Rising Star Dean Sandonato Details His Rise Through the Industry and the Biggest Challenges Faced by the Education Sector

Power Broker and Rising Star Dean Sandonato brings a passion for education to his role in helping higher ed clients overcome the hurdles posed by COVID-19.
By: | August 18, 2022


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’s a look at Dean Sandonato, vice president of global risk for Gallagher, and a 2022 Education Power Broker and Rising Star.

Risk & Insurance: What initially drew you to a career in insurance?

Dean Sandonato: When I was at Bentley University, I took an Insurance & Risk Management class and it resonated with me. Then, as I was getting ready to graduate, I learned about an account executive opportunity at Liberty Mutual that included an intense 3-month sales training program. I took the opportunity to get sales training from such a great company and then begin my sales career with them.

R&I: What about the education sector excites you? What are some of the challenges you’ve helped clients overcome?

DS: I love helping colleges and universities manage their global risk insurance programs and insuring their travelers have the support they need. We are always faced with new challenges and I truly enjoy finding creative solutions for our clients.

International travel was the first sector of higher ed to get hit hard by COVID-19. Our clients had to cancel and interrupt trips and get all of their travelers back to the U.S.

Unfortunately, the threat or fear of a pandemic was not a covered trigger under their in-force blanket insurance policies. COVID-19 created a major gap in insurance coverage. We immediately addressed it and launched a Cancel for Any Reason/Interruption for Any Reason (CFAR/IFAR) product that filled this gap in coverage for future trips.

When travel finally resumed in spring 2021, we faced a new challenge we had never seen before. Travelers were required to test for COVID-19 upon entering and exiting foreign countries and then required to quarantine if they tested positive.

None of our clients had a quarantine benefit in their policies. We worked with our insurance carriers partners to add a quarantine benefit. We have seen many quarantine claims since we added the benefit and our clients are relieved they have insurance to cover these unexpected costs for things like hotel, meal delivery and flight change fees.

R&I: Who have been your mentors in your career? What’s a standout piece of advice they’ve given you?

DS: Teresa Koster, my former boss, who founded Koster Insurance agency — which later sold to Gallagher and became Gallagher Koster and is now known as Gallagher Student Health & Special Risk. In my opinion, and I am sure many other people’s opinions in the industry, Teresa is the most knowledgeable and well-respected broker in the history of student health and special risk insurance. I had the privilege of learning everything I know about Higher Ed Risk Management from her.

“Do what you say you’re going to do,” is something Teresa always said and as simple as it sounds, it has helped me build great relationships with my clients over the last 11 and a half years that I’ve been at Gallagher.

R&I: How would you describe your brokering philosophy? What factors have made you successful in the industry?

I live “The Gallagher Way” every day, which are guiding principles to our culture and the way we work: Gallagher tenet #20 is my favorite tenet and one that I feel has made me successful in the industry. “We run to problems — not away from them.”

R&I: How can the industry attract and retain new talent?

I think attracting new talent begins at the college/university level. There need to be more classes offered on insurance and more schools offering risk management majors. When I was at Bentley University back in 2009, I took the one and only insurance class they offered.

Retaining new talent starts with an intense internship/training program. We need to give these new, talented individuals the knowledge and tools they need to succeed before throwing them into real life sales opportunities. &

Courtney DuChene is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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