Wells Fargo Insurance Buys UIS


    GRAND RAPIDS — Wells Fargo Insurance Services Inc. confirmed Thursday that it is purchasing Universal Insurance Services Inc., a closely held and independent regional insurance agency founded in Grand Rapids in 1982.

    Ellen Sievert, national director of corporate communications for Wells Fargo Insurance Services Inc., said Universal Insurance Services staff will continue serving clients from Universal’s present location at 648 Monroe Ave. NW. Current President and Managing Partner William Rothwell will take over as Wells Fargo Insurance Services managing director for the state of Michigan.

    Universal offers business, personal, and employee benefit insurance services and is also a third-party administrator that provides marketing, sales and policyholder services for associations throughout the United States and Canada. Universal will eventually be renamed Wells Fargo Insurance Services, but it will maintain all the insurance lines it presently offers, plus add some new Wells Fargo offerings to the mix.

    Wells Fargo Insurance Services is the fifth-largest insurance brokerage and the largest bank-owned insurance brokerage in the United States, with more than 150 offices in 38 states. The company employs 4,500 insurance professionals who have expertise in property, casualty, benefits, international, personal lines and life products.

    Teaming with Wells Fargo Insurance enables Universal to align resources with a “first-class organization” and to offer its clients a more robust suite of products and services, Rothwell said. Universal’s insurance and risk management resources will be expanded, as well. He said the collective goal is for Wells Fargo Insurance Services to grow its presence in Michigan

    Rothwell said that for a half-dozen years or so, Universal has been seeking a partner that could take the company to the next level, and Wells Fargo was a very attractive candidate for the job. He said there were financial barriers to keeping Universal locally controlled and locally held.

    “We looked at options as to how we were going to continue Universal beyond where we are right now. The best move for the owners, the staff and our clients was a partnership,” Rothwell explained “When you’re our size, you need to be able to perpetuate the organization. We have some great young staff members, and we need to make certain there is a definite future career track for them.”

    Dan Goldapp, regional managing director of Wells Fargo Insurance’s Midwest region said Universal Insurance Services and Wells Fargo Insurance Services share a similar operating philosophy and culture. He referred to Universal as an “outstanding” agency with a highly respected team of insurance professionals.

    “They will strengthen our presence in Michigan and further support Wells Fargo Insurance Services and the Wells Fargo commitment to help our customers succeed financially,” Goldapp commented. “Universal Insurance Services is a blue chip organization. We have kept in contact with them over the years, which culminated in this acquisition.”

    Universal will now have international capabilities that it didn’t have before, Rothwell said. It will also become part of Wells Fargo Insurance 150 office network. Rothwell noted that a lot of Universal’s clients have diversified into other areas. The hook up with Wells Fargo gives the company a footprint that is much broader than West Michigan

    Universal CFO Mike Wanroy said Universal’s 115 staff members are “excited” about the acquisition and what it will mean for them in the long run. They believe the change is a huge opportunity for themselves and for the company to move forward, he said. Clients who knew about the impending acquisition fully supported it, as well, and understood it was a move forward and upward for Universal.

    “We’ve already reached out to many of our clients, and they totally embrace the concept; they love the partnership between ourselves and Wells Fargo,” Wanroy said.

    The local Wells Fargo Commercial Banking office embraces the concept, too.

    “To the public and the business community at large, we’re still seen as a little starter office; our competitors always say we’re not serious,” said regional vice president Don VanDine. “Well, we have another 115 employees in West Michigan now. That makes us a 250 employee organization in Michigan, and that is not inconsequential.”

    The arrival of Wells Fargo Insurance Services in this market adds legitimacy to Wells Fargo Commercial’s prior stated claims that Wells Fargo is very serious about expanding in West Michigan, VanDine said. The bank’s commercial arm is in partnership with all Wells Fargo business lines, be it the real estate, personal wealth management, private bankers or home mortgage division, he said.

    “Now, with the experience and local connections of Universal’s staff, there will be more people are out there representing Wells Fargo, and that’s a huge help to us,” he added. “We all refer business to each other and, certainly, our clients need insurance.”   

    Wells Fargo Commercial Banking opened offices in McKayTowers nearly four years ago and started operations with just three people in commercial banking and one in commercial real estate. It started with 1,500 square feet of space but has grown to occupy  a whole floor of the building — 9,000 square feet — and has a lease option on another floor to accommodate future growth. The local commercial banking office now has 26 people on staff, eight in the commercial banking division, four in the real estate division, and 10 in the wealth management division.

    “To the extent that we have resources on the ground and we hire local people with local relationships, our office is going to flourish,” VanDine said. “As an organization, we’re committed to growing in West Michigan.”

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