2015 Power Broker

Best Brokers of 2015

Creative risk solutions, industry knowledge and superior customer service are hallmarks of the 2015 Power Broker®
By: | February 19, 2015 • 12 min read

One certainty about our annual Power Broker® contest, now in its 10th year, is that it is never the same contest twice.

Brokers who seemed to have a lock on certain industry categories in past years have seen their grip loosened as new challengers rise to compete with them.

PowerBrokerLOGOJudging the contest, never an easy task, with hundreds of strong candidates annually, becomes more demanding every year as different risks emerge, and market capacity and appetite shifts.

But there are some things about Power Broker® that remain a constant. Every year, we talk to hundreds of risk managers across a broad spectrum of the economy to get their opinions on which brokers did the best work for them in the past year. It’s their testimonials that elevate a competent broker to a Power Broker®.

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When we talk to those risk managers we ask them to discuss the brokers who serve them in line with three key criteria.

Most importantly, we want to find brokers who were creative and tireless in finding recent risk solutions for their clients. Risk managers find reasons to sing brokers’ praises when they go to bat for them when the chips are down; when coverage is scant, underwriters rebuff them, or when acquisitions or business expansions make a puzzle of their risk exposures.

It took a team of 10 editors and more than 1,000 phone calls/emails to select the 2015 Power Broker® winners.

A second criteria is customer service. Believe it or not, we hear stories every year about brokers not returning risk managers’ calls when they are in a tight spot and need assistance. Leaders of brokerages swear that heads will roll if that’s found to be the case in their business, yet we hear it year after year.

The third criteria is industry knowledge, and by that we can assume insurance industry knowledge, but more importantly, deep knowledge of the business brokers are arranging cover for. When risk managers speak of the best brokers, they talk about how the brokers know their business so well that they become extensions of the organization. That entrepreneurial approach is a key trait of a Power Broker®.

This year, we identified 172 Power Brokers, an increase from previous years, because rather than exclude brokers who didn’t fit into a specific category, we expanded our At-Large category to capture brokers whose specialty isn’t well-defined by one sector or another.

Last year, the machinations of the Affordable Care Act caught our eye as a broad challenge for brokers and consultants. This year, we delved into an area that the industry doesn’t talk about enough; that area is claims conflict and resolution.

When the carrier balks and the customer yelps, Power Brokers step up to set things straight.

The State of Claims Conflict

For the population served by this year’s Power Brokers, 2014 was a tumultuous year across multiple lines of business. Many insureds have been faced with the one-two punch of a devastating loss followed by an unexpected claim denial. Some of those same entities were later left feeling raked over the coals when that claims activity — or other woes — led to harsher terms or even a cold shoulder from carriers with a diminished appetite for the risk. Enter the Power Brokers to bring everyone back to common ground.

In the aftermath of a loss 20 years ago, the question, “Are we covered for this?”, might have elicited a simple yes or no answer. Now there is far more gray area to sift through.

Resolving conflicts on behalf of clients has always been a part of the job for brokers. But brokers acknowledge that in recent years, the nature of these conflicts has changed.

In many areas, claims severity has experienced a slow upward climb, brokers said, leaving carriers more likely to balk at paying increasingly large sums. But there is also larger force in play that is making a state of conflict the new norm for a great many brokers and their clients.

There has been a rapid level of change occurring over the past decade or two, most of it connected to advances in technology.

As a result, risk exposures have deepened in complexity, and so have the meticulously crafted programs used to insure those risks. In the aftermath of a loss 20 years ago, the question, “Are we covered for this?”, might have elicited a simple yes or no answer. Now there is far more gray area to sift through.

“Is the same claim I had 20 years ago more contentious to settle today? I’d have to say no,” said Drew Haaser, U.S. technology practice leader at Marsh and a 2015 Power Broker® in the Utilities/Alternative Energy category.

“What I think we’re seeing is that it’s not the same claim from two decades ago.”

