We deconstruct some of the key themes that were covered in the panel debates at Broker Expo Leeds.
Richard Pitt, Chief Network Officer, Broker Network
Simon Mabb, Managing Director, Romero Insurance Brokers
Tim Mortimer, Regional Director, Jelf Bluefin
Mark Thomas, Branch Sales Director, Lorica Insurance Brokers
Tony O’Gara, Regional Managing Director, Towergate
Michael Eardley, Director, PIB Insurance Brokers
Jon Newall, Principal, Lockyers
Host: Emmanuel Kenning, Editor, Insurance Age
Theme number 1: Local access to underwriters
The panel explored how the size of a broker’s business could impact on their experience of access to underwriters, the importance of empowerment, and their concerns of a lack of robust experience within the underwriting community. Richard Pitt’s suggestion to encourage insurers to spend a week in a brokerage struck a chord with the audience.
Thomas: If you’d asked me about access to local underwriters four years ago I would have given you a different answer as there were issues in terms of accessing support, but the picture has changed. It varies by insurer; some have shifted out of the region a little, but on the whole it’s much better than it was.
Pitt: I think the experience varies depending on what size of business you have. If you’re a large broker you can demand new business and Mid Term Adjustments and you get a response, but the medium and small businesses don’t have that same luxury. The split service across offices and regions can also be a challenge for insurers. It’s less about service for me though, and more about empowerment. There are some great examples of insurers growing in Leeds because they let people just get on with the job. You need to get empowered people in the right place.
Mortimer: Richard makes a great point. Sometimes it’s horses for courses. But there are new entrants in the market, particularly MGAs, who are really aggressive and who are making waves. It’s a positive picture for Leeds.
Mabb: It’s actually the smaller cases that can cause problems because insurers tend to be geared up for those bigger cases, and smaller cases may take less time but there isn’t the same competitiveness there from the underwriters.
Mortimer: Technology will help there I think, to look after the vanilla, small package type business so that underwriters can free up their time to focus on the cases that require more attention.
Pitt: There needs to be empowerment across the board – it’s about everything from the underwriters being able to make commission deals to the claims team being able to make decisions. It’s about ownership, and being able to make that decision once so the broker isn’t having to have the same conversation with several different people. AXA have done it really well; for the Network their account is growing and is in the top quartile. They’re doing particularly well in Leeds too.
Mortimer: The composite insurers will empower you if they trust you and believe in you.
Mabb: I could count on less than two hands the number of underwriters who are truly empowered and who can see the wider picture.
Mortimer: The lack of knowledge, experience and expertise among underwriters is a concern. We don’t expect everyone to be HCII qualified any more, but to be business advisors and to tackle the emerging millennial generation we need to invest more time and money into this.
Pitt: I’d encourage insurers to get staff out and into brokers’ offices. When you work in the corporate world you don’t appreciate the realities of broking – how the lateness of renewals can impact and the black hole of Mid Term Adjustments. There are hundreds of brokers within a 60 mile radius of Leeds who would be only too happy to welcome insurers to their offices. Insurers train their staff all the time, but there’s no better experience they’d get than a week spent in a broking office. I know our 600 Members would feel the same way.
Kenning: From the show of hands it’s clear there are lots of brokers in the room who would be happy to host! I think you’ve hit on something there Richard!
Theme number 2: Communication
The panel discussed what good communication looks like and the advance of ‘text neck’!
Pitt: Communication is just a mess for most companies because of email. I firmly believe that email should be confirmation, not communication. Every email should start with ‘As discussed’ and contain no new information. You should be using phone calls and meetings to have those discussions because then you can’t hide or misconstrue things. My daughter does it with texting – I sometimes think she’s sent me something a little ‘short’ but when I speak to her afterwards she explains what she meant.
Mortimer: I think that’s just the reality of how society is going – I heard that ‘text neck’ is now a thing where young people suffer from a crick in the neck from looking down at their phones all the time. I can’t see that changing.
The panellists from the first session of the day: Michael Thomas; Tim Mortimer; Richard Pitt; and Simon Mabb.
Theme number 3: Technology
Did the panellists feel technology empowers them to get work done, or that it is just another way for people to attack their business?
Mabb: It’s an enabler. But with systems there’s no differentiation – you’re just filling in the information that the insurer wants, so the ability to add that something extra is lost. You need conversations and the ability to override the system.
