What SWG Learned from 60 Years of Product and Service Innovation

Nov 2021

South Western Insurance Group (SWG) proudly celebrates 60 years in business this year, making it one of the country’s longest-standing and respected managing general agents (MGA). Also, in recognition of SWG’s achievement this year, the company was awarded the distinction of being a five-star MGA by Insurance Business Canada.


The team at SWG has been providing underwriting services since 1961. Six decades ago, the company was a one-person operation with one contract in Southwestern Ontario. Today, it is a thriving MGA that provides insurance solutions for a wide range of niche, program, and hard-to-place business types.


In the face of many challenges, SWG’s consistent focus on a few core principles has enabled it to remain an independent brand since its beginning. Yet nothing comes easily. Read on to learn what this MGA has learned in its long history.


What Makes a Five-Star Broker


Principle #1: Laser-focus on broker assistance

A recurring theme that runs through SWG’s journey is its laser focus on assisting brokers. Every decision the company makes revolves around bringing more value to its broker partners.


A case in point was the sale of South Western Insurance Group to Three Holdings Inc. in 2018. As a direct result of this acquisition, SWG gained expertise in allied health, life sciences, and senior care, complemented by SWG’s core capabilities in property and liability insurance. Having core products wrapped with specialty capabilities is proving to be a more sustainable model.


Principle #2: Be a change agent

For the first five decades, SWG’s core value proposition was its ability to deliver capacity and access to the insurance market, but now the business looks very different. Throughout the years, the domestic insurers in Canada have grown stronger. As a result, domestic insurers write a greater variety of risks in this highly competitive market with a surplus of insurance capital.


SWG’s leadership was critical to pivot in response to a changing market. President and CEO John Barclay has worked to revitalize and re-focus SWG since joining in 2013.


Barclay led SWG’s transition from a wholesale broker to a Managing General Underwriter (MGU) with the authority to underwrite specialty solutions within the company. This carefully weighed strategy took several years to implement. The ultimate goal is to provide quality products at a fair price with expert underwriters who can help win or retain accounts.


Principle #3: Adapt the product line to market changes

Given the economy’s volatility, SWG is highly diverse in its product line and a broad range of businesses, which has created a solid foundation to prosper, even with some specific challenges caused by the pandemic. When COVID-19 disrupted the market, the company lost business in some of its business segments, such as hospitality and small business accounts, but has thrived in others, such as those with high exposure to real estate, allied health, and professional liability. Few businesses have evaded the devastating fallout of the pandemic, but SWG has fared well thanks to the strength of its portfolio.


Principle #4: Remain digitally agile

Insurers are increasingly integrating their products into new digital ecosystems and driving innovation. As part of its commitment to helping brokers wherever and whenever they need it, SWG has also extensively remodelled its digital presence in recent years. To become digitally and automatically integrated, the firm has wholly rewired and re-platformed. But, of course, it’s not about technology for its own sake, but about providing long-term benefits to the broker channel.


Staying Innovative to Reach New Markets


Over time, capacity requirements change, domestic insurers can write risks internally, and their premiums rotate back to the standard market. That is why the most successful MGUs constantly expand into new sectors, industries, and capabilities. SWG is developing its innovative makeup and expanding its specialty capabilities to ensure its survival and success for years to come.


Over the next three or five years, Barclay hopes to double SWG’s premium under management. As part of its strategy, the company is onboarding more specialty talent and expanding its market segment and product capabilities throughout Canada. SWG will support all of this with a solid technology platform and stringent actuarial discipline.