Haaser said that the constantly changing environment is moving faster than policy language can be adapted to keep up with it. The emergence of the sharing economy is one example.

“There’s no way the personal lines underwriter was anticipating that a private automobile was suddenly going to be doing ride-sharing. … At the same time, the commercial underwriter did not anticipate he was going to be insuring auto liability exposure for a fleet of vehicles that are unknown, driven by a cohort of drivers that are not professionally licensed.

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“What’s coming up are just new wrinkles, new gray areas that really need to be debated,” Haaser continued. But many are still thinking of claims in terms of the old paradigms, he said, and that friction is creating conflicts.

These new wrinkles mean a significant rise in coverage ambiguities. Brokers are seeing more instances where a claim could potentially fall under two or even three different policies depending upon how the parties interpret the circumstances.

“A lot of people just get into their rut and see their way of thinking. You have to take them beyond that.” — Amy Fedena, director of commercial accounts, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“We’re definitely getting more gray,” agreed Phil Norton, national managing director, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and a 2015 Power Broker® in the Technology category.

Phil Norton, national managing director, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Phil Norton, national managing director, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“Gray is where people are more likely to make their stances and be stubborn. … The ability of these claims to cross over into as many as three separate types of policies could potentially have different carriers pointing fingers at each other saying, ‘It’s your claim,’ and then the client’s upset because no one’s paying it … they’re all too busy pointing fingers at each other.”

Newer technologies are also making for more challenging placements and renewals, especially when insureds are breaking new ground.

“If you’re a technology underwriter, you’re used to thinking about a product from a company that, say, makes routers, and the router goes into a data center and provides IT services — that you can wrap your mind around, that’s technology,” said Haaser.

“But suddenly that same technology underwriter is being asked to cover a product that’s going down-well in hydraulic fracturing, and they freak out:  ‘That’s not technology, that’s fracking!’ But it is [technology].”

The current speed of business can amp up conflicts as well, he pointed out. If an insured makes a component that goes into someone else’s product and something goes wrong, there’s a real need to get the claim settled quickly to keep the other party satisfied. But underwriters want to do all the testing and get to the root causes, said Haaser.

“They want to go slower.”

The Emotional Factor

Resolving conflicts, said Amy Fedena, director of commercial accounts with Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., is a matter of “being able to figure out exactly what the pain points are — what is everyone trying to accomplish.” That’s where brokers’ deep knowledge of their customers’ industries comes into play, as well as a serious attention to detail, and strong listening and analytical skills.

The next level is understanding the people involved — how they think, what motivates them and what they need to make decisions. That takes an exceptionally high level of emotional intelligence — what is often called EQ. In order to be successful at resolving conflicts, you have to understand what makes people tick.

Drew Haaser, U.S. technology practice leader, Marsh

Drew Haaser, U.S. technology practice leader, Marsh

“It’s so important in these types of negotiations to let the other party present their ideas first and get it off their chest,” said Haaser.

“I find they don’t listen if they’re thinking about what their counterpoint is, or what they have to say. [You have to] allow the other party to get their opinion out there before you can start to build the win for each side.”

Brokers said there’s an underlying cultural difference that makes adversaries out of insureds, underwriters and claims handlers. Haaser quipped that he’s often reminded of the famous line from Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

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On the carrier side, every calculation and every bit of language that goes into policies and premiums is arrived at methodically and with careful precision. Insureds, on the other hand, are  thinking, “I’ve paid my premium to this underwriter for 10 years and never had a claim. Now I have an issue and I want it paid.”

Risk managers’ expectations are based on their understanding of the larger institutional relationship, said Haaser.

“So both sides are attacking it from this very different worldview,” he said.

Amy Fedena, director of commercial accounts, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Amy Fedena, director of commercial accounts, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“A lot of people just get into their rut and see their way of thinking. You have to take them beyond that,” said Fedena, a 2015 Power Broker® in the Construction category.

