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Celebrating its 175th anniversary, Limestone Agency of Mt. Sterling is the oldest surviving insurance agency in Kentucky. Founded in 1847 by William Hoffman, ownership of the company has passed from generation to generation through five generations of the Hoffman family. It is currently owned and operated by J. Miller Hoffman, William’s great-great-grandson, and William’s partner Ray Robertson.

“We were founded long before anyone thought to put Abraham Lincoln on the penny,” Robertson said.

“We have an insurance policy dated April 10, 1869,” Hoffman added. That policy, underwritten by William Hoffman, had a monthly premium of $15.21 and insured a barn for $800, providing about $400 of coverage for grain, hay and farm equipment. The elder Hoffman also worked as a bank clerk in downtown Mt. Sterling while running the agency.

“Us [still] write a lot of coverage for agriculture,” said J. Miller Hoffman. “Before we were dominated by tobacco. It wasn’t just a harvest. It was a culture. We still have hundreds of tobacco barns sitting around that aren’t used much.”

When J. Miller started working at the Limestone Agency in 1981, his father had a partner and three clerks. The agency now has 15 employees and has added an office in Paris.

Hoffman remembers pulling a manual off a shelf, asking a few questions, and doing some calculations to arrive at rates for prospective clients. “All of that has changed,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you how they calculate rates now. They call it an insurance score.”

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Robertson said that myriad prices and esoteric factors determine the rates. “Now, you just have to put it in the rating system and see what comes out,” he said.

Although Limestone has kept up with technological change, installing an Internet-based phone system and a cloud-based management system, the agency still values ​​face-to-face interactions with its clients. Hoffman mentions a local agency that tried to move its entire business online. “That still doesn’t work in western Kentucky,” he said. “That may be the norm in five years, but we like relationships with our customers and we don’t want to distance ourselves from that.”

One thing that hasn’t changed in nearly two centuries of business is the agency’s status as an independent insurance agency.

“The independent agency system is the backbone of commercial insurance in the United States,” said Robertson, who served as president in 2020 of Big I, formerly known as Independent Insurance Agents of Kentucky, later extending it through 2021 due to to the pandemic. He is now vice president.

An independent insurance agent may offer policies from numerous insurance companies, while a captive agent works with a single national brand company. Robertson said there are hundreds of insurance companies licensed in Kentucky.

“We can solve just about anything,” Robertson said. Limestone has direct contracts with a dozen carriers and has access to the entire group. In 2019, “we did business with 79 different insurance companies,” Hoffman said.

By working with so many insurance companies, Limestone is able to source multiple quotes with solutions to address complex business needs and challenges. “Many clients come to us not knowing what they want, what they need and what is required,” said Robertson. “And a lot of agencies just don’t handle that very well.”

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Limestone is also a partner in the Keystone Insurance Group. Keystone entered the Kentucky market in 2009 and Limestone was immediately on board. Through Keystone, Limestone has joined a network with 27 other independent insurance agencies, an association in which agencies share their expertise or specialties. “It turned us from a small agency into one with the capabilities of a very large agency,” Robertson said. “There are times when we just need information or there may be someone else who is writing a lot of assisted living policies, and we need help with that.”

Keystone also provides representatives with the expertise to support the agency. Hoffman recalled that Keystone’s support allowed them to obtain three quotes for coverage of a $25 million team. “There were a couple of bits and pieces to that that we couldn’t have put together without Keystone,” Hoffman said. “Reps from Keystone will go to Paintsville, Mount Vernon or wherever. We take care of all the day-to-day stuff, but when we try to renew that account every year, Keystone is there with us.”

Trust remains the foundation of relationships, Hoffman said. “Relationships are bigger than capabilities, bigger than the operators that you have,” he said. Limestone has numerous clients who have been with the agency for over 50 years.

Hoffman mentions a client whose warehouses were frozen in an ice storm and beams collapsed. “We were there that morning, as it was happening,” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t stop it or fix it. But being there taking photos and talking to them, being empathetic, that’s a big deal.”

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Independent agencies also have more freedom to advocate for their clients. “We had a company that was going to deny a claim and we felt like we had insured our client for that type of situation,” Robertson said. A Keystone expert got involved and the carrier paid the claim.

In addition to long-standing clients, Limestone also has long-standing employees. “Brenda, she’s been here for 52 years,” Hoffman said. “And Cheryl, she’s been with us for 18 years.” A good number of the employees have been there for over 10 years. “One thing we offer our employees is flexibility,” Hoffman said. He described situations where employees would ask for time off for things like doctor appointments or wanting to help a friend in need. “I tell them, ‘just make sure you’re okay with everyone else and keep going,’” he said.

It’s that kind of trust and relationship building, whether with clients or employees, that has anchored Limestone Agency for the long haul.