Vantreo's Lynne Wallace cuts premiums by curbing injuries

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[caption id="attachment_96955" align="alignright" width="284"] Lynne Wallace, Vantreo co-founder and two-thirds owner[/caption]

Sometimes a little education can slice a company’s employee injury rate to zero.

That’s the philosophy of Lynne Wallace, president and two-thirds owner of Vantreo Insurance Brokerage in Santa Rosa. Ms. Wallace sells workers’ compensation insurance to many of her customers, and she has made it her personal mission to chop their premiums down by re-educating their employees to adopt safe working habits.

“Nobody should ever get hurt,” Ms. Wallace said in an interview at her office last week.

Educating client employees is good for her business, too. Vantreo has grown from about $3.6 million in 2009 commissions to an expected $8 million in 2014, drawn from total premiums of $107 million. She has 39 staff members. Co-owner and partner Tim Chanter owns the other third of Vantreo. Both have been in the insurance brokerage business for many years.

Ms. Wallace puts special emphasis on building business units that are replicable, including her own company. Vantreo offers a range of insurance including property, casualty, personal  home and auto policies, and also handles employee  benefits insurance and life insurance. “We are huge providers in workers’ compensation,” she said, and about 80 percent of the policies pertain to business. “We have a huge portfolio in real estate risk.”

Nearly half of Vantreo’s clients are located in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. She plans new satellite offices, likely in Walnut Creek, San Francisco and Mountain View. “We have a rapidly growing Hispanic practice,” she said. “When you start with who’s got problems with workers’ comp, that’s where it starts.”

Vantreo has worked for several years with employees of La Tortilla Factory, whose top executive is Carlos Tamayo. “It’s a combination of insurance, education and HR,” Ms. Wallace said. She conducts a series of educational workshops. “We can do training in their language, help people understand what it is to be a leader.” She initially saved La Tortilla Factory about $10,000 in workers’ compensation premiums a year, Ms. Wallace said, and she estimates savings have ballooned to $250,000 this year.

“When we first met them, they paid a lot more in premiums,” and the company had high experience ratings with claims. “Now it’s a tenth of what it was.”

About 82 Vantreo clients are wineries, where large numbers of workers do manual work and can be exposed to physical risks. Most of the company’s clients are in real estate, manufacturing, construction, senior living communities, hotels, restaurants and nonprofits.

Ms. Wallace, who has a bachelor’s degree in risk management, gives frequent seminars on leadership to help managers cultivate positive company culture, reckon with challenging employees, communicate effectively and create profits.

The company started in 2007 and soon acquired business from another insurance company. When the economic downturn occurred in 2008 and 2009, the business lost some $400,000 a year, then recovered.

Businesses often pay more than necessary for insurance because their managers and supervisors have not been educated to be effective leaders, or they should not be managers at all, Ms. Wallace said.

“We help shift what is normal in the organization,” Ms. Wallace said, “to what you want it to be to get the results you want.” In her educational Comp Zone division, employees assist clients in reducing injuries, handling claims and negotiating with adjusters. One goal is to reduce premiums.

“If you’re the manager and somebody tells you their arm is hurting,” Ms. Wallace said. “What’s the first thing you do?”

She trains middle managers how to communicate with employees, how to create growth and learning opportunities for them. As an employee, “If you don’t get me, if I don’t feel you give a rip about me, and then I get injured, do you think I want to be well and working? No, I’m going to say, this is a great opportunity – I’m going to be gone for two weeks.”

If the relationship is healthy, “people do all kinds of things to get well fast, to be in the game,” Ms. Wallace said. “They don’t want to miss a minute of what’s going on. People want to be well and working.”

She aims to assess why an employee would want to file a workers’ compensation claim. “What caused them to get hurt in the first place? If they are malingering, what would cause that? It’s not because they’re a bad person. There’s something systemic in the culture.”

Injuries are not a given in any workplace, she said. “Every job has a way of being done safely. Every accident could be prevented.”

Mid-level managers provide needed leadership in an organization that functions well, according to Ms. Wallace. Demand for her workshops has “made us see how parched the work world is for having practical education training,” in performance management, she said. The workshops – a form of prospecting -- serve to find and bring in new Vantreo clients.

“If leadership ability is up, then costs are down, profit is up and growth is up,” Ms. Wallace said.



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