The word “educators” in Florida Educators Insurance indicates that, primarily, this local insurance agency serves teachers and others who work in schools. Owner Gary Cucchi says it’s also a hallmark of how his agency does business.
“The biggest thing we do is educate our clients,” Gary says, “Not only do we serve educators and their neighbors, family members and friends, but we also educate our clients about their insurance and retirement plans to be sure they have the right strategy and coverages so their family is protected, now and in the future.”
Gary adds that it’s a common misconception that, because the company is called “Florida Educators Insurance,” people think the agency only serves educators.
“But, that’s not the case,” Gary explains. “We help non-educators all the time. They’re often family members, friends, and neighbors of our current clients — but they don’t have to be — and we help them with auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, IRAs, and 401k accounts.”
Gary is a Seven Oaks resident who used to be a teacher himself, before opening Florida Educators Insurance in 2002. His company is an independent agency of Horace Mann, which specializes in insurance products and financial services for educators. Founded in Springfield, IL, in 1945, Horace Mann is named for the founder of American public education and is now a multi-billion-dollar company traded publicly on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: HMN).
Florida Educators Insurance moved to its current location in the Cypress Glen Professional Park off S.R. 56 (just east of I-75) in 2008. The agency offers auto, home, umbrella, flood and life insurance, along with retirement and investment plans, such as IRAs and 401(k) plans, “529” college savings plans, plus plans just for educators known as 403(b) and 457 plans.
As an independent agency, Florida Educators Insurance writes policies with a wide variety of insurance companies. Gary explains that he works with many of the largest companies across the industries his agency represents. Some examples include insurance and financial services through – of course – Horace Mann, and financial services from American Funds, Fidelity and Raymond James Financial, life insurance through Lincoln Financial and Ameritas, home insurance through Tower Hill and American Integrity, and auto insurance through Safeco, Progressive and Mercury.
Of about 1,000 Horace Mann agencies nationwide, Gary says Florida Educators Insurance is now the largest.
“We don’t try to be the largest,” he explains, “It just happens and we get some plaque (from Horace Mann for it). I don’t care about how big we are; I care about my employees and our clients. If all that’s going well, it doesn’t matter if we’re number one or 100.”
Gary says all 19 agents in his office are fully licensed through the Florida Department of Insurance, and all financial services staff members hold numerous state and federal investment licenses through FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
“We’re a good size, especially staff-wise, but we’re like a mom-’n-pop in that we try to really get to know people and get to know their families so we can advise them properly,” Gary says. “We genuinely care about our clients and are not just trying to sell policies. The teacher in me has this philosophy to help people.”
Gary says that in 2016, Florida Educators Insurance spent at least $100,000 to provide reading and attendance incentives, school supplies, teacher appreciation gifts, and more to local schools in Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas County.
“Instead of buying billboards, we try to give back to the community,” Gary explains. “We advertise in the Neighborhood News because it’s local, but we don’t do any other ads. We want our dollars to go back to the people we serve.”
Florida Educators Insurance often gives away bicycles, based on incentives chosen by participating schools, including all of the schools in Wesley Chapel.
“For the last five years or more, we have donated several hundred bikes a year to schools in the area to promote attendance and reading,” he says. “It takes us a couple of weeks to deliver all the bikes. We got tired of renting U-hauls to do it, so we decided to get our own bus.”
Now, Florida Educators Insurance delivers those bikes in a customized school bus that has been wrapped with the company’s information and had seats removed on the inside to accommodate bikes, school supplies, or whatever is being delivered.
“Our relationships with the schools are based on what (each) school needs,” Gary explains. “Not every school needs bikes. We help every school in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in some way.”
He says this includes providing at least $25,000 worth of teacher appreciation gifts, typically $25 gift certificates to local restaurants, which many schools give away at appreciation breakfasts and lunches.
“This is our way of letting [teachers] know that we care about them, with no strings attached,” Gary says. “They don’t have to be clients, although we do insure 10,000 people in that three-county area.”
Jerry Jackson is a recently retired educator who has been a Florida Educators Insurance client for 15 years, in part because he thinks so highly of Gary.
“He’s awesome,” Jerry says. “With him, there’s no high pressure. (Gary) just really wants to help people.”
Jerry also explains that he was in the State of Florida deferred retirement program, and Gary made retirement easy for him.
“He guided me through all of the requirements and all of the paperwork,” he says. “He’s an expert. If I need any kind of advice, I’ll call Gary. If he doesn’t know the answer, he knows where to find it. I refer him to everybody I know.”
Gary adds, “We’re not here just to save you a couple of dollars on your auto and home insurance, although we generally do that, and that’s the fun stuff. But, saving money on your home and auto insurance isn’t going to change your life. We also change lives with what we do. When we help someone properly plan for their future — their retirement needs —that can be life-changing.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to insurance and investment planning, so Gary asks his clients to be willing to discuss their unique situation with a Florida Educators Insurance agent.
“Most people spend more time planning for their summer vacations every year than they do for their own futures,” says Gary. “We ask you to give us one hour each year to go over your budget and goals so that you can be better prepared for the future.”
He explains that budgeting and goal-setting are part of the agency’s full-service retirement planning, but adds that the agency provides these services for all of their clients, even those who might only have auto insurance through the company.
“We’re here for all phases of your life,” Gary says.
Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News readers who call for a free quote on home or auto insurance, or who meet with a Florida Educators Insurance agent to discuss planning for retirement or insurance, and mention this story or the ad on page 18 will receive a $25 Restaurant.com gift certificate, and, Gary says, there’s absolutely no obligation to purchase anything to receive it.
Florida Educators Insurance is located at 26809 Tanic Dr., Suite 101. For more information, call 600-3268 or visit FloridaEducatorsInsurance.com. The office is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and on Saturdays by appointment.