There has, perhaps, never been a better time to take stock of the evolving role of the broker in the insurance sector and, in a conversation with Insurance Business, head of broker relations and marketing at Beazley, Lou Ann Layton (pictured), was able to provide some fascinating insights into this complex area.
After starting her career as a D&O underwriter at Chubb, Layton began a 31-year career at Marsh, initially as a D&O broker, and her various brokerage roles throughout her time at Marsh are a testament to her knowledge of the sector.
“I had a great career at Marsh,” she said, “and I like to say I retired from Marsh to do something completely different.”
Now in her current role for just over a year, this desire has been fully realised, as Layton outlined how coming to Beazley after 31 years at Marsh took some re-orientation. She had only worked briefly in the underwriting sector when straight out of college and, therefore, had very limited exposure to the intricacies involved in running an insurance company.
The cultural shift in moving from a very large company also took some getting used to, Layton said, but she has greatly enjoyed this change.
“Your voice is heard more quickly,” she said, “your ideas are welcomed and valued and… the pace of decision-making is so much quicker and better for the employees, better for our brokers and for our ultimate clients.”
Being hired for her expertise in broker relations, Layton has been given the authority to implement the changes she sees fit at Beazley and she has enjoyed the quick consensus about her ideas and how quickly they are enacted. Not, she outlined, that she has seen fit to carry out any major changes since undertaking this new position.
“I’m the type of leader where, if it works, don’t change it,” she said.
The key changes she has made and the key value Layton brings to her role, she outlined, are about looking at what Beazley does through a different lens and then implementing the changes necessary to give both brokers and the ultimate insurers a better experience. “Improving the value we deliver not just to our external stakeholders but to our internal stakeholders as well, has been a focus,” she said.
When it comes to broker relationships, Layton stated that her role has been to provide an overview of what concerns a broker, what helps a broker and what makes a broker more successful with Beazley.
This has been instrumental in her approach to Beazley’s ‘Closer to the Client’ initiative which has sought to enable the organisation to have more direct contact with its clients. This is not an attempt to go down the route of trading with clients directly, she clarified, but rather an opportunity to sit down and discover client insights into claims handling and innovation in a first-hand and organic way.
“Insurance is changing,” she said. “Risks are changing. How we transact business…is going to have to evolve because technology’s allowing us to do things differently, requiring us to do things differently.”
Brokers also comprehend the need for further communication channels through which clients can make suggestions, said Layton, and feedback from the ‘Closer to the Client’ initiative has seen most brokers pleased with the validation of their own input which results from these conversations.
Clients, she stated, are demanding a better and more efficient process - so it is up to the underwriting and the broking communities to continually rise to the challenges and the opportunities that are being afforded.
While Layton outlined her belief that technology is extremely important in the insurance sector and is likely to help create a more efficient industry, she does not believe it will ever replace the necessity of communicating not just with an email but with a phone call or a meeting.
“I think, particularly in hard markets,” she detailed, “when you’re saying ‘no’, or you’re increasing your premium, that communication with the broker and perhaps the client is important [so] they understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. And that can’t be done through technology.”
Looking forward to the oncoming year, Layton highlighted the merits of patience and waiting for the changes she has implemented to work. “[We have] to work with the changes for six months to a year even,” she said, “and then decide to tweak them because it takes time to make sure that the changes you make add the value you thought they were going to.”
Also at the top of Layton’s agenda, is her passionate drive for diversity and inclusion and since starting at Beazley, she has launched its SHE network which is aimed at supporting women, seeing their potential and empowering them to achieve this potential.
“I really feel the value of different experiences around the table is extremely important in the outcomes,” she explained. “If I surround myself as a leader with everybody that looks like me, and has past experiences exactly like me, the outcomes just aren’t going to be as rich.”
Diversity and inclusion have long been a passion for Layton and will continue to be a key focus of her role at Beazley.
“How should people think of me when I retire?” Layton asked. “I never wanted to be thought of as the best D&O broker, I always wanted to be thought of as a champion for women – that was always much more important to me.”