One adjective in the English language really stole the show in 2020 – unprecedented. 2020 will go down in history as the year of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the year of unprecedented socio-economic and health challenges, the year of unprecedented lockdowns, social distancing and travel bans, and the year that digitalization flowered with unprecedented speed across many industries, including insurance.
When faced with so many unprecedented challenges and changes, the Canadian insurance industry has been a beacon of support, strength and solidarity. In the past 12-months, the industry has compressed multi-year digitalization roadmaps into weeks and months, incorporating technology to enable remote operating models, while also improving the customer experience and increasing opportunities for product innovation.
The brokerage community adapted quickly and imaginatively to a new reality where casual high street drop-ins and face-to-face business meetings were largely off the cards. They worked with carrier partners to find coverage solutions and premium relief for countless Canadians struggling to deal with the economic impact of the pandemic. And beyond COVID-19, the industry as a whole continued on its quest to build stronger and more resilient communities across Canada, advocating for action on climate change and the development of weather resistant solutions.
The outstanding work of the Canadian insurance industry in 2020 was celebrated in style at the fifth annual Insurance Business Canada Awards, which was beamed out to insurance professionals across the country on November 19, 2020. More than 875 attendees tuned in virtually to celebrate Canada’s brokers, brokerages, insurers, underwriters, MGAs and risk managers for their exceptional achievements, innovation and leadership in one of the hardest years the industry has ever faced.
Insurance Business Canada received 499 nominations, from which 192 finalists from 115 unique companies were selected by an independent advisory board for 20 award categories. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the awards ceremony took a brand-new virtual format in its fifth year, with finalists being invited to engage in panel discussions in between award announcements to share their successes and insights from the year. Despite having to stick to COVID-19 bubbles and celebrate from behind a screen, the champagne spirit remained high, attendees tuned in from coast to coast to hear more than 104 speakers take part in panel discussions, and the ceremony quickly became one of the most electric networking events of the year.
Heather Masterson, president and CEO of Travelers Canada, sponsor of the award for Brokerage of the Year (Fewer than 10 Staff), described 2020 aptly as “a year like no other”. Reflecting on the awards, she said: “I can’t think of a better way to close out a year filled with change, disruption and resilience, than to stop, pause and acknowledge the great work being done by insurance professionals and businesses across our industry. There probably hasn’t been a better time to showcase the tremendous work and efforts of our industry colleagues then right here, right now.”
Her thoughts were shared by fellow award sponsors. Tyson Peel, vice president at Burns & Wilcox Canada, sponsor of the award for Big Brokerage of the Year, said celebrating "strong leadership and excellence" in the industry is “more important than ever” in these strange times. Meanwhile, Terri Mason-Benjamin, vice president of marketing and distribution at CNA Canada, sponsor of the award for Excellence in Philanthropy & Community Service, described the pandemic as a “pivotal moment” for the insurance industry. She said: “This is coinciding with a hard market [with] lots of changes in the industry, reductions in capacity, increasing rates, [etc.] - so I think it’s really important for us to evidence and celebrate all the good that we do and all the ways we can support clients, while also maintaining our business and being around for the long-term.”
Individual award winners
The fifth annual Insurance Business Canada Awards featured eight awards for outstanding individuals in the industry – and for the first time ever, all of the independently selected gold winners were women. This is a true reflection on the immense progress the Canadian industry is making in terms of gender equity, which hopefully will continue translating into other aspects of diversity and inclusion moving forward.
Stuart Bruce, CEO at FIRST Insurance Funding of Canada, described Ludlow as a “well-deserving” winner of the Lifetime Achievement award. Reflecting on a 20-minute fireside chat the pair held, Bruce commented: “Sharon never stops evolving or stretching her limits. I think that’s a great message to put out to anybody in any industry, but particularly the insurance industry. Certainly, I can relate. Keep stretching, keep changing and keep evolving.”
The LowestRates.ca Award for CEO of the Year went to Sukhdeep Kang of Ontario-based Armour Insurance Brokers Ltd. Kang has not only grown Armour’s portfolio extensively through her decade of leadership, but she has also worked hard to champion a culture that embraces change, particularly where technology and digitalization are involved.
Below is a complete list of the individual award winners:
The FIRST Insurance Funding of Canada Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Insurance Industry
Sharon Ludlow - Corporate Director
The LowestRates.ca Award for CEO of the Year
Sukhdeep Kang - Armour Insurance Brokers Ltd.
Business Development Manager of the Year
Diana Vardy - Travelers Canada
The Cansure Award for Insurance Broker of the Year
Sheri Walters - Aon Canada Inc.
The Steamatic Canada Award for Woman of Distinction
Jacinta Whyte - Ecclesiastical Insurance
The PAL Insurance Brokers Award for Young Achiever of the Year
Danielle Tkachyk - Savante Insurance Inc.
Underwriter of the Year
Emily Thompson - Trisura Guarantee Insurance Company
The Empire Life Award for Life & Health Advisor of the Year
Salini Uthirakumaran - Sun Life Financial
Company award winners
The remaining 12 gold winners went to insurance organizations. The three Brokerage of the Year awards went to independent firms in different provinces, reflecting the coast to coast excellence of Canada’s brokerage community. Atlantic Canada-based Archway Insurance came away with The Burns & Wilcox Canada Award for Big Brokerage of the Year for the second year running. Meanwhile, the DSB Claims Solutions Award for Brokerage of the Year (10 Staff or More) went to Alberta’s Sharp Insurance, and Travelers Canada Award for Brokerage of The Year (Fewer Than 10 Staff) was given to Winnipeg-based Apex Surety & Insurance Ltd.
Dara Singh Banga, president DSB Claims, which happened to come away with the WINMAR Award for Excellence in Claims Service, reflected on a panel discussion he led with the finalists of the award for Brokerage of the Year (10 Staff or More). He said: “It was very insightful to get the thoughts, wisdom and advice of broker leaders. A lot of very relevant conversations were had around managing a multi-generational client base, teams, customers, around diversity & inclusion, mentorship, on growing the individual businesses, and celebrating the success of those brokerages.”
Property & Casualty Insurer of the Year was awarded to Northbridge Insurance, whose COO Lambert Morva gave thanks to the company’s broker partners for their unwavering support. The Armour Insurance Award for MGA of the Year was given to APRIL Canada, the Versature Award for Digital Innovator of the Year went to Insurego Brokers Inc. and the Insurance Business Magazine Readers’ Choice Award for Best Service Provider was handed to Applied Systems Canada.
Below is a complete list of the company award winners:
P&C Insurer of the Year
Insurance Industry Employer of Choice
Crawford & Company (Canada), Inc.
The Advocis Award for Life & Health Insurer of the Year
Canada Protection Plan
The Armour Insurance Award for MGA of the Year
The Burns & Wilcox Canada Award for Big Brokerage of the Year
The DSB Claims Solutions Award for Brokerage of the Year (10 Staff or More)
The Travelers Canada Award for Brokerage of The Year (Fewer Than 10 Staff)
Apex Surety & Insurance Ltd.
The Versature Award for Digital Innovator of the Year
Insurego Brokers Inc.
The Winmar Award for Excellence in Claims Service
The Insurance Business Magazine Readers’ Choice Award for Best Service Provider
Applied Systems Canada
The CNA Canada Award for