Marsh Power Broker Scott Francis on the Evolution in Finpro
As insurance markets harden, qualities such as tenacity and motivation come to the fore, as do skills in communication.
2020 Power Broker winner Scott Francis broke into the business in a tough market. He certainly made the most of the last few softer years, but as premiums rise and terms and conditions get stricter, he is well-prepared to adjust his strategies.
A Healthy Mix of Legal and Financial
Francis grew up in the San Francisco Bay area where his father was a pilot in the Navy and later an airline. The family moved to Boston for a time, then back to northern California, where Francis went to Santa Clara University.
He took a major in economics and a minor in political science with the idea of going to law school.
“I thought it would be wise to get some work experience first, and not go straight from undergraduate to law school,” said Francis.
“It also helped that I graduated from college at the height of the first tech bubble in 2000. Lots of firms like Morgan Stanley were holding interviews.”
At the same time, companies like Marsh were just introducing their FinPro teams. For Francis, something that mixed both the financial and legal worlds seemed like a perfect fit. Plus, he had connections at the company.
“My best friend’s brother-in-law was head of the casualty department then,” he recalled.
“FinPro was a new team within Marsh. It blended legal and financial, which ticked all the important boxes for me. I started there and have been with FinPro ever since.”
Working in a Changing Environment
As the tech sector was getting itself sorted, the insurance sector was doing the same for its coverage and risk management for that emerging economic sector.
“About 10 years ago, we had a client with a presence online and some very specific exposures,” Francis related.
“The regulatory environment for their segment was changing rapidly in response to some misleading promotion in that sector. It was not our client, but some competitors.”
This brought emerging risks in four dimensions: new companies, new business models, new technology and new regulations.
“The basic need for our clients was risk transfer from some of the third parties with which they did business,” Francis explained.
“They had indemnification and hold-harmless agreements but needed further protection for these new risks and exposures. They asked us if this was insurable, and we had to ask ourselves the same thing.”
The response from underwriters in the U.S. ranged from a polite to a resounding “No.”
“Having looked around and found that the U.S. markets would not support this, we went to the London syndicates,” Francis detailed.
“Over the course of 6 to 12 months, we sat down with the people in London and flew our clients over several times as well. We basically manuscripted our own policies. Working closely with the client and the syndicate, we put the program together.”
One of the challenges was crafting “not big policies for potentially big exposures,” Francis said.
“These are small companies that wanted to protect themselves and could not carry the risk on their own.”
You Can’t Go Wrong with an Economics Background
While the career path Francis followed was not extremely unusual or unconventional, there was a bit of happenstance to it.
Not every smart young person can be in the San Francisco area during a boom in technology companies. That said, he noted that aspiring brokers cannot go wrong with a background in economics.
“A well-rounded education in finance and all the key subject matter, especially at the macro level, is a great framework,” he said.
Being well-rounded not only means keeping up to date on trends and issues but also on clients and their businesses.
“In addition to reading each client’s public releases and earnings calls, I use several external sources to understand their business, competitive landscape and challenges that each client faces,” said Francis.
Now a Power Broker and leader in his own right, Francis is also a mentor for young brokers.
“I tell them to be tenacious and motivated,” he said.
“I tell them not be afraid to try something and fail. I get the feeling that recent graduates these days have been a little reticent to try things.”
Driving home the point Francis added, “I think what sets our up-and-coming talent apart is the fact that they will raise their hands and get going with things. Being well rounded definitely means you have higher potential.”
That becomes all the more important, because the current situation is so challenging.
“The public D&O market has been difficult,” Francis said.
“That has only escalated for the past year and a half, or two years.
“One of the biggest challenges is that many brokers have not been through a hard market,” he continued.
“The last one was in 2000, which was when I started. The market has been soft for so long that it has been easy for young brokers to differentiate themselves. Setting a strategy is harder for younger brokers, especially now that the markets have hardened.”
Making matters worse, “things are so fluid these days,” Francis added. “Conditions change week to week. Even if a broker were to have a set strategy, that will have to be adjusted,” he said.
“You have to have regular, even continuous conversations with your clients. No doubt about it, there will be work at their end for young brokers to differentiate themselves.”
As an example Francis cited how vastly different the message is that brokers have to take to clients. For years, the news was how big a discount the broker was able to secure.
“Today word of a 100% or 200% increase is not a fun message to deliver,” he noted dryly.
“And you have to convey that at the board level or audit-committee level.”
It helps if clients have time to digest such news:
“Coverage takes longer to place, and it seems that all of the authority has been sucked out of the field level. Boards like to have options. They like to be forewarned.” &