From a telephone on a dining room table to one of the largest specialty insurance brokers in New York City, the insurance agency founded as Stuart E. Cohen Ltd. has come a long way in 45 years.
And the City Building Owners Insurance program redefined and became a leading authority in brownstones and multi-family buildings almost by accident.
It turns out that giving the owners of smaller buildings many of the same options and advantages that the “big guys” enjoy benefited everyone.
The beginning: Small and general
In 1976, founder and principal Stu Cohen was a typical budding entrepreneur, though he didn’t know it yet. While working for Hartford Insurance, he noticed that many of his peers in the insurance industry didn’t seem to be working very hard. Stu and his wife, Ronnee, agreed that Stu would strike out on his own and try to capitalize on some of those missed opportunities.
On November 1, he incorporated his business and got to work as a staff of one.
Saying “you can’t grow that way,” his father-in-law encouraged him to rent a desk in a local real estate office in Mount Vernon, N.Y., where he received referrals from real estate brokers in the office. An Allstate office across the street sent him overflow work and clients they couldn’t insure. Like many insurance brokers, Stu was a generalist at the time, doing a little bit of everything.
In 1995, he bought the Somers Agency in Somers, N.Y., making him the manager of two offices and eight employees. He closed the Mount Vernon office shortly after and consolidated his team in Somers, where they continue to work today.
Finding a specialty
In 2009, Stu found his specialty, mostly by accident. His son’s mother-in-law owned several brownstones in Manhattan, and she asked him to look at her insurance policies. With a little bit of digging, he was able to reduce her insurance premiums by 30%.
Sensing an opportunity, he went back through his files, found a few clients who owned small, older buildings, and went to insurers who specialized in those types of buildings. Every client wound up saving 20-30% for the same or better coverage, and an idea was born.
With no one else marketing to owners of older brownstones and small apartment buildings in New York, the City Building Owners Insurance program grew rapidly. But more growth was coming.
In 2012 the firm bought an agency with a major footprint in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The clients were loyal, and with many brownstones in the area, City Building Owners Insurance expanded rapidly. A year later, another strategic acquisition found a ready market in Greenwich Village and Chelsea.
Known as a real estate specialist, Stu was tapped to become an advisor to Small Property Owners – New York (SPONY) and the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), and he had several articles published in well-known New York real estate and insurance publications. And in 2010, just one year after finding his niche, Stu was named a Power Broker by Risk & Insurance magazine.
Specialization pays off.
Built on education and service
The market looks very different since Stu began working from his apartment dining room table, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the focus on education rather than sales. Everyone on the staff is dedicated to helping clients understand all of their options, so they can make informed decisions about critical insurance coverage. Service is also a foundation for the agency. When Stu visits a client to see their building for himself, he often hears, “My last agent never visited my building.”
“I like talking to people, educating people,” Stu said. “I don’t like people being taken advantage of by other brokers, especially when those brokers don’t know what they’re talking about.”
And after 45 years, what makes him the proudest? That’s an easy one. “My supportive wife and our children and grandchildren.”
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and for trusting us with your insurance needs. These past 45 years would not have been possible without you.