As automobiles began taking to the roads during the 1910s, a club of auto enthusiasts called the California State Automobile Association (CSAA) grew concerned about the high cost of insurance. In 1914, the CSAA Board voted to sell lower cost insurance through the CSAA Inter-Insurance Bureau.
Led by George Chalmers, the business began operations in a cramped room in the Monadnock Building on Market Street in San Francisco. The Directors pledged $25,000 of their own money to pay for any losses the new business could not cover. Later that month, C. E. Cumberson’s Winton sedan was destroyed in a garage fire and we settled our first claim the same day for $2,200.
We began the 1920s with over 6,000 policyholders. We continued offering insurance at cost, typically 30% lower than standard rates charged by private insurers. Our reputation for dependable service at affordable prices helped build our business. By the middle of the decade, our insurance-at-cost model resulted in some of the lowest rates in the country.
In 1925, we moved to a new office in the San Francisco Civic Center at 150 Van Ness Avenue. Renowned local architect George Kelham, known for the nearby San Francisco Main Public Library building (currently home to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco), designed the new headquarters.
Only one decade after our formation, we were the largest insurer of automobiles in Northern and Central California.
The collapse of Wall Street in 1929 took its toll on the national economy. Like others, we also suffered financially. Despite these challenges, insurance sales continued at over 30 branch offices throughout Northern and Central California.
We introduced a new alternative to those purchasing our insurance in the 1930s: after an initial 20% deposit, payments could be made in installments. Dubbed the "Premium Finance Plan," this option made our insurance more affordable for policyholders who found it difficult to come up with a single annual payment.
By the middle of the decade, Members hoping to finance a new car increasingly turned to us. Bank of America, and other leading banks offering auto loans, began accepting our insurance rather than requiring clients to insure with a designated agency.
When war broke out in the 1940s, President Roosevelt declared the country’s automobiles vital resources. We supported government rationing, motoring policies and conservation efforts during the period.
Many of our employees were drafted during World War II. Claims representative Yolando Giorgi was drafted in 1942 and assigned to the U.S. Air Force. After the war, he returned to the company and worked as a claims supervisor in San Francisco.
While the men went off to war, women were increasingly joining the workforce. In 1942, Hilda Meyers Toby became our first female sales representative. Before retiring in 1948, Jeannette Conroy became our first female underwriting supervisor.
The 1950s saw rapid growth in policyholders. We opened two new claims offices outside of San Francisco to accommodate the increasing demand and shored up our financial resources.
The completion of the interstate highway system encouraged multi-state road trips — and the requisite insurance coverage.
By 1958, we had replenished financial resources depleted during the Great Depression. We also obtained a rating of A+ by Best’s Insurance Reports of New York — the highest ranking possible.
We also introduced our first automated processes during the decade. We printed 50 policies per day on a wall-sized IBM 407 computer beginning in 1955. By the end of the decade, many of our bookkeeping processes were computerized.
We opened the decade by introducing insurance in Nevada. In 1962, we ventured outside of auto insurance, offering Comprehensive Personal Liability coverage. This new insurance protected policyholders beyond the limits of their auto policies.
We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 1964 with over $70 million in assets.
In 1968, we added a multi-level annex to our offices at San Francisco Civic Center. Two additions at the end of the decade made our insurance more valuable than ever— guaranteed lifetime renewal for our auto insurance and an expanded deductible waiver.
While the 1970s provided a decade of difficulties for drivers and the insurance industry alike, it was also a time of growth for us.
The energy crisis that began in the Fall of 1973 caused general frustration and long lines at filling stations. In spite of the fact that 30 of the hardest hit U.S. insurance companies were declared insolvent in 1975, the Inter-Insurance Bureau turned an underwriting profit of $8.6 million.
Throughout the decade, AAA expanded its Northern California and Nevada offices, providing increased opportunities for insurance sales. We broke ground on a new, 29-story building at 100 Van Ness Avenue in 1972 and completed construction in November 1974 — the same month we introduced homeowners insurance.
The 1980s gave us a chance to distinguish ourselves in terms of catastrophe response. When flooding and mudslides in 1982 devastated many homes in Northern California, we offered living assistance up to $1,500 and supplemental personal property benefits — at no additional premium.
On May 2, 1983, the Coalinga, California earthquake resulted in an estimated $10 million in damages for our customers. A special claims team was on the scene within 12 hours and concluded settlements with every available policyholder within 72 hours.
That wasn’t the last disaster of the decade. The Loma Prieta earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area on October 17, 1989. The quake resulted in an estimated $6 billion in damages and $50 million in policyholder payments for the Bureau.
On October 20, 1991, we handled our most costly catastrophe to date: the Oakland Hills Fire. Our customers had 239 homes lost or damaged, along with 350 cars. All told, we paid more than $100 million to our customers.
In 1996, the California State Legislature created the California Earthquake Authority in response to the 1994 Northridge earthquake. We were among the first to sign up for the new program to help protect homeowners from catastrophic earthquake losses.
In 1993, the California Department of Insurance estimated that fraud cost the state’s insurance consumers more than $1 billion annually, or up to 20 percent of all claims filed. In response, we helped in an FBI sting operation. Over two years, undercover agents posing as auto accident victims exposed unscrupulous Bay Area doctors and lawyers suspected of filing falsified claims. Our work helped solidify our tough stance against fraud.
The dawn of the new millennium launched an era of expansion like nothing we had ever seen before. Through strategic alliances and carefully planned development, we opened new offices and expanded our insurance business beyond California, Nevada and Utah to become a coast-to-coast provider of AAA-branded insurance.
In July 2003, Arizona became the first club outside of Northern California, Nevada and Utah to offer our insurance. We continued to expand into new states, signing agreements with AAA clubs across the country to offer AAA-branded insurance to their Members.
In 2009, about 1,000 employees relocated to our new headquarters; a six-story, Gold LEED-certified building in Station Landing, a mixed-use development in Walnut Creek, California.
At the start of 2011, AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah and the insurance company improved their focus by separating operations into two separate organizations. We also acquired Mid-Atlantic Insurance Group, expanding our coast-to-coast presence.
At the end of 2011 we debuted the first of our Catastrophe (CAT) trailers in Northern California. Two others would follow in Oklahoma City and on the East Coast. Equipped with a satellite, microwave, refrigerator, work stations, check-writing capability and a restroom, they arrived just in time to support Members rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy in November, 2012, and the Moore, Oklahoma, tornados in May, 2013.
In July 2013, we changed our company name to CSAA Insurance Group. We offer auto, homeowners and other personal lines of insurance to AAA Members in 23 states and Washington D.C.