October 2, 2015 by Sara Tatelman
It was a whirlwind summer. In July, our five industry experts—
gathered round to choose the top 10 brokers under 40.
And then in August, we learned a lot from interviewing the winners, from the hidden benefits of brokering to how they see their roles evolving over the next decade. So here you go—the top 10 lessons gleaned from the brains of this year’s top 10 young brokers.
And now it’s your turn. Go online in October and vote for the top three brokers in our peer-to-peer awards, which will be handed out at the Top Broker Summit on November 30.
Account executive, Shaw Sabey
There have got to be some Boomer brokers out there across the country who are eyeing retirement like candy. Before they pack up and move to the cottage, however, they’ll need to be replaced. “But I don’t think the industry is recruiting or really reaching into the universities to find young talent,” says Jeffrey McCann, an account executive at Shaw Sabey in Vancouver. The 26-yearold has been at the company for just a year, but he’s already proving his value. Armed with a background in university non-profits, he started programs for the Canadian University Press and the National Campus Radio Association. “So you go in and they were paying three times as much and they had exclusions on their media activity for libel and slander, and they’re printing a newspaper or they’re on the radio all day,” he says. “…So I was able to put together a program to serve that and to give them the coverage that they need, which is kind of the point of being a broker.”
McCann has restructured 13 other programs at Shaw Sabey, and he also throws in a crash course in things like Excel for his older colleagues. “They have 30 years in the industry and I can’t match that, but what I can provide is things like the Excel training and Microsoft Office to help them make their work day a little bit easier. And in turn, they can provide that mentorship and that training in the insurance space for me. So it’s a good arrangement.”
For Paul Santi, an account executive at Bryson Insurance in Ajax, Ont., getting more young people into insurance is essential. As a career connections ambassador for the Insurance Institute, he speaks to high school students about the benefits of brokering. “We need to get young people into the industry, and the better young people we’re able to attract, the better it is for the industry as a whole.”
Young’uns also shine in online brokerages, and at Surex Direct in Magrath, Alta., they don’t get older than 31. But their customer base is diverse. Back in 2012, says co-founder Matt Alston, Surex’s first one was to an 83-year-old man from small-town Alberta, and he just received his third renewal notice.
“Customers who do business with Surex prefer to be able to text their broker, email their broker, get a response back at nine o’clock at night or ten o’clock at night, and our brokers are accessible,” says Alston. “…It’s an online experience but [customers] still have a personal, go-to broker, VIP experience.” He points out many clients just want insurance to be easy. Direct online certainly makes it easy to buy policies, but when it comes to claims, they can fall short. So Surex assigns a broker to each quote, and when customers have questions or file a claim, “they’re not going to have to call a call centre and talk to a different person every time,” says Alston. “So we feel like we offer that broker benefit of options, advice and relationship.”
For Marianna Michael, the principal broker and vice-president at Canfinse in Toronto, technology can help harness niche business. Canfinse has registered 51 domain names, such as drivingschoolinsurance.ca and landlord-insurance.ca, which makes it easier for potential customers to find the company. “The world nowadays is so saturated with information,” she says. And in a world with a steady onslaught of news and distraction, “when you have a target client, and you try to reach them, I believe that’s the way to go.”
For brokerages looking to break into the online space, it’s go big or go home. “I see so many brokers across Canada that stick a link on their website and say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re now an online broker,’ because they’re offering online quotes,” says Matt Alston. But just quotes alone won’t win over customers who want to perform all transactions online, nor will it make a difference to those who want to do everything face-to-face. “…It is a gamble and it is a risk, but at the same time, those people who take the risks are going to be the ones who are rewarded.”
Vice president, global risk and management clients, JLT Canada
There are many benefits to working in insurance, starting with the fact that the industry is largely recession-proof. “The product’s always going to be required, so even during tough economic times, the industry stays relatively stable,” says Paul Santi from Bryson Insurance. He remembers a meeting at a car dealership before he moved into insurance in which 100 employees were let go in half an hour.
But stability doesn’t mean tedium. “I don’t think a lot of people realize the potential and opportunities that are available to us, and that it’s not necessarily a nine-to-five office job,” says Monica Jang, vice president of commercial operations at Hub International in Vancouver. “You can work out in the field. You can become a risk consultant. You can travel around the world, meeting different clients and working on different projects and exciting industries, and I don’t think we advertise that well enough to the general public…”
Jeffrey McCann from Shaw Sabey agrees, pointing out brokering is “a great opportunity to pursue your interests through business.” Foodies can work with gourmet restaurants and wine importers, history buffs can put obscure knowledge to good use by insuring museums and galleries, and summers working construction can be a solid surety background. “Insurance by itself in a lot of cases isn’t necessarily the most exciting thing,” he says, “but if your clients are exciting, and you can get excited about what they’re working on and how you can help them—it’s pretty cool.” And incredibly helpful.
