Reaching the elite level

Reaching the elite level | Insurance Business

Reaching the elite level

Stewart Insurance Group’s Michael Stewart, this year’s number-one Elite Broker, talks to Nicola Middlemiss about overcoming challenges, spotting opportunities and hitting the streets to meet new clients

The elite brokers list is always among Insurance Business’ most highly anticipated features.

This year, industry veteran Michael Stewart was crowned the overall winner, climbing from the seventh-place spot he secured in 2018 to the highest position on the list.

Stewart is humble about his win, insisting he isn’t doing anything too differently from anyone else in the market – however, he did share some savvy advice for others looking to succeed.

“Stand your ground, sell quality product, and eventually you will rise to the top,” he says.

“You might miss out on some business by refusing to sell a cheap product, but you end up getting better business.”

While Stewart admits he’s seen clients walk away because he won’t match a cheaper quote, he says he’s happier having peace of mind that the policies won’t disappoint at claims time. It’s an approach that seems to be working – Stewart says he spends far more time on the phone with potential customers than he does with disgruntled clients.

“I’m forever getting phone calls on a Monday morning from someone who was at a dinner party over the weekend and were told to ring me,” he says.

“People like to talk about insurance at dinner parties, and they share their good stories – but they also share their bad stories, so if I’d sold them a cheap, crappy policy, they’d be telling their friends what an idiot I am.”

Of course, as with most independent brokers, Stewart’s journey to success hasn’t been all plain sailing – in fact, he faced adversity from the moment he set out on his own, more than a decade ago.

“I’d gone from a large brokerage and I had fairly restrictive restraint of trade, so I had a good year of old clients ringing me, desperate to deal with me, but they just weren’t allowed to,” Stewart says.

“I had to basically say, ‘Listen, I would love to deal with you, but I can’t.’” While some clients waited out the restraint of trade or found ways around it, Stewart says he had to work hard to build up a new base, rather than relying on an established book.

“I basically had 15 years of clientele and experience, but because it was such an aggressive restriction of trade, I dared not go near any of my old clients,” he says.

“It was a very humbling experience walking down my local shopping strip, knocking on doors or buying a coffee because it’s a good way to get some business.”

“You might miss out on some business by refusing to sell a cheap product, but you end up getting better business”  

While the experience was certainly a challenge, Stewart says it helped him see opportunities that other brokers often overlook or don’t think are worth their time.

“I know a lot of brokers who won’t touch car or home insurance, but I think you’ve got to pick your battles – if someone comes to me with a $100,000 Mercedes Benz, they’ve obviously got some wealth and, even if they don’t have their own business, they’ve probably got a centre of influence,” he says.

Whether that person turns out to be a CFO, has a string of investment properties or even just knows a friend with a successful business, Stewart says that one interaction can often lead to bigger things.

“If you take the time to help them out with the smaller stuff, once you’ve developed a rapport, you can ask to quote on their business or if they know anyone else who might be interested,” he says.

While embracing the smaller accounts can lead to bigger opportunities, Stewart says he’s perfectly happy to have lots of business on the lower end of the spectrum, as it adds an element of security.

“I could lose a client now, I could lose two clients a day, and it wouldn’t be a blip on the radar because we have such a huge amount of small business,” he says. “At the end of the day, we’ll write cafés and property owners and small business until the cows come home – we love it.”