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Growth is good. Fast growth is great. From regional start-ups with a handful of employees to national insurance providers with scores of staff, the winners of this year’s Insurance Business Fast Brokerages awards have distinguished themselves by achieving more than 30% combined growth in gross written premium, revenue, and broker headcount over the past two years. They did it in the face of hardening conditions in the Australian insurance market brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and affiliated business interruption (BI) insurance class actions, as well as severe weather events, such as the recent floods.
“What we have collectively seen and been through allowed us to understand that insurance is as recession-proof as beer and pizza”
Matthew Denehy, Oracle Group Australia
How did the winners thrive amidst such a difficult environment? For some of them, growth was a product of always putting clients first.
When the board of directors of Oracle Group Australia, a Fast Brokerage winner with 38% growth, met to discuss the pandemic and what they should do to stay in business, they decided to focus on their brand promise – “In your best interest, always” – and simply do the best they could to meet the needs of their clients.
“What we have collectively seen and been through allowed us to understand that insurance is as recession proof as beer and pizza,” says Matthew Denehy, group managing director at Oracle Group Australia. “People need us more during a crisis, not less. We just needed to focus on them to ensure we would get through. [I recall] my father’s advice in 2007 when the global financial crisis hit: Don’t worry about the problem. Get out there and help people as everyone else will be looking inwards as to what they have to do to survive, whereas we will be looking outwards as to how we help people survive.”
For fellow Fast Brokerage winner Imperium Insurance and Financial Solutions, which achieved 60% growth, the pandemic presented staffing challenges associated with changes in working styles. “We are trying to overcome it by providing flexibility in the work environment and offering a hybrid work environment switching between office and remote work from home,” says Sumit Sopori, the company’s co-director. “We believe this will be the future way to go about it.”
Meanwhile, award winner Ventures Insurance Advisors, which had 62% growth, saw great adversity in the recent floods along the east coast, with some of their clients experiencing damage to their homes and places of business. “The influx of claims and enquiries is a challenge to handle, but I always remembered that what my clients were experiencing was far more difficult,” says Kerry Maitra, managing director. “Insurance company claims and assessors were also under lots of pressure. To overcome this, I focused on helping my clients mitigate the losses in their property.”
“Our staff speak many international languages and dialects, and it is great to see what a difference it makes to a client’s comfort levels when you speak their language”
Tanushree Arora-Sopori, Imperium Insurance and Financial Solutions
Over the past two years, Oracle grew its GWP by 40% and its revenue by 29%. For them, it all started as a plan formulated in 2016. “The four pillars of that plan we focused on and kept pushing towards,” says Denehy. “Our plan didn’t include a global pandemic, but our focus on our clients and authorized representatives was paramount: first, grow our business by 15%; second, help our ARs grow their business by 15%; third, selectively add new ARs to the business; and fourth, bring onboard ARs and small Australia Financial Services licensees.”
Meanwhile, Imperium grew its GWP by 99% and revenue by 82%. Co-director Tanushree Arora-Sopori attributes this to strategic business partnerships nationwide with centres of influence, such as accountants and financial planners, who can directly refer business.
“Most of my new business comes through word-of-mouth referral,” says Maitra, whose company grew by 40% GWP and 47% revenue. “I am also an authorised representative of Insurance Advisernet Australia, which provides me with a number of services that help me grow my business. The fastest way to grow is to take excellent care of my existing customers. They do the selling for me.”
In 2021, a phenomenon called the Great Resignation had people quitting or switching their jobs, impacting approximately 35 million workers in the United States. While the trend has yet to hit Australia, the country’s workforce is the most “burnt out” in the world and 48% are looking to change jobs from September 2021 to September 2022, according to TSA Group.
In the face of this looming prospect, Oracle has grown its employee base by 44%. “Like any business, you need to empower people so that they have accountability and responsibility,” says Denehy. “Sometimes, people don’t want this, but in every role – it doesn’t matter how small or large – once you have accountability and responsibility you have freedom to build and do what you love doing.”
Despite impressive GWP and revenue growth figures, Imperium didn’t add any employees. Still, the company relies on education, flexibility, and opportunities for growth in a bid to attract new personnel, says Sopori.
Meanwhile, Ventures achieved a 100% growth in the number of employees, mainly due to Maitra’s effective strategy: “As soon as the administrative side of the business became too much for me to sustain growth, I hired someone I trust and spent a lot of time training them to do things the right way. I then continuously focus on their growth and developing their skills so they always do more, so I can also do more.”
“The influx of claims and enquiries is a challenge to handle, but I always remembered that what my clients were experiencing was far more difficult”
Kerry Maitra, Ventures Insurance Advisors
What qualities make this year’s winners stand out from the competition?
For Oracle, it has to do with its vast network of representatives. The company has over 60 ARs throughout the country – a genuine national broker network with individual state-based support and representation. Oracle integrates national strength with a local presence and goes out of their way to provide their ARs with the tools and support they need to excel. “We work hard to provide support to make our AR businesses a success,” says Denehy. “Our brokers are part of the Oracle Group Australia family and the key focus of our business.”
For Imperium, it’s a matter of providing excellent customer service and embracing multiculturalism. “Our staff speak many international languages and dialects, and it is great to see what a difference it makes to a client’s comfort levels when you speak their language,” says Arora-Sopori. “It is a step forward in providing outstanding customer service. No matter how big or small our client is, they are never treated like a number, and their queries are answered the same day.”
For other companies aiming to grow, Arora-Sopori recommends investing in people, knowing their market and product, strategising and planning. “Self-development and motivation are the key. You will excel if you have the drive,” she says.
Meanwhile, Maitra says success is all about attention to detail, providing the advice clients need, and never compromising on quality. “We look at every client and their needs in a very detailed way, so we can provide them with the best possible advice,” she says.
Insurance Business invited submissions for its Fast Brokerages awards in January 2022 as the publication sought to recognise brokerages across the country that thrived even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research team asked brokerages to list their revenue totals for the 2020 and 2021 calendar years, in addition to other growth milestones they wanted to highlight. Then, the nominations were evaluated to determine which brokerages experienced standout growth.
The 2022 Fast Brokerages awards are given to brokerages that have achieved more than 30% combined growth in GWP, revenue and broker headcount.
A total of 25 brokerages made the final list of Fast Brokerages this year. Insurance Business also highlights eight brokerages as Fast Starters that have been in business for three years or less, making their mark on the insurance landscape. These brokerages confirmed their resilience and cemented their strong positions in the Australian insurance industry.