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2018 Power Broker

The Next Generation of Leaders

With already burgeoning careers, the 2018 Power Broker® Rising Stars share the key components to their success.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 7 min read

Every year, Risk & Insurance® recognizes the best of the best in insurance brokering. These Power Brokers exemplify creative risk solutions, exceptional customer service and a profound knowledge of the industry over 25 sectors.

This year, 214 brokers nationwide and beyond became 2018 Power Broker® winners or finalists. Of these, 80 winners and finalists were under the age of 40, making them Risk & Insurance® Rising Stars.

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Rising Stars are young leaders who have taken the insurance broker industry by storm with above-and-beyond attitudes to get their clients what they need when they need it.

“Never say no.”

That’s Berj Basralian’s approach to brokering. An account executive for Risk Strategies/DeWitt Stern, Basralian is the youngest Rising Star this year at age 27. He works specifically in the Entertainment sector, which, he said, is an industry where he needs a good sense of humor and should be just a little bit crazy.

“I try not to let insurance dictate what clients can and can’t do. I always try to find a solution,” he said. “Sometimes you have to look at something from a consumer standpoint and say, ‘that would make for some great TV.’ Then I work to make it happen.”

His philosophy is to get on the phone or see a client in person when they have a question or concern.

“You get a better sense of what they’re doing. You can only explain so much in an email, but over the phone you learn more.”

Communication Is Key

This year’s Rising Stars understand the power of communication.

“This is something I hold near and dear to me,” said Justin Johnson, age 31, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions, a Rising Star from the Construction sector. “I will go to the ends of the earth for our clients.”

Justin Johnson, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

He finds teaching clients about construction and its coverages as the most rewarding part of his job, because he gets to help them understand the nuances of construction risks.

Johnson “works with companies that may not have a lot of experience on the construction side. These might be Fortune 500 companies that build one or two new facilities every 10 years.

“Construction is like a foreign topic to them. I like to work with them and articulate how certain coverages work to ensure they are protected appropriately.”

He always tries to respond within the same day he receives an inquiry from a client. The digital age, he said, makes it so that responses are sought out fast.

“Being able to respond quickly helps to develop trust and ultimately build strong relationships.”

“We millennials have a different way of managing how to communicate. I think we are focused more so on results than on process, which is good. We’re more fluid in how we communicate,” said Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions, age 28, a Public Sector Rising Star.

Many of these Rising Stars have grown up with easy-access communication at their fingertips, whether it be by email, text or some form of instant messenger.

“I think sometimes we forget that we all put our pants on the same way. My philosophy is to always be human when I communicate [with clients]. That humanizing factor is how we really connect with each other.”

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Crowe makes a pointed effort to check in with her clients and see how they’re doing. She believes having that extra touch of care enables her to better serve her clients.

Jennifer Akhter, senior vice president, Aon Affinity, age 36, an Employee Benefits Rising Star, said honesty is always the best policy when communicating with clients.

“We must be honest about what we have to accomplish together. This industry is consistently changing, and that’s exciting. There is a way we can change and impact the companies that we work with.”

The Path to Brokering

Akhter joined the brokering field like many other Rising Stars; she found her way to it circuitously.

She was enrolled in law school, but after joining Liberty Mutual as a liability underwriter, her plans changed.

“No two days are alike. This industry keeps changing and evolving. Aon allows an individual, like me, to be creative,” she said. “There is a tremendous opportunity to learn and to grow. Insurance is an industry that allows people to influence others in a positive manner.”

Basralian, too, was working toward earning his law degree.

“I worked for an attorney [after graduating college],” Basralian said. He decided it wasn’t his path and turned to his family in the insurance business for advice. The rest was history.

Now when he sees his family, “we trade our insurance war stories,” he said in good humor.

“I think sometimes we forget that we all put our pants on the same way. My philosophy is to always be human. That humanizing factor is how we really connect with each other.” — Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

In his line of work, seeing the finished product drives him to work harder.

“When we get to see the finished product — sometimes some things can come up so out of the norm. We see the stuff come in before its even filmed. Getting to see how it all came together is the best part,” Basralian said.

He mentioned a tank being used on a prank show as an example of such ‘out of the norm’ events. In another instance, he had a client who added a last-minute stunt that involved dangling a person from a helicopter. He had four days to get the carriers and the coverage secured.

Johnson, on the other hand, entered the construction sector as a civil engineer, working for three years on the project side. The company he worked for at the time had a philosophy of rotating employees into different groups to help them get a better understanding of the business holistically.

Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

“I was rotated into risk management,” he said. A few years later, he had the opportunity to join Aon, where he entered into brokering.

Crowe also found her way to brokering after starting her career in another field: “I have my undergraduate degree in political science and Mandarin,” she said.

She worked for a company that handled large, multinational power generation stations. It was there she had her first taste of risk management.

She said this background has helped her become a better broker.

“It was challenging making the transition from being a client to a broker. As a risk manager, I was running the show. My needs and expectations were being met. Now I manage risk managers’ needs and do all I can to exceed their expectations,” Crowe said.

“I can say, ‘I was in your shoes.’ I have the knowledge of both sides, and now I can pay it forward.”

Ask Questions

One thing each of these Rising Stars noted is that they don’t always know all the answers: “Insurance is such a broad topic. With so many different ways policies can be constructed, it’s hard to get your arms around the breadth of it all,” said Johnson.

“I think my first two years were spent reading policy,” said Basralian.

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“When I first came to the [brokering] world, I had this opportunity to lead a team,” Akhter said. “At that time, I was maybe 25 or 26, and I felt I needed to know all the answers. It was my first lesson learned.

“You don’t have to have all the answers. Listen and collaborate with clients. Rely on your colleagues,” she said. “Being younger, I think, allows me to not be afraid to ask questions.”

“Not every one person knows it all,” added Johnson. “I try my best to align myself internally with our subject matter experts. That way, [clients are] getting the best Aon has to offer.”

Crowe said her first order of business is to make sure she understands what clients are asking for. Then, if she feels she could benefit from additional knowledge, she’ll ask herself who can help.

“People, as a whole, don’t like asking questions and they don’t like asking for help. Younger people, I think, see it as an opportunity to grow,” she said.

When brokers ask questions, “the end result is stronger, because we’re working at a solution through many sets of eyes,” said Akhter. &

See the complete list of Power Broker® Rising Stars.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

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In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

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Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

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How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

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One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]