Canadian Underwriter

Breaking Down the (Cubicle) Walls

August 1, 2012   by Chris Gudgeon, Business Development Manager, QBE Canada

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Chris Gudgeon, Business Development Manager, QBE Canada

Many of our offices look the same: a grey sea of cubicle walls, behind which industrious and hard-working brokers and account managers toil away preparing submissions, reviewing wordings and sending emails back and forth — likely to someone seated a mere 10 feet from their desks. When our heads drop below the cubicle wall, it seems we forget that our business is based on relationships, better forged through face-to-face conversation than through a long string of email exchanges.

It isn’t intentional, but we don’t talk to each other as much as we should. In most instances, our casualty, property, claims, professional liability and auto specialists all review the risk separately from each other, so each line is reviewed individually, not as a component of the whole. This condition is really a product of the space in which we work — resources divided by walls, a winding maze of walkways and hallways and offices that block out all natural light. As a result, this is something we can change.

cubicle walls

We’ve tried something different at QBE. We deliberately eliminated the cubicle — a primitive corporate workspace-in-a-box that has seen many a good broker reduced to a lonely, disconnected silo of expertise who never collaborates with his or her peers. We further challenged tradition and dared to seat casualty, property and auto specialists right beside each other, right there out in the open for the rest of the world to see.

Starting the Discussion

The strangest thing happened: we started to talk to each other. Unprompted. It was simply impossible to see the inquisitive faces of our colleagues and not want to chat about what we were working on. We began to collaborate more often. We started to notice the culture in our office was becoming more inclusive, more inquisitive and more comfortable with sharing ideas. We received immediate feedback on those ideas from our colleagues and peers. Idle, curiosity-driven conversation led to more specific inquiries about a clients’ risk. Before we knew it, we were sharing submissions and actively working together across product lines to resolve how we could collectively address a client’s risk.

For example, we recently worked with a large North American contractor that, given the scope of its operation, truly required a holistic view toward its risk, which encompassed property, casualty auto and professional liability.

“Knowing that my colleagues were going to help me ensure the property exposure was evaluated within the context of the entire opportunity was reassuring,” reflects Robert Tsai, QBE’s property underwriter.

“We knew the casualty book looked pretty good, and as a result, we were able to compensate for the other lines and propose a premium that was not only competitive, but a pleasant surprise to the client,” said Alex Tarantino, QBE’s senior casualty underwriter.

This holistic view can be especially helpful when professional liability is also included as part of the mix, adds Jamie Thompson, QBE’s senior professional liability underwriter. “Often left on its own, it is an important part of the overall mix,” Thompson said of professional liability. “Our approach makes sure that we can contribute to a favourable outcome while closing many gaps in coverage between products.”

Introducing the Atrium

After 18 months of working out in the open, unencumbered, we realized we had to extend the change in our physical space to benefit our relationships with our broking partners and clients. Everyone talks about being collaborative and about a commitment to open and transparent communication, but physical structures placed between people make it very difficult to deliver on the most basic aspect of communication. How can we communicate face-to-face if we can’t even see the faces of our colleagues and peers?

We recognized we could truly profess to have a more comprehensive view of our clients’ risks than before: we could actually “see” the difference. Our objective was to create an environment that fosters collaboration, inclusion and a 360-degree view of the clients we serve. We pressed ourselves into having a more holistic view of a client’s risk, across all lines of business, so that we found reasons to write the risk instead of reasons to decline it.

atrium - open concept

“This is critical from a claims perspective,” says Darren Goldman, QBE’s claims manager. “Knowing all aspects of the risk enables a more proactive approach to managing claims. We can establish the claims service levels and strategy before we are on the risk, which is often very well-received by clients.”

This brings us to The Atrium, an open concept meeting space. It is not a meeting room, but literally an open space in the middle of our office. It is intended to encourage open and frank discussion about risk and the products and services we provide to mitigate it. Brokers are encouraged to come and see us, have a coffee and sit and chat with us about how we can help meet the needs of their clients.

Even better, they can bring their clients with them so that we can collectively understand the risk through active discussion and analysis.

Being a specialist insurer is more than simply an ability to bring expertise and experience to bear for both the broker and the client. It also represents an ongoing responsibility to improve the process of how we communicate and solve problems.

The risk of doing business in today’s economy is greater than it has ever been. The insurance industry has been an effective provider of experts, products and tools to address those risks, but we also have to foster and promote the most effective way of moving through the details and communicating with each other.

A specialty insurer is in partnership with the broker and the client. As a result of this dependent relationship, the dynamics of how we communicate with each other, share information and collaborate on solutions is critical.

cubicle walls 3

The value to clients is significant. They know that their brokers and insurers have a holistic understanding of their risk and the solutions to manage it. This insight is invaluable. It cannot be gained through email or over the phone. We need to meet risk face-to-face. We’ve literally created the environment to help us do it more directly than ever before.