Rising Star Brandon Cole on Why He’s Never Left the Nonprofit Space, the Importance of Educating Yourself and More
Come see the Stars! As part of our ongoing coverage of the best brokers in the commercial insurance space, Risk & Insurance®, with the sponsorship of Philadelphia Insurance, is expanding its coverage of the Rising Stars — those brokers who represent the next wave of insurance brokering talent.
Look for these expanded profiles on the Risk & Insurance website and in your social media feeds now and continuing into 2023.
Here, we sit down with Brandon Cole, national director, Gallagher, and a 2022 Nonprofit Power Broker and Rising Star.
Risk & Insurance: Describe your journey into the insurance space. What led you to becoming a nonprofit broker?
Brandon Cole: I started right out of college with insurance, when I graduated in 2005. My mom had always been in insurance. And when I was graduating, I had my heart set on being an attorney. Like most people, I thought, “Oh no, that doesn’t make sense with all the student loans.”
So I said, “Well, I probably need to look at getting a real job.” I went to a career fair at Arizona State University, and there were a bunch of insurance companies there. I thought, “My mom has always done insurance, so maybe I should talk to some of these people.”
I met with a bunch of the traditional insurance companies, like The Hartford and Chubb and Travelers, but actually got connected with the folks at Philadelphia Insurance. I thought they were really cool, because it’s all about insuring niche things, and it does a lot of sports-related things.
Being someone coming out of college, I thought it sounded like a fun place to work. I ended up taking a job with Philadelphia, and if you know anything about Philadelphia, one of its big specialties is insuring nonprofits. So that kind of set my path to insuring nonprofits.
I moved all over the West Coast; I’m originally from Phoenix, moved to Colorado, moved to Idaho and back to Colorado and now live in California. I’m open to new opportunities, ones where other people would not be. But it really helped my career when I was able to be flexible in that type of stuff.
I worked for Philadelphia for seven years and then moved over to Gallagher about 10 to 11 years ago. When I moved to Gallagher, it made sense for me to focus again on nonprofits, and 11 years later, that’s all I do.
R&I: What is your brokering philosophy and how do you try to implement that philosophy into your work every day?
BC: It’s a couple different things. Being really niched focused is the key. I know, I know, it’s kind of a cliché, but I think the days of generalists are kind of gone. We’re really seeing people picking specific coverages, like cyber or workers’ comp.
So really, my goal is not to be everything to everyone. Having that niche focus has been key for me.
The second part of my philosophy is service. For clients, when they buy an insurance policy, I feel like they’re buying the broker or the team that they’re going to work with. You could be the smartest person in the room but still not be a great broker. A lot of these kind of clients just want to know that they can pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I’ve got an issue,” and know that you’re going to be there to respond to them or answer that email.
That’s really the two things I focus on: Being super responsive to our clients and being niche focused.
R&I: You’ve been in nonprofits your entire career. What about the sector excites you and what’s kept you staying there?
BC: A lot of things. One is the people, the clients. I find the clients are generally doing their work for good reasons. The people I interact with every day are usually really cool people; they’re just nice people to work with. Every time I dabble in other industries, the clients or just their personalities are much different.
You know, I started in 2005, so not too long after the 2001 bubble burst and the economy was not great. We then went through 2007, went through COVID, all working in the same industry. The nonprofit space has continued to slowly grow compared to other sectors like real estate or construction which tend to boom and bust. We don’t see that in nonprofits. I think that’s another reason it really attracts me to the space.
R&I: What are some of the ways you keep current on different trends going on in the industry?
BC: Part of being a niche specialist really helps. Because usually when you start to get a question from one client, you then get that question from maybe 10 clients. I think being a specialist is helpful there. Cyber, as an example, for the last year has just been super painful for nonprofits. Having that specialty, I can almost predict what the headwinds are.
I’ve been really, really big in continuing education, and I have about seven or eight different designations. When I first started insurance, that’s how I made up for my age. I was only 21. I’d go into so many meetings, and people would be like, “I’ve got shirts older than you, you know.” All that stuff. I made up for it by doing a lot of designations and really focusing on becoming an expert.
R&I: What advice would you give a young broker who’s just starting out in their career?
BC: Have patience. I know most young people don’t ever want to hear that; I didn’t want to hear that when I was starting out. But insurance is still one of those industries where it’s super technical. I felt like the first six months of my career was like learning a new language.
Also, invest in yourself. Get the licenses, do the designations. Doing those early on can really accelerate your career. If I was starting again, I’d probably do the same thing. Really just leaning in, trying to absorb as much as you can, as fast as you can. But it takes time. &