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Shining a light on the big achievers
In late November, the annual Insurance Business Canada Awards gave insurance professionals the perfect opportunity to take pandemic worries off the agenda for two celebratory and informational-packed days.
Industry leaders came together virtually for a series of panel sessions that focused on issues unique to the insurance industry, while also recognizing excellence and the standout achievements of their peers. Recordings of all panel discussions are available on-demand and for free at www.insurancebusinessmag.com/ca/tv.
The annual Insurance Business Canada Awards is considered the leading independent awards event in the country. In its seventh year, this event organized by Insurance Business Canada magazine and publisher Key Media was supported by heavyweight sponsors such as Armour, DSB Claims, Empire Life, Steamatic Canada, Travelers Canada, Westland Insurance, IFS and Trisura.
The awards celebrated the outstanding achievements of brokers, brokerages, underwriters, MGAs, insurers and risk managers throughout the Canadian insurance sector.
Hosted by veteran CBC news anchor Suhana Meharchand, the 2021 event included 20 award categories, ranging from the Cansure Award for Insurance Broker of the Year to the CNA Award for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility.
In a year marked by so much uncertainty, Meharchand said, “this event is all about good news. It’s a chance to applaud excellence in your industry and acknowledge the good work of your colleagues.”
A year of external industry pressures
Just like the year before, 2021 proved to be a tough one for professionals in most sectors. The consensus of the insurance professionals attending the IBC Awards was that the insurance industry had also experienced a difficult year.
In many respects, it was the perfect storm. Extreme weather events, such as the catastrophic wildfires and the recent flooding in BC, forced insurers to think on their feet.
However, attendees agreed that it was not only domestic events that had put considerable strain on the way insurers did business – world events had played a large role as well.
COVID was undoubtedly the major culprit, contributing to a spinoff of unfavourable issues, including supply chain disruption at Canadian ports, increased inflation, and a labour shortage that affected insureds. These factors had to be considered alongside a continuing hard market.
A remote business model
For the finalists and winners attending the 2021 Awards, COVID also meant they needed to change the way they conducted business.
But as Heather Dusenbury, senior underwriting specialist at Aviva and winner of the Underwriter of the Year award, explained, adapting to the challenges was not necessarily a bad thing.
“You definitely have your guard up more during a hard market,” she said.
“However, with the advancement of having Teams and Zoom and having the little green dot that says you’re available, it’s the virtual equivalent of spinning your chair around at the desk, which we have managed quite well.”
Dusenbury highlighted the technological advances achieved by the industry over this time, pointing to the “existing digital automation, including portals, that brokers have access to, as well as self-quoting tools.”
Sharon Sharma, business development manager at CAA Insurance Company and winner of IBC’s Business Development Manager of the Year award, agreed.
“People continue to face both personal and financial challenges. With the loss of face-to-face meetings, Zoom has become our daily medium to connect with our brokers and has proved to be an effective and essential tool to ensure we are in regular contact and supporting our brokers,” she said.
For Aon broker Marisa Berezowski, winner of this year’s PAL Insurance Broker award for Young Achiever of the Year, making the digital shift was easy.
“It wasn’t so much the technical aspect that was difficult; it was more so adapting from working in an office and being surrounded by other people to being isolated at home,” she said.
Rowena Chan, president of Sun Life Financial and winner of the IBC Award for Distribution Leader for Change, noted that the path to technological advancement was in place prior to the pandemic and customers had already come to expect a fully digital experience.
“Digital capabilities like adopting chatbots, e-applications and robotic process automation have quickly become the norm. Insurers are testing and understanding the best way to use data and analytics coupled with artificial intelligence,” she said.
Berezowski pointed out that one of the distinct advantages of being young in the insurance industry is having the ability to welcome change and adapt to any challenges that present themselves.
“It’s about embracing opportunities and challenges; recognizing that you are young and that, as such, in a unique position to absorb knowledge from other people,” she said.
Having a mentor has been the key to success for Berezowski, helping her get involved in the right programs prior to embarking on an insurance career.
“I mentioned on the panel that there are so many programs that are up and coming. Recognizing these programs and finding ways to support them while students are still learning is a way to really build a community and to have students excited about their future after graduation,” Berezowski said.
She explained that young people needed to be able to absorb the ins and outs of the insurance business by learning from seasoned professionals.
“This is why I have been successful, because I have had strong leaders in my corner,” she said.
The ‘life’ in insurance
Jiten Puri, CEO of PolicyAdvisor.com and winner of the Empire Life Award for Life and Health Advisor of the Year, was honoured to be acknowledged for his contribution to such a specialized area.
He believes life insurance is an area that is often overshadowed in awards ceremonies by other insurance sectors that are considered “mandatory,” such as auto and home insurance.
“It’s often the forgotten part of the industry,” Puri said.
“Many of the industry nominations worldwide and industry recognitions tend to focus on the non-life space. It’s nice to have the spotlight on the life insurance space.”
Under the pressure of the pandemic, industry professionals in the life insurance sector continue to do “terrific work to help provide peace of mind through highly unprecedented times,” Puri added.
When asked what they thought was the key to their success, the winners were keen to explain.
“Be true to yourself. Don’t forget where you come from, and never take your eyes off the journey ahead. Remember also that you have to start somewhere, and with hard work and determination you will succeed,” Sharma said.
Matt Cassidy, co-owner of Excel Beyond Insurance, which won the Travelers Canada Award for Brokerage of the Year (Fewer Than 10 Staff), offered his wisdom as well.
“It’s about serving the community and providing our staff with an engaging and flexible workplace, especially during the last two years; and always being in pursuit of improving the way that we do business,” Cassidy said.
“I strongly believe that when you have a company culture built on diversity, respect and inclusivity, every person in your organization will feel safe to bring their authentic selves to work and reach their full potential.”
For Alena Kharkavets, VP, National Personal Lines at BrokerLink, and winner of the Cansure Award for Insurance Broker of the Year, the advice couldn’t be easier.
“Pursue your dreams. Don’t settle for ‘good enough’ when it comes to your customers. Push the boundaries to find solutions, even if they are outside the box,” she said. “Make an effort to make insurance simple.”
Read on to find out more about select winners at the 2021 Insurance Business Canada Awards. Key Media and Insurance Business would like to congratulate all of this year’s winners and nominees, who truly exemplify excellence in the Canadian insurance industry.
The Cansure Award for Insurance Broker of the Year
- Alena Kharkavets – BrokerLink
The Empire Life Award for Life & Health Advisor of the Year
- Jiten Puri – PolicyAdvisor.com
The FIRST Insurance Funding of Canada Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Insurance Industry
- Dean A. Connor – President and Chief Executive Officer (Retired), Sun Life
The LowestRates.ca Award for CEO of the Year
The PAL Insurance Brokers Award for Young Achiever of the Year
The Steamatic Canada Award for Woman of Distinction
- Alice Keung – Independent Corporate Director
Business Development Manager of the Year
- Sharon Sharma – CAA Insurance Company
Leader of Change
Underwriter of the Year
- Heather Dusenbury – Aviva Canada
The Advocis Award for Life & Health Insurer of the Year
The CNA Award for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility
The DSB Claims Award for Brokerage of the Year (10 Staff or More)
The Travelers Canada Award for Brokerage of The Year (Fewer than 10 Staff)
- Excel Beyond Insurance Inc
The Westland Insurance Group Award for P&C Insurer of the Year
Best Service Provider – Claims
Best Service Provider – InsurTech
Big Brokerage of the Year
Digital Innovator of the Year
Excellence in Claims Service