Brokers

Can Brokers Keep Pace?

The rapid rate of change in our ever-more-connected world challenges brokers to anticipate new risks.
By: | October 15, 2016 • 6 min read

Technology and globalization offer opportunities for innovation, expansion, increased efficiency and improved customer service. But they also involve a rapid pace of change — and evolving risks — that keep every company on its toes.

“Changing global landscape, economy, regulatory environments, technology … this is changing the way companies manage both their financial and human resources,” said Tim DeSett, executive vice president of risk practices, Lockton.

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“For brokers, this is really a transformational opportunity.”

The traditional role of the broker is transactional. A company hires a broker to buy insurance. But that model has been changing for years, with brokers becoming consultants and risk advisers in addition to procurers of policies.

“The traditional ways are shattered,” said Mary Ann Cook, senior vice president, risk and insurance knowledge group at The Institutes, a leading education provider for the industry.

“Those brokers that come to terms with that more quickly will be the ones out in front.”

But if brokers are to be effective risk consultants, they have to be a half-step ahead of the pace of change, anticipating the challenges their clients will face and understanding what mitigation strategies best fit their long-term goals and capabilities.

That takes a mix of forming key relationships and expertise within a client’s industry, and gaining a deep understanding of data.

Broker as Expert Consultant

“The best brokers are businesspeople,” said Brian Elowe, managing director, global risk management, Marsh.

“In a fast-paced world, I don’t see how you can be an effective adviser to a client without specializing in their industry. Client organizations have higher expectations that they won’t have to train their broker, but that the broker will bring insights to the table.”

To best understand a client’s risk, it is incumbent upon brokers to familiarize themselves with every aspect of the client’s business, from macro industry trends, to the regulatory environment, to the strength of its competitors in the market, and down to the nuts and bolts of their operations and financial standing.

Mary Ann Cook, senior vice president, Risk and Insurance Knowledge Center, The Institutes

Mary Ann Cook, senior vice president, Risk and Insurance Knowledge Center, The Institutes

Today, brokers also have to take into consideration a broad range of issues like the impact of increasingly unpredictable weather, migration patterns and political climate, impending local regulatory changes, and the now eternal question of data security. Conversations with experts are often the easiest and most reliable way to stay updated on broad trends.

The Institutes, in the course of assembling its seminars and educational materials, seeks input from policymakers and legislators, regulatory bodies, the NAIC, various conference attendees, social media platforms and multiple advisory groups.

Additionally, “belonging to industry associations is a great way to ensure you’re around the conversation of what those businesses are facing, and what strategies they’re developing in response,” Elowe said. “Our account executives are really experts in health care, technology, real estate or whatever sector they’re serving.”

Marsh works with several organizations to put together its annual global risk report, which is presented at the World Economic Forum each year.
Elowe described the process of consulting with leading economists, often working with the world’s top universities, as “an opportunity to challenge our thinking and get a better idea of the conversations we should be having with our clients.”

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That in-depth understanding is critical if brokers want to get the attention of the C-suite.

“To have a conversation at that level, we need to translate our risk management initiatives into language that relates to the company’s goals and objectives, and what global resources are available,” DeSett said.

“To do that, we have to know what they’re saying to Wall Street and to their shareholders.”

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The broker’s role as a consultant also involves adjusting to greater demand for alternative risk transfer strategies that don’t involve insurance. Emerging exposures like cyber, climate, political and reputational risks are often difficult to insure in the traditional market, pushing more risk managers to look for creative ways to retain it themselves.

“As a broker, it’s about ensuring capital efficiency and helping clients set up internal finance mechanisms to prepare for risks that may not be insurable,” Elowe said.

“Pooled risks and captives are situations where a broker wouldn’t be involved in a transaction, but would fill a role providing guidance to clients on how to utilize those models,” said Cook of The Institutes.

Leveraging Analytics

Big Data and predictive analytics also are useful tools in identifying emerging risks and vulnerabilities, but could also be a stumbling point for brokers as technology continues to evolve.

“Big Data is an incredible asset and opportunity to leverage, but takes a lot of energy to manage and can also be a distractor,” DeSett of Lockton said.

“Predictive analytics is a tool that should be a part of a broader strategy of measuring potential outcomes of potential risks.”

Tim DeSett, EVP, Risk Practices, Lockton

Tim DeSett, EVP, Risk Practices, Lockton

To paint a picture of just how rapidly data has grown as an asset for businesses, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimated that U.S. retailer Wal-Mart’s data warehouse in 1999 held about 100 terabytes of stored data; by 2009, nearly every sector in the U.S. economy was gathering and storing at least twice that amount.
Fifteen of 17 U.S. sectors have more data stored per company than the U.S. Library of Congress, it said.

McKinsey also projected 40 percent growth in global data per year, although with only 5 percent global growth in IT spending, according to its 2011 report, “Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity.”
The insurance industry in particular not only has access to large amounts of data gathered from policyholders, but also the analytical talent to process it in its field of actuaries.

The study by MGI analyzed nine occupations that require the skills needed to execute big data analytics and in what industries they could be found, based on reporting by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Insurance carriers employed more of these individuals than any other segment included in the study, which also included telecommunications and internet service providers. In 2009, insurance carriers employed about 18,400 people considered to have “deep analytical talent;” the runner-up, scientific research and development, employed 13,000.

The report concluded that the financial services and insurance industry is “positioned to benefit very strongly from big data as long as barriers to its use can be overcome.”

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Brokers have the opportunity — the obligation, even — to tap into carriers’ wealth of data and analytical talent.

“It will be critical to partner with a carrier willing to work with brokers on the analytics side,” Cook said.

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“The data wars are coming. Brokers have to be able to capture it and work with it better; don’t defer an obligation to help clients build out an insurance program today that is comprehensive, flexible and integrated with data analytics.”
DeSett said, however, that barriers to effective use of data analytics are significant. The ability to store large amounts of data and run analytical software requires heavy investment in technology updates and training.

Aggregating large amounts of data is a useful tool for spotting trends, Elowe said, but it remains difficult to “get out in front” of emerging issues. Even those organizations with access to data and the talent to utilize it will struggle to keep up with new analytical tools and techniques.

For now, brokers’ predictive capabilities may be behind the pace. But this may be an even stronger reason for brokers to, as Elowe advocated, “Get a higher level of understanding of the business first, risks second.” &

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.

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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.

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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]