Agency Information

  • Based in San Leandro, CA
  • Founded in 1938
  • 62% commercial lines, 22% personal lines,
    16% employee benefits
  • 40 Employees

John Johnson

John Johnson

“Partner Platform is focused on making our front-line people’s jobs easier…Anytime we run into an issue in the system, the team at SIS has been excellent about responding. I mean the turn-around time in responding to our questions – we could learn from them how to make our client support that good!

John Johnson’s team at McDermott Costa has focused on providing the best service to clients since day one. But, as the years went on, they saw their management system wasn’t keeping up with their level of service. They wanted a modern system that helped them improve their client communication and prospect marketing, among other factors, but they kept running into roadblocks and upcharges with their management system.

When one of our Partner Allies, Archway Computing, suggested John look into Partner Platform, John and the McDermott Costa team found what they were looking for: a modern system from a real partner focused on helping them better serve their clients.


Tell us about McDermott Costa – what makes you stand out in your industry?

McDermott Costa was founded in 1938, and we serve the East Bay area, primarily serving small businesses, providing insurance and employee benefits coverage. Though our clients are based in California, they operate throughout the country. We’re licensed in over 40 states to serve those various client entities.

We’ve always promoted our brand as McDermott-Costa, not any individual insurance carrier. We see ourselves as advocates for our clients, not only in placing insurance but also in claims handling, risk analysis, and beyond. Since we work with small companies, we fill many roles. Often, we’re more than just their insurance agent: we’re their psychologist, psychiatrist, accountant, attorney, CPA, and risk manager all rolled in one.


When did you start thinking about changing management system providers? What prompted this move?

We started our search about a year and a half before we made the move to Partner Platform. We were with one of the biggest management system providers at the time, but they weren’t keeping up with the times. We were frustrated because they didn’t offer some things that were important to our clients and to us. And I didn’t see them moving in that direction any time soon. We were also paying to download our data when we used third-party vendors for marketing, outreach, and analysis – it was just too much. The last straw was when we had to pay to enhance the system. I’d had enough and was ready to see if there was something better.


As an owner, what outcomes were you after in your search for a new agency management system?

First, we wanted a system that would do more for us. Our old system was more of an accounting and numbers machine and wasn’t focused on making our jobs easier or providing better service to our clients. So, I was looking for something user-friendly for our whole team: account managers, assistants, and producers. Our system had old architecture, so I was looking for something that mimicked Microsoft or Google, the modern tools everybody uses on a daily basis.

Second, we wanted a system that made it easier for us to serve our clients. Our old system was lagging on client communication and prospect marketing. We weren’t being heard. When we’d put in a request to make updates, it’d go in this huge system as a “policy modification request,” and you’d see it was number 948 or something, so you knew it wasn’t going to get much attention at that end. Then, when they came out with a component that was moving in the direction we wanted, it was a significant upcharge. We knew there had to be a better way.


How did you first hear about Partner Platform, and what were your impressions?

At first, Partner Platform wasn’t even on our radar. We were looking at four other vendors, two of which dropped out because we were too big for them. I found out about Partner Platform because we were also looking for a new IT vendor. Our current vendor was a big proponent of our old management system, and they weren’t helpful as we were looking for something new.

So, I came across Archway Computing and got to know (founder and owner) Brad Ruben. I told him we were looking for a new management system and who we had on the table. He said, “Have you thought of looking outside of those four? Let me put you in touch with someone else.” And that’s how we got to talking with Partner Platform.

My first impression was that they were pursuing us and not the other way around. It was nice to be acknowledged as a client they’d like to have. Not only did their sales team talk with us, but their IT team and even management also jumped in as well. That was impressive.


As you started to learn more about your options, what made Partner Platform stand out?

Two things stood out: the look and feel and the significant cost-savings. It’s modern technology, and it looks like it. And we knew there were plans to keep improving the technology, without raising the price.

That cost-savings meant a lot because we also needed to upgrade a lot of our hardware – computers and operating systems – so knowing we would have that savings meant we could divert it to those additional needs.


What did your team think about the system?

We had a team of five or so people as part of our management system search team. When we saw the Partner Platform demo, everyone liked it. It was an eye-opening experience.  Each system showed us what was out there and the potential we missed over the last 25 or 30 years with our old system. When we saw what these other systems could do, it made us say, “Why can’t ours do that?”

But, the decision to upgrade to Partner Platform came with a great deal of apprehension. Anytime you change a system, it’s a massive undertaking. We have 2,800 personal lines clients, 1,600 commercial lines, and another 600 in employee benefits, so it was a daunting task for everybody to get their heads around. It was a bit of a shock to the system, and I think some people were thinking, “We’re really going to move to a new system? What if it doesn’t work?”


What gave you confidence that you could make the move?

Once we’d seen what was out there in terms of capabilities and ease of use, we knew it would be worth it. Even if the data didn’t transition as smoothly as we wanted, we knew we couldn’t turn back. We saw the potential down the road. And, since we’re heavily automated, things like carrier downloads and even personal lines did much better than we expected. In the end, it was a leap of faith, but it was worth it.


You’ve been live on the system for a little over a year. Were you able to achieve those goals with Partner Platform?

It’s been excellent. We now have client information pop up immediately when they call, and the overall client communication abilities are precisely what we wanted. Partner Platform is focused on making our front-line people’s jobs easier. Grabbing information – that’s what got everybody on board. You can pullup a client and see their policies, key contacts, and cross-references all in one place. That was a deciding factor.

And, when we need help with the system or see a need for something more, the Partner Platform team has been incredible about helping us navigate the system and solving issues we’ve had with data and clients. Anytime we run into an issue in the system, the SIS team has been excellent about responding. I mean the turn-around time in responding to our questions – we could learn from them how to make our client support that good! That’s been a revelation. That service is the one thing you can’t judge or guess. You hope you’re making the right decision. It’s turned out even better than I expected.


What advice do you have for other agencies looking to upgrade their management system?

Known your business – your model and what you need- and make sure you find a system and provider that aligns with it. I think that’s what made it easier with Partner Platform – they showed how the system could work for our clients and us. When you find that, get over the hurdle of moving to a new system and look at the advantages you’ll experience.


Where do you think the insurance industry is going in the next 5-10 years? What will be the challenges and opportunities?

The carriers and avenues we currently do business with are changing rapidly. Some carriers are in a retreat of appetite, prices are rising, and some coverages are getting extremely difficult to get for our clients. The challenge will be for brokers to have a system that keeps them nimble and allows them to go out into the marketplace to get the coverage their clients need. They’ll need a system that doesn’t get in the way but facilitates that process.


How do you see SIS and Partner Platform supporting you in those future challenges?

I see Partner Platform as open to new ideas, alliances, and relationships. So far – having sat in on some of those collaborative conversations– Partner Platform doesn’t make it a hurdle to do business with outside vendors. They’re actually encouraging and looking to bring people in. The other vendors charged us for our data to go to vendors, but Partner Platform has the opposite approach. I can tell they’re looking out for our interests and pursuing opportunities for us that make them better as well.

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