The 2021 Rising Stars: The Next Generation of Commercial Insurance Brokering Talent

Among the 2021 Power Brokers are the 2021 Rising Stars. This next wave of insurance brokering talent sat down with Risk & Insurance to discuss their respective journeys within the insurance industry.
By: | May 14, 2021

Melanie Waltrich, ARM, 28, a Marsh 2021 Marine Power Broker

The generation now entering the workforce wants to secure a career that they find passion and purpose in.

They want to devote their professional life to an industry they find exhilarating and thought-provoking. They seek a career in which the room for growth is endless and their day-to-day responsibilities keep them constantly learning.

There’s a stigma around a career in insurance, though, especially for young, fresh-out-the-gate professionals. Many believe a career in insurance will never check off all these boxes. Or rather, they don’t give the industry a single glance.

Speak to each of these Rising Stars for half an hour, like I did, and they’ll have you thinking differently.

They spoke with excitement about their journeys thus far and what they find so rewarding about what they do every day. Their desire to continue learning and challenging themselves would encourage anyone to feel the same way. And their natural ability to foster connections and serve their clients is inspiring.

Finding Excitement Within Insurance: It Can Be Done

To an outsider, a career in insurance can sound daunting or even boring. Newcomers fear saying “yes” to insurance equates to an unfulfilling career. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

At its core, the insurance industry is consistently known, or should be known, as the business of helping people.

“Insurance has always been one of those very stable industries, but almost the best kept secret,” said Lael Chappell, 37, director of insurance distribution at brokerage Attune and a 2021 Power Broker in the At Large category.

Lael Chappell, director, insurance distribution, Attune

“People have knowledge of insurance and an understanding of its purpose, but they don’t necessarily understand the world of opportunity.”

That opportunity is the ability to tap into a personal interest and turn it into a stable career.

That’s how Hannah Adams, 24, an account executive at Gallagher and a 2021 Nonprofit Power Broker, has been able to feed her passion for nonprofit work. Adams, who studied sociology as an undergrad, found that working as an insurer for nonprofit organizations provided her with a fulfilling experience.

“I’m able to help companies and nonprofit organizations accomplish their goals. If we can help them solve a problem, it really moves them forward as an organization, and I see myself playing a part in that,” she said.

The same goes for Blythe Hogan, 36, a director with Aon, who is a 2021 Fine Arts Power Broker. For Hogan, insurance and risk management was the appealing method to appease a personal goal.

“Art history was my passion, and I fell into insurance, to put it simply, to protect art,” she said. “I thought ‘What happens to these pieces of art after they’re auctioned?’ That’s risk management.”

A factor that continues to intrigue Hogan about the industry is the ability to pave multiple paths.

She said, “You can start off in casualty insurance and then end up working in construction or art insurance … there are different pathways to learn and grow. And that’s nice for young professionals who may not know exactly what they want to do yet.”

While many have said insurance was not the path they intended to take, one Rising Star confirmed a career in insurance was her plan all along.

Melanie Waltrich, ARM, 28, a vice president at Marsh, and a 2021 Marine Power Broker, double majored in insurance and international business at Temple University. Her initial draw to the insurance industry stemmed from the job stability it provided. But, similarly to other Rising Stars, it allowed her to combine her passion with work.

“I was studying international business and working with people on an international scale, but I was also interested in risk and helping companies manage their risk. So, I coupled the two studies together and found a good niche in the insurance industry,” she said.

The vastness of the commercial insurance space enables professionals to not only primarily focus on what fuels their personal fire but also being a key player in protecting and helping their passion.

There’s nothing boring about that.

A Looming Talent Gap

The industry’s talent gap is a crisis that is already displaying its impacts. The volume of incoming, young professionals is not equating to the number of veteran insurance executives retiring. In fact, more executives have chosen retirement earlier than they had planned due to the onset of COVID-19. This will likely leave the industry in a jam in these upcoming years.

Many Rising Stars asserted that a lack of incoming talent stems from a lack of awareness in what a career in insurance can genuinely look like.

To address that problem head on, many stressed the importance of educating potential insurance professionals, whether that be through networking events, internships or through honest conversation.

“Insurance is rarely seen as the ‘sexy’ element of balance sheet protection that we actually are, and to that, I’d stress the importance of education; attracting talent and inciting intrigue simply requires folks to actually understand what it is that we do,” said Todd Burack, ARM, CRIS, a marketing account executive at McGriff Insurance Services, and an Alternative Energy Power Broker in 2021.

Adams highlighted insurance internships as a successful method to attract young talent, which is how she found her career with Gallagher. The internship experiences and hands-on learning “really brings the industry to life,” she said.

Blythe Hogan, director, Aon

Another component of the talent gap, or rather an additive to the growing problem, is a lack of diversity within the industry. Waltrich stressed what a robust palette of talent would mean for a long-standing industry like insurance and risk management.

“Working with people of diverse backgrounds has been one of the highlights of my career. People with different opinions and life experiences bring new elements to the table that you may not see in other settings. And I think we need a lot more of that,” she said.

Lisa Duncan, 33, senior property broker at Risk Placement Services, and a 2021 M&A Power Broker, said that a lack of diversity is not only exacerbating the talent gap but also doing a disservice to the insurance space.

Specifically, Duncan touched on schools that have successful insurance and risk management programs. While the talent within these programs is exceptional, the diversity factor, or lack thereof, is prevalent.

“There is a lack of race, gender and geographical diversity at these schools, because students who enter these programs likely enroll because they’ve seen someone in their lives within the insurance and risk management industry. If you’ve never seen that, then why would you go?”

A diversity in candidates would be the catalyst for introducing and implementing change within the industry. While the talent gap is viewed by many as troublesome, Chappell sees it as a chance for growth.

“This is such a huge opportunity to continue to bring in that diversity of thought and individuals from different backgrounds, cultures and genders and allowing them the opportunity to make that impact and drive change,” he said.

What’s Kept Them Staying?

As mentioned before, the insurance industry is in the business of helping people, which allows for another fulfilling component to being a broker: fostering connections.

Connections with their clients are a main driving force behind these Rising Stars. From nonprofit organizations to fine art collectors to container ship suppliers, relationships are formed between broker and client. It not only impacts work ethic, but it sustains a desire to continue in the insurance space.

Additionally, the longer tenure in the industry enables current professionals to pay it forward to the newer, eager class.

“I appreciate those that have been sounding boards and have given me the freedom to be creative and think outside the box. I try to make sure I provide the same platform for others, because you know how important it is to empower this next generation to truly enjoy what they’re doing,” said Chappell.

And that’s exactly it: Beginning a possible long-term career in this space is meant to be enjoyable. It’s all about getting your foot in the door and simply starting. Because once you’re there, you’ll understand the draw.

Burack, 28, echoed similar sentiments: “Most people fall into the business, but a recurring theme is that everyone is quite happy once they’re here” he said.

“The luxury of having each day represent something new is a desirable breath of fresh air, and I think that speaks volumes to the strength of this particular career path.” &

View the full list of 2021 Rising Stars

Rising Stars are winners and finalists in Risk & Insurance®’s Power Broker® award competition, all of whom were under the age of 40 as of the Power Broker publication date in February. Since the launch of this designation in 2014, more than 500 brokers have been so recognized.

Risk & Insurance celebrates these Rising Stars, as sponsored by The Hartford, for their achievements and for their emerging role as leaders of the commercial insurance industry. The recognition honors their creativity, exceptional customer service and industry knowledge in finding solutions for their clients.

Emma Brenner is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

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