Citing a complicated conflict she dealt with in 2014, Fedena said the bottom line was everybody thought the situation was one way, but when they boiled down the details, they found that it wasn’t at all what it looked like on the surface.

That’s often what it takes to get people to look further than their own perspective.

Haaser agreed: “You need to be smart about how you pitch the claim, and that calls for digging into the details and presenting it in a way that will break the insurer out of their preconceived notions of whether it is or isn’t covered.

“I think underwriters have a tendency to jump to conclusions about which bucket something might fall into.”

“If I can get the client to see the carrier’s side,” Norton said, “[and] the carrier to see the client’s side — put them in each other’s shoes — then we might actually have two sides with a little bit of compassion … to the point where they’re looking toward a resolution rather than a fight.”

Cutting Through the Noise

There are also times when brokers need to shake things up in order to get a conflict resolved. Norton recounted a dispute he faced this past year involving large industry players and a multimillion-dollar claim with a lot of gray area getting in the way of getting the claim paid.

With such high stakes involved, not to mention an excessive number of lawyers, Norton decided to take things to a different level. He eschewed email, flying to New York and then to California to meet with the carrier and the insured personally.

“If you’ve got a claim that everybody, frankly, thinks is not going to get covered, and you get it paid? That’s like winning the Super Bowl.” — Drew Haaser, U.S. technology practice leader, Marsh

He convinced them to participate in a call without consulting attorneys present.

Prior to the call, he prepped his client by explaining the top three reasons the carrier was denying the claim. Then he gave them three reasons why those arguments weren’t entirely valid.

On the call, the client was completely prepped and Norton served as a facilitator. “What I saw was that a lot of the dispute was just the attorneys being overly zealous in taking their clients’ position.”

Norton repeated the process with the excess carrier as well. He was able to bring the parties to a resolution on both layers, with a result of $30 million eventually paid on the claim.

Without the buffer layer, both sides were more willing to listen and share information. And Norton’s personal visit changed the dynamic away from just being about lawyers firing emails back and forth.

“These are some of the elements that take you from zero to $30 million,” said Norton.

“Some of it’s luck and some of it’s skill and some of it is just completely handling the claim outside the box.”

Norton’s personal visit also elevated the level of trust in him and in his commitment to conflict resolution.

David Robinson

David Robinson, managing director, Aon

“Trust is probably the most critical component,” said David Robinson, managing director with Aon and a 2015 Power Broker® in the Energy/Downstream category.

“[You have to have a level of] trust with your client, that you will do the right thing on their behalf, and also develop trust with stakeholders — the underwriters, the claims adjusters.

“In order to achieve optimal outcomes for all sides,” he said, “that trust is imperative.”

Clients need that trust in their broker so they will accept when their position isn’t as strong as they assumed it was.

Or, for the client to look beyond the claim to see that maintaining a good relationship with the carrier requires reaching a resolution everyone can live with.

On the carrier side, building trust often comes down to respect and diplomacy, brokers agreed.

“There is a tendency to disrespect claims people at insurance companies,” said Haaser.

“I think many times these claims people are between a rock and a hard place, so one of the most important things is to be diplomatic and start by acknowledging how difficult their job is,” he said. Sometimes that is all that is needed to create collaboration so the claim can move forward.

It also doesn’t hurt to note, said Norton, that resolving the claim equitably might lead to future business.

It may be a matter of pointing out, he said, “Let’s think of this as a partnership rather than a dispute.”

“It’s a very effective strategy,” Fedena agreed, “to show them how it benefits them.

“[We might say], ‘Look, if you write the coverage for 18 months, and everyone’s happy, then maybe you can write the other nine lines.’ ”

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Because claims disputes are often high stakes situations for insureds, brokers said they feel clients place a significant amount of value on brokers’ ability to resolve claims.

“Getting a difficult claim paid,” Haaser said, “that’s like the playoffs … there’s more emotion around it … everything is a little heightened.

