Rising Star Merritt McDonough on His Familial Times to the Industry and His Thoughts on the Future of AI
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 throughout 2023.
Here’s our conversation with Merritt McDonough, assistant vice president with Aon and a 2023 Finance Power Broker finalist.
Risk & Insurance: Tell us about your career journey. What drew you to insurance?
Merritt McDonough: I grew up outside of Hartford, Connecticut, which used to be crowned the insurance capital of the world. I also had a grandfather and a father in the business, so I heard a ton about insurance growing up around the dinner table. They both seemed to enjoy it and had successful careers, so from a young age I thought that it could be a strong career path.
When I came to New York, I wanted to pave my own way and explore the industry on my own. Since insurance is so broad and is embedded in everything we do and see every day, I knew there were a ton of different paths I could take. I knew that there was an opportunity.
R&I: What has kept you staying in the industry?
MM: Going off my last answer, I would say opportunity. I started in the industry on the carrier side in claims. From there I got a good understanding of policy language, moved on to underwriting and ultimately ended up here at Aon on the broking side. I’ve seen all aspects of the business.
Working as a broker I have a direct line to both clients and carriers. This gives me a lot of insight into what’s happening in the market and how to navigate an industry that’s always changing and facing new risks.
R&I: What are the most pressing risks for the industry right now? How are you rising to meet them?
MM: I would say the most pressing risks right now would be volatility and communication. The hurdles between a hard market and a soft market seem to be a lot more drastic and sudden than in the past, and come with a lot more dramatic consequences.
Whether it’s through coverage restrictions or new capacity in the market, it’s extremely important to find valuable partners that are consistent in their messaging and can share a united goal with you to deliver the best results for your clients.
R&I: How are you seeing the use of AI technologies be incorporated into industry practices, if at all? Has anything really caught your attention?
MM: It’s funny, you see AI and ChatGPT in the news, but I would say it has not had too much impact on the industry yet, and I feel fortunate to say that at least in Private Equity Portfolio Company D&O it will stay that way.
Continuing off my last point on the most pressing risks, I would say communication is easily the most important skill that we have in insurance, and all our relationships are crucial. We run into a lot of difficult situations, so clients want the personal touch and want somebody that they know they can trust. Whether it’s explaining coverage or coming up with a solution on a difficult placement, I think clients really do appreciate knowing that they have someone in their corner fighting for them.
So, I don’t see AI being incorporated anytime soon. It’s developing at a rapid pace, but there are certain skills that cannot be taught [to AI].
R&I: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their insurance career?
MM: Be patient and ask questions. Starting a new job can be intimidating, and it’s natural to feel like you should know everything early on. I’m lucky enough to work on a small, tight knit team and we’re constantly bouncing ideas off each other, asking each other questions, and leaning on each other to come up with the best solutions.
Learn as much as you can and don’t take shortcuts. Read your policies, call your underwriters, double check your work, and learn the process the right way, instead of just going through the motions. &