A Closer Look: Dan Pitcher
CEO, FBL Financial Group Inc.
Dan Pitcher became CEO and director of FBL Financial Group on Jan. 1, succeeding Jim Brannen, who retired in early 2020. Pitcher, who had been chief operating officer for property casualty companies with FBL since 2011, joined the company in 1998. He started out on the information systems side of the company and then moved to the operations side of the business around 2005. FBL’s chairman, Craig Hill, said Pitcher is “a proven FBL leader who brings strong operational experience and a commitment to the Farm Bureau niche marketplace and our multiline exclusive agents.” Before working for FBL, Pitcher spent 14 years with Nationwide/Allied Insurance. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Drake University, and the Fellow, Life Management Institute (FLMI) certification. He currently serves on the board of United Way of Central Iowa. On nice weekends, you might spot him on a country highway riding his Harley motorcycle, or along the shore of a lake with a fishing rod in his hands.
What grabbed your interest in working in the insurance industry?
A lot of people don’t go to college thinking they’re going to work in the insurance industry, but I learned a lot about it out here. And at the time I was doing the internship, of course, graduating from Drake in Des Moines, there were a lot of insurance jobs available. I’m not sure I fully knew at that time I was going to have a full career in insurance, but obviously it ended up that way.
Did you go the actuary route?
I actually went to business school, but I started out my career in information systems. Back in the 1980s there were a lot of jobs and it was a really good job market for an information systems position, so I started out that way. My entire career at Allied/Nationwide was in information systems and I came [here] in information systems and was the information systems vice president at Farm Bureau before I moved over to the business role, which would be about 15 years ago.
Information systems can be a big headache for a lot of insurance companies.
You have to manage it well. Insurance companies and banks have historically been mainframe-based for years. So the transition from that into more modern distributed platform systems has been a challenge for some. We’ve done pretty well and I feel good about where we’re at. We’ve taken a very pragmatic approach over time and it’s served us pretty well. There will always be more to do. As soon as we put something new in, it’s going to be legacy at some point anyway. But our transitions have gone pretty well.
How has FBL’s involvement with the Global Insurance Accelerator been beneficial?
It’s an interesting experience to go from our companies — one that is 80 years old and the other 75 years old and both brick-and-mortar — and to sit down with somebody that might be one or two employees and they’re more worried about their next 30 days than the next 10 years. We’ve learned a lot about different ways people are thinking about our business in ways that we probably wouldn’t think about it. Honestly, some of them are good ideas and some of them aren’t. I think with innovation, more of those startup companies failed than succeeded, but it is different thinking and you get exposed to that. … We’ve had a number of people go down there and meet with them and you get a lot of different ideas. We’ve had some of them come out here and demo their solutions to the life company or the property-casualty company.
Have you had any success stories yet with adopting technology from one of those?
I don’t think any of them have made it into our production environment yet, but we’ve had one of them that’s been out here a couple times that we’ve talked to. It’s not ready for prime time yet, but there are several of them where you can see how they would fit in. There was one that I talked to and it was about in-home testing, which is a big deal right now. In fact, our company was being contacted about the ability to potentially administer COVID-19 tests at home. And one of the challenges they have with this virus is they don’t want you going to the clinic and be sitting in the waiting room.
There’s quite a bit of innovation in auto insurance; anything that Farm Bureau may be rolling out in the next year or two?
Nothing right on the horizon. We jumped in pretty early on usage-based insurance and telematics, and we’re always looking to upgrade that solution because we have a device-dependent solution, which requires you to plug it into the car. We’re doing some testing of a handheld solution, but there’s some work to do on that. We’ve collected over 400 million miles of driving data, which is valuable to us but on a go-forward basis, you have to think about when the technology of these automated vehicles is going to start decreasing the frequency and severity of auto accidents. Now we know it’s going to happen, but nobody knows when. When that happens, premiums are going to start coming down and that’ll put some pressure on carriers on the expense side. That is going to be a big wave and a big impact on auto carriers.
Are there any other trends that you’re keeping an eye on?
We write a lot of different lines of business — life and property-casualty — but our focus on the property-casualty side is farm and agriculture, so we’re always looking to advance the solutions we offer there. Like many, we’re doing a lot of piloting with drones, both from a claims perspective and from an agriculture underwriting perspective, the ability to take drones out to the farms, which are now often spread out over large areas, and map building locations and measure the size of buildings, which we used to have to do with a tape measure. A lot of things are going on in the ag area in particular. There’s a lot of the home automation, with the whole area of sensors like the Nest doorbell and temperature sensors.
Are there some examples of how Farm Bureau is using home automation devices?
Those [sensors] are finding opportunities in Arizona, for example. Arizona is one of the states we write in, and they do a lot with water sensors there, whether it’s the swimming pool pumps, the plant watering systems. We have a lot of water loss claims there. They don’t have basements, so their water heaters are on a higher level than what we’re used to here in the Midwest. They’re getting to the point where the sensors would send an alarm to your phone or to your security system. There are new ones now that actually will shut water valves off. … I think there’ll be some value in that and lower mitigation costs and total loss costs in the future.
How would you describe the company culture, and how do you see yourself continuing to lead that?
It’s a career culture here. We have a lot of long-tenured employees. As I talk to folks from other companies, they just can’t believe how our retention is and how many 25-year-plus employees we have here. The history of the Farm Bureau, it’s a family-oriented benefits structure and it’s a campus format at our main office. Our purpose is to protect livelihoods and futures, and we keep that in front of our employees all the time. That’s what we do. It’s important that everybody is reminded of that every day. The company has been here a long time and that culture has built up over a period of time. The roots are our agriculture in the Midwest, and you can feel that in the culture a little bit in the small towns around us where a lot of our employees come from and where many of our customers live today.
What are some goals you have in your position over this next year?
I wasn’t the only one in a new role this year. We did have a bit of turnover of leadership here and I’ve had to fill a few positions, so that was an important part of this year. Our chief investment officer recently announced his intent to retire at midyear, so I’ll be working on that. I was an internal candidate [for CEO], which is a bit of a signal from the board that they weren’t looking for some significant shift in strategy. So it’s a lot about refinement and it’s a lot about continuing to advance the financial strength and abilities of the company.
FBL is halfway through a campuswide renovation. What are some broad themes of the renovation?
Other than energy efficiency and updating to modern lighting and heating and cooling, it’s a lot about letting light in. So no more solid walls anymore; they’re either glass all the way and frosted at the bottom or there are three or four feet of glass at the top and more open workspaces. And then a lot more unstructured meeting spaces where employees can get together as opposed to the old days of scheduling conference rooms. And then of course everything has been upgraded. They’re literally stripping it down to the concrete and the steel as they go through this. It’s a multiyear effort.
What sorts of hobbies do you enjoy?
I have a cabin down in northern Missouri on a small lake, so one of my big summer hobbies is going down there on the weekends to fish a lot. I spend a lot of time on a Harley, too. I’ve ridden motorcycles ever since high school. I’ve had a Harley for many years. I go to a rally every once in a while. I say I “go to Sturgis,” but I “kind of” go to Sturgis. I go before it starts and I go to Deadwood, not to Sturgis. I do enjoy riding in the Black Hills — it’s beautiful out there. I’m kind of a jazz nut; I’m not a TV person, so I listen to a lot of music. I played saxophone for a long time, up until maybe seven or eight years ago.