“And if you’ve got a claim that everybody, frankly, thinks is not going to get covered, and you get it paid? That’s like winning the Super Bowl.”

See the complete list of 2015 Power Broker® winners.

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Manager Focus

Better Together

Risk managers reveal what they value in their brokers.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 11 min read

Michael K. Sheehan, (left) Managing Director, Marsh and Grant Barkey, Director of Risk Management, Motivate International Inc.

Ask a broker what they can do for you and they will tell you. But let’s ask the risk manager.

What do risk managers really need in a broker? And what do the best brokers do to help risk managers succeed in their jobs?

Chet Porembski, system vice president and deputy general counsel, OhioHealth Corp.

Risk managers say it’s a broker who helps them look knowledgeable and prepared to their bosses. It’s someone who sweeps in like a superhero with an ingenious solution to a difficult problem.

Risk managers want to see brokers bring forth better products year after year. They want a broker who shows up at renewal time with new ideas, not just a rubber stamp.

Great brokers embed with the risk management team and learn everything they can about the company and its leaders. They help risk managers prepare and keep tabs throughout the year on changes at the organization with an eye towards planning the future.

“There’s the broker that sees themselves as just a hired ‘vendor,’ or I should say, somebody that basically just does the job at hand,” said Chet Porembski, system vice president and deputy general counsel at OhioHealth Corp.

“And then there’s the broker that views themselves very much as a business partner.  They truly bring added value to the relationship.”

These brokers look at the tough issues the risk manager is facing and bring in the resources to try to help their client in ways even the client might not have thought about yet. They also do advanced planning that makes the risk manager’s job easier when a problem arises.

“That’s the kind of broker I want.” Porembski said.

And that’s the kind of broker many risk managers need more than ever.

“The only way that the relationship is going to be successful is if you build a tremendous amount of trust.” — Frances Clark, director of risk management and insurance, Sentara Healthcare

That’s because risk managers are under increasing pressure these days. They carry more weight as corporations shrink their departments to cut costs.

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Climate change, cyber threats and geopolitical shifts are turning what were once unthinkable losses into risks that are almost commonplace. And this is all happening in an under-insured risk environment, according a study by PwC entitled Broking 2020: Leading from the Front in a New Era of Risk.

Thankfully there are good brokers out there, risk managers say, who can bring more value to a client today than ever before and help ease that fear.

Brokers — the traditional intermediary in the risk transfer chain — do in fact have a tangible and growing role in developing viable and innovative solutions for the risk manager, according to PwC’s study.

They are the “global risk facilitation leaders.”

“[Whatever] organizations are doing in the short term — be this dealing with market instability or just going about day to-day business — they need to be looking at how to keep pace with the sweeping social, technological, economic, environmental and political (STEEP) developments that are transforming the world,” PwC said in the report.

Advisors That Are Getting It Done

Cyber risks are just one growing challenge that all organizations grapple with.

Frances Clark, director of risk management and insurance at Sentara Healthcare, remembers when her broker first suggested that she hold a leadership tabletop cyber drill.

Clark said her broker kept saying, “I know this is going to be a painful experience, but you are going to come out so much better in the long run.”

Frances Clark, director of risk management and insurance, Sentara Healthcare

Her broker was right, and went so far as to help arrange a system-wide drill that included representatives from the legal, finance, security, communications, marketing and medical teams.

They reviewed the many ways a cyber attack can happen and then practiced a response.

“We benefitted greatly from that exercise,” Clark said.

When Doctors on Demand developed a telemedicine app to offer mental health services through mobile devices, the company ran up against insurance limitations across state lines. All states require that the physician giving the advice be licensed in the same state where the patient is located.

The concern was for patient encounters where the patient actually crossed state boundaries during the encounter, due to the utilization of a mobile phone. The patient may have started with a properly licensed physician in the original state, but then crossed into a neighboring state where the physician was not licensed.

