The Right MIX To Master Risk
Masters Insurance Agency Group FL, Inc. relies on a custom approach to build bonds
No two contractors are the same—and no two risk-management packages should be either.
That’s the premise that Gary Cardinale, President, and Carl N. Maranto II, Vice President/Managing Partner of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Masters Insurance Agency Group FL, Inc. (Masters), hold for all of the company’s contractor clients.
Maranto confirms, “All contractors, even those that work in the same market, bring different experiences, partnerships, financials and exposures to the table. Our job is to formulate the right mix.”
“Every case is a puzzle,” Cardinale agrees. “We put the pieces together in a manner that shines a light on our contractors’ strengths in ways that appeal to underwriters. That’s exciting and fun for us.”
That shared energy and enthusiasm is a core reason for the company’s growing visibility in the construction risk management space throughout South Florida.
Building on the Brand
Opened in 2016, Masters is an independent insurance agency, though the name has been around for decades.
The original family-owned Masters Insurance Limited business was established in Canada over 50 years ago by Sam Ciccolini, Max Ciccolini, Frank Ciccolini and in 1981 added the Corby Family. As the agency continued to grow more and more, they have added 10 second- generation family members along with the four original partners. This group guides the large, skilled staff of insurance and surety experts from offices in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Windsor. A few years ago, company leadership looked to Western New York-based Cardinale to expand insurance and bonding services to the U.S. in support of cross-border clients. The Masters Insurance Limited leadership team saw those same opportunities expanding to Florida and brought up the idea of opening an office in Florida.
In response, Cardinale, also a Partner at the company’s New York office, reached out to longtime friend and colleague Maranto to propose a partnership to serve the insurance and surety needs of Florida-based contractors.
Maranto has worked in the construction space, specifically in Florida, for a number of years. He has over 20 years of experience as a licensed property and casualty insurance agent in both Florida and New York, so he is able to skillfully identify, analyze and manage risk to deliver a customized and comprehensive insurance solution.
It’s their combined experience that puts Maranto and Cardinale in a great position to help clients manage current and emerging challenges.
Cardinale says, “It’s a collaborative effort and a really good marriage of our individual experiences and strengths in insurance and bonding with an emphasis on helping contractors who are looking to expand business opportunities.”
Put simply, Maranto confirms, “The timing was right. My motto and business approach, much like the original Masters group, is to help clients grow, whether that’s in the scope and scale of projects, or expansion into other market segments.”
Toronto-based Greenpark Group USA & Balmar Construction is one such company.
Greenpark Group USA & Balmar Construction has been a client of Masters Insurance Limited for over 40 years. The company sought to duplicate its success in Canada in the Florida commercial and high-rise/mid-rise multifamily sectors, officially opening offices in Fort Lauderdale in January 2020.
Vincent Marchese, Executive Vice President of Greenpark Group USA & Balmar Construction, says, “Carl has been my roadmap since we opened our office. Coverage is very different in the U.S. versus Canada. He explained the necessary insurance coverage requirements, including general liability, excess liability, builders risk, workers’ compensation, commercial automotive and property insurance. He helped us put together a risk management package to cover our exposures and protect our interests that effectively reflects our company’s strengths, people and processes.”
Along with insurance coverage noted above, Maranto, and Stuart Flanzer, Senior Sales Executive for Masters, helped Marchese’s team develop a comprehensive health care insurance package for employees and implemented a program to manage subcontractor certificates of insurance.
One of the first development projects for Greenpark Group USA & Balmar Construction, is the Ocean Six Terraces development in Pompano Beach, Florida. Currently under construction, the project includes six luxury townhomes, private parking, elevators, an in-ground pool and a rooftop terrace.
Marchese says, “I especially appreciate the comprehensive discussions that we have with Carl and his team to determine the most optimized risk management solution given the expected construction costs, timelines, number of hurricane seasons, etc.”
As well, Masters has helped Greenpark Group USA & Balmar Construction achieve insurance and bonding for a medical office building, a 14-story condominium and multiple custom homes.
For Greenpark Group USA & Balmar Construction and many other companies on the Masters client list, it’s the often-hidden or unknown exclusions that Maranto and Cardinale are able to see and share that provide one of the greatest benefits to the relationship.
