November 1, 2013 by Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor
Although commercial brokers sell insurance, Brooke Hunter, next in line to take the helm of the Toronto Insurance Conference (TIC), places special emphasis on understanding her clients’ businesses and providing them with advice.
“I believe we are business people first,” says Hunter. “We are insurance people second.
I believe that the value that we add is business advice with a risk and insurance lens, and those brokers that choose to limit themselves to just selling insurance do so at their own peril.”
Hunter, president and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Hunters International Insurance, is scheduled to take over from Steve Hawkins as president of the TIC, an association of Ontario commercial brokerages, in March 2014.
Before founding her company in 2005, Hunter worked at a variety of brokerages, including Hunter Keilty Muntz & Beatty (HKMB) – now known as Hub International HKMB – where she was managing partner from 1999 until 2004. Hunter has also worked at Sedgwick Group, acquired by Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc. in 1998, and Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT).
Part of the fifth generation of a Toronto insurance family, she had a formative experience working for JLT in the early 1990s, when she had an opportunity to spend an entire week working at a fish farm. “I got to see, up close and personal, how the aquaculture business worked,” Hunter recalls.
“I get to see all sorts of businesses from deep inside. I think that’s very exciting. I found it very exciting then. I still do,” she says.
Today, Hunters International Insurance’s services include liability insurance audits for directors, officers and trustees. The firm also provides a wide range of individual and business coverage, such as property, business interruption, kidnap and ransom, marine and boiler and machinery.
“When I chose to start Hunters, I chose to start with management liability and directors’ and officers’ liability, because I was professionally very comfortable with it,” she says. “When I started in the business, I was actually doing construction, but I have been in the business a long time and your expertise evolves with time.”
Hunter has been on TIC’s board since 2009 and is currently first vice-president. Hunters International Insurance is one of 22 full members of TIC, whose high-profile events each year include a golf tournament in June and a black tie dinner in November.
TIC also advocates on behalf of brokers and works with industry associations, such as Insurance Brokers Association of Canada, Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO), Registered Insurance Brokers of Ontario and Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).
Keeping members well-informed
One of TIC’s aims is to ensure its members are well-informed on key issues, including those relating to earthquake risk and municipal infrastructure. Hunter cites as an example the Municipal Risk Assessment Tool (MRAT), a web-based application under development by IBC. MRAT is intended to provide a visual representation of municipal risk zones, such as weak spots in infrastructure, by predicting the probability that a piece of infrastructure will fail and displaying it on a map.
“Our (TIC) members are the front line of commercial insurance and we want to make sure that they are as well-informed as possible, so that they can deal with the inquiries from (their) commercial clients,” Hunter says.
She made her comments shortly following the CEO Panel discussion at the recent IBAO Convention in Toronto. One issue up for discussion during the panel was property damage from severe weather.
Panelists referred to statistics on long-term temperature increases in Canada and to property damage from disasters earlier this year in the Toronto area and in southern Alberta.
The latter is Canada’s costliest natural disaster to date, with insurable losses estimated at more than $1.7 billion. The fourth most expensive disaster in terms of insured losses occurred less than a month later when, on July 8, the Toronto area received about a month’s worth of rain in one day. The latest estimate of insured losses is about $940 million.
Events such as these are raising awareness among commercial clients, suggests Hunter. “We are already seeing, in the marketplace, some change in the terms and conditions for commercial flood insurance both in terms of capacity, retention and pricing,” she reports.
TIC officials are watching the issue with interest. “As commercial brokers, we have got to watch the water question. The water question is not just flood, and it’s not just sewer back-up. It’s the broad water risk. I do think, ultimately, that we are going to have to see the government have a role to play in flood insurance, definitely in the residential space and possibly in the commercial space, depending on how hard that market gets and the effect of updated floodplain mapping,”Hunter says.
Beyond monitoring developments in flood coverage, TIC has also worked with carriers on an endorsement for commercial insurance policies that either extends the term of a policy – or suspends the notice period for a pending cancellation – in the event of a public emergency. That endorsement – which was approved by IBC and is used by many insurers – is intended to ensure clients are not left without coverage because their phone or Internet service was down, and that brokers do not face errors and omissions exposures in such cases. Not all insurers include that endorsement on every policy they issue, so TIC is now working on a Declaration of Emergency Agreement.
“We understand that some insurers may have trouble putting this endorsement on every single one of their policies,” Hunter acknowledges. The TIC is currently working with insurers in Canada to get the majority of them to sign the agreement.
Another TIC initiative is a university scholarship program introduced this year. TIC plans to offer three $5,000 scholarships annually to relatives of TIC brokers, partners and staff.
In October, Hawkins presented the first set of scholarships at an industry breakfast in Toronto.
“The broader purpose was to expose young people to career opportunities,” Hunter says of the scholarship program, which she calls an exciting TIC initiative.
TIC selects the scholars based on several factors, such as academic excellence throughout high school and first year of post-secondary education, financial need, and contributions to school and community. “It is nice that the scholarship does help some merited individuals.”
The program is intended for students entering second year of a full-time Canadian university undergraduate degree program with a concentration in business, finance or insurance.