Larry Hansard, a regional managing director at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., and a 2017 Power Broker®, worked to secure medical professional liability coverage without the traditional licensure exclusions placed on medical professionals by insurance carriers.

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The initiative he helped develop actually changes how health care can be delivered to patients. It allows the emerging telemedicine sector to now offer services around the world.

Two-thirds of the risk managers in the PwC Broker 2020 survey labeled their brokers as “trusted advisors.” But the same survey found that some participants see their broker as more of a straightforward service provider rather than as a source for solutions.

The survey results indicate there is plenty of room for brokers to bring more value to clients.

OhioHealth’s brokers meet each year with OhioHealth’s risk management team to review insurance coverages.  And when the health system holds quarterly risk management retreats, the brokers attend. They bring with them education and insights on a broad range of topics, from property insurance markets to cyber solutions.

Porembski’s brokers also collaborate with the risk managers when there’s an upcoming presentation on risk issues to senior management. Sometimes the brokers help prepare the presentation, he said.

“We end up looking exceptionally good to our senior leaders and our board,” he said.

Involving the broker in interactions with leaders outside the traditional risk management team has benefits beyond selling products, he said. It extends the relationship circle.

Clark tries not to think of her brokers as outside vendors just providing a service. She wants them to be as committed and knowledgeable about the organization as she is.

“The only way that the relationship is going to be successful is if you build a tremendous amount of trust,” Clark said.

“You have to be completely open and honest about everything, no matter how bad it is, or how bad it may look to the market or underwriters.”

“Once you establish that trusting relationship, I think everything else falls into place,” she adds.

Sentara underwent significant growth recently, acquiring five hospitals in about six years. The expansion required a vast amount of integration on insurance programs and a merger of risk management departments and claims.

Clark said her brokers rolled up their sleeves and expertly navigated her through the consolidation.

“I can’t reiterate enough how most risk managers don’t know how to deal with an M&A unless you’ve gone through it.”

She said she wouldn’t have been able to manage the risk of the mergers without her broker’s counsel.

Grading the Broker

Mike Lubben, director of global risk management at Henry Crown & Co. in Chicago, sets standard expectations of his insurance brokers: know the exposures, understand how a risk manager has to sell ideas internally and understand the urgency of requests.

He lets his brokers know his expectations with regular report cards, complete with letter grades. And he isn’t shy about giving out Fs.

  • How did the broker service the EPLI coverage?
  • Did the broker provide expertise and coverage analysis?
  • Was there anything creative?
  • Did the broker recommend new endorsements based on the previous exposure?
  • Did the broker recommend any risk mitigation programs?
  • How well did he communicate and help with presentations?

“A good broker will think this is fantastic,” Lubben said.

This method starts the conversation. It helps Lubben establish long relationships with some stellar brokers.  But if the broker misses the mark, Lubben can have a talk with them about ways to do better in the future. Some brokers he has sent away.

Recently a broker failed on what Lubben calls “blocking and tackling,” the basics like returning phone calls within one day and responding promptly to emails.

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Lubben gave him an “F” on those subjects and told him why. The broker still didn’t improve his game and was eventually replaced.

For many people, insurance can seem very routine from renewal to renewal. But a really good broker will break from routine and come back with some kind of enhancement or improvement.

If the renewal is flat with no change in premium, then Clark says she’ll ask, “What are you going to do for me this year?”

The best brokers are always striving for better, she said.

“Without the brokering community, you would be hard pressed to do your job. I really appreciate what the brokers do, they bring a level of expertise that we can’t possibly have on all lines of coverage.” — Mike Lubben, director of global risk management at Henry Crown & Co.

Motivate International Inc., which operates more than half of the bike share fleets in North America, went through a recent renewal.

Their broker, Marsh, explored more than 10 options with different strategies and programs. In the end, after all of that, they decided the expiring coverage was the best fit.

“Those exercises are very valuable for risk managers,” said Grant Barkey, Motivate’s director of risk management.