After all, “the key to being a good broker is understanding your client’s business,” says Grant Williamson, senior vice-president of global and risk management clients at JLT Canada in Toronto. “I think one area that brokers fall down in occasionally is not understanding the client’s business before you get to the insurance piece of it.” Williamson focuses on the engineering, power generation, hospitality and gaming and public transit sectors, and he begins each job by trying to understand a client’s business pressures, what they’re trying to achieve and only then working out risks and exposures. Even if they’re in the same industry, he says, “every actual entity is a different beast altogether.”
Surety account executive, Lloyd Sadd
While brokers may be cocooned from economic bumps, not all clients are. “It’s being more proactive in communicating and planning ahead for the slowdown we’re in,” says Allen Walter, a surety account executive at Lloyd Sadd in Edmonton, where he works with many companies affected by the falling price of oil. “So counseling them on asset management and balance sheet management to ensure their balance sheet will get them the bond support they need.” While surety brokers need a strong background in finance, accounting and construction, Walter points out communication skills are also essential, especially when breaking bad news. “Hopefully,” he says, “you’ve been proactive enough that the message isn’t a surprise.”
And nothing beats good preparations in advance, as well as keeping it together when you’re briefing the client. “When you meet new people, they want to know if you know your stuff,” says Hub’s Monica Jang. “…And so sometimes, they may throw questions at you that you don’t anticipate, just to test your knowledge, just to see how you react to certain situations, if you’re calm under pressure. If you can demonstrate that, I think it shows a lot about your character and how you would handle any situation.”
Account executive, JDIMI
Brokers aren’t going anywhere but their roles are certainly transforming—they’re even becoming a client’s first call in a crisis. “As the legal climate evolves, we have to evolve to be there for our clients and also in some cases, create insurance solutions to meet the changing climate,” says Matt Croswell, a partner and account executive at Jones DesLauriers in Toronto. He is seeing fewer slip-and-falls from construction clients and more completed operations claims, and “I have to help my clients navigate around those waters. Sometimes I refer them back to their lawyer, of course, but I’m usually the first call.”
It’s essential to answer that call as soon as possible. Brokering, says JLT Canada’s Grant Williamson, “used to be a solution-based situation with clients, which it still is, but now it’s coming down to ‘how quickly can you get back to your clients?’” Those clients also care about the speed at which brokers mobilize their networks of insurers, risk managers, engineers, lawyers and other experts to help solve their problems.
“It’s really like positioning yourself as a consultant,” says Paul Santi from Bryson Insurance. “No different than an accountant or a lawyer, and as insurance brokers, we need to get ourselves into that same respected space as accountants and lawyers, because really, at the end of the day, that’s how important we can be, especially at the time of a claim.”
Senior vice-president and national cyber practice leader, Marsh
Greg Eskins is technically a senior vice-president at Marsh but he’s quick to assure me the title is less important than his role as national cyber practice leader. Until a few years ago, he focused on financial institutions. As they started protecting themselves against all the email scams, hacking and other threats, his attention moved to cyber issues in all industries.
To get a hold on cyber, he says, brokers must understand how organizations use technology to operate. Privacy breaches in retail and healthcare have been making headlines, but for Eskins, business interruption is a key risk. “Just think about when we had that blackout in ,” says Eskins. “You’re down for a couple of days. The more connected we are as a world, the more that becomes an issue.” So companies need to prepare for the possibility of the technological supply chain falling apart, and protect their revenue streams in case a supplier is hacked or the power source fails.
There’s also the possibility of damage spreading away from the screen or bank account ledger and into the tangible world. Eskins points to a few car manufacturers who have admitted there were vulnerabilities within their systems “because cars are essentially computers now.” So hackers can take over a car’s brakes, steering wheel or accelerator, and the online risk ends in a hospital visit. And consider that in the not-so-distant future, medical devices like insulin pumps will likely connect to the Internet. “I don’t think it’s always going to be due to malicious activities either,” Eskins says. “Human error is a huge element when you introduce humans and technology and have them work together.”
Eskins thinks the industry doesn’t always move fast enough to keep up. “It’s understandably tough in the underwriting community, when you don’t have a ton of actuary data to model,” but all the desired data isn’t available as the industry develops a new product. “So it doesn’t really gel together, because you’re asking someone to take a risk on situations for which they don’t have complete information, but that’s what insurance does.”
Principal broker and vice-president, Canfinse Group
Insurance folks tend to either swing into the industry through a branch of the family tree or they fall into it, and for Canfinse’s Marianna Michael, the business is in the blood. Growing up in an insurance family in Kazakhstan, “Lloyds was a household name.” In 1997, the family moved to Canada and her mother founded the Canfinse brokerage. After university, Michael worked for various insurers in claims. “I’ve done liability, I’ve done cargo, environmental, bodily injury, litigation, big universities on fire, a very, very exciting time.” And then, after having her first child, she switched to brokering at the family firm. “[My mom] constantly comes up with ideas. She’s constantly in tune with what’s happening in Canada and outside, and with my claims background and risk management background, it just helps to tie the whole thing in.”
For C.J. Nolan in St. John’s, Nfld., brokering is also in the blood. He works as the vice-president of business development and sales at Munn Insurance, where his father is president and his brother is vice-president of administration and compliance. “I’ve done just about every job here at Munn Insurance. I started off in the basement doing files.” Nolan moved up to minor underwriting duties during summer holidays, and got his license while in his first year of university. “I don’t think I ever really considered anything else.”
Jones DesLauriers’ Matt Croswell never did either. His insurance lineage is gold—his parents met while working at The Co-operators, and his sister was in the industry as well—and after university, he got a job as an underwriter. But “I liked the aspect of getting away from the desk, meeting with people, building relationships, coming up with solutions, which I wasn’t doing as much on the other side… and I knew that in order to achieve those things as part of my job in insurance, I would have to go to the brokerage side.”
Not only do brokers go into insurance because of their families, but some even spread their love of the industry to other relatives. Needing motivation to earn her CIP designation, Marianna Michael roped her brother-in-law into taking the program with her, and he’s now a manager at TD Insurance. Since Michael and her mother are solidly on the broker side, “there are some healthy discussions happening at home when we get together over dinner.”
Account executive, Bryson Insurance
Bryson’s Paul Santi proved a broker’s worth when he navigated through his first million-dollar claim. On Canada Day 2014, a client’s business burned down completely. “When you’re in that space, there’s no time to lose sleep, so you just react and you go through the policy with them. I even helped them set up a temporary location that same day,” and the client ended up working there for 13 months while his business was rebuilt. “I was able to see firsthand how the product reacts after a loss, and it was a huge confidence builder for me.”
Placing complicated business can also be a big win, like when Monica Jang at Hub International found coverage for a stadium roof, the likes of which had never been seen before. B.C. Place wanted theirs to be retractable and able to handle up to 7,000 tons of snow. “So I got to understand [the project] from an engineering perspective,” she says, as well as “being creative because nobody had done something like that in the past, and you kind of have to be a pioneer.”
But brokering isn’t all sweeping in to save the day with creative policies and quick disaster management. The job comes with frustrations, and our top 10 aren’t afraid to speak out.
In surety, there’s simply not enough education about the products, says Allen Walter at Lloyd Sadd. “It’s quite shocking at times how many construction clients don’t even fully understand what the product is or what it entails,” he says. And that’s especially tricky as more and more builders want to design their own contracts instead of using ones written by the Canadian Construction Document Committee. “So they change their contract to fit their needs.”
Santi thinks the industry can be “too insurance-centric for client problems.” When a client moves, “even a postal code change can mean hundreds of dollars in premiums shifting either way.” But too often, brokers just switch the address in the policy and wait until renewal to recalculate the risk. “That drives me nuts!”
Vice-president, business development and sales, Munn Insurance
C.J. Nolan from Munn Insurance started on personal accounts, and the majority of his business comes from those clients, but he “plateaued in my learning curve of personal lines very quickly.” Risks are more diverse on the commercial side, says Nolan, and he enjoys meeting clients in the community and learning about their different businesses.
Marianna Michael from Canfinse agrees that beginner brokers should cut their teeth on personal lines. Starting with auto helps them “get that formal insurance training,” she says, “and you understand how to read the contracts and how the contract will act and what will happen if there’s a loss.” Commercial accounts can allow brokers to get more creative, but Michael points out there are lots of exciting developments on the personal front as well, including overland water coverage and accident forgiveness.
Paul Santi at Bryson Insurance is upfront about the fact he prefers commercial. But brokers can’t ignore the other half of the equation. Clients, he says, “don’t see a difference. It’s ‘I need insurance. You fix my problem.’” So Santi makes sure to work with his commercial lines clients, no matter what they need help insuring. “If they need help with even a $200 condo policy, I take the time to make sure they’re properly covered.”
Vice-president, commercial operations, Hub International
Nobody in this business learns the ropes all on their own, and good guidance is always available if you know where and how to look. “I don’t think anybody ever comes out there and says ‘I want to be a mentor,’” says Hub International’s Monica Jang. “I think people are mentors, and you can learn from anybody. They don’t have to be in a very senior position to be a mentor to you. You just [have] little nuggets and ideas from people that you take away with you.”
Jang points to two mentors who helped define her professionally. Debbie Smith, whom Jang worked with at Aon, “taught me the importance of ethics and integrity. In this business, because it is a people business, all you have is your credibility. And so you need to make sure you preserve that and maintain that as best you can.” And Peter Manley, whom Jang worked with at JLT, “has been a great asset to me from a business standpoint, from an insurance standpoint, from a technical standpoint.” A mentor, she says, is “somebody who has influenced you in some way, shape or form, and I’d be flattered if I could be somebody’s mentor one day.”
Marianna Michael from Canfinse agrees mentors are invaluable. “When I moved over to the broker side of things,” she says, “I [got] two wonderful silver-haired gentlemen who pretty much are my father figures right now.” She counsels approaching one or two colleagues “you would aspire to become,” and working with them to learn hard and soft skills. “Our insurance industry is very small… but it’s very nourishing and a very giving industry. Your seniors, if they see potential, they will help you grow.”
This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.