Mike Metayer has built his career around a niche product many Main Street insurance agents are still afraid to touch: surety bonds.
As president and chief executive of Metayer Bonding Associates in Avon, Connecticut, Metayer has grown his business ten-fold since its opening in 1996. He’s a wellknown industry figure in the Northeast, running a company that represents 18 bonding companies, but when he got his start, he knew as little about surety bonds – contracts between three parties that ensure completion of a project in the event of contractor default – as most insurance professionals.
“My first job interview out of college was with a top Cigna executive in Connecticut,” Metayer said. “He said, ‘What do you know about bonds?’ and I said, ‘Stocks and bonds?”‘
But with a degree in economics and an interest in financial analysis, Metayer found the job offer intriguing, and he began his career as a senior underwriter in the surety department with Cigna.
He received extensive on-the-job training, learning about the bonding process and developing personal relationships with industry figures in the region. He was able to leverage those experiences while working later with Travelers, and again with Continental Insurance when the group acquired Travelers’ bond division in 1989.
Then, in 1992, he was given an opportunity to work on the agency side of the business with a midsize national insurance andsurety broker with about six offices around the country. It was “an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Metayer said, and it helped form much of his philosophy when it comes to career development.
“You should always look at opportunities,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you just walk into anything anyone offers you, but when opportunities come, you listen.”
Four years later, Metayer decided to create his own opportunity. After some disillusionment with the company’s financial structure, he began to seriously think about going into business for himself.
“I had been doing bonds for 10 years, so I knew I could do it on my own,” he said.
Metayer negotiated an agreement with his employer allowing him to keep his bond accounts, and opened an office in the downstairs area of his home. He had a phone, a table, a fax machine and – two weeks later – an offer he eventually accepted to buy into the ownership of a managing general agent and fold an existing staff and office into Metayer Bonding Associates.
“It’s been 20 years now, and the individuals who were with me then are still with me today,” Metayer said. “I haven’t added to staff or space, but we’ve grown into a very attractive vehicle for many firms out there.”
Perhaps one of the more surprising periods of growth for Metayer was during the financial crisis and Recession in 2008 and 2009. Though new construction tanked during this period, business for Metayer Bonding Associates soared as banks, worried over risky ventures, began requiring companies to bond contractors – a practice not as common during periods of financial stability.
“I love rolling up my sleeves on complex opportunities,” Metayer said of those years. “It kind of reinforced what we do as financial analysts – not that we didn’t do it before, but it was a smack in the face. This is why you underwrite.”
Another thing the Recession did was bring a wave of new insurance agents to Metayer and his company. As contractor accounts became more complex, insurance agents who were unsure of their bonding knowledge began approaching Metayer Bonding Associates to navigate the acquisition of those contracts.
It’s something agents may want to do even without the pressure of a financial downturn, Metayer said. Noting that most agents have a “minimum knowledge of bonds and seem to prefer it that way,” turning to a company like his is a good way for agents to service their contractor clients while sharing commission.
“Rather than spend hours trying to learn the process or risk losing the account to a competitor who knows bonds, they can have me go out, meet the contractor and take the business to a bonding company,” he said. “They’ll have to give up some money they could have earned, but they have the security of knowing the job is done and their client is protected.
‘That’s when it’s productive to have someone like me involved.”