Member Spotlight: ACWA JPIA – August 2019

  • by Will Holbert
  • Aug 16, 2019
  • Newsletters

ACWA JPIA staff pose for a group photo outside their Roseville headquarters.

The water industry contains more than its share of hazards, risks and innumerable things that could go wrong. Accidents, natural disasters, lawsuits and liabilities do not make the job of leading California’s water system any easier. Nevertheless, ACWA members have a significant advantage when it comes to minimizing risk and maximizing peace of mind, and this year marks having this advantage for 40 years.

Celebrating its ruby anniversary throughout 2019, the ACWA Joint Powers Insurance Authority has evolved from a risk sharing pool into a comprehensive suite of member services. ACWA created ACWA JPIA in 1979 to help members address the soaring costs of liability insurance. The newly minted ACWA JPIA immediately saved members up to 30% on their insurance programs and has been proving its worth ever since. 

Since that humble beginning with two employees, $2 million in revenue and 83 members, ACWA JPIA steadily grew its value to the ACWA community by adding workers’ compensation and employee benefits coverage. In addition, members receive assistance with training, developing job descriptions, writing employee handbooks and establishing personnel policies and procedures.

Today, 90% of its original membership remains among nearly 400 ACWA JPIA members, a partnership backed by $176 million in annual revenue as of 2018. CEO Andy Sells leads a staff of 50 professionals at ACWA JPIA’s Roseville headquarters outside Sacramento. A JPIA Board of Directors composed of a representative from each member agency steers the dynamic organization. 

Unlike commercial insurers, ACWA JPIA has no stockholders, no profit margin and no sales commission to get in the way of the services provided to members, who then pass along savings to customers. With no income taxes, premium taxes and property taxes, the organization is able to return money from excess funds and investments to the member agencies, instead of retaining it as profit. In 2018, that totaled $4.5 million in refunds to 193 members. 

Now, ACWA JPIA is on track to save members even more money through the creation of the California Water Insurance Fund, in industry parlance a “captive insurance company,” a self-insurance strategy that will also broaden options for further investment. ACWA JPIA also expanded its services a few years ago by launching a Leadership Development Program for general managers and other senior staff at water agencies. 

As many services as it provides, ACWA JPIA’s core mission is providing the broadest possible affordable insurance coverage to member agencies. Essentially, its job is providing peace of mind and a safer work environment for water agencies across California. 

“A core motivation for us is ‘How can we help our members be even more successful?’” Sells said. “It’s this question that has led to expanded programs, coverages, services and training. We like to think of ourselves as partners in the water industry.”

A lot of ACWA JPIA’s success relies on innovation and adaption to changing conditions in the workplace and environment. Significant claims that shaped ACWA JPIA include the increasing severity and frequency of employment practice liability claims, in excess of $3 million during some years. ACWA JPIA identified increased employee training as a solution combined with establishing a hotline. ACWA JPIA has addressed more than 5,000 questions or issues through the hotline since its creation in 2008, with only a single claim being litigated.

Wildfires have placed the entire insurance industry under heavy stress. During 2017, wildfire losses among ACWA members ran in excess of $2 million, much of that uninsured. ACWA JPIA worked to resolve that issue by obtaining new coverage to strengthen member protection from financial impacts outside of their control.

“Given the turbulent nature of today’s liability risks, JPIA has excelled in anticipating member needs and developing effective tactics, services and programs to meet the unique insurance needs of water agencies,” said Steve LaMar, who as ACWA Vice President also serves on the ACWA JPIA Executive Committee. “I congratulate JPIA and staff on a job well done throughout a 40-year history.”


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