2017 Indiana 100: Smith talks customers, the coliseum and Garfield

June 17, 2017

CEO Kimberly Smith says naming the coliseum has doubled the firm’s brand awareness. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Kimberly Smith, 61, was born, raised and educated a Hoosier. So, she says it only makes sense that she runs a company—Indiana Farmers Mutual Insurance Co.—that does business solely in Indiana.

After graduating from Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis in 1980, Smith took a job as a claims attorney, learning the ins and outs of property and casualty insurance. She has since spent 37 years in the industry and has been with Indiana Farmers since 2000. 

Shortly after you became CEO in 2014, you said the company was redefining itself and growing. How has it been redefined?

We really started out four to five years ago and created a new vision for our company to be the smart insurance choice from the customer’s perspective. We realized that we needed to be focusing on what our policyholders, what our customers, are wanting.

We have an entire Voice of the Customer Department now. We have client advocates that talk with our customers. We are surveying our policyholders.

We feel like, if we do those things well, if we’re meeting the needs of the customer ... then good things will happen. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing. We’ve grown our written premiums over 30 percent in the last four years. Our assets have grown over 40 percent in that same time frame, to over $430 million.

In late 2014, the company put its name on the state fairgrounds coliseum under a 10-year, $6 million deal to promote the brand, which was huge for the company. How do you feel that’s working so far?

In hindsight, it’s been absolutely fantastic. Several years ago, we entered an agreement with Paws Inc. and began utilizing Garfield [the cartoon cat] as kind of a symbol, which kind of started this new direction in the brand awareness and marketing area for us. Shortly thereafter, we decided to take on the naming rights for the coliseum. And again, that was quite different for us. We just think it’s worked out beautifully. [A recent survey] has shown that our brand awareness has doubled in the state of Indiana.

Why the decision in 2012 to use Garfield as the company’s mascot? Why have a mascot at all?

Maybe that was kind of my first thought: “Do we really need this?” We’re a company that, at that point, had been around 135 years. But as we talked through it and started doing some analysis, we kind of came away, “Yeah, maybe we do.” And now we’re just ecstatic with it.

Even just little things—for example, our claims folks ... they have little stuffed animals, Garfields and Odies, in their company vehicles. Whenever they’re dealing with an insurer that may have had a house fire, for example, and they have little children, just being able to—this may sound kind of hokey—but to be able to hand the children a little stuffed animal that represents our company, things like that, they make a difference.

What’s it like trying to implement changes at a company that must have traditional ways of doing things?

It’s exhilarating. I don’t want to say by any means that it’s been easy to effectuate the change but I think it all has to do with why you’re effectuating change.

Rolling the change out from this new vision, which is all about the policyholder, the customer, that has given all of us kind of that reason to grab ahold of the change and accept the change. As long we’re all going in the same direction for the same purpose—and that’s the policyholder—then people are on board.•

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