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The schmooze cruise



There were the interns, fresh-faced commerce students trying their hand at underwriting in their last summer before graduation. There was the engineer who decided to become a broker after nearly a year in the oil sands. There were the networkers, swapping business cards and exclaiming over mutual acquaintances. All were aboard the Miss Toronto cruise ship one evening in June, drinks in hand, heels off and smiles on.

People often “look at [insurance] as dry and boring and not as sexy as banking,” says Chris Hirte, an account associate at HUB International. But the Young Insurance Professionals of Toronto, of which Hirte is executive director, is on a mission to change that, with events like the summer cruise.

Hirte and his university friend Andrei Belik, a senior policy advisor at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, founded YIPT in the fall of 2013 because they noticed there were no networking opportunities targeted at young insurance folks. “So you’d have these groups that were either just for young professionals or entrepreneurs in general,” says Hirte. “…And then within the insurance industry, they were very, very narrow.” And because insurance depends so heavily on professional relationships, broker- or claims- or underwriting-only events have their limitations.

“If you look, for example, at the broker-underwriter relationship,” says Hirte, “you rely a lot on underwriters, they rely on you, and the more you’re getting in front of people, the more you’re building that kind of relationship… It makes your work life easier as well as offers you opportunities for advancement.” So YIPT events are open to anyone in insurance, as well as lawyers, engineers, consultants and anyone else whose work touches on the industry. (As for the “young” part, many cruise passengers were in their twenties and thirties, but Hirte stresses that anyone with an interest in insurance is welcome at YIPT events, whether they’re students contemplating the industry or “young at heart” insurance veterans.)

In addition to the cruise, which Belik says he hopes becomes an annual event, YIPT hosts trips to sports games, (landlocked) mixers, volunteer afternoons and speaker panels. Most draw around 100 attendees, and YIPT has recently started charging fees, though they’re determined to keep prices reasonable.

Many industry organizations host valuable events, says Hirte, but if their employer won’t sponsor them, many young professionals can’t afford pricy golf tournaments and charity dinners. So a $30 cruise ticket that includes snacks, a drink and networking opportunities is a sweet deal.

As the DJ played “Like A G6,” “Blank Space” and, of course, “I’m On A Boat,” passengers nibbled on duck, dumplings and crudités. Some lined up at the bar for mixed drinks and others on the deck for beer. A cluster of junior brokers made plans to meet up the following month. An actuary explained his company’s training program to a broker-turned-claims-agent looking to break into underwriting. There was some kvetching about doing a boss’s work for an intern’s wage, and others seemed delighted to learn their colleagues had also charged expensive alcohol to the company card when entertaining clients. Old co-workers and new acquaintances beamed in front of the city skyline as Miss Toronto crew members obligingly snapped pictures.

And if iPhone photos aren’t quite enough for passengers to relive the cruise, they can help plan next year’s. “We always have room for other motivated young professionals who want to help grow the organization,” says Hirte, “and have some ownership and make it their own.”

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Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Transcontinental Media G.P.