St. Helena Insurance, George Petersen report new programs and hiresHeffernan Insurance Brokers recently unveiled a new wellness offering to Bay Area clients. The program was piloted in the group's Walnut Creek office and is now available to North Bay customers as a package or as an a la carte option.

"Since we are a health benefits provider, one advantage we have is the ability to utilize wellness tools already in many benefits packages that employers didn't know were there," said Heffernan Wellness Director Adam Cox, who created the program.

"The programs have proven successful in improving company culture and it makes business sense, though it usually takes a few years to realize the savings in premiums," said Mr. Cox, who is based in Walnut Creek.

Two years ago the company hired Mr. Cox to create and a pilot wellness program within the business with the ultimate goal of producing an external offering. Their experience was used to fine-tune the program called Heffernan Wellness at Work, which was officially released late last month.

Since implementation within Heffernan, staff has shed more than 700 pounds and participated in many philanthropic events including organized runs and bike races.

Depending on the level of service purchased, the program costs an average $30 per person and includes one-on-one health assessments, nutrition plans, goal-setting, performance tracking software services and other services. Premium savings are realized as claims are reduced.

"Wellness is a huge topic among employers today, but buy-in is kind of like how business reacted when they first started talking about workers' comp loss prevention. At first employers were slow to rigorously participate, thinking it was a lot of effort without direct pay-off, but then they started to see the reduction in claims," Mr. Cox said.

At the same time, the brokerage also recently hired 17 producers to lead a new professional practices division specializing in architectural, engineering and law firms.

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St. Helena Insurance, founded in 1925, launched a new, "retooled" commercial lines department and shifted its company focus to the wine and agriculture industries, though it still covers a broad range of businesses.

The brokerage also hired three new staff members and consolidated its Monterey and Yountville offices into St. Helena. Commercial Lines Manager Mike Applegate, which was one of the new hires, said the changes were part of a companywide strategic planning effort launched near the end of last year.

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George Petersen Insurance of the North Bay is in the midst of a growth spurt, adding two new brokers and expanding its marketing division. New additions include former Petaluma Wells Fargo Insurance Services producer Steve Shira and former Rogers & Young Insurance Services broker Sean Parsons, who has 14 years experience in the industry.

Partner Josh Johnsen said the company will likely add more people this year and possibly a new office.

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Leadership with the State Compensation Insurance Fund, California's quasi-public workers' comp "insurer of last resort," responded with clear opposition this month to the governor's proposal to sell a portion or all of its assets and liabilities in the organization.

For the past several weeks, legislators have considered selling its stake in the $25 billion firm to help fill the state's $24 billion budget hole. But this month State Fund's board of directors signed a resolution opposing any such sale.

The provision estimates that the transaction would garner about $1 billion in revenues and was included as part of the governor's May revise.

At the same time, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said he was "troubled by the details of the proposal." He expressed concerns that without government backing the group would not be able to adequately manage risk and premiums would increase dramatically.

He said, "a hasty or ill-considered sale could wreak havoc on the already volatile workers' compensation market."

Although the commissioner recently recommended no change to workers' comp premium rates, most industry carriers filed for increases in policies so far this year. On average, the increases have been between about 4 percent to 6 percent, but some carriers went as high as 34 percent. State Fund filed for a 15 percent increase.

The Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, an agency responsible for recommended pure premium rate changes to the commissioner, has predicted rate increases for three consecutive cycles, pointing to continued writing below the cost of claims. Carriers so far have continued to write below losses in a competitive market, but now with an evident shift on the way, many will likely pull out of California all together.

In fact, late last month, Employers Direct Insurance Co. said it would stop writing new policies and renewals in the state after Aug. 1. The company first entered the market in 2003 and recently filed for a 33.9 percent increase in rates beginning July 1.

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Wachovia Insurance Services Inc. officially assumed the Wells Fargo name this month after it was acquired late last year.

Also recently, Farmers Insurance Group of Companies assumed AIG's U.S. personal auto group, which includes 21st Century Group. Farmers, a subsidiary of Zurich Insurance Co., purchased the division for $1.9 billion.

Submit items for this column to D. Ashley Furness at afurness@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4257 or fax 707-521-5292.