVD format for its videos, and putting a short version of the 2004 film on its Web site.