Excelling in Challenging Times

The finalists for the 2013 IBAO Awards of Excellence discuss the issues, obstacles and opportunities facing the broker channel

For the past five years, the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) has recognized the province’s best brokers, brokerages and affiliate associations through its Awards of Excellence, presented on the final night of the IBAO annual convention. Now in its sixth year, the Awards continue to celebrate commitment to the broker channel, excellence in customer service and exceptional business practices. “The Awards of Excellence are earned by those who have gone beyond the simple solutions, who have spent nights and weekends working to create something unique—something special. These are the pace setters of the industry,” says Ashley Hunking, marketing coordinator at the IBAO, and main contact for the Awards program. “Even though it may just be a trophy on their shelf, it is a symbol that their efforts were not in vain—there are many who support them.” The 2013 IBAO Awards of Excellence winners will be honoured at the Awards Gala on Friday, October 25 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

Brokers, brokerages and affiliates are nominated by their peers or affiliate leaders through a written submission sent to the IBAO. “I wish everyone could read the enthusiasm that exists within these submissions,” says Brett Boadway, director of broker relations and communications at the IBAO. “They are the purest examples of why the broker channel is the best channel for consumers. There are so many good people in this industry—the stories are very touching and poignant.”

The top five nominees in each category are then interviewed by Canadian Insurance Top Broker. This is the third consecutive year that Canadian Insurance Top Broker has assisted the IBAO with the Awards judging process by providing interview notes on each candidate. The nominees’ written submissions and interview answers are then reviewed by a neutral third-party judging panel, which chooses the top three candidates and decides the winner of each category.

Once again, Canadian Insurance Top Broker presents exclusive profiles of this year’s Awards finalists. These best-in-class brokers have all shared their ideas on the challenges and opportunities facing the insurance industry. For each category, we spoke to the nominees and asked them about a particular industry issue: the importance of mentors for the Young Broker of the Year candidates; the risks and opportunities facing the broker community for Broker of the Year; challenges surrounding broker education for the Affiliate Achievement; and barriers to growth and prospects for business development for Brokerage of the Year.

Young Broker of the Year: The importance of industry mentors

Finalists: 

Joshua Barbosa, broker, Erb and Erb Insurance Brokers Ltd., Kitchener

Jaroslaw Florek, broker, Condotta, Merrett & Company Insurance Brokers Inc., Niagara Falls

Scott Sleightholm, commercial lines account executive, Smith Petrie Carr & Scott Insurance

More and more, the insurance industry is looking to formal and informal outreach programs with secondary and postsecondary institutions to mentor students and fill the talent pipeline. But what about those in the insurance industry who are also in need of a mentor? How important are industry mentors to the young brokers who’ve recently joined the industry?

For Jaroslaw Florek, a broker at Condotta, Merrett & Company Insurance Brokers in Niagara Falls, industry mentors are essential to the success of new brokers like him. “Obtaining your RIBO license is not enough, although it is an excellent starting point. In your studies, you might attain the personal lines knowledge, but now you need someone to guide you through the unique policy wordings, procedures and quoting mechanisms for each insurer. It’s not just about the price: it’s about the policy, the coverages, building that relationship with that client,” he says. “So when you’re starting off in the industry, having a mentor to guide you has great value.”

Scott Sleightholm, a commercial lines account executive at Smith Petrie Carr & Scott Insurance Brokers in Ottawa, agrees. “Mentors are key, not only in the insurance industry, but in all walks of life. They help provide insight and guidance, and sometimes they’re just there to be a sounding board and to listen,” he says. Sleightholm says his mentor; Greg James, vice-president of the brokerage; has been there to answer questions and find solutions to difficult problems. “[A mentor is] someone to go to when you reach a point where you’re unsure how to approach a situation or you have options; you can go to that person and talk it through with them,” he says.

The Young Broker of the Year finalists agree that industry mentors have helped them all progress in their careers. Joshua Barbosa, a broker at Erb and Erb Insurance Brokers in Kitchener, says he’s been lucky to work at a big brokerage with many people on hand to guide him. “There are a few people around the office that have been immensely helpful in my first year here. I don’t think I’d be where I am now if it wasn’t for a few of the people in my office,” he says. Barbosa adds that young brokers at smaller firms might not be as fortunate as he was, as their offices may not have the resources or people available to provide in-depth mentorship. He believes access to industry-wide mentors should be improved. But Sleightholm says that opportunities for mentorship do exist; brokers just need to seek them out. He says broker associations throw many events that provide new brokers with the opportunity to meet others within the industry and “inevitably find that mentor to work with.”

