When Jack Cussen retired in January 2000, he did not expect retirements charms to pale as quickly as they did, though for a while it was good to be able to spend more time on the golf course at his home in northern New Jersey.
So he went back to work 12 months later, taking on the job of building a property/casualty insurance business for OceanFirst Service Corp., the investment, retail investment, and insurance arm Toms River, N.J.-based OceanFirst Financial Corp.
I needed to get back into the game, the 63-year-old Mr. Cussen said in an interview last week. I enjoy what I do, I enjoy working with people, and I also noticed that on the golf course I was standing too close to the ball after I hit it.
The executive vice president of OceanFirst Service has his work cut out for him, but he is no stranger to this task: It was under Mr. Cussens nine-year stewardship that Summit Bancorps Summit Insurance Advisors unit blossomed into what is now New Jerseys largest insurance agency. Now hes ready to do it again.
There are going to some challenges doing this with a smaller bank, building up the insurance operations, he said. But its going to be wonderful to start from scratch. And at smaller banks well spend less time at meetings and dealing with bureaucracy. Also, when I call someone internally, therell actually be a human being on the other end. Its very comfortable.
But of course, Its not going to be easy, he added. You miss the suite of products thats usually already in place at a larger bank.
OceanFirst Financial, the holding company for $1.6 billion-asset OceanFirst Bank, has been selling mutual funds and fixed and variable annuities for three years and has even sold some life insurance the past two years. But it has never sold property and casualty, and it does not own an insurance agency yet.
Mr. Cussen is taking the acquisition route, and his immediate plan is for OceanFirst to buy a property/casualty agency.
I believe that its the only real way to get into the property and casualty business, he said.
And it is the way Summit entered property/casualty, though Mr. Cussen said he will do some things differently this time. For instance, OceanFirst has no designs on buying a life/health outfit.
At Summit we went that route and I dont think thats necessary, Mr. Cussen said. Im more open to a joint venture with an agency, as long as we own the business. Its reasonable that you can enter this side of insurance without buying an agency.
Michael Fitzpatrick, chief financial officer of OceanFirst Financial, noted that the bank has a large mortgage portfolio, so offering homeowners insurance is a cross-selling natural for a property and casualty agency, he said.
Mr. Cussen said the ideal acquisition candidate is a small agency selling personal and commercial lines, with two to four agents and revenue of $750,000 to $2 million.
We have 14 branches, and they are all within 30 to 40 minutes of each other, he said. So an agency of this size would fit well.
Another plan Mr. Cussen has is to beef up OceanFirsts life insurance sales by direct marketing, though he has not decided which lines the bank will sell. Term life is on the radar screen well decide in the coming months.