June 23, 2017 by Terri Goveia
Insurance leaders like Sir John A. Macdonald set an admittedly high bar: our country’s first prime minister just happened to found a nation before settling in as president of The Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company in 1887. Today’s leaders are making their own marks— especially in areas that promote the Canada 150 mission values, and on issues that will shape the industry’s future. The next 150 years? Who knows. But these trailblazers are helping determine the next 50…
Tina Osen used to be the only woman in the room. Early in her career, a major broker meeting or conference meant that “it would be me [and a roomful of men],” she recalls. That doesn’t happen very often anymore, and as HUB Canada’s president, Osen wants to see even more women in brokerage boardrooms.
In an industry where most global insurance executives anticipate only a “slight” increase in female leadership within the next five years—according to a 2016 EY survey—Osen’s own career represents an alternative ideal. She joined the industry in 1994, and became CEO of HUB International’s Vancouver operations in 2004, coming into her current role in early 2017.
Osen, who won a Wendy McDonald Diversity Champion award in 2016, credits a supportive culture at the brokerages that fostered her career. Starting out at TOS Insurance Services, her father “was the first broker, as far as we know, to hire female producers in Canada and the first broker to have a female as a COO,” she says. That dynamic continued at HUB International. “None of the gender-related adversities I might have experienced [came from] where I worked. Those were felt externally,” she says, noting that when people ask if she’s had a tough career journey as a woman, she thinks, “I hit the jackpot.”
She notes that HUB International’s own commitment to diversity speaks for itself. Until she took on her new role in early 2017, three out of HUB’s seven Canadian operations had female executives at the helm, she says. And, women boast senior roles on executive teams “across our Canadian platform,” she adds. “We’ve been practicing an environment that’s very supportive for everybody.”
Overall, diversity changes in the industry have been “slow,” she acknowledges. Though she notes more gender diversity in insurance company executive ranks, “I don’t see that same demographic shifting within the brokerage community yet at the senior level.”
And, there’s still room to improve ethnic diversity, she says. Though Osen hasn’t traditionally supported board diversity quotas—“I’ve always been a believer that the best person for the job should earn the job”— she admits that stand is shifting. “Formalized policies are probably good practice, she notes. “Studies have shown that if you don’t have at least three people reflecting a minority, you won’t effect change.”
Still, walls are coming down, she points out. Incoming generations “are just used to having different people at the table and have created environments that are supportive of that.”
In taking the helm at The Co-operators in late 2016, Rob Wesseling not only took on the leadership of the company’s P&C, life and investment operations, he also gained stewardship of the company’s ambitious sustainability goals.
When the company launched its eco-friendly mission in 2007, it marked a move away from a typical “green” policy, acknowledging corporate responsibility to environmental, societal and economic sustainability. That goal continues to evolve, says Wesseling, the firm’s president and CEO, noting that “we’re a long way on that path now.”
The mission’s original goals are well met: The Co-operators has achieved a 72% reduction in its carbon footprint, and now promotes broader sustainability through its products and services. Its policies encourage drivers to use hybrid cars, for example, and give homeowners the option to use sustainable materials when restoring damage, and to prepare for climate change, he points out. Even a telematics-based product can prompt a more mindful driver, he notes.
In 2016, the company won an Excellence in Governance award for Best Practices in Sustainability, Environmental, Social and Governance issues from the Governance Professionals of Canada. However, Wesseling still has his sights set on raising awareness of the cost of risk. Including those costs in family, business and government income statements and balance sheets is crucial, he says. “A really important part of resiliency is understanding the risks. If we’re informed, we’re in a much better position to make sound decisions moving forward.”
The industry has “a significant role to play in terms of sending that economic signal,” he adds. “It’s going to take a broad coalition to make that happen. [But], we’re the risk experts and from a resiliency perspective, it’s one of the significant contributions we can make.”
Brokers are looking for support. It’s not easy to find and hire talent.”
The last time Paul Kovacs bought a new car, he opted for a specific feature: collision- avoidance technology. As the founder and executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), Kovacs is well known for his work on climate change. But as the author of a 2016 Insurance Institute report, Automated Vehicles: Implications for the Insurance Industry in Canada, he has gained both a new appreciation for semi-autonomous technology and a leading role in forecasting the impact of driverless cars on the industry.
