Michael J Bowler

My Insurance Career

I had a wonderful insurance career, while it lasted.

I began as a trainee, working days and attending college at night and ended my direct career as the chairman, president and CEO of a multiple line, property and casualty insurance company. Early in my career two paid claims and one uninsured loss instilled in me the understanding of how important insurance is. I made hundreds of friends who, like me, see the insurance industry as an industry that does what it promises. It protects the lives and fortunes of its customers as well as the economy. My career was quite successful for over 25 years. Much of my expertise in the insurance industry is the basis for developing a plan to replace Obamacare; it was developed from my failures as well as my successes.


Highlights of my business and insurance education, training, and experience:

  • Bachelor of Commercial Science degree (1973), Loyola University of New Orleans
    • Major – marketing
    • Undeclared minors – economics, management and accounting
  • Underwriting certification (1970), commercial property and casualty – Employers Commercial Union Insurance Company, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Paralegal certification, Blackstone School of Law, Dallas, Texas
  • Past president of Louisiana Surplus Lines Association
  • National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Associations (NAPSLO) – Coverall Underwriters of Louisiana, Inc. – charter member
  • Louisiana Insurance Education Advisory Council – past chairman and member
  • Insurance industry career – 30+ years
  • Wholesale insurance industry management – 21 years
  • Property and casualty insurance company management – 5 years
  • Author of three successful public and private placement offering documents
  • Author of numerous business and marketing plans
  • Negotiated numerous reinsurance treaties and facultative agreements

The early years, 1968 – 1974

My insurance career started by accident. In 1968, at the end of my second year of college, I stepped on a broken bottle while swimming in the bayou near campus. The wound was serious. As a result, when I returned home at the end of the semester, I was unable to work at any job unless I could sit to do the job.

At age 20, my father got me a temporary position as a rater/underwriter trainee with the surplus lines brokerage company where he was employed. Gray and Company had three underwriting producing units: substandard private passenger auto, excess and surplus casualty, and management of self-insured programs for workers’ compensation, general liability and auto liability, including claims adjusting and safety engineering services for its self-insured accounts.

As executive vice president, my father was in charge of all production and underwriting the self-insured accounts. As such, he not only produced the business through marketing visits to producing agents and their potential insureds but he also loss-rated each risk. Using a minimum of five years of specific claims data, he would develop all losses to their ultimate cost and then price the coverage premium to include the expected losses given inflation and other costs. Thus, one of the first underwriting tasks that I was taught was loss-rating self-insurance.

At summer’s end, I accepted a full-time position with Gray that offered training in all disciplines of the business with short stints in all departments, underwriting, marketing, claims, safety, auditing and accounting. I worked full-time and continued college at night at Loyola University.

By the end of the first year, I was managing the small auto department of four. My role included hand writing all policy samples for typing, new and renewal quotes, training the typists and agents on policy issuing and rating, managing premium finance contracts and post underwriting from motor vehicle reports (driving records) and inspection reports.

In June 1969, I became a field rep for the summer months selling both the private passenger auto program and our direct commercial surplus lines casualty programs, a position I repeated for the next three summers.

In the fall 1970, I attended underwriting school at the Employers Commercial Union in Boston. This course covered all lines of commercial lines underwriting. It did not cover personal lines.

After three years in Gray’s underwriting department, I moved into the claims department adjusting general liability (including oil & gas contractual, action-over), workers’ compensation (statutory, USL&HW and Federal Maritime – Jones Act), auto liability and professional liability claims. During my last year with the company, I also provided safety engineering inspections and classes as well as payroll and revenue audits.

Thus, during my first six and half years in the insurance industry I worked as a property and casualty underwriter, field rep, claims adjuster, safety engineer and auditor. When I discontinued my employment with Gray, I had completed training in all intended departments except accounting.

1974 – 1980, Coverall & The Risk Exchange

In mid-1974, I accepted a position as a combined commercial property and casualty underwriter and field rep with Coverall Underwriters of Louisiana, Inc. (Coverall), a subsidiary of Coverall Underwriters, Inc. of Miami, Florida. This company was a surplus lines insurance broker that primarily underwrote substandard private passenger auto. About ten percent (10%) of its revenue was from commercial lines property and casualty. The premium income of the business was less than $1 million. My role was to increase the agency’s commercial lines business.

