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Head of the Class

With decades of experience under her belt, Ann Donald of Renfrew Insurance always puts her clients first and this truly is the secret to her success.

Name and job title:
Ann Donald, senior vice president and risk management consultant at Renfrew Insurance

What are your current responsibilities in your position?
I have many responsibilities including managing my team, developing improved systems for processing and delivery of our services, client relations, servicing of existing accounts, new business development, volunteering in client industry-related fields, and education and mentoring.

What was your previous position?
I started with my current employer in 1994 as an account executive. Since then, I completed my CIP, FCIP and CRM designations. I also acquired a Risk Management Certificate at the University of Calgary and recently completed a Business Analysis Certificate at Mount Royal University. The education has helped me grow with my clients and prepared me for the business challenges and opportunities. I am also working with more complex risks and accounts, which really has kept my work highly interesting.

Tell us about your first job experience in the industry.
My first job was during high school. I got an after-school job in a small insurance agency. It paid $1.00/hour, not quite as much as babysitting, but I saw it as an opportunity to get employment experience and give me an advantage once I graduated. This was a ‘one girl office’ so I was often alone and responsible for handling everything that came my way. I learned how to rate personal lines policies (auto and homeowners), invoice, pink cards, and deal with clients on the phone and in person. Soon, I moved on to accounts receivable collections and bookkeeping. It certainly was a golden opportunity to see the business world first-hand. This was also the job that taught me the value of goal setting. I remember clearly the day I decided what the course of my career was going to be. From there, I set out to learn more through ongoing education and experience. Determination to succeed, while having a vision of what it’s going to look like along the way is beneficial for anyone who wants to go into this business. Be the one to plan and navigate your path to success.

What were your written premiums in 2009?
High seven figures.

Can you tell us about your client profile?
Early on in my career, I worked for Canadian Surety in their surety department. I learned all about surety and graduated from administration to a junior underwriter. This position also helped me define what type of client base was of interest to me. It was clearly construction-related accounts–my father and uncle both worked in the construction industry, so I often had the opportunity to visit job sites and see the process first-hand. Since I didn’t have skills as a craftsperson, this was the next best thing to actually building something. I took these skills to the next job with a large brokerage firm where I was the branch secretary and also responsible for the surety book of business. When a new surety company came to the marketplace in the late 1970s, I spent time developing new accounts with them. After about a year of working on a brokerage-to-company relationship, I was hired as senior underwriter. This was an exciting time to be building a new company and developing the book of business. The highlight was underwriting many of the bonding facilities for the contractors building the 1988 Olympic infrastructure. After all this time, it’s still a thrill for me to see the Olympic Oval, Canmore Nordic Centre, and many other structures that were built for this purpose. In 1988, I joined the brokerage world again and from there, I further developed my skills to include the insurance and risk management side of the business. I gained more skills by focusing on the entire account, and taking a holistic approach to managing the needs of my clients.

How do you segment your clients?
While building up my client base, I realized that specialization and focus are key ingredients to growing a business. Therefore, I’ve segmented my clients (commercial construction accounts, residential construction accounts, educational facilities and seniors facilities). From these categories, I moved the specifics to ask two main questions: ”Do these clients require the risk management and technical services I offer?” and ”Will they benefit from the business advice and guidance we offer?” If they do, then this would be a good fit, but if the client has fewer needs, then they are better served through other departments in our firm. My goal as a broker has always been to help clients grow and thrive. This really brings a win-win attitude to our services.

How do you target your preferred clients?
I have developed very strong business relations with my clients. By understanding my clients’ business needs, I have been able to develop specialized products and services that enhance the insurance products we offer. I have also developed an accredited educational program. With the tightening economic conditions over the last few years, many clients appreciate the information. The owners and senior management may have extensive knowledge, but by extending the risk management concepts to their project managers and other personnel, the clients can bring the message to many more of their staff.

Please describe how you focus on marketing and branding.
Renfrew Insurance has recently embarked on a re-branding effort. We have hired consultants to help guide us through this process and look forward to completing the initiative by the end of 2010. Aside from this, I work on relationships and referrals to grow the awareness of our brand. We also sponsor major client industry functions.

How do you stand out amongst the competition?
I have always had a passion for helping people, so it is only natural for me to want to do the right thing for my client. That means putting the client’s needs and interests ahead of my own. This is strictly on a highly ethical basis and if a client asks me to do something outside of these boundaries, I say no. Over the years, I have focused on working with clients, and can be proud to say they are my clients. This creates a very positive environment and working atmosphere. We acknowledge the client’s unique situation. We educate ourselves so we know what is going on in the world. By offering service, understanding, and solutions to today’s businessperson, we retain a loyal client base.

Learn, learn, learn, and use your knowledge to become a trusted advisor to your clients.

From your perspective, what challenges is the industry facing at this time?
I think the public has a jaded perception of the insurance industry as a whole. In general, the public thinks we make too much money (in terms of profit), keep increasing rates, and don’t pay claims. As industry insiders, we know there may be a grain of truth to some of the allegations, but in general the industry is governed by economic factors and insurance companies pay their claims. I think the key for all of us is to strive for highly ethical business dealings and continued education. Our clients are changing and we must be two steps ahead of them so we are prepared to address their needs.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming brokers?
“Learn, learn, learn, and use your knowledge to become a trusted advisor to your clients.” You can get by for a limited amount of time by being a great networker and building relationships, but if you are not prepared to answer the tough questions posed by your clients, they will find someone else to answer them. If you want to make yourself more valuable to your employer and client, be ready to take on more responsibility and work. Don’t expect the phone to ring for you–it’s up to you to make it happen. We are in a business environment that is more reliant on technical skill sets and knowledge-based interactions. In order to be recognized as a professional in your field, you must continue to educate yourself and refine your skills.

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Professional Accomplishments

1980’s  First female elected Director for the Calgary Construction Association

1987  U of C — Management Certificate

2003  CRM (Canadian Risk Management)

2004  FCIP and U of C — Risk Management Certificate

2008  MRC — Business Analysis Certificate

2008  Elected Director to Canadian Homebuilders Association — Calgary Region

2009  Appointed Vice President of Calgary Homebuilders Foundation

2009  Vice President — Society of Fellows


An Artistic Appeal

When Ann has some free time, she enjoys putting her creative skills to work

My hobbies: A few years ago, my children gave me an introductory painting course for Christmas. I got hooked and decided to take more classes. Next, I hope to set up a painting studio at home. I have found this hobby to be a great de-stressor. Aside from painting, I love my garden, interior design, reading, hiking and cooking for my family and friends.

My dream job (outside the industry): I read somewhere that if you love what you do, it’s not a job. So I’m fortunate that I don’t have a job right now, and instead get to do what I love. Aside from my insurance career, I’d like to develop my interests in design and feng shui.

My guilty pleasure: On Saturday mornings, I love to read the homes section of the paper in bed, and it’s only after this that I can get on with my day.


© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the May 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

Transcontinental Media G.P.