Broker Success in the 21st Century

To succeed, brokers must focus on specialization, leverage technology in client relationships and meet recruiting challenges.
By: | February 4, 2015 • 3 min read

The need for niche expertise and a technical understanding of client exposures are two of the key themes that emerged during a recent panel discussion hosted by A.M. Best.

Panelists on the “Succeeding in the 21st Century Insurance Sales Environment” webinar said brokers need such skills along with a deep understanding of their clients’ businesses to stay competitive.


“It’s really about developing a specialty or expertise, because the sale is so much more technical today,” said Marya J. Propis, head of distribution management, Lexington.

Advances in technology have increased the speed of business and enhanced analytics and reporting capabilities, which allow companies to more closely track trends and predict the severity of their exposures.

 “Clients today are buying solutions from organizations. It’s not as much of a linear relationship.” — Kevin Kenny, executive VP, head of growth and business development, Wells Fargo Insurance Services

“Clients expect us to have done our research,” said Kevin Kenny, executive VP, head of growth and business development, Wells Fargo Insurance Services “They’re not telling us what they want us to know about them. That’s 60 percent of the work.”

Technology has also changed the nature of relationship-building in the business, but panelists still stressed the need to personalize interactions with clients to distinguish themselves within a wider scheme of industry consolidation.

“Clients today are buying solutions from organizations,” said Kenney. “It’s not as much of a linear relationship.”

Still a “People Business”

“Data allows us to better react to our customers’ needs,” said Patrick Kennedy, regional executive vice president, insurance & risk management, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. “It’s impacting the speed and nature of our interactions, but we’re still a people business.”

According to Stephen Jalkut, chief marketing officer, North America commercial lines, AIG, “you have to be more personal in your interactions” in an era when it’s easier than ever to avoid face-to-face meetings.

“You have to embrace technology in how you communicate with clients and manage your daily sales process.” — Joe Gunn, national partner, Northeast region, Willis

“You have to embrace technology in how you communicate with clients and manage your daily sales process,” said Joe Gunn, national partner, Northeast region, Willis.

Propis seconded that sentiment.

While “no form of automation closes deals,” she said, brokers and salespeople could harness their firm’s analytical platforms to help gain a foothold in the industry, building on the expertise and relationships that their predecessors developed before them.

Recruiting Challenges

Panelists also discussed the need for the industry to get better at recruiting new talent from a variety of sources.

Propis stressed that part of those efforts should be aimed at college students already pursuing risk management degrees because so many of them slip through the cracks.

These students can easily choose to go in a different direction — particularly the finance sector — when they graduate, she said. Insurers and brokers need to reach them before they reach that point and provide them with entrée into the industry, and show them what their career progression could look like.

“The industry needs to band together,” said Kennedy. “We need to do a better job talking about what a great industry we’re in.”

“We have to explain how insurance makes the gears of the global economy turn.” — Stephen Jalkut, chief marketing officer, North America commercial lines, AIG

“We have to explain how insurance makes the gears of the global economy turn,” said Jalkut.

Additionally, Gunn said, liberal arts students and professionals in other sectors, such as technology in particular, should be recruited as well. They are “sources of innovation” who can envision new problem-solving approaches.

He also stressed the need for veterans of the business to serve as mentors.


New brokers should not be left alone and checked in on after a year or more to evaluate their progress. Those with more experience should be guiding them every step of the way.

Kenny pointed out how industry leaders can attract young people entering the workforce by meeting their primary career goal: to make a difference. He said it will be vital to “allow new people to have an impact on our business.”

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]