Affiliate Achievement: Education for everyone

Finalists: 

Peterborough Insurance Brokers’ Association

Melody Mireault, president, Peterborough

Insurance Brokers Association of Waterloo Region

Melissa Snyder, president, Waterloo

Insurance Brokers Association of Durham Region

Gillian Van Kempen, president, Ajax

In order to maintain their Registered Insurance Broker of Ontario (RIBO) license, brokers are required to take eight hours of continuing education credits a year. But in order to keep on top of constantly evolving risks, new technologies and changing client demands, in reality, brokers need far more than just those eight hours. That’s why the IBAO and many other industry stakeholders hold industry conferences, seminars and broker affiliate associations that are not located in large city centres where many of these educational events take place, getting valuable education can be challenging.

“I think one of the issues is finding quality education at an affordable cost—dollar-wise as well as time-wise. We need to have our eight hours of continuing education every year, and I think a lot of the time we are tempted to take short courses that maybe aren’t as relevant to our daily work and our profession just because of the convenience factor and the cost,” says Melissa Snyder, president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Waterloo Region. “The flip side is there’s going to be some really good quality education out there, but it might mean the sacrifice of an entire day or it could be a large financial investment.” She adds that her affiliate, local brokerage principals in the area and the IBAO work together to find and promote educational sessions that are both affordable and convenient. “The IBAO surveys our members to find out what they need to learn about and what they want to learn about; they work hard to bring affiliations together so that the locations are convenient. They don’t try and get everyone to drive to Toronto all the time,” she says.

It’s the commuting to bigger cities to find appropriate educational opportunities that Melody Mireault, president of the Peterborough Insurance Brokers’ Association, finds the most frustrating. “We don’t have as many of the courses here in Peterborough so we’re always having to travel outside of the city,” she says. She adds that her affiliate supports education by giving a deserving business student at the local college a bursary, but more education is needed for young new brokers in the area. Commercial insurance courses are particularly rare in her region, she says.  Gillian Van Kempen, president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Durham Region also believes that more beginner education is needed. Insurance broking is not a “second nature job,” she says. “Coming from working for insurance companies and only needing to be an expert on those insurance companies to suddenly being a broker where you represent five, six, eight different companies…now you have to be an expert on all of them. The smaller brokerages, and maybe even some of the larger ones too…I don’t think they have the ability to be able to supply the training that the new brokers to the industry would benefit from.” In an ideal world, she says, there would be a step-by-step guide to becoming a broker. “I know there are licensing courses—and licensing is great, it teaches you the practical theory—but it would be so amazing if there was some sort of educational product that would give them a crash course on the practical experience of being a broker,” she says.

Brokerage of the Year: Breaking down barriers 

An oft-repeated industry stat is that direct writers are taking 1% to 2% market share away from brokers and other industry players per year. Though a small increase on an annual basis, ten years from now that growth will represent a significant shift in the marketplace. When discussing challenges facing the broker channel, it is not a surprise, the finalists in this category inevitably mention direct writers. Though many are concerned about this erosion of broker market share, as well as other challenges facing the broker channel, the Brokerage of the Year candidates remain optimistic—and even excited—about opportunities for growth.

Because they only deal with one provider, direct writers are often faster at getting quotes and information to clients—and this is a major hurdle facing the broker channel, says Amanda May, account manager at W.B. White Insurance in Oshawa. “I think the biggest issue we have right now is that all the companies are promoting their own portals and their own way of doing things, and I think that, for the broker channel, it slows us down because it ends up being that we have to do the same thing three different times, sometimes before we end up with the paperwork,” she says. “Also with the paperwork, I think that we have a big issue in that there’s too much of it. Again, it’s because all of the companies have their own way of doing things, so when we receive it in our broker management systems we then have to redistribute the paperwork again. If [the insurers] went to a more unified system, I think that all of the brokers would benefit, I think the companies would benefit, and the clients would love it.” Directs also have more money to spend on advertising, she says, so brokers have to find other ways to attract clients. “What we’ve really tried to do this year is be a face in the community,” she says. “You just can’t expect that the consumers are going to go and look and find you. You have to get up and go out there and find them; show them who you are, show them what you can do.” If a customer gets to know you and likes you, they’re more likely to do business with you, she says. “We don’t have the budget to get them to like us with kitschy advertising on the TV, so let’s find another way to get that one-on-one connection.”

Though there are many obstacles facing the broker channel, there are also many opportunities for brokers to grow their books. Servicing targeted groups of newcomers to Canada has contributed to the growth of Donovan Insurance Brokers in Waterloo, says its president, Kevin Donovan (see cover story here), though this growth has not been without its challenges. Donovan wants to make sure these communities are well-served by his brokerage, but communicating with clients who often do not speak English fluently can be difficult, as someone is not always available to speak with them in their native language when they call or visit. “Language/diversity is a bit of an issue. [It’s a matter of] finding staff that can help us tap those markets,” he says. “We’ve had some luck there.”

