Canadian Underwriter

Active Participant

October 1, 2015   by Angela Stelmakowich, Editor

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How does the thought of becoming a phys-ed teacher morph into the reality of being a long-time broker?

Perhaps, a bit of tumble trepidation.

“A year and a half into the program, I realized there’s no way I’m going to teach kids different tumbles for the rest of my life,” Doug Heaman, incoming president of Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO), good-naturedly says of his time at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Of course, the original goal was to be a professional hockey player, having grown up playing the nation’s favourite sport and possessing the hope that only the uninitiated can muster.

Again, reality intervened. “I only lacked size and skill. Those were the only two things that held me back,” the now president of Advocate Insurance Group in Kitchener, Ontario, says with a laugh.

After leaving the phys-ed program at Brock, Heaman got a job working on the pipeline and when he was laid off for the winter, returned to the family farm outside of Guelph to figure out his next steps.

“One of the neigbouring farm guys said, ‘Hey, I think you’d be good in insurance,'” Heaman recalls. “I said, ‘Well, I’m unemployed, so I think I’d be good in anything right now.'”

After completing a six-month training program with Mutual Life, unfortunately – perhaps, fortunately, as it turns out – the company took a pass on sponsoring him for his licence, Heaman says. But with a bit more encouragement from the neighbouring farm guy, he took another shot, making his way through a six-interview process to secure a job at Staebler Insurance.

Armed with a trusty pencil and calculator, he began an entry-level job in Lloyd’s underwriting (rating and renewals) for a stint before moving on to the claims department and then, indicating his interest in sales, becoming a personal lines producer.

Heaman then worked at a brokerage in Guelph, selling personal lines, fuelling his desire to strike out on his own. “I always knew I wanted to own a business,” he says.

After a few more twists and turns – he worked for three different brokerages over about a five-year period – and writing his secondary unrestricted licence, he took the plunge and opened D.W. Heaman Insurance Brokers Limited in January 1987 with “three companies, plus facility.”

Having his own business allowed Heaman to foster a culture that he himself enjoyed, one that was team-oriented and friendly, recognized performance and strove to include everyone in the vision of the business.

The goal was to support and build an environment in which “people would want to come to work as opposed to have to come to work.”

D.W. Heaman Insurance Brokers joined Bradley Gaskin Marshall (BGM) in 1990. Four years later, in 1994, Heaman was appointed general manager of the combined operations, named vice president in 1998 and became a full and equal partner in 2000.


Heaman did not see any parallels between wanting to teach and being a broker back when he started, but thinking about it more than 30 years later, “what I would say is I knew I wanted to be committed to being a life-long learner. Whether I was being a teacher and learning new stuff or just educating myself, that was always important,” he says, adding that he sees some parallels between teaching and the transfer of information in the selling process.

His quest to learn and run a successful business was a key driver for his educational and volunteering efforts.

Heaman has obtained CIP, CCIB (Canadian Certified Insurance Broker) and RIBO designations, and has received a certified transformation trainer from the Negotiation Lab’s Leadership Training Academy.

In terms of volunteering, Heaman served with the Insurance Brokers Association of Waterloo Region, including as president. “I guess what I learned at that point was the value of relationships,” he says. Working on charitable or community events – sometimes with normally competing brokerages coming together for a common cause – was a lesson on how brokers can give back to the community by working together as a group. That, he believes, is “a unique value proposition.”

After focusing on his brokerage for a time, Heaman became involved in the IBAO, filling in for the last year of a three-year term as a local territory director. He has never looked back.

Why the interest in volunteering at the provincial level when there was plenty of work to running a brokerage?

“I thought I would like to give back to the business. It’s been a great business to be in. I also think this is an important time. I think there’s a lot of change going on and it would be a good time to start to give back,” Heaman says.

His IBAO president’s theme for 2016 is all about meeting change. “Abraham Lincoln said the best way to predict the future is to create it; my theme is create your future.”

The theme’s three pillars are to look at the paradigms, to be in a learning stance and to participate. “We as brokers, as IBAO, as the industry need to be active participants in where the future of this industry goes, not just spectators.”

There are certain paradigms “that blind us to some of the opportunities that are out there,” says Heaman. “I think we need to be aware of the fact that we could have some paradigm blindness in the industry,” he points out.

Beyond avoiding the “I already know” approach is the need to participate, Heaman says. “Information is wonderful. We can disseminate it all we want. But information not acted on isn’t knowledge,” he emphasizes.


Change is happening and quickly. That means brokers must be prepared.

Increasing competition, including with more entrants and more companies choosing to go in a direct fashion, “that’s obviously one of the things that the channel is going to have to face,” Heaman says. “People are going to have to choose how they respond to that. Do I get really clear on the future that I want to create? Do I have a clear value proposition?”

Beyond big-picture items like competition and consolidation on the broker distribution side are ongoing issues like Ontario auto reform that will again be on the IBAO radar next year. As in 2015, “we want to get out in front of that and educate our members and educate our customers,” he says.It may not have been Heaman’s plan to become and insurance broker, but once he was in, he was all-in.

He always saw that the industry offered a lot of opportunity. Heaman says he thinks that is still the case.

If he was 27 today, when he launched his brokerage, “I think if I put together a good business plan, with all of the technology that’s available, I could see people maybe not even having a physical presence, but being on social media, being out there digitally and getting business and getting companies” to support them, Heaman says.

Despite the changing times, though, there are some constants. “I think the value of a broker in their community being able to have face-to-face conversations, being part of the fabric of the community, giving back, advocacy, education,” Heaman notes, “are principles that are sustainable long term. I think the practices will change,” but those principles will remain.

“Insurance is a complex product. The advocacy that’s needed is still needed whether I bought it online or face to face,” he says. “I still need someone to go to to help me. I think that value proposition will continue.”

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