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Saturday, February 24, 2024

NC trend: Raleigh’s Curi doubles in size with insurance and wealth management expansions

Sandner presenting at the Curi 2023 holiday luncheon.

As a second baseman and center fielder at Towson University in Maryland, Curi CEO Jason Sandner batted over .300 for three consecutive seasons and helped lead the Tigers to the most wins ­— 33 in 1999 — in program history.

He’s now seeking similar success and consistency for Raleigh-based Curi, which a decade ago was singularly focused on medical malpractice insurance. The former Medical Mutual Insurance of North Carolina, founded in 1975, rebranded itself in 2019, choosing a name derived from “curious.” 

Curi now has three core businesses: wealth management, an advisory firm and insurance. It has made acquisitions in each field in the past three years as part of a national expansion. More growth is coming, Sandner adds.

“We need to meet our clients where they are,” he says, who joined the company in 2011. “Our growth is entirely focused on being where our clients are.”

N.C. physicians started the business when other insurers stopped offering malpractice coverage in North Carolina. The bulk of its revenue came from North Carolina, with smaller shares in Virginia and Georgia. When Medical Mutual saw independent doctor practices merging with each other or being acquired by hospitals, it realized it needed to change as well.

“It was clear to us that if we wanted to work with more practices, that geographic expansion was going to be critical to our success,” says Sandner, who batted .296 overall with 96 RBIs during four years at Towson. “We also had a vision at that point to do more for those practices.”

After a decade working in the Raleigh office of the Johnson Lambert & Co. accounting firm, Sandner started as the company’s vice president of finance, then was promoted to chief financial officer in 2014. He later became chief operating officer and moved to the top spot in 2021, succeeding Dale Jenkins, who had led the business for 25 years.

Medical Mutual restructured in 2014 into a holding company, which is owned by its 26,000 members. It launched its money management business in 2019 and the advisory operation two years later.

Last October, the company doubled in size by merging with Minnesota-based Constellation, which includes Midwest Medical Insurance, Arkansas Mutual, the Utah Medical Insurance Association and the Michigan Professional Insurance Exchange. The two insurance operations were similar in size: Constellation had premium revenue of $185.6 million in 2022, compared with $175 million at Curi.

The combined business sells coverage to more than 50,000 doctors and is led by former Constellation CEO Ryan Crawford, who is based in Minneapolis. Curi is “working diligently” to integrate the companies, and will soon introduce new products. “We’re really looking forward to this next phase of the process,” Sandner says. “We’re excited and highly optimistic about our collective future.”

As often happens amid acquisitions, insurance rating agency A.M. Best placed Curi’s financial strength rating of A (excellent) under review so it could assess the deal’s impact. A.M. Best hasn’t made a further announcement as of mid-January, a spokesman said.

On the asset management side, the company had long taken premiums from its insurance business and invested that money into stocks, bonds and more recently, commercial real estate. “As we started to share those results with our members, they came to us and asked if there was an opportunity to invest,” says Sandner.

After offering investment services to its members for many years, Curi Capital launched in 2019 to manage assets for others. In 2022, it acquired KDI Capital Partners, an investment firm that had been part of Investors Management, the parent of Golden Corral. Later that year, it bought Park Ridge Asset Management’s investment advisory business. Both KDI and Park Ridge are based in Raleigh.

Curi’s biggest expansion in money management came in January, when it gained a majority stake in Chicago-based RMB Capital, which has $9.6 billion in assets under management and 156 employees. Terms were not disclosed in the deal, which boosted Curi Capital’s business nearly ten-fold.

Curi Capital CEO Dimitri Eliopoulos had worked at RMB Capital before joining the Raleigh company in 2020. RMB Capital CEO Dick Burridge remains executive chairman and co-chief investment officer. 

The RMB deal adds offices in cities such as Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “It is going to open a lot of growth opportunities in the West and Midwest,” Sandner says.

Further diversification occurred in 2021 when Curi bought Arrowlytics, a Charlotte healthcare analytics and advisory company, followed a year later with a partnership with Gastrologix, a Philadelphia-area group purchasing company for gastroenterologists. Curi’s clients had been asking for guidance about topics ranging from how to run their practices to financial modeling, with the COVID-19 pandemic expanding those calls exponentially.

“You can imagine the business challenges that arose for a physician practice,” Sandner  says. “These practices didn’t have the resources internally.”

The sharp reversal in interest rates in 2021-22, which deflated the value of fixed-income investments, proved costly for many financial institutions, including medical malpractice insurers. Curi had a net loss of $74 million in 2022. Constellation reported a $117.4 million loss as it marked down its investment portfolio by $134 million. 

Curi declined to disclose its 2023 performance, though improved stock and bond markets last year “should help paint a different picture,” Sandner says. Curi’s balance sheet remains solid with more than $2.3 billion of assets and nearly $900 million of net equity, he adds.

Curi, he says, will live up to its new name. “We describe ourselves as a curious, innovative company looking to solve challenges for our clients.” 

Chris Roush
Chris Roush
Chris Roush is executive editor of Business North Carolina. He can be reached at croush@businessnc.com.

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