At a time when the insurance industry is growing increasingly impersonal, Kevin Carruthers is taking the opposite tack. “You can buy insurance anywhere,” the approachable Carruthers philosophizes, “but when you actually need it, you’ll wish you were able to reach someone who knew you by name and had given you a personalized experience.”
That personalized experience includes, uniquely, doing business in the kind of place you might expect to drop into for that morning pick-me-up before you do business. “I always tell our clients that we’re the Starbucks of insurance,” he explains—and he’s not speaking metaphorically. “We’ve set up our new office in Orleans so that the entry area looks like one: there’s about 900 square feet of client lounge with a cafe feel. We’ve created this environment to invite people in to get comfortable, sit, have a cappuccino, and talk about their policy with a specialist. The client experience is key.”
The Desjardins representative’s fixation with personalization comes from an honest place. Twenty years ago, the former Nissan dealership manager underwent a life-changing experience, one that created a bend in his career path. “My house burnt down when my oldest daughter was 6 months old,” the devoted family man recounts. “I had purchased my home insurance through my dad’s broker––who I had never met. I did it without really looking at the policy. I realized that I was way underinsured. I lost about $60,000. The customer service experience throughout the process was horrible––the broker never even called me!
“But the adjuster was impressed with the way I negotiated the claim. He told me I’d have a lot of success in the insurance industry. I had always wanted to open my own business, so when the opportunity arose, I jumped ship from sales to insurance.”
In 2007, Carruthers opened his first office in Orleans, predicating his modus operandi on solidifying the connection between client and agent. Part of his motivation was the proliferation of automated, online insurance agencies, anonymous entities that push prospective purchasers to procure “one-size-fits-all” policies.
“Insurance shouldn’t be a faceless business,” Carruthers maintains—hence his use of technology to further the personal experience. “When a client signs on with us, they’ve got a point of contact that they can call or email anytime, along with my own contact information.”
After opening his initial location in Orleans, Carruthers expanded to the city’s West End, setting up shop at Carling and Kirkwood. “The opening of our second location at Carling and Kirkwood in Ottawa was a career highlight,” he beams. “I was one of maybe six agents in Canada that was able to open a second location.” And probably the only one to set up a third in the guise of a coffee shop, back in the neck of the woods where his insurance career began.
“In 2019,” he recounts, segueing to his pseudo-Starbucks, “we ran out of space. I actually had to give up my own physical office to one of our team members. I realized there were two ways I could go: I could just take my foot off the pedal and let things ride and not really look to grow the business anymore, or I could continue to push forward and work to further my vision. So, we took on the project to expand in order to hire more agents. Our new 3500 square foot office is now operating with 12 new team members. Back in 2016, we were a team of 5, so in just a few short years, we’ve doubled our staff––and we hope to add another 6 team members in the next three years. We take more of an ‘overstaffed’ approach, so that we’re never over-promising and under-delivering.”
So, come for the coffee, stay for the policy—or is it the other way around?
“It’s a really cool concept. We cater to clients that want to come in, have a coffee, and discuss their insurance policy options with a real person. This new office has allowed us to further that mission and continue to improve the client experience. What I tell prospective and current clients is, while we’re competitive rate-wise, what you get with us is the same as going to Starbucks over Tim Hortons. When you come into the office, we know your name, and the music, the ambiance, the lighting––everything has been made to invite you in, and give you a personalized, comfortable experience. This isn’t a Tim Hortons drive-thru, which feels like an assembly line––here, there’s a genuine connection.”
Kevin Carruthers—the insurance broker who’s changing the policy-buying process, one cup of coffee at a time.
By Dan Lalande
Photography by Sean Sisk