Mortimer: The industry will be caught up with millenials. There is still room for the old traditional business advisor, but with the ‘text necks’ set to run the business world within the next few years we need to think about how we’re going to adapt. They will be time poor and will rely on things like drones and digital tools like Google maps, so what worries me is that we don’t know where we’re going with that. But rather than fighting the changes, we need to embrace them. It’s not just finding the cheapest premium, but risk management and all manner of things that we can help with.
Thomas: People try to save time and shortcut by twisting things to fit, which can lead to mistakes. Insurers are expanding on etrade but it still needs that personal touch and discussion. Technology is bringing the customer closer to the insurer, so to remain relevant we really need to add value.
Pitt: Technology hasn’t developed that much over the past 10 years. In personal lines the data enrichment and social media monitoring has made a difference, and I think we’ll see that in SMEs within 12 months. But has it improved things for the customer? Not really. We’re in for disruption though with the emerging technology, that’s for sure. Any changes must be customer led. If it’s process led then it’s often seen as reducing cost or increasing efficiency, but the customer needs that choice between traditional and technical.
Kenning: I like Richard’s point, otherwise you run the risk of fixing a ‘problem’ that doesn’t actually exist.
Mabb: Insurers are collecting data but they’re not collecting enough. Etrading is good if it fits the box, but if it doesn’t then you need people.
Mortimer: At one time you only had the choice of a traditional 12 month insurance period for cars. Now, you can insure a car for an hour – so where is insurance going? We must accept the changes and modify what we’re doing to a certain extent.
O’Gara: So many services have live chat now, people want industry specific products that can be transacted efficiently on a 24 hour basis. We’ve been slow to adapt as an industry, but we need to address this issue because that’s how people want to trade.
Newall: I’ve been sat on my hands waiting for technology to catch up with what our customers want and need. We have a nickname in our office for live chat – it’s “dead chat” because there’s never anyone at the other end! There needs to be thought into how people actually want to use the technology.
Houghton: I don’t think brokers should be distracted by shiny new technology – do what you’re good at so that you can provide a good service for your customer.
Theme number 4: 2022 state of the market
The panellists got out their crystal balls to take a journey five years into the future.
Mortimer: Networks are growing – I don’t think we’ll see many brokers without that umbrella type situation.
Thomas: Technology will determine how we trade – it’s scary to not know the changes coming but networks will help with that.
Mabb: Brokers will need to skill up and offer quality advice.
Pitt: The future isn’t all about networks. There will be a massive change driven by the cost of insurance. Millennials are going to disrupt things, and I recommend that everyone runs future groups in their business with people of this generation because what they’re coming up with is revolutionary. Sure as eggs are eggs, we’re going to see changes. My advice is to raise your head up and be proud of and cherish our industry, but also be ready for the stuff that’s going to come at you. It’s your choice how you’re going to react. You need to work on the business, not in the business, and take advantage of opportunities. Get on your surf board and ride the wave in!
O’Gara: The industry takes time to adapt so I don’t predict that we’ll see a big difference. Etrade will be more of a feature. With the emerging risks like cyber we’ll need to develop our skills.
Eardley: There should be change, but if we have a recession we won’t be able to invest to make that change happen.
Houghton: I predict there will be more consolidation. Our competitors will also increasingly be powerful online brands. The industry hasn’t changed much in 300 years though so I can’t see there being too much of a shift in five.
Theme number 5: Attracting talent to the industry
The panellists discussed how the perception of broking amongst graduates needs to be improved in order to be able to attract talent to the industry.
O’Gara: I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school, but I’ve found insurance to be a fantastic career. We don’t do a lot to extol the virtues of our industry. We’re great employers but we need to get the message out there to attract talent.
Newall: I’ve never met anyone who wants to be an insurance broker at school. I’m a third generation broker and I tried to do everything I could not to go into the family business! We don’t sell ourselves enough as an industry. We need to get into young people’s ears rather than end up with a load of people who have fallen into broking by mistake.
Eardley: It’s difficult to attract interest, which could possibly be due to the fact that we don’t offer the same kinds of qualifications as other industries. Exams are seen as optional for us, so we’re very different to the rest of the professions.
Houghton: I interviewed a few Year 10 kids as part of their work experience at school, and none of them knew what an insurance broker was. Of course they knew by the time I’d finished talking to them, and they all had business cards so they could give us a ring when they’d finished school! The CII and BIBA could do more to position us better in the press.