Canadian Underwriter

Breaking from the “Burger Chains”

September 1, 2001   by Sean van Zyl, Editor

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Ginny Bannerman, who will become president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC) for the 2001/2 annual term at the association’s general meeting to take place in Calgary, Alberta between September 18-22, is not a newcomer to the political arena. As a former president of the Independent Insurance Brokers Association of Alberta (IIBAA), and a key representative in the process of rewriting the province’s Insurance Act, Bannerman has spent many hours elbow-to-elbow with the political decision-makers.

It is the area of political lobbying and “government relations building” that Bannerman expects IBAC’s core focus will be in the year ahead. “The top priority for me will be political lobbying and government affairs.”

Although federal Bill C-8 was carried through containing nearly all of the conditions fought for by the independent insurance brokerage community, there is talk within Ottawa that the issue of financial services deregulation at the national level will have to be re-addressed in the not too distant future, she confirms. And, while no deadline has been given to signal a new lobbying battle as the various groups representing the banking and insurance sectors take up their separate causes to influence the shaping of future legislation, Bannerman believes this is not the time to sit back and take it easy. “I don’t think we have a full five years [before the standard review process of the current legislation would normally occur]. The banks through the CBA [Canadian Bankers Association] have expressed an interest in having Bill C-8 reviewed before then.”

Another factor which will come into play in the ongoing political “cold war” between IBAC and the CBA, is that the banks are beginning to hone their political skills, says Bannerman. “They [the CBA] have learnt a lot from us [IBAC] on how to lobby…the CBA has indicated that in the future it will place greater emphasis on government relations. The challenge for us [IBAC] is to keep up the pace on government relations building.”

Awareness actions

A mistake IBAC made in past attempts to unite independent insurance brokers under the Bipper program, and thereby promote public and political awareness of the sector, is that the very “independence” of the community came into conflict, Bannerman observes. The early approach taken with the Bipper and the IBAC advertisements was to promote the broker community similar to the “McDonald’s Restaurant chain strategy”. This, she adds, produced conflict with members who rely on their reputation within communities as being an independent advisor. “We’re all [as independent brokers] competitive [with one another].”

However, maintaining national awareness through advertising and use of the Bipper as a symbol remains critical to IBAC’s lobby efforts, Bannerman notes. In this respect, she says changes over recent years to the strategies applied to both marketing programs have begun to produce results. The manner in which the Bipper is being promoted today has increased member support tremendously, she adds, while insurance company support is at an all-time high. “Over the past year we picked up five new insurer supporters [for the Bipper program], and we now have a total of 15 companies, many of whom are full national and regional level supporters.”

Many of the insurance companies involved with the Bipper program are also using the broker symbol in their own advertising materials, Bannerman says. “This is a great development for us as the insurers doing so clearly believe that there is public value in being associated with the independent insurance broker movement, while their advertising efforts supplement our own advertising campaign.”

“Advertising dollars” remain a significant factor in the public playoff between brokers, direct writers and even the banks in gaining public support, Bannerman points out. Faced with a contracting market due to consolidation, and the impact of this on IBAC’s membership-generated revenue, has enhanced the challenge before the association in funding advertising, she notes. As such, the association will continue to run its existing “Insuro-Rama” advertising campaign through to the end of 2002. Initially, the Insuro-Rama ad produced disappointing results as the parody on direct writing depicted in the sequence was taken literally by the viewing public. “People really thought there was an ‘Insuro-Rama’,” Bannerman says. However, some minor adjustments to the ad’s script has since changed that perspective, and the campaign is beginning to produce positive results, she adds.

While advertising remains a crucial component in the public awareness/support building process, Bannerman says that emphasis in the year ahead will mostly be placed on getting brokers to display the Bipper in their offices, “to get it out on the street”. That said, she notes that a survey conducted among brokers last year suggests that the Bipper campaign has gained increased recognition.

Going to Ottawa

One of the more cost-effective public/political awareness initiatives IBAC undertook this past year was holding a “lobby day” in Ottawa. This involved a full-day event in May when all of IBAC’s senior representatives were present for the occasion of social mingling with political representatives, Bannerman explains. The event was highly successful, she says, and plans are underway to hold another lobby day during the year ahead. “We spent the day meeting with various MPs and senators. As brokers we have to realize that looking for political support is not a ‘one-way street’, we have to keep up with what our political representatives are looking for. We have to do more of this.”

Another initiative which has been highly successful, and will require ongoing development in the years ahead, is IBAC’s “national political network” project, Bannerman notes. This year, Ken Orr of the Independent Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) accepted taking on management of the project, which entails establishing a “master list” of all MPs and MPPs which IBAC could use at short notice in its political lobbying efforts. So far, the association has developed a list of about 85% of all MPs, Bannerman says. This program of a national political network will always be a “work in progress,” she adds, but “without a question, it has already proven to be very valuable”.

Going international

IBAC has also ventured into “international waters”, says Bannerman. Over the past year, the association worked closely with the U.S.-based Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA) in researching technology standards applying to broker-to-company real-time system projects. The use of XML as a standard program language adopted by the Centre for Study of Insurance Operations (CSIO) in its ongoing Internet portal initiative was partly due to IBAC’s input. Similar developments are afoot in the U.S. as a result of this collaborative information sharing between the two national brokerage bodies working on either side of the border, she adds.

Furthermore, IBAC has been assisting IIAA with development of a similar program to the Bipper, Bannerman notes. “There are a lot of good ideas that have been shared, and we plan to develop this relationship.”

Member programs

Among the various member support initiatives IBAC has embarked on which stand out, is the development of the CSIO’s real-time Internet/Intranet portal expected to go live by the end of this year, plus the upcoming launch of the CPIB professional development program, Bannerman says.

The CSIO portal offers fantastic opportunities for independent brokers, Bannerman observes, “as it is truly broker-friendly”, with IBAC having played a major role in the course of its development. “I think the CSIO portal will achieve 90% of the online technology goals of brokers.”

In terms of the CPIB educational program, Bannerman sees this as an “exciting opportunity” for brokers on several levels. Firstly, the designation will be at university level, she notes, which enable brokers to expand their professional qualifications with additional academic areas as they see fit. Secondly
, the program which is set to be launched nationally this coming January, has already gained sponsorship for the first five courses.

A national strategy

“As the business environment becomes increasingly global, the importance of having a strong national association is becoming increasingly evident,” Bannerman says. In this respect, she notes that the theme for IBAC over the upcoming year will be “Developing Strategies and Moving Forward”.

Central to IBAC’s objectives in the year ahead is the development and review of a long-term strategic plan outlining the role and objectives of the association. Bannerman hopes that a final outline of the plan will be completed by February of next year. “The [insurance] marketplace is changing, and we need to target our sources to accommodate these developments. IBAC will undertake a full-blown long-term strategy of its future role. If nothing else, I hope to come out of the year ahead with a good, forward-looking strategic plan.”

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