At the end of my first year with Coverall in August, 1975 the local manager passed away unexpectedly. At the time, the business had nine employees, and I learned that not only was the business losing money, it had, in fact, a negative net worth of over $500,000. As I was the only person in the New Orleans office with an insurance license, I negotiated an employment agreement that included being promoted to Executive Vice President and general manager and obtained 25% ownership.

Immediately, we began replacing unqualified employees with well-seasoned insurance professionals, discontinue writing private passenger auto, concentrating on commercial lines only. The business made profits in each of the next four years and by 1979 had a positive net worth of over $100,000.

In late 1979, along with three employees, we purchased the remaining 75% ownership of the outstanding shares. I became the majority shareholder and the name was ultimately changed to The Risk Exchange, Inc.

By 1980, the company had fifteen employees with premium income of over $8 million and commission and fee income of over $1 million. We managed programs for or had open underwriting contracts with three major surplus lines insurance companies, Canal Insurance Company, Western World Insurance Company and General Agents Insurance Company, Underwriters at Lloyds, London and the National Union Fire Insurance Company.

The role of surplus lines brokers in the insurance marketplace is to design policy coverage forms for new emerging exposures that occur from the dynamics of economic activity (e.g. changes in laws, unexpected court decisions, emerging technologies, etc.) and find insurance and reinsurance companies to insure those risks. Just like finding the solution for health insurance in America today.

1980 – 1984, The Risk Exchange

Between 1980 and 1985, the business grew well. I designed an excess employers’ liability insurance program for coverage above the $25,000 limit insured by the Louisiana assigned risk workers comp pool. My rates were based on an algorithm of workers’ comp rates and increased using the 1949 maritime increased limits factors. The program was successfully underwritten by Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London from 1979 until 1993 when The Risk Exchange was sold. Additionally, I designed and priced a primary general liability program focused upon the contractual action-over liability requirements of offshore oil and gas producers and negotiated a managing general agency contract the National Union. By 1984, premium writings of Risk Exchange were $27 million (over $200 million in 2017) with $15 million in oil and gas general liability and workers’ compensation premium in the National Union and $12 million of all other typical surplus lines property and casualty risks spread equally among all of the carriers. Our commission, fee and contingency commission income exceeded $3 million ($7.2 million in 2017 dollars).

1985, Pelican State Mutual Insurance Company

This year was a watershed year in my career. It was also the year that saw cascading disasters for the insurance industry where companies worldwide would discontinue writing premium by year end. [1]

We had prepared for forming an insurance company, even having purchased a computer system capable of developing Schedules O & P of the required statutory financial statements, schedules that identified loss reserve development. We had a staff of over 60 employees in all areas of the insurance industry except a claims adjusting staff. So, in August, 1985, we formed Pelican State Mutual Insurance Company.

While we understood that, as a management team, we had all the talent and experience needed to manage a successful insurance risk assuming carrier, we failed to realize that we were ill prepared for the political climate of in a highly politicized state in a highly politicized and regulated industry.

1986 – 1990, Pelican and The Risk Exchange

As 1986 progressed, our insurance company was growing as we had expected. Within a year we appointed 30 local insurance agencies and would ultimately have 125 agents throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. We were developing more of a standard lines insurance company while The Risk Exchange continued to manage programs for surplus lines carriers.

1991 – 1995, the later years of direct involvement in insurance

In 1991, the ultimate successful candidate for Louisiana Insurance Commissioner announced that when elected he intended to close 22 domestic insurance companies, most of the small domestic insurance companies of Louisiana. He closed approximately 27 insurance companies over the next four years.

In May 1992, Pelican was seized by the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner, placed into rehabilitation and ultimately liquidated. By early 1995, all portions of The Risk Exchange, the various books of its business were sold to several surplus lines brokers in Louisiana. Both businesses were then closed, and I would have no direct involvement in the industry again.

2001 – Present

In mid-2002, I set up a business consulting practice that would ultimately provide marketing services to Volvo CE, compliance reviews to the US Department of Agriculture SNAP (Food Stamp) program through an independent vendor, countless business and marketing plans for auto and motorcycle dealerships, specific credit union services sales, business and brand sales, mergers and acquisitions, management of contract disputes, management of the formation of newly created service departments, risk management projects, etc. Today, my interests are primarily developing and writing business and marketing plans.

[1] See Time Magazine, Sorry, America, Your Insurance Has Been Cancelled, March 24, 1986.