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To say it’s been a challenging time in Australia’s insurance industry would be an understatement. A surge in claims arising from natural disasters – including bushfires, hailstorms and floods – has ripped through the sector and conspired with a global pandemic to severely test insurers’ resilience. According to a KPMG survey, the Australian general insurance market saw an almost 50% year-on-year drop in profits during the first six months of 2020.
Higher reinsurance costs, changes in legislation, threats to cybersecurity and a consequent hike in cyber risk premiums, unfavourable investment results, reduction in capacity, and the battle to stay relevant and ahead of the game in an increasingly digitised world – these are just some of the additional challenges in a rapidly evolving sector. Add to this an ongoing lack of suitably skilled staff in the industry, and the obstacles can start to seem insurmountable.
Yet the 20 men and women who made Insurance Business’ 2021 Elite Brokers list have shown that it’s not only possible to ride the waves of these unprecedently difficult times, but to thrive, innovate, grow and even give back while doing it.
Above and beyond
Affordability and availability of cover has been an issue for Australian consumers and businesses in high-risk areas and sectors for more than a decade. While the industry awaits the recommendations of the ICA’s review – which aims to find practical solutions to ease the pressure on both client and insurer – a hallmark of this year’s Elite Brokers was the desire to go above and beyond for their policyholders.
For David Summers, managing director of Ausure Horizon Insurance and this year’s number-one Elite Broker, the bottom line is simple: “Only provide to your clients what you would present to your own family,” he says. “It’s the one defining rule of our business. I follow it, and every member of our team – from the brokers to the night cleaners – follows it.”
Communication with clients is also key – especially the face-to-face interactions that were put on pause during COVID-19. Elite Broker Dale Hansen, CEO of Austbrokers Coast to Coast, says that although the majority of lockdown restrictions have been lifted, many brokers are continuing to call clients rather than visit them and have become used to sending premium invoices electronically.
“Brokers need to engage with their clients more and really understand their clients’ business in a much better way than they have done in the past,” Hansen says. “We must do things differently than the direct-to-market insurers, because if we are not value-adding, the broker will lose to the direct-to-market insurer on price each and every time.”
Maria Tepelidis, operations manager at Scott Winton Insurance Brokers, says talking clients through the data is pivotal in helping them understand why premiums have gone up.
“Data is important: having the facts in front of you, showing clients the reporting, explaining the hard market and the effect of catastrophes,” she says. “It’s important that this data is understood and that visualisation is there.”
Also evident among this year’s Elite Brokers was a clear duty of care to the wider community, to the industry itself and to the next generation of brokers. For these brokers, it’s not just about managing risk for the insured, but about protecting the future of an industry they are all passionate about.
“We should not see our main purpose as making a profit year on year for our shareholders and other stakeholders,” Hansen says. “While this is clearly important, we need to contribute to and educate the community, and to improve the image of insurance brokers at any and every opportunity we have.”
Amid COVID-19 restrictions, many of this year’s Elite Brokers strived to support team members, providing guidance, mentoring, leadership and an interest in their team’s overall wellbeing. Elite Broker Lisa Carter, managing director of Clear Insurance, says she actively encourages every member of her team to stay fit and healthy, because that’s when we perform at our best.
“My team and I enjoy giving each other a hard time when working out with our trainer; it’s wonderful camaraderie building in our team,” she says. “The team that trains together stays together!”
In their unrelenting drive to deliver an exceptional product, this year’s Elite Brokers are also continually upskilling, learning and gaining new qualifications to present themselves as trusted, professional risk advisers on the same level as a client’s accountant or solicitor.
“COVID has reinforced my view that our brokers need to be much better educated than was previously the case,” Hansen says.
Elite Broker Adam Ware, partner of BJS Insurance Brokers (Gippsland), agrees. Because insurance is a complex product that is forever evolving, he says, it’s important to take time to understand and digest the changes rather than learning everything on the go.
“The likely move to the Diploma of Insurance Broking being the base-level qualification for brokers is a really good start and appears to be strongly supported from most in the industry,” Ware says.
A blot on the landscape?
When it comes to emerging trends, Summers identifies one that causes him concern: major insurance companies completely withdrawing from coal mines and any companies associated with the mining industry simply because it is seen as an environmental ‘dirty business’.
“Businesses now have trouble obtaining insurance should more than 30% of their services or clientele be to the coal mining industry,” Summers says. “Car dealers, real estate, clothing retail, food or whatever else will find it very hard to obtain insurance in the near to present future.”
He says he would rather see higher rates rather than straight declines. “The insurance company spin on supporting green and the mass exodus will hurt all Australians,” he says. “Should support to an industry be removed, it should be done so in a responsible manner. While I support green energy, consider this: Australia has the cleanest coal in the world. In stopping production, countries that rely on Australian coal will look elsewhere, and the emissions and energy expended abroad to produce the coal is far more detrimental to the environment. It is almost irresponsible to discontinue the Australian supply right now, when you consider the net global effect.”
As for emerging trends that will bring opportunities for the industry, Ware says that changes in the way clients are operating open the door to new insurance requirements.
“For example, hospitality venues now offering home delivery may require transit or commercial motor insurance,” he says, “and professional practices with equipment in the private homes of employees working remotely may require extensions to their contents/stock and theft coverage.”
Carter believes the hard market is here to stay for some time yet, which she believes gives brokers an opportunity to move away from a purely transactional approach and instead position themselves as advisers to deliver solutions for their client’s specific risk mitigation needs.
“The best results will be achieved in the market by cultivating strong relationships with both clients and insurers and operating with a risk advice focus,” Carter says.
Maria Tepelidis likewise sees nothing but positives ahead in the post-COVID-19 world.
“If anything, this pandemic has given our brokers a window, an opportunity where they can explain to the client how important it is to be adequately covered,” she says. “Insurance has sometimes been at the bottom of the list, but with the interruption of business during COVID, now everyone is realizing how much we need it.”
- Gavin Doherty
Principal, strategic risk, Marsh
- David Smith
Senior account manager, Scott Winton Insurance Brokers
- Michael Pham
Client manager, Aon Risk Solutions
- Bonni Gordon
Director, Global Risks
- Gary Sim
Founder/director, CCM Insurance Group
- Simon Gray
State manager, NSW/ACT, Planned Cover
- Ken Dixon
Director/insurance broker, Dixon Insurance Services
- Dean Bowen
Managing director, DLB Insurance and Risk
- Michael Stewart
Director, Stewart Insurance Group
- Evan Jackson
Owner/managing director, Guardian Insurance Brokers
- Schalk van der Merwe
- Daniel Webber
Managing director, Webber Insurance Services
- Peter Thompson
Director, Thompson Insurance
- Eli Tatarka
SME manager, Scott Winton Insurance Brokers
- Harpal Singh
Client relationship manager/director, Insure Today
Each broker was ranked in each of these measurements, and the sum of their rankings was calculated to determine their final placement on the list.