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Q&A with Eryl Christiansen

New CEO at Eastern Shore Associates Insurance talks about culture of company, plans for further expansion

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

In July, Fulton-based Eastern Shore Associates Insurance announced the promotion of Eryl Christiansen from president to chief executive officer. Christiansen has been with ESA for 10 years and has served as president for the past two years. The insurance company covers the area from west of Rochester to Camden and Pulaski to Waterloo. We recently sat down with Christiansen to discuss his promotion.

Q.: What are your plans as CEO?

A.: We’d obviously like to expand our markets and also continue to provide the service to our current clients that they’ve come to know and expect in an ever-changing insurance environment. That takes ongoing learning and emphasis.

Q.: Did you seek to the be organization’s leader?

A.: I was tapped for it. I was the president for about two years before this. Our former CEO, Robert Wallace, will still be the chairman of the board but stepping out of the day to day operations.

Q.: What makes Eastern Shore stand out?

A.: It’s our people. We’ve really got a good group of people. Some agents have 25 or 30 or more years in the business. We’ve also got a good influx of people who are younger — in their first five or years or so of the business — and those who have been here awhile and have grown in the industry. I look around and feel good about the future of the agency as well as the present. It’s our people and the layout from some who can train and mentor and some who are learning and will be in that position down the road.

Q.: What kind of products does your agency sell?

A.: We have property casualty insurance — meaning general liability — property, workman’s comp, auto, homeowner’s, ATVs, boats and cyber insurance. We just this past year opened up a life insurance wing.

Q.: How competitive is market?

A.: It is a competitive industry but that’s good. It keeps clients at the forefront of what we’ve got to do. We like to be called insurance advisers because that’s where the rubber meets the road: how well we advise our customers on how to meet their needs. That’s how you keep clients for a long-term relationship. It’s competitive but that’s a good thing.

Q.: How do you compete?

A.: As the leadership team, we want to keep it simple. It is all about the client. There’s ongoing communication. There’s also training for our agents handling client calls all day, training for our producers who are going out and offering the products we have on a new business sense. One of the things is having good mentor relationships among our staff. Those who have accumulated a lot of knowledge can pass that on and have a good balance of a workforce. That’s important, too. From there, it’s utilizing the technology the best you can to serve your clients. That can be tricky, too, because there is so much out there to be offered.

Q.: What is your biggest day-to-day challenge as a company?

A.: On one hand, I think there is so much change in the marketplace. It’s always incumbent upon us to stay at the forefront and communicate with clients so we can advise appropriately. The ongoing communication and knowledge challenge is the beast that we’re trying to deal with each day.

Q.: Any expansion plans for the company?

A.: We would have an interest in any of those whether it’s going west or even into the Finger Lakes farther. We are homed in on a couple things, but overall, we’re interested in whatever strategically helps us.

Q.: How is your company handling the pandemic?

A.: In the current situation with COVID and some of the challenges there, we’re just looking to be the best we can be in our current arena without necessarily putting a lid on everything. Our business is about the client. Our insureds are resilient, especially our commercial insures who are changing how they do business. Some are affected by the pandemic. It’s about responding to what they need the best we can. Sometimes if a company’s operations have changed, you have to change up their insurance. It’s responding that way, but it is amazing how resilient how many insureds have been. The challenges are ongoing so we are trying to respond as we can. Our day-to-day operations have changed a little. We’re following the health department’s guidelines. Insurance doesn’t change a ton in this time, so it’s not like some people who have had to revamp their operations, including what they do on a daily basis. We have people who work at home. Pretty much all of us were home at one point. We’ve learned how to operate in that sense, which was neat to see how we could operate at that level—if you can say there’s a silver lining to such a situation. These things continue so we continue to follow what they say we need to keep doing for the safety of our employees and customers.

Q.: What’s your outlook for the company?

A.: I feel good about our future. I feel good about the area’s future. This area — the greater Fulton/Oswego area — has a great future ahead. I feel good about the people we have. I feel good about our team. I look forward to in 10 or 15 years looking back and seeing how we’ve grown and the people we’ve helped.”