Longtime Pittsfield insurance agency sold to large regional provider

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PITTSFIELD >> An independent insurance agency whose origins date back 100 years has been sold to a subsidiary of one of the largest independent insurance providers in New England.

Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam has been purchased by Cross Insurance, a subsidiary of Cross Financial Corp. Originally based in Bangor, Maine, Cross Insurance has 700 employees in more than 35 offices, and serves 100,000 customers.

The purchase price was not disclosed. But under the terms of the agreement, Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam will continue to operate under the same name, leadership and staff, and join forces with Cross Surety Inc., to offer bonding services for contractors. Cross Surety has an office in Dalton.

Cross Surety President Michelle Orlando has replaced Edward O'Brien as president of Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam, and will oversee the combined insurance and bonding operations. O'Brien will remain as a vice president and continue to manage the firm's personal lines insurance operations. Principal Edward Chagnon will continue to run Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam's commercial insurance operations. The firm's 15 total employees all have been retained, Chagnon said.

A regional property and casualty retail agency, Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam serves over 7,000 individuals in Western Massachusetts, New York and southern Vermont, and has over 1,500 commercial clients.

Chagnon described the transaction as a "great marriage for us" because the addition of Cross' resources will help Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam grow at a time when independent insurance agencies are struggling.

Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam isn't the first local independent insurance agency to become allied with a larger entity. In 2012, Stevenson & Co., founded in Pittsfield in 1867 by two Civil War veterans, joined forces with the Coakley, Pierpan, Dolan and Collins agency as a member of MountainOne Financial Partners.

"In this economy it's really tough to grow," Chagnon said. "You need markets to grow, and resources to grow. It's frustrating for us because we're in an environment where there's a tremendous amount of competition and the ability for growth has been very difficult.

"This was a great opportunity to accomplish that and make an impact on the community," he said.

Being able to offer contractors construction bonds will help.

"That's where we think we're going to fuel our growth from," Chagnon said.

The acquisition will benefit both parties, Orlando said.

"By combining our talent and resources we can offer our clients the full spectrum of insurance, risk management and bonding services," she said in a statement. "BBK will retain its local identity and service while having access to large agency resources."

Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam's roots go back to 1916, when Robert Bardwell founded the R.D. Bardwell Agency in Pittsfield. In 1966, the R.D. Bardwell Agency merged with the Harry F. Shipton Agency to become the Bardwell, D'Angelo, Shipton Agency with offices at 87 East St, Bardwell, Bowlby & Karam's present location. In 1969, that agency merged with the Bowlby Insurance Agency, Inc. Karam joined the agency in 1998.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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