“As an innovative company committed to delivering best-in-class services, we believe thorough exploration leads to informed decision-making.”

A good broker understands that a company’s day-to-day operations and a highly effective risk management program have implications for what type of policy should be procured, he said.

Brokers need to partner with risk managers to figure out what those options are, and what the markets are saying and then succinctly relay the information to management.
They also need to have the tact and curiosity to inquire about future plans and figure out what resources might be needed to better serve their client.

When PwC surveyed risk managers, most put their insurance carriers and industry groups ahead of their brokers as the primary source of cyber and supply chain risk solutions; yet these areas are still cited as risk managers’ top concerns.

“Becoming the go-to partners for developing and coordinating innovative and effective solutions in these priority risk areas is at the heart of the commercial opportunity for brokers.” PwC said in its report.

“Yet, our survey suggests that these are important areas where brokers are falling short of the market’s demands and therefore need to adapt.

For example, less than a third of respondents are very satisfied with brokers’ analytical and modelling services across a range of areas.”

When participants were asked how their brokers could be more efficient, respondents put risk analysis at the top of PwC’s survey list. Significantly, more than a third also cited ‘big data’ analysis.

Finding the Right Fit

Paul Kim, Co-CBO of U.S. Retail at Aon Risk Solutions, helps match brokers to risk managers. He keeps in mind that insurance companies tend to sell product, while the clients are looking to manage risks. The right broker assists in mapping risks to existing products and also customizing broad solutions, he said.

“The risk manager’s job has become more complex in the current environment, but there are so many tools available for those individuals to make better informed decisions that truly help protect the overall risk profile of their companies,” Kim said.

Paul Kim, Co-CBO of U.S. Retail, Aon Risk Solutions

That’s why finding the right broker should be first and foremost, he said. Look for an individual with strong industry knowledge, product expertise and market relationships. A strong broker is able to effectively communicate what the risk manager’s goals are to the marketplace to be able to execute and achieve those goals.

“Not every broker can do that,” Kim said.

“Not every broker is the right broker.”

PwC said those brokers who quickly master the art and science of identifying ambiguous threats and then mobilize a broad private/public stakeholder pool to economically manage those risks over time will pull ahead of their competition.

“We’re really generalist,” Lubben said.

“Without the brokering community, you would be hard pressed to do your job. I really appreciate what the brokers do, they bring a level of expertise that we can’t possibly have on all lines of coverage.”

When selecting a broker, the risk manager should also take into account the entire organization behind the broker. Ask about the additional support systems that are available to the broker’s clients.

The company should have a deep bench so when the primary broker is out of the office there’s someone else to rely on who is almost as knowledgeable. The broker organization should also be able to assist you with your budgeting and forecasting from a financial risk perspective.

In PwC’s survey of risk managers, nearly three-quarters want analytics from their broker to help inform their decisionmaking, with concerns over new and emerging risks being a strong driver for this demand.

Clark also thinks it is vitally important for a broker to offer a claims advocate, somebody on the outside, when you are dealing with a carrier on a complicated claim.

“Otherwise you are vulnerable to what the carrier says,” Clark said.

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To lead in this new era of risk, it’s also important that brokers forge close relationships with a broader set of stakeholders that includes governments, academia, specialist risk consultancies and even their industry peers, PwC said in the report.

It’s also going to be important to develop shared databases and research capabilities.

In turn, brokers need to assure this diverse stakeholder group that they are the right party to lead.

Clark, at Sentara Healthcare, said she knows what her risk exposures are today, but she’d like her brokers to anticipate her needs before she does.

“It’s kind of crazy, but amazingly some of them do it,” Clark said.

The broker will also use past experience and industry knowledge to anticipate where policy terms and conditions can be tweaked and improved upon.

“They will, say, advise us that we need to change this policy language, and then a year later you have a claim on that and you thank your lucky stars that they changed it,” Clark said.

“It is amazing to me every time it happens.”  &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]