Horace Mann Educators Corp. believes that while educators are working hard to lay the foundation upon which students will build their futures, someone should be looking out for their futures, too. “We compete with everyone, but don’t feel we compete with anyone,” CEO Marita Zuraitis says. “We are the largest multi-line insurance provider to public K-12 educators and take a solutions approach. We find the dollars to help them protect what they have today and secure a long-term financial future.”
Two teachers founded the Springfield, Ill.-based company in 1945 when they saw a need for quality, affordable auto insurance for educators and aptly named it after the father of the American public education system. Today, Horace Mann has broadened its offerings to also include homeowners and life insurance, as well as retirement products that meet the needs of the education community.
“Horace Mann is a company I admired from afar,” Zuraitis says. “I grew up in a family that believed in education and education being the foundation for longer-term success. I knew Horace Mann was financially sound, I liked the customer base and it struck a chord with me about the importance of education and the important job K-12 public educators have. They are the base of our educational foundation as a country. It was exciting for me to find myself here.”
Horace Mann serves more than 4,100 school districts nationwide, is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and has more than $10 billion in assets. “Our agents spend a lot of time in the school districts helping individual educators, but also helping the school and district understand what they need, how we can be helpful and how we can put the power of a large, successful publicly traded company behind the needs of the school and district,” Zuraitis says.
Horace Mann’s primary focus is to understand the issues facing educators and bring solutions to the table. Local agents across the country provide in-school workshops to explain State Teachers’ Retirement Systems. And in the past few years, the company has zeroed in on student loan solutions. “On average, educators have $30,000 to $33,000 of student loan debt they’ve accumulated, and that is creating ripples across the education community,” Zuraitis explains. “That’s a large amount of student loan debt that’s hovering over educators.”
The company has made it its job to understand that debt, be aware of the various forgiveness programs and help educators take advantage of them by helping educators get through the process. “If we can cut that $33,000 number down to $15,000, for example, I just found dollars that they were paying that can be reapplied to retirement savings or buying a tenant policy as a renter,” Zuraitis says.
Horace Mann also partners with DonorsChoose.org, a website and nonprofit organization that connects public school teachers in need of classroom materials and experiences with individual donors who want to help. “School budgets are tighter,” Zuraitis says. “Educators spend about $500 of their own money every year in the classroom, and if you are a 24-year-old teacher you might not have the money to buy construction paper, books or new technology.”
If educators can get their materials funded, they are not spending $500 a year on supplies and can use that money to start a 403(b) and secure a good long-term plan for their future. “The days of joining the profession and expecting 100 percent of your salary to be paid to you when you retire are dwindling,” Zuraitis admits. “We see that in Illinois and it’s true in most places. Teachers can no longer rely 100 percent on their pension and have to do retirement planning.”
When Zuraitis took the CEO position three years ago, she had a plan to get an organization that has always been built around the best interest of their educator clients all thinking about the “how” in the same way. She chose to focus on product, distribution and infrastructure (PDI) and implemented initiatives to profitably grow the company over time.
“Do we have all the products we need to be relevant?” Zuraitis asks. “What are the products and services we need to fulfill the mission of our company, which is to protect what our clients have today and secure what they have for tomorrow?”
Horace Mann had most of the products it needed, but found its clients needed a fixed indexed annuity product and an indexed universal life product and recently added those. From an auto perspective, Horace Mann adjusted its analytics to deliver more competitive price points.
“From a product perspective, we answered that and filled in the few gaps, and the results have been quite good,” Zuraitis says. “We are growing in all lines of business and growing profitably, which was not consistently the case three years ago. We are now bringing the right products and services, and doing it with a solution-oriented approach that educators are responding to.”
As for distribution, Zuraitis wanted educators to be able to do business with Horace Mann through any channel they chose. The company boasts a great social connection and resources for educators through Facebook and Pinterest, where it has the most followers of any insurer. “How good are all of our distribution points stacking up and what’s the quality of that trusted advisor at the point of sale?” Zuraitis asks. “We have a lot of very good exclusive agents and replicating their best practices has worked well for us in many cases. Unless they have a claim, the agent might be the only person that educator interacts with.”
Zuraitis also focused on infrastructure as she wanted to ensure Horace Mann was easy to do business with. Over the past few years, the company has modernized its life and annuity system and has begun modernizing its P&C systems. “We are in pretty good shape from an infrastructure perspective,” she adds. “We have plans to improve our capabilities in a mobile world and are excited about what we are doing in terms of PDI.”
Leading the Best
Zuraitis says she believes in hiring smart, competent people and then “collaborating like crazy.” “I tend to have two things I look for when I hire talent,” she says. “I hire people who are smarter than I am, and I wouldn’t hire anyone I wouldn’t work for. Those two qualifications have really served me well as I have built management teams in the past.”
Horace Mann requires its agents have strong backgrounds and experience before coming to work at the company. It also offers a business school to mentor agents along their way. “We are increasing our training and providing a lot more continued education as they move through their lifecycle as an agent,” Zuraitis says. “We have captive distribution and a captive set of customers. Agents sell Horace Mann products and are focused on selling to K-12 educators, so it’s much easier getting their arms around that.”
Because of her passion for education, Zuraitis believes in development, training and the ability for everyone to fulfill their potential. “I think it’s really important to hire good people, give them the tools they need to be successful and get the heck out of their way,” she adds. “We have a performance-based culture and because of PDI, everyone knows what the goals are. Sometimes it feels like a 70-year-old startup with a history of serving educator clients, and now we’re doing it in an aggressive, performance-based and highly energetic fashion.”