The former chief executive at Brighton-based First Niagara Risk Management Inc. is now co-owner of a Buffalo-area insurance consulting firm that plans to open a Rochester office within two months.
Joseph Teresi became co-owner and partner at Commercial Insurance Consultants Inc. in Williamsville on May 28 after leaving First Niagara in early January. He had been CEO at the insurance subsidiary of First Niagara Financial Group Inc. since September 2006.
First Niagara announced this week that Kirk Jensen will be the new managing director of its risk management business and a senior executive. Jensen has been senior vice president of business development at William Gallagher Associates Insurance Brokers Inc. in Boston since 2005.
No decision has been made on where Jensen will be based when he joins First Niagara later this month, company officials said this week. The delay suggests the possibility that Jensen will join other First Niagara executives at the Buffalo headquarters.
Teresi, a Brighton resident, had engineered an expansion of First Niagara's insurance brokerage business that mirrored the bank's expansion into Pennsylvania and southern New England.
He left First Niagara because of philosophical differences with corporate executives.
"It was just a difference in vision," Teresi said this week. "I really was pushing more of a wholly owned subsidiary mode. I thought the insurance agency should be a subsidiary of the bank.
"They were looking to have it much more integrated into the broader organization. I think they were getting frustrated and I was getting frustrated. They decided that it was time to maybe go in a different direction."
Michael Strakhov, director of field operations under Teresi at First Niagara, had been interim managing director since Teresi's departure. Strakhov is leaving the company to become branch vice president at CNA Insurance Cos. in Columbus, Ohio, First Niagara officials said.
First Niagara Risk Management's headquarters is on Canal View Boulevard, formerly home to Hatch Leonard Naples Inc. First Niagara acquired Hatch Leonard Naples in 2005.
First Niagara Risk Management was the largest commercial insurance firm in the Rochester market for five years after acquiring Hatch Leonard Naples. It is second on the Rochester Business Journal's 2012 list of commercial insurance firms with 97 employees, behind Paychex Insurance Agency Inc. with 510.
"They own the business," Teresi said of First Niagara and its risk management unit. "It's their decision what they want to do with it. If they didn't think I was the right guy to bring it to the level of integration that they were looking for, I fully respect that decision."
Jensen led the formation of William Gallagher Associates' energy and clean technology industry practice and redeveloped the company's risk management practice, First Niagara officials said. He previously worked with Marsh & McLennan Cos. and predecessor Johnson & Higgins for 19 years.
First Niagara Risk Management entered Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with three purchases in the second half of 2010 and Connecticut in April 2011.
"I've got nothing but the best wishes for that organization," Teresi said. "I have a lot of friends there and, frankly, a lot of the growth there was accomplished through acquisitions that I did.
"I feel like I still have a very deep connection with that organization."
Teresi, a Buffalo native, came to First Niagara after 17 years at Chubb Corp., the last four as branch manager of the Rochester office.
"With banks that are in the insurance brokerage business, the $64,000 question has always been, 'What's the right level of integration?'" he said.
"My opinion is there are very different cultures between an insurance organization and a bank. I always thought the right balance was close alignment rather than actual integration."
An insurance firm should have its own human resources, information technology and marketing, Teresi said.
"All the support groups should support me as if I'm an insurance agency," he said. "The bank's view is that it all should be one platform."
That view became more entrenched in the last two years as First Niagara incorporated insurance acquisitions to complement its bank acquisitions, Teresi said.
"I think there was a feeling that we've got to get the infrastructure built here for the 5,000-person organization we've become," he said. "My opinion is that there wasn't as much patience or tolerance to hear what the differences were in insurance."
Jensen and First Niagara executives were not available to comment this week, company representatives said.
The risk management segment includes 100 employees in the Rochester market and 390 workers at 14 offices in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, bank officials say. First Niagara Financial Group employs 6,000 people.
Teresi decided to become part-owner of Commercial Insurance Consultants after considering opportunities with insurance brokerages and agencies, he said.
"I was intrigued by the consulting model because it's the closest thing I see to being a true client advocate," Teresi said.
CIC, founded in 1977, serves commercial, municipal and lending entities. It employs 13 people, including 11 in Williamsville.
"We can be their outsourced risk manager and help them buy their insurance more intelligently," Teresi said. "With my background, I know how to evaluate the best brokers. I know how to evaluate the best carriers.
"And we're really anxious to build this thing from what it is right now to a multiple of what it is, both through acquisitions and through organic growth."
CIC targets middle-market commercial businesses.
"If they don't have a full-time risk manager on staff, we will take that place and be the outsourced risk manager and help make their insurance purchase more strategic," Teresi said.
Teresi co-owns the business with Timothy McMullen, its president since buying the firm in 1989. He was director of marketing and sales from 1983 to 1989.
In addition to its Williamsville headquarters, the firm has office space in New York City and in South Carolina. Teresi wants to have the Rochester office operating by Aug. 1.
"We're in the process of looking at space and looking at employees," he said. "We have a bunch of clients in Rochester already. We don't have a final space picked out, but that's going to be a short-term goal."
The local office likely will have three employees initially, including Teresi, who will split his time between Rochester and Buffalo.
"We have three or four large clients in Texas, so we're looking at a Dallas office," he said. "The idea is to perfect the model here in Buffalo and then open client relationship offices closer to the clients and support them from a centralized infrastructure here in Buffalo.
"Our goal is to build the largest independent consulting firm in the country."
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