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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 digital producer and staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Pharma Under Fire

Opioids Give Rise to Liability Epidemic

Opioids were supposed to help. Instead, their addictive power harmed many, and calls for accountability are broadening.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 8 min read

The opioid epidemic devastated families and flattened entire communities.

The Yale School of Medicine estimates that deaths are nearly doubling annually: “Between 2015 and 2016, drug overdose deaths went from 33,095 to 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States. That number is expected to continue unabated for the next   several years.”

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That’s roughly 160 deaths every day — and it’s a count that’s increasing daily.

In addition to deaths, the number of Americans struggling with an opioid disorder disease (the official name for opioid addiction) is staggering.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 2 million people in the United States suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and roughly one-third of those people will “graduate” to heroin addiction.

Conversely, 80 percent of heroin addicts became addicted to opioids after being prescribed opioids.

As if the human toll wasn’t devastating enough, NIDA estimates that addiction costs reach “$78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”

Shep Tapasak, managing principal, Integro Insurance Brokers

With numbers like that, families are not the only ones left picking up the pieces. Municipalities, states, and the federal government are strained with heavy demand for social services and crushing expenditures related to opioid addiction.

Despite the amount of money being spent, services are inadequate and too short in duration. Wait times are so long that some people literally die waiting.

Public sector leaders saw firsthand the range and potency of the epidemic, and were among the first to seek a legal reckoning with the manufacturers of  synthetic painkillers.

Seeking redress for their financial burden, some municipalities, states and the federal government filed lawsuits against big pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers. To date, there are more than 100 lawsuits on court dockets.

States such as Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Arkansas have been hit hard by the epidemic. In Arkansas alone, 72 counties, 15 cities, and the state filed suit, naming 65 defendants. In Pennsylvania, 16 counties, Philadelphia, and Commonwealth officials have filed lawsuits.

Forty one states also have banded together to subpoena information from some drug manufacturers.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, recently told reporters that the banded effort seeks to “change corporate behavior, so that the industry can no longer do what I think it’s been doing, which is turning a blind eye to the effects of dumping these drugs in the communities.”

The volume of legal actions is growing, and some of the Federal cases have been bound together in what is called multidistrict litigation (MDL). These cases will be heard by a judge in Ohio. Plaintiffs hope for a settlement that will provide funding to be used to help thwart the opioid epidemic.

“From a societal perspective, this is obviously a big and impactful issue,”  said Jim George,  a managing director and global claims head with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. “A lot of people are suffering in connection with this, and it won’t go away anytime soon.

“Insurance, especially those in liability, will be addressing this for a long time. This has been building over five or six years, and we are just now seeing the beginning stages of liability suits.” 

Basis for Lawsuits

The lawsuits filed to date are based on allegations concerning: What pharma knew or didn’t know; what it should have known; failure to monitor size and frequency of opioid orders, misrepresentation in marketing about the addictive nature of opioids; and false financial disclosures.

Opioid manufacturers, distributors and large drugstore chains together represent a $13 billion-a-year industry, meaning the stakes are high, and the pockets deep. Many have compared these lawsuits to the tobacco suits of the ’90s.

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But even that comparison may pale. As difficult as it is to quit smoking, that process is less arduous than the excruciating and often impossible-to-overcome opioid addiction.

Francis Collins, a physician-geneticist who heads the National Institutes of Health, said in a recorded session with the Washington Post: “One really needs to understand the diabolical way that this particular set of compounds rewires the brain in order to appreciate how those who become addicted really are in a circumstance where they can no more [by their own free will] get rid of the addiction than they can get free of needing to eat or drink.”

“Pharma and its supply chain need to know that this is here now. It’s not emerging, it’s here, and it’s being tried. It is a present risk.” — Nancy Bewlay, global chief underwriting officer for casualty, XL Catlin

The addiction creates an absolutely compelling drive that will cause people to do things against any measure of good judgment, said Collins, but the need to do them is “overwhelming.”

Documented knowledge of that chemistry could be devastating to insureds.

“It’s about what big pharma knew — or should have known.  A key allegation is that opioids were aggressively marketed as the clear answer or miracle cure for pain,” said Shep Tapasak, managing principal, Integro Insurance Brokers.