For instance, Maranto reviews existing insurance policies to ensure the right coverages with respect to the language, pointing out the exclusions to verify if they need to be removed to cover the operations. “The goal is to eliminate gaps and additional premiums down the road. Exclusions like products and completed operations, residential exclusions, subcontractor agreements in general liability policies, or disparity between contracts and waivers of subrogation, primary, non-contributory and additional insureds endorsements, can cause significant problems to contractors if unaware,” he says.
That same attention to detail and expertise is applied to bonding.
Paving the Process
Perfect Pavers of South Florida LLC (formerly known as Perfect Pavers, Inc.) is a specialty contractor focused on installing pavers and retaining walls for general contractors and developers. Projects range in scope and scale from aquatic and sports facilities to apartment/retail town centers and master-planned communities and condominiums along the coastline. Today, the Fort Lauderdale-based company has a growing list of clients that includes leading general contractors such as Suffolk Construction, Stiles Corporation and KAST Construction—but it wasn’t always that way.
Luke Grant, President and Qualifier for the company, adds, “Around 2015, our general contractors began to ask for and, in some cases, require bonds from specialty and trade contractors to ensure work was completed. I had a bonding agent at the time who wasn’t able to help us obtain the project limits we needed.”
Grant knew Maranto through his membership at various trade associations. “We met in 2013 at an event and found a common bond around golf. I knew Carl was in the insurance and bonding industry, so when we weren’t able to get the bonding capacity needed to win projects, I gave him a call to get his perspective,” Grant says.
The Masters team reviewed the company financials, project experience, etc. and developed a customized pitch to submit to bonding underwriters. Maranto recalls, “Luke’s previous agent was more reactive to past jobs instead of proactive in focusing on key performance. We started them out on a fast-track, simple bond-line designed to help them get started on smaller projects to build up the line. Today, the company has a bonding line and aggregate limit that allows it to take on multimillion-dollar jobs—something that was out of the question just two years ago.”
Grant adds, “The process was seamless for us. We had some equity ownership changes that could have limited our possibilities, but Carl was able to develop a tailored program that the underwriter accepted—and it’s grown from there. Carl’s been great for us—and it’s evident in our backlog. Prior to his help, we did one or two bonded projects. Now we have 10 very large projects and we’re better able to compete in the marketplace for the best jobs.”
For Maranto and Cardinale, Perfect Pavers is the norm. The two have helped dozens of contractors with limited bonding capacity establish programs that enable growth.
Capacity and Communication
Brokers and insurance providers have long focused on the importance of relationships with contractors.
These are not marketing words to Masters team members, emphasizes Maranto, they are foundational tenets of the company’s approach. “A good provider will listen, ask the right questions and communicate with the contractor and the contractor’s financial experts. We work closely with a contractor’s CPA firm to make sure that we are both in concert on how the financial statements should be prepared. We are also in touch with the contractor’s banker to discuss current balances and the availability of a working line of credit,” he adds.
Cardinale confirms, “Bonding especially is all about relationships. It’s imperative that we know our clients, not just their financials, but their character as individuals. That personal and comprehensive knowledge is evident in every package we send to the underwriter.”
As the market continues to adjust to economic conditions, that in-depth evaluation and shared purpose will become increasingly important.
Given current conditions, while capacity remains strong in bonding, pricing is on the rise in almost all other categories, including builders risk, general liability, excess liability, professional liability and especially commercial auto, says Maranto. “Add in natural exposures such as hurricanes in catastrophe-prone regions as well as growing labor shortages, and obtaining appropriate coverage for the right price in a timely manner can be a challenge,” he adds.
The company has bonding facilities that offer in-house authority up to $30 million with options to go higher. The firm also has programs for the smaller contractors with instant approval for projects under $1 million. Masters’ relationship approach has already helped hundreds of contractors put comprehensive risk management solutions into place. Along with bonding and insurance, Masters provides other financial products, including life, health and annuities. The company grew 60% in 2019 and is on pace to surpass that growth rate in 2020.
Maranto concludes, “Bottom line, we can help any contractor formulate a risk management program to drive growth and opportunity.”