September 18, 2018 by Greg Meckbach
When Matt Alston hires workers for his property and casualty brokerage, he is not looking for a walking encyclopedia of insurance.
At Surex Direct, personality “always trumps technical skills and accreditations,” said Alston, Surex Direct’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “When people come and apply and they have their [Canadian accredited insurance broker] level 1 and 2 and all of the different certifications, that isn’t what would impress me when I do the interviews.”
Surex had revenues last year of $9 million, about 100 times greater than the $90,000 recorded five years earlier, Alston said in an interview.
“Having that one-to-one personal relationship” with a broker “is a very important part of our success so far,” he said.
In its first three years of business, Alston said he “didn’t hire a single person from the industry to handle our customer’s calls. We would hire [based on] personality and then teach them the insurance.”
Surex is based in Magreth, Alta., about halfway between Lethbridge and the United States border. It places auto, home, commercial general liability and errors and omissions coverage, among others. Surex takes applications online and says it can get 10 quotes in 10 minutes.
“We still consider ourselves a true broker. In the online space, people still want a relationship and that’s why personality is so important,” Alston said.
Surex started hiring people from the insurance industry in 2016, he added.
“We just needed to grow faster so we started hiring from within the industry,” said Alston. “Hopefully we can keep this growth going for a couple of years. Obviously, no company can grow at this rate long term, but we are pretty bullish [that over] the next two years, three years, we will keep growing.”
Brokers not only have to sell policies, but they also must help customers with claims and questions about coverage – such as add-on endorsements, Alston suggested.
“Every single person who buys a policy from us gets a one-on-one relationship with a broker and we continue that relationship,” he said.
Many customers “don’t care if they have never met” the broker face to face, but “they just want to have confidence (that) who they are dealing with is going to take care of them.”