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Church insurer thriving, to add 102 local jobs

Ministers from here to Houston are preaching the destructive powers of fire and flood.

But helping clients prepare to rebuild after such disasters has been good business for a local insurance company that caters to churches. Very good.

Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co. on Thursday announced plans to invest $15 million in a new office building and create 102 jobs within the next four years.

The local insurer will connect the 54,400-square-foot building to its existing headquarters on the city’s north side with a skywalk. Construction is scheduled to begin in April and be completed in March 2014.

The Fort Wayne-based company sells insurance policies to churches and related ministries to cover losses associated with property, liability, workers’ compensation, commercial auto and foreign travel.

The company, which employs almost 270 locally, added a payroll service for churches in late 2011.

Although the payroll division is growing, the insurer’s building plan is being fueled by its expansion into more Western states, spokeswoman Mitzi Thomas said. This year, the company entered Texas, a large market in the Bible Belt.

Brotherhood Mutual needs a bigger staff to service those additional policyholders, Thomas said.

Company officials considered opening a West Coast satellite office, where workers’ schedules would naturally align with customers’ hours, the spokeswoman said.

But after much discussion, they decided it would be cheaper to build here, where the cost of living is lower, and hire employees willing to work later shifts to account for time differences. Texas is one hour behind Indiana. California, another state where the company sells policies, is three hours behind.

The new office building will be on the 30-acre campus that Brotherhood Mutual owns at 6400 Brotherhood Way, near Interstate 69 and Coldwater Road.

Jobs are being added across the 95-year-old company, Thomas said. She didn’t have an estimate for wages, but existing local jobs pay more than $72,500, on average. Positions are being created in finance, underwriting, marketing and information technology. Hiring has already begun, Thomas said.

The city of Fort Wayne will consider phasing in property taxes on the project, potentially allowing the company to save about $1.8 million over 10 years. In addition, Brotherhood Mutual has been offered a seven-year, $1 million incentives packages by the Indiana Economic Development Corp., WorkOne Northeast and the city of Fort Wayne.

“Just as it’s important to attract new business, it’s also important to make sure Indiana maintains an environment that allows existing businesses to prosper,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a written statement.

This marks the company’s second substantial investment in less than five years.

In 2009, Brotherhood Mutual invested more than $5.2 million in a new customer service center building on its local campus. That project created 60 new jobs.

Formed as a mutual, the company is owned by its policyholders, who receive any dividends issued from profits. Companies that are publicly traded are owned by stockholders, who receive any dividends.

Brotherhood Mutual continues to have an excellent, or A, rating from A.M. Best Co. Inc., an independent insurance-rating and information agency. The insurer has “conservative operating strategy, underwriting discipline and management’s experience and extensive knowledge of its niche market,” A.M. Best wrote in its most recent analysis.

Like many companies, Brotherhood Mutual was shaken by the recession, however.

Most of the insurer’s customers are churches, and churches depend on donations from parishioners, Thomas said. When the flock’s pockets are empty, so are church coffers.

In the depths of the economic slowdown, the company struggled, reporting a $15.7 million loss for 2011, for example.

But times have changed as the recovery gains momentum and Brotherhood Mutual continues to grow.

“We’ve had a terrific year, and a lot of it comes from expansion out West,” Thomas said. “We wouldn’t be building if we didn’t have a good year.”

The company gained almost 15 percent in premiums in 2012 compared to 2011, based on preliminary numbers.

At a glance

Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co.
Business: Brotherhood Mutual sells insurance policies to more than 40,000 churches and related ministries in 43 states and the District of Columbia.
Headquarters: 6400 Brotherhood Way, Fort Wayne
Founded: 1917 in Grabill
Ownership: As a mutual, the company is owned by its policyholders
Employees: 315, including 266 locally
2012 premiums: $287 million (projected)
2012 net income: $8.7 million (projected)

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