How Gallagher’s Bill Powell Went from History PhD Student to a Top Insurance Broker for the Education and Nonprofit Sectors

Bill Powell of Gallagher knows communication, trust and transparency go a long way in creating a successful broker career.
By: | October 13, 2021

As the story often goes, Bill Powell fell into the insurance industry.

Following three years of graduate school, Powell believed he’d find himself swapping spots with his professors, with a goal of teaching collegiate-level history upon graduation. But, according to Powell, the job market didn’t align with his initial plans.

“It was clear at the time that although faculty were retiring, they were not being rehired one-for-one,” he explained. “My fellow students and I knew it would be a tough road ahead to get a job.”

Newly married and aiming to start a family of his own, Powell wanted something stable to get started. He landed on an opening in his family’s insurance agency.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“When I started in insurance there was this excitement in learning a new profession, a new trade, a new skill,” Powell said. “Working in a family business for any small agency means you have to learn all the elements of the business.”

He learned how to buy agency management software, create and organize policy files and type certificates of insurance with carbon paper for clients. He even had a hand early on in claims adjusting, which he said gave him the experience he needed to fully understand the insurance process.

All of these skills would become crucial building blocks for Powell’s career ahead, giving him the foundation to be the broker he is today. Now an area executive vice president for Gallagher, Powell is poised with the know-how and laurels as a successful industry veteran.

Brokering Wisdom

“As a broker, you’re helping clients purchase a product that is critical for their success and the protection of their assets, reputation and people,” Powell said.

Primarily centered in the education and nonprofit sectors, Powell said that “people” for him will oftentimes include students and minors.

Knowing that their safety and protection, as well as that of employees, is central to the insurance and risk mitigation process inspires him to do the best he can every day.

“It shows how important our work is and solidifies the difference we can make in the world.”

Insurance has to be more than an automatic purchase for companies, he said; it must be seen as an essential product that will help aid a business through even the toughest of times. For Powell, this is something he not only keeps in mind while on the job but also turns to as a form of motivation.

“You are selling a product that people generally don’t like to buy or even talk about sometimes. But when they have a claim and you are there for them in their worst moments, they’re eternally grateful that you and your company have come through for them.”

Communication, trust and transparency must be part of the process. This has become even more clear this last year, as the hard insurance market coupled with the pandemic marked the start of a new era in business, changing the relationship dynamics between broker and client.

“Now more than ever, we have to continually communicate what’s happening in the market and prepare clients for their renewal and beyond.

Being open and honest with our clients is critical so that they know what’s covered and what’s not,” Powell said.

Brokers have to draw on the resources within their companies to tap into the right solutions and right coverages to protect their clients. That, at the end of the day, is the mark of a great broker, he said, and a critical part of the job itself.

Education and the Nonprofit Sectors Today

As for the markets Powell is keeping an eye on, the education and nonprofit sectors are both grappling with risks that extend far beyond the pandemic.

For one thing, “there’s a restriction on coverage. Exclusions are becoming more prevalent for things like sexual abuse,” he said.

Cases such as the USA Gymnastics scandal and abuses within the Boy Scouts of America are well-known examples of this trend.

This has caused carriers to cut back on coverage in recent years, and Powell expects this trend to continue.

Cyber, he said, is another area education and nonprofit are contending with these days, noting that “it’s become the most challenging line of coverage that we all have to place.”

The biggest hurdle with cyber is how rapid-pace changes can be. Powell expects the cyber risks of today to be even more advanced: “Cyber’s already changed so much in the last six months. Who knows exactly where it’ll be in a few more.”

Despite Hurdles, Successes Still Mount

With an ever watchful eye on the market, Powell has been able to keep track of the latest trends facing his clients. Partnering his brokering philosophy of communication, trust and transparency with a keen view on growing trends, he’s been able to bring success to his clients in spite of challenging times.

In this last year, several museum clients relied on Powell and his colleague’s expertise in navigating the murky waters of the pandemic. When faced with questions on shutdowns, employee and guest safety, as well as financially surviving COVID’s impact, the museums turned to their Gallagher partners for aid.

“We created a two-part round table about how to reopen the museums following shutdowns,” Powell explained. “We had around 60 museums on two separate Zoom calls, where they were sharing ideas about risk mitigation strategies and what they were doing.

“Some had already opened. Some had not. And so, it was an opportunity for them to share and talk to each other about strategies.”

Among the topics of discussions were hand sanitizer stations, mask mandates, restricting traffic to abide by CDC guidelines and reduce virus exposure, online exhibits and more.

“It was about how they were surviving and going to survive after closing down,” Powell said.

His role and ability to facilitate this roundtable was just one of the traits that earned him the title of a 2021 Nonprofit Power Broker®.

Added to that, Powell has also been at the helm, making himself available for clients old and new and keeping them proactive about their risk exposures.

“Insurance is a great business,” he said.

“As a broker, you can pursue a meaningful profession, earn a good living and build a successful career for yourself.” &

Autumn Demberger is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected].

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