The best of both worlds

This story has been almost eight decades in the making. At its heart lies a rock-solid reputation and a philosophy which puts service quality and customer needs first. It is this philosophy that makes Frank Crystal & Company a pillar of the American insurance brokerage industry.

The best of both worlds
"We’re big enough to provide the best possible service to clients with complex needs, but we’re not so big as to forget our customers should get all the attention they deserve.” So Frank Crystal & Company, one of the largest insurance brokers in the United States and the life’s work of three generations of Crystals, strikes a balance between these two poles.

The firm was established 78 years ago by Frank Crystal, whose son Jim Crystal, current chairman and CEO, proved a relentless leader when it came to making Frank Crystal & Company a major American company. Sons Jamie, Sandy, and Jonathan, each joined the firm more than a decade ago and are leading the company into the next generation, with an executive team that also includes industry veterans, John Smith and Ed Kiessling.

Frank Crystal & Company is the largest privately– -held, brokerage in the United States. The path has been slow and steady, and the Crystal family is proud of what they’ve built, willing to work hard and improve as they go, eventually to hand their legacy over to coming generations.

It all began in 1933, as the effects of the Great Depression weighed down the country. Wall Street was showing signs of recovery and founder Frank Crystal was challenged to strike out on his own and build an independent insurance brokerage business.

Three years later, the firm was already the broker of one of the largest US mining companies. Soon after, it would expand its services to work with financial services companies. When Jim Crystal joined the company in 1959, the company was only comprised of three people: him, his father and a secretary. Since the beginning, Jim aspired to boost the company by growing its portfolio of Wall Street clients. Such clients would not only guarantee substantial premiums but also recommend Frank Crystal & Company to others of significant size and scope.

"The idea had always been to use the financial sector as a platform to build something bigger,” Jim Crystal reveals. The head of Frank Crystal & Company recalls that their first client, a stock market broker, was a bona fide baptism by fire, but it was also their gateway to several accounts that helped the company grow.

Only a month after taking on that client, a major claim took place. Frank Crystal & Company was able to secure full compensation within 30 days. Satisfaction with Jim’s work led to a number of recommendations. Word of mouth was a decisive factor when it came to building the reputation the Company owns to this day: "Frank Crystal & Company delivers on its promises”.

Freedom in being private

The Crystal family believes that being an entirely private company is one of their greatest assets. Free from the kind of pressure most of their competitors face — being forced to develop strategies that, more often than not, are convenient to stockholders but, in the rush to deliver immediate results, run contrary to their clients' best interests — Frank Crystal & Company knows full well why they exist and who they work for.

"Clients see us as part of their teams. They’re counting on us and our advice. That's a different approach from our competitors,” the firm’s chairman emphasizes. This freedom allows management to make its own decisions, focus on the long term, invest in people, technological tools and all the resources they need to support their clients and, ultimately, the company’s growth. Investments in technology go hand in hand with a focus on customers.

"The more effectively we use technology, the more time our colleagues have for their clients,” states Jonathan Crystal, who leads Private Client Services at Frank Crystal & Company. Sandy Crystal, head of the Financial Institutions Group, concurs. He points out that electronic files make it possible for all business units to access all the shared data on a client regardless of their geographical location or line of business:

"This makes us much more efficient. We’re a service company and technology makes us better and faster.” It brings more flexibility and efficiency, but also a competitive edge when it comes to driving a company whose strategic priority is to "be global,” as Jamie Crystal emphasizes. Jamie works extensively with many of Frank Crystal & Company’s larger client in several lines of business, such as manufacturing, retail, real estate, healthcare and non-profit organizations.

Clients come first

Handling in excess of $1 billion in premiums per year and posting revenues in excess of $100M is impressive, but a client retention rate of 96% is, no doubt, the feather in this New York company's cap, which now employs more than 400 people through offices in New York, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Palm Beach, Miami, Southampton, Philadelphia and Washington.

The company touts a simple explanation for this success: at Frank Crystal & Company customers "are more than just numbers,” Sandy Crystal avers, emphasizing that the company sees itself as a consultant and a provider of tailor-made solutions. "It is very important that we achieve in-depth knowledge of our clients’ business, their assets and exposures, but we also need to understand their degree of risk tolerance.

