Canadian Underwriter


October 1, 1999   by Lowell Conn

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Ken Orr, incoming president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO), believes brokers need to invest further in continuing professional development. Despite a successful launch of the IBAO’s “travelling education road show” in the past term, early returns suggest brokers across the country took fewer courses last year. First-year licensing enrollment, an indicator of younger generation interest in the insurance industry, also dropped. This, says Orr, clearly defines what the IBAO has to do in the year ahead: attract younger entrants to the profession while impressing on existing brokers that the value of education is not just credit-accumulation, but a means of enhancing quality service.

There is a definite, if not scientifically proven link between professional education and the degree of quality service that professionals within financial services can provide to their clients. And, with direct writers continuing to eat into Ontario’s personal lines property and casualty insurance pie, the brokerage community would best serve its interests by staying ahead in professional skills, says Ken Orr, the president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO).

Orr appreciates the link between service and skills, believing that the IBAO’s first mandate must be to convince members to fortify themselves through education. “A broker that is well-educated can provide clients with greater service and an expanded scope of knowledge which will attract new customers and retain old ones. Now is not a time for our profession to become complacent,” he remarks.

Complacency, Orr remarks, is a dangerous sentiment for a supply-chain embattled with outside competition. The drop in new blood coming into the province’s profession, combined with the lower continuing education enrollment, suggests that the brokerage community is not strengthening itself against these threats. “First year licensing courses usually have a waiting list but this year we’re running classes that aren’t even full. Whether this is a one-year glitch or signifies a real trend, we don’t know. But we’re going to have to find out.”

It is against this backdrop that Orr begins his twelve month stint heading the IBAO, a term during which he hopes to promote a more active profession. His priorities include promoting education, supporting the bipper broker identification program, identifying the association’s membership base and due structures, as well as examining broker/insurer contracts. The impact of technology on the profession, including the hot-potato of broker-to-company electronic interface, along with ongoing political lobbying for the broker cause, head up Orr’s “to-do” list.

Strengthening education

At last year’s conference, the association announced a much-heralded off-site educational program to provide a travelling education road show that would make stops in 21 towns and cities across Ontario. The mandate was to make education easily accessible for brokers not located close to “brick and mortar” IBAO sites. After the first year, Orr declares the program a success, but notes the association will continue to work out wrinkles that were exposed during the inaugural year. “Last year we took steps to make education available to all of our members and it went well. We were very pleased and we will broaden the program, its continuation is a big part of our mandate for the future.”

A natural result of the off-site educational program was an anticipated reduction in on-site enrollment — which did occur. However, early research shows educational involvement nationally by existing brokers as a whole declined last year. One theory for the declining enrollment is that courses on offer are perceived within the profession to be structured solely for the purpose of meeting the educational requirements of industry accreditors. Orr says the IBAO will make an effort to change this perception, “we have to get our members past this notion and get them to realize taking courses is for the betterment of the service we provide our clients.”

While the declining enrollment trend is new, Orr hopes the profession is not growing complacent in the face of the government’s support for the broker distribution chain in its recently released White Paper on the Future of Financial Institutions in Canada. “Hopefully brokers understand the battle with the banks will never be over, that every victory we have is tempered by the fact there will always be more time for the banks to continue the fight. This is going to be an ongoing battle, brokers cannot sit back. Education is one way to ensure improved service.”

Raising identity

While professional development remains the top priority, the IBAO will investigate why more brokers are not utilizing the bipper in their promotion materials, Orr says. “It is a real good question [why they are not using the bipper]. I use it — I spend money advertising with the bipper, sometimes it takes an instance to happen individually to realize the importance of it. I’ve advertised the bipper since the campaign began and got two new clients alone this past year just by wearing the bipper pin on my jacket. That helped me realize the value of the program.”

Orr says the IBAO will also continue its work into company contract reviews, particularly with some new additions having being introduced over the past year. “This year, our program was brought to the forefront because of some clauses in the contracts, clauses that were put in either accidentally or on purpose…The ownership clauses and restrictions on sales…As an independent broker, I’m pretty firm on the fact that the clients in my office are my clients. They are policyholders for the insurer, but they are my clients. And any contract I enter into has to take realization of that.”

Furthermore, the IBAO will examine technology trends to determine if there are joint relationships in existence that brokers can utilize to create better service technology for policyholders. This, along with a re-examination of membership dues to better reflect changes in membership, such as the growing amount of network consolidators being brought on board, means Orr and the IBAO face a busy year ahead.

Promotions background

Orr brings 22-years of broker experience to his post and has a background in promotions that would seem appropriate for someone looking to enhance the industry from both within and without. Orr started in the promotions department of Carling Brewery, and, in 1977, teamed with his father to purchase an insurance brokerage in King City, a municipality on the outskirts of Toronto. In 1988, he bought out his father’s share and is now president of Orr & Forster Insurance Brokers. He says his experience in promotion has helped his brokerage, “probably mostly in developing my ability to meet and talk with people considering much of our job is presenting ourselves”.

He began his involvement with the IBAO at the local level becoming active in the York Region Brokers Association, which was later amalgamated into the Insurance Brokers of Toronto Region. He says the amount of dedication by association brokers has remained steady through the years but the membership demographics have changed. “I think probably from the time I started in the association, the people involved are younger and more active in their own businesses. The board changes every year but I’ve yet to be on a poor or uncommunicative board.”

Orr’s theme for the coming year is emphasis on teamwork and he is pleased that, despite Ontario’s contrast between urban and rural areas, the IBAO has managed to retain a team flair incorporating the interests of all represented. “It’s nice to be a part of a board that not only has diverse distinctions but also equally represents brokers both big and small,” he comments.

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