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 the digital producer and a staff writer 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]