New technology, of course, provides new opportunities for brokers to attract clients. “I think there’s a huge opportunity in the mobile world for brokers,” says Peter DaSilva, president and chief operating officer of Cornerstone Insurance Brokers in Woodbridge. “We’re developing down that road as a real opportunity for the future to speak to more people.” Cornerstone is continually improving its mobile websites for both cell phones and tablets so that customers can easily research the company, find quotes and get in touch with the brokerage as quickly and easily as possible. “The marketplace is changing around us; we can’t continue with the same model that we have had in the past. So if we want to grow, we have to make the changes to be there,” adds Wendy DaSilva, Cornerstone’s CEO. In addition to making their website as user-friendly and informative as possible, Wendy adds that extending the brokerage’s operating hours has been another method they’ve looked at to attract clients. “The directs are all open at night. If clients can’t reach us, they’ll go to them,” she says. “We don’t want to be trying to catch up; we have to surpass what [the directs] are doing and provide an offering to consumers that is second to none.”

Broker of the Year: The new broker landscape 

Finalists: 

Jeff Ives, president, Ives Insurance Brokers Ltd., Essex

Will Marshall, president, Will Marshall Insurance Brokers Ltd., Barrie

Linda Papadopoulos, vice-president, corporate & risk management, Pearson Dunn Insurance, Stoney Creek

It is no secret that the insurance industry is in a period of transition. New technology has shifted consumer expectations; regulators and even political parties are introducing changes that will have wide-ranging effects on the industry; and the landscape of the broker channel is constantly evolving. The rapidly changing nature of the industry does present risks, but, by adapting to change, new opportunities for the broker channel are also popping up.

“If brokers don’t change the way they do business today, they won’t be around,” says Jeff Ives, president of Ives Insurance Brokers in Essex. “You’re going to have to have face-to-face meetings; you’re going to have to have the ability to do work over the Internet; you’re going to have to have the ability to self-service, where the customer can go right into your site and make changes, buy policies and obtain information from you through various media. If you don’t have those, and if you don’t start to specialize in some lines of business, I think you’re going to be in trouble,” he says. He adds that brokers’ clients are looking to do business globally, and brokers need to be able to support them in that. Ives sees the increasing global reach of insurance companies as a great opportunity for brokers, no matter where they are based—village, city or metropolis—to expand their operations. “You’ve got an opportunity right now, with technology and insurance carriers that are becoming more global players, to be able to do business elsewhere. You don’t just have to do business in your own backyard.”

Regulators also present complications for the broker, says Linda Papadopoulos, vice-president, corporate & risk management, at Pearson Dunn Insurance in Stoney Creek. “It’s a challenge to keep up with all the regulatory changes and make sure that you communicate those changes properly and effectively to your clients,” she says. “For example, in the past two years, the Ontario government announced changes to the coverage and limits provided under the Accident Benefits section of the Ontario Automobile policy. We as brokers had to quickly learn the changes, learn the implications of those changes, review our internal work flows, and revise our communication strategies with our clients so that we could offer them correct, clear advice on how their coverage has changed (reduced, in some cases) and provide them with the available coverage options.” Brokers, she says, need to put clients’ interests first, but with additional responsibilities being downloaded onto brokers, this takes continuous effort. “We’re just so limited with the time that we have available to finish jobs, to meet with clients, to have these relationships that we try to build with our markets as well.”

Will Marshall, president of Will Marshall Insurance Brokers Ltd. in Barrie, sees the acquisition of brokerages by large insurance companies as a top risk facing the broker channel. “To the insurance companies, buying insurance brokerages is another means of growing market share. In the long run, I do not see these acquisitions as a benefit to the consumer, as the consumer thinks he is still dealing with a broker when, in fact, it is the insurance company,” he says. Marshall says, with these types of acquisitions, customer service ultimately suffers. “With insurance companies and even other brokers getting [bigger] and [bigger], it’s all about the numbers and the volume, and they’ve forgotten about service and advocacy for their clients.”  Looking ahead, he sees nothing but positive developments for the broker channel, but he adds that, in order to succeed, brokers will have to really work for their clients. “We’ve got to go back to servicing our customers. It’s not about just buying other brokerages and getting the numbers. All of a sudden you become the same as the direct writer. What are you doing for the customer? All you’re doing is selling the price. As brokers, we need to sell the steak, not just the sizzle.”

Amidst all these challenges, the most important thing the broker community needs to recognize, says Ives, is that change is necessary. “The [biggest risk is] closing your eyes and putting your head in the sand, not wanting to change or not thinking that you have to change,” he says. “There are plenty of opportunities for you to expand your operations, change your operations and maintain your income levels, but you’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities and you’ve got to be open and willing to change.”

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Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the October 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P.
Transcontinental Media G.P.