Only when we understand these aspects can we truly develop the best possible plan for them,” he explains. This close working relationship with their customers harkens to the fact that organization is flat —"without bureaucratic levels”— where every business area can access management, and management can access them. Both the decision-making process and customer interactions are thus rendered more flexible and dynamic.

"Unlike many broking firms, who send out a senior executive to meet a potential client and then hand the account to a junior executive, we see to it that clients are handled by experienced personnel on a daily basis,” states Sandy Crystal. "We get into the business model of our clients and develop tailored solutions that address risks from all sides,” said Ed Kiessling, executive vice president who joined the firm nearly six years ago having held senior leadership positions at a number of Frank Crystal’s competitors. "Clients view us as not only their insurance broker, but as their risk advisor.”

The right people at the right place

Investing in recruitment is a major focus for Frank Crystal & Company. "We try to hire not only the best but also the most proactive, as well as those who truly enjoy serving the customer,” Jim Crystal explains. That’s why communication skills are at the top of the list when it comes to hiring staff at Frank Crystal & Company, the company leader states.

"We are focused on attracting and retaining the top talent in our industry,” said John Smith, an industry veteran who brings nearly thirty years of experience to his role as executive vice president at Frank Crystal. "We set the bar high, and believe our employees are not only the best out there, but also one of our greatest assets. Our goal is to create an environment where our colleagues can spend as much time as possible advising clients.” But it's not enough to hire the best and expect them to thrive on their own.

Developing employee skills and making sure they achieve their full potential is a priority. "We feel it is important to hold regular conversations with our younger professionals about their skills and expectations. We’re not afraid of transferring people from one job or sector to a different one if we believe this will have a positive impact on their professional experience,” Jonathan Crystal explains.

Developing a career plan for younger employees is "beneficial to Frank Crystal & Company in the long run,” he adds. With clients in diverse lines of business, namely finance, aviation, healthcare, entertainment, real estate, technology or transportation, among others, the company has endeavored to hire and retain the best specialists in a number of fields, so they can always deliver the most optimal solution. "We see ourselves as service providers who ensure clients will get the best possible advisers. That is our obligation to them,” Jonathan Crystal declares.

Proud to belong to BrokersLink
Frank Crystal & Company serves customers all over the world. The company has accrued several decades of international experience and knows that this is a competitive advantage. This evolutionary path was natural to the company. First came the major banks and investment houses, then the aviation and satellite industries.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many North American companies started having operations abroad and became true multinationals. To Frank Crystal & Company, it was evident that they would have to develop international capabilities if they were to offer their customers the same quality service wherever the customers happened to be operating.

As a risk consultancy, the company knows that supply chain breakdown, for instance, is a foremost concern among industrial customers who operate internationally. Correctly identifying, assessing and anticipating these kinds of risk is only possible through in-depth understanding of the relevant businesses and markets.

Also crucial is to have local support which will provide top-notch service under any circumstances. This strategy gained increased robustness when Frank Crystal & Company joined BrokersLink, a global insurance alliance in which customer service is an equally significant part of the culture.

"BrokersLink is not just about products and services, it is about our shared passion — providing customers with the best possible service, with tenacity and management capabilities and, above all, the one invaluable thing we bring to the table: what I call an emotional commitment among all network partners and our customers,” says Jamie Crystal, who serves with the BrokersLink Board.

Jamie Crystal further emphasizes that the friendship and trust among network members is "something the competition cannot duplicate, because it’s not in their DNA.” Obviously, the client stands to gain the most. Given such alignment between values and practices among network members, clients will "get the same superior service experience,” wherever they happen to be.

Future continuity

Frank Crystal & Company intends to go on investing in people, customer relationships and the specialty areas the company masters, but it doesn't stop there. They would also like to further extend their capabilities into emergent risks, such as technology, information and climate change, without ever foregoing their core values.

To Jim Crystal, it is obvious that family management is a cornerstone of the company’s success. "Independence and continuity of ownership and management brings our clients and insurance partners a security that they will experience consistent culture, and values,” the chairman of Frank Crystal & Company states. Jim Crystal does not doubt for a moment that Frank Crystal & Company will always appreciate a challenge. "Being family-run has made us a success and it’s important for us to go on being who we are.”
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