These cases, Tapasak said, have the potential to be severe. “This type of litigation boils down to a “profits over people” strategy, which historically has resonated with juries.”

Broadening Liability

As suits progress, all sides will be waiting and watching to see what case law stems from them. In the meantime, insurance watchers are predicting that the scope of these suits will broaden to include other players in the supply chain including manufacturers, distribution services, retail pharmacies, hospitals, physician practices, clinics, clinical laboratories and marketing agencies.

Litigation is, to some extent, about who can pay. In these cases, there are several places along the distribution chain where plaintiffs will seek relief.

Nancy Bewlay, global chief underwriting officer for casualty, XL Catlin

Nancy Bewlay, XL Catlin’s global chief underwriting officer for casualty, said that insurers and their insureds need to pay close attention to this trend.

“Pharma and its supply chain need to know that this is here now. It’s not emerging, it’s here, and it’s being tried. It is a present risk,” she said.

“We, as insurers who identify emerging risks, have to communicate to clients. We like to be on the forefront and, if we can, positively influence the outcome for our clients in terms of getting ahead of their risks.”

In addition to all aspects of the distribution chain, plaintiffs could launch suits against directors and officers based on allegations that they are ultimately responsible for what the company knew or should have known, or that they misrepresented their products or signed off on misleading financial statements.

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Shareholders, too, could take aim at directors and officers for loss of profits or misleading statements related to litigation.

Civil litigation could pave the way, in some specific instances, for criminal charges. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who in 2015 became the first state attorney general to file suit against a prescription drug maker, has been quoted as saying that if evidence in civil suits points to criminal behavior, he won’t hesitate to file those charges as well.

Governing, a publication for municipalities and states, quoted Hood in late 2017 as saying, “If we get into those emails, and executives are in the chain knowing what they’ve unleashed on the American public, I’m going to kick it over to a criminal lawsuit. I’ve been to too many funerals.”

Insurers and insureds can act now to get ahead of this rising wave of liability.

It may be appropriate to conduct a review of policy underwriting and pricing. XL Catlin’s Bewlay said, “We are not writing as if everyone is a pharma manufacturer. Our perception of what is happening is that everyone is being held accountable as if they are the manufacturer.

“The reality is that when insurers look at the pharma industry and each part of the supply chain, including the pharma companies, those in the chain of distribution, transportation, sales, marketing and retail, there are different considerations and different liabilities for each. This could change the underwriting and affect pricing.”

Bewlay also suggests focusing on communications between claims teams and underwriters and keeping a strong line of communication open with insureds, too.

“We are here to partner with insureds, and we talk to them and advise them about this crisis. We encourage them to talk about it with their risk managers.”

Tapasak from Integro encourages insureds to educate themselves and be a part of the solution. “The laws are evolving,” he said. “Make absolutely certain you know your respective state laws. It’s not enough to know about the crisis, you must know the trends. Be part of the solution and get as much education as possible.

“Most states have ASHRM chapters that are helping their members to stay current on both passed and pending legislation. Health care facilities and providers want to do the right thing and get educated. And at the same time, there will likely be an uptick in frivolous claims, so it’s important to defend the claims that are defensible.”

Social Service Risk

In addition to supply chain concerns, insurers and insureds are concerned that even those whose mission it is to help could be at risk.

Hailed as a lifesaver, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drug Naloxone, can be administered to someone who is overdosing on opioids.  Naloxone prevents overdose by blocking opioid receptor sites and reversing the effects of the overdose.

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Some industry experts are concerned that police and emergency responders could incur liability after administering Naloxone.

But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “From a legal standpoint, it would be extremely difficult to win a lawsuit against an officer who administers Naloxone in good faith and in the course of employment. … Such immunity applies to … other professional responders.”

Especially hard hit are foster care agencies, both by increased child placements and stretched budgets. More details in our related coverage.

While the number of suits is growing and their aim broadening, experts think that some good will come of the litigation. Settlements will fund services for the addicted and opioid risk awareness is higher than ever. &

Mercedes Ott is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]