The shift has already begun. “I have a car that can’t be in a rear-end collision: that’s already a reduced risk for my insurance,” he says. But semi-autonomous features— everything from self-park steering to “traffic jam assist”—maintain one of the key factors in insurance, he points out: “There’s a driver.” With new technologies, “there’s a driver, who has help … that’s not a leap, that’s not a completely changed world,” he says, noting that such features highlight opportunities for premium discounts for safety or crash-avoidance tools.
As vehicles become more autonomous, bigger questions loom. For years, it was about which driver did it, he says. Now, a manufacturer may insist that a car will never hit someone from behind, but “[what happens] if it does?” he asks. “There will be times that will be the technology’s fault, and we have to find a way to allocate those responsibilities.”
A radical leap into the unknown isn’t likely, he says. And the industry is already facing its biggest immediate hurdle, he points out: “We’re in between [worlds], and in between is not the world that most insurance people are comfortable with. It will be a challenging decade or two or three.”
Aboriginal communities face well-documented challenges: inadequate housing, unclean water and health crises among them. Insurance coverage is another—“it’s harder to get protection,” says Malcolm Smith, partner at Thunderbird Insurance in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That’s where Smith and his brokerage partner Ryan Ginnish have stepped in—in 2012, they became one of the founding partners in Aboriginal Insurance Services, Inc. the first Aboriginal-owned managing general agency (MGA) in Canada.
Location is a major hurdle for Aboriginal communities— they’re often in remote areas, away from infrastructure that helps reduce risks. As a result, fire is a major problem, with many communities scoring poorly on the fire underwriters survey (FUS), notes Smith. “First Nations are rated a 10, the worst.” And flooding isn’t far behind. Last year, one New Brunswick community had 120 homes flood in one incident.
Thunderbird’s programs – through AIS—address some of these issues by insuring communities as a whole—including everything from reserve housing to the police force, fleets and public buildings. They stress regular inspections to continuously reduce risks, and work on mitigation measures to reduce severity.
Reserve fires often burn faster than the closest fire trucks can get there, Ginnish notes. The Thunderbird partners have just started distributing StatX—a tool that reduces oxygen to stop “feeding” a fire—to other first responders, like volunteer firefighters, RCMP members and First Nations police forces. The tool could change a $120,000 complete loss into a $25,000 loss in the time it takes firefighters to reach the blaze, says Ginnish.
As the only Aboriginal-owned brokerage in the Maritimes, Thunderbird is committed to business development and building insurance awareness. “If there is something happening locally, we get the First Nations involved to understand the insurance side. If they’re looking at a particular venture, we’ll give them insight on what the insurance impact will be,” says Smith. That can only pay off in new business and improved capacity, adds Ginnish. “We’re just trying to educate our people about [insurance and opportunities]. And how to capitalize on them, if possible.”
At last year’s Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) convention, long-time brokers may have come across more than one future colleague. For the first time, the country’s largest broker association included a career fair at its annual event, bringing 120 college insurance business program students shoulder to shoulder with potential employers and co-workers.
The addition went well beyond a “bring your student to work” day, notes Brett Boadway, the association’s director of operations. Students attended a two-hour Young Broker panel discussion that highlighted broker world options, and had one-on-one meetings with 17 broker employers to discuss more specific opportunities.
While the event offered students a glimpse of one industry channel, it served several purposes: “we’re looking to fulfill succession planning issues,” says Boadway. She notes that the ranks of younger brokers are dropping: in 2015, 24% of brokers in the province were under 40, a figure that dropped to 20% in 2017.
A really important part of resiliency is understanding the risks. If we’re informed, we’re in a much better position to make sound decisions moving forward.”
The event also clarified misconceptions students have about a broker career, she says. Many think it’s just about sales or that compensation is only commission- based. The fair exposed them instead to different roles, like marketing, technology or claims. “They’d already decided on a career in insurance; the fair was about tipping the scales to get them to see that an insurance broker is a great career,” she says.
That’s valuable for brokerages in rural areas, as it’s important that students see options outside of big companies in the Greater Toronto Area, she says. “There are a lot of students in those programs who want to stay closer to home [or] rural areas, and that gives them a sense of optimism about opportunities in rural communities.”
The fair builds on the association’s existing relationships with college insurance programs in the province—IBAO reps already advise program facilitators, and provide textbooks and lunch and learning options for students.
But the event is a valuable add-on, and likely to grow. “Brokers are looking for support. It’s not easy to find and hire talent,” she notes. The association has already heard from more brokerages interested in being part of next year’s fair, she says. “Word has spread quickly.”
Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the June/July 2017 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine
This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.