Canadian Underwriter

How Not to Succeed

June 5, 2017   by Michelle Straka

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Very few brokers—or anyone for that matter—start their careers with the intention of being unsuccessful. Many of them are astute business people who make all the right moves from newbie to seasoned veteran. However, there are blunders that can derail even the strongest career plan.

As an HR professional specializing in the insurance industry, I’ve seen a lot of broker resumés cross my desk and candidates come through my door looking for the perfect position. Many of these people have focused on building the picture-perfect career instead of focusing on building the skill sets and relationships that will carry them through their working life.

The field is changing but many things remain the same. Based on my experience, here are the five biggest pitfalls that brokers can fall into along the path of developing their career. 

1) Putting too much value on working for larger brokerages

This is mostly a tendency for younger brokers who see only the largest brokerages as the primary breeding ground for high-profile broker careers. However, there is nothing like a small to mid-sized environment that will give a broker the opportunity to get his or her hands into more lines of insurance and be more deeply involved in career-positioning projects. Brokers will also work in closer proximity to leaders, increasing their chance of catching the leader’s eye, which could result in future promotion.

Smaller brokerages also have less bureaucracy and layers of management so younger brokers’ ideas are more likely to reach decision makers than in a large brokerage.

Many brokers may argue that smaller brokerages just don’t have the infrastructure to provide a solid career path for employees. The reality is, today, the responsibility for career-pathing falls more directly on the shoulders of the employee than it ever has before. As such, does it really matter if a brokerage has an HR team that can engage in succession planning to open up career paths for their employees when we are all, in every industry, responsible for planning our own careers? The days of the patriarchal employer who took care of employees from the first day to retirement are unfortunately gone.

A well-rounded broker career should include positions in both small- to medium-sized brokerages, as well as larger brokerages or Alpha houses.

2) Changing jobs too many times and for the wrong reasons

Some people assume that to progress in your career, both from a financial and skill perspective, you will have to change positions eventually. However, changing too many times can switch the focus of your resumés from driven go-getter to serial job-hopper. In the early part of the millennium, broker salaries were rising steadily in the wake of a soft market and, as such, many brokers left one position for the next for as little as one or two thousand dollar increases (after taxes, we are talking about $20 per paycheque). Brokerages were in such desperate need of staff that they turned a blind eye to these warning signs and ultimately spent money hiring staff that would only turn around to leave them shortly afterward for the next carrot. Brokers tended not to see the potential limitations of their career moves until the market hardened again and brokerages stopped hiring. With more candidates to consider, brokerages had the freedom to question why certain candidates held five jobs in the last three years. It was the candidates who fostered a solid career track with justifiable and high-quality career moves that were able to land the few coveted broker roles on offer. The rest were stuck where they last landed hoping that extra thousand dollars was worth the hassle. 

3) Not continuing with industry-specific education

Brokers tend to be very results-driven and action-oriented people, so sometimes the bureaucratic nature of organized education can dull the attraction to continuing studies. With the exception of obtaining insurance licenses, brokers tend not to take advantage of continuing education the way that employees of insurance companies do. This can be a mistake as studying, for example, CIP courses, gives a breadth of knowledge not obtained by the day-to-day of selling or servicing insurance products. It also keeps a broker engaged in the industry. In general, the bar for education is being raised higher and higher. With record numbers of students graduating from post-secondary education, even the most junior positions require some amount of formal education. Although the immediate return on investment might not be apparent, it is in the latter years of their careers that brokers could see the value of their education. As post-secondary grads become more prevalent in the insurance industry, more experienced brokers will find themselves competing for positions with their younger and better-educated colleagues. Keeping up with formal education will better position the broker to compete as they move up in years of experience.

4) Not building their “Value-Added Position”

For the same reason that brokers should continue their education, brokers should focus on creating their “value-add” to their employers. Being valuable to their employers for reasons greater than what is listed on their job descriptions is very important in terms of job security. Especially true in hard markets when making money becomes more difficult, a broker has to bring more to the table to progress his or her career than just a winning sales ability. When even a well-honed sales strategy won’t bring policies in the door you have to contribute more to the workplace to justify your employment.

Although it may be hard to admit, production in any job is in danger of decreasing with age. Maintaining value as an employee over and above production should be of interest to every insurance broker as it is common knowledge that retirement ages are edging higher, requiring us all to work longer. If brokers intend to work longer and production is likely to decrease as they age, they better make themselves valuable to brokerages in other areas. How they make themselves valuable to their employers will depend on the brokerage and their skill sets. 

5) Not realizing that every insurance brokerage employee needs to have an eye on revenue generating

Not to say that every broker has to sell, but they have to realize that a broker environment is ultimately sales-driven, so productivity in every position is very important. A broker’s job is either to make money or to boost profitability by saving money. In today’s competitive climate there is no job where either sales or profitability can hide. Every interaction between a brokerage and its customers is an opportunity to create more business in the way of up-sells/cross-sells and/or referrals. Expectations for customization and tailored services mean that future customers will have higher expectations of their insurance brokers and the coverage they provide. As such, even front-line receptionists need to be aware that each interaction with a customer is a chance to bring further business. Not keeping this top of mind will put brokers behind more sales-savvy colleagues. 

Michelle Straka is president of and She can be reached at


Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the July 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine. 

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.