Rising Star Jules Okai Talks Starting in Insurance, Global Market Concerns and Why International Brokering Makes for a Great Career
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 2022.
Risk & Insurance: How did you come to work as an insurance broker?
Jules Okai: How did I come to work as an insurance broker? Like many others in this industry, it was accidental, not intentional. When I think about my career trajectory, I started at NYU studying pre-med and finance. I was focused on both and trying to decide which route I wanted to take.
I had interned at a hospital and later at an investment bank, and I couldn’t decide what to do. Then the recession of 2007 hit, which forced me to make some decisions. I found a risk analyst rotational program at Willis, interviewed for that position, became intrigued by it and joined the program. The rotational program allowed me to cycle through the different functions of insurance brokering. One area of specialty was international, and it was then that it all clicked for me.
I come from a multicultural background and I’ve always been fascinated with international affairs. Learning a new industry that combined servicing clients and risk management with international business was a good fit for me. That’s when I could say that my career started for me. I loved it and decided to stay in this part of the industry. It’s been 14 years now.
R&I: What was your biggest win as a broker this past year?
JO: It’s been a challenging 18 months, let alone year. Professionally, anything I’ve done to help clients during these challenging times feels like a win to me. Helping clients is when I feel the most engaged and passionate. That’s just part of my personality. I’m solutions-oriented. So for me, a big win is any situation where I’m harnessing that part of myself and trying to find solutions for someone else.
A specific example in the past year: I had a client that was being required to pay almost half a million dollars in collateral after a rough year of losses internationally. After the client and I got over the sticker shock of that, we put our heads together to work through solutions. I was able to use actuarial models to show a different picture. I worked with my colleagues in the same countries where my client operated to validate the information that the carrier was seeing. We were able to help the carrier see the loss picture in a different way. My claims advocacy colleagues and I also came up with a claims protocol together.
Combining these things, not only did the carrier remove the requirement, but it also reduced the premium substantially. This was a big win for everyone because it involved collaboration between the client, our global partners and our internal teams. And it helped our client achieve something they didn’t think was possible.
R&I: As you look ahead, what do you think the most pressing issue for many of your clients will be into the first half of 2022?
JO: Being that I’m on the global risk side of things, that’s a big question. I think multiple clients are seeing a lot of pressure around regulation and coverages as well as efficiency challenges. Most are dealing with these issues while pivoting and figuring out a path forward for their business in a post-pandemic era.
COVID isn’t the only challenge for global business. Trade is another major concern. Everyone has their eye on what the current administration’s going to do about our back-and-forth tariff changes with China.
There are third-party liability concerns as businesses struggled to recoup faster after all the loss they experienced in 2020. I think it’s not a surprise to anyone that global D&O and cyber markets are continuing to be a concern. Not just from a premium standpoint, but a scrutiny standpoint as well as coverage. Global or multinational clients have a lot on their plates, and they’re focusing on navigating it all.
I will say, it’s not all bad news. There are some regions in the world where governments are allowing foreign investment to increase like in India, or carrier solvency has been improved, such as in parts of South America and Mexico. It’s just a very challenging landscape. There’s a lot on their plate, and they have to evaluate how they’re allocating resources and transferring risk. That’s where brokers like myself can help them navigate.
R&I: What about this work excites and challenges you?
JO: Everything. I’m still fascinated by the global aspect of it. That part will never get old to me. I think it’s cool to deal with 190 foreign countries, not every day, but conceptually.
It’s balancing being empathetic, catering to clients and getting what they need done while also also managing our business relationships with carriers, claims folks, TPAs and all the other organizations that help our world move.
I do a lot of business in the private equity space, and that’s a whole different aspect of a fast-paced world. Movement has been up in that space since 2020. Deal volume has been crazy, and I like fast-paced work. It feels like my colleagues who are across the world are right here next to me, and that’s exciting and fun. If that wasn’t true, I wouldn’t still be here 14 years later.
R&I: What advice would you give to a young person looking to start a career in insurance?
JO: I actually think about this a lot. Young people who are completing college or trying to figure out a career path for themselves don’t realize insurance is an industry ripe with opportunity.
It’s a great industry for transferable skills as well. Whether or not you’ve worked as a server, been a member of a college club or made presentations in school — those are all transferable skills. We’re an industry that accepts anyone who’s willing to work hard — those people will find their place. I believe choosing the right company to start one’s career is just as important as the career itself. You want to find a company that challenges you, values your contributions and provides you with advancement opportunities. I was lucky to work at companies that gave me all of this.
DEI is a big buzzword in our industry and in all industries right now. But it’s important to work for a company that truly values diversity and lifts up all different types of people. Any young person starting in this industry should use their time to help develop themselves by seeking out different mentors from all backgrounds, tapping into their expertise, and learning how they carved their own career paths.
I believe companies who offer these types of opportunities provide the best breeding ground for young people to find their passion in this industry. You do have to have a passion for it. I don’t recall who said this, but ‘passion leads to purpose,’ and I really think that’s true. Passion and purpose will help you deal with the ups and downs that come with this industry.
And there’s plenty of rewards too. For global business specifically, it is a passion for collaborating with people from around the world that drives one’s ability to multitask and manage all the various aspects of the business I mentioned earlier. It’s my shameless plug for international, but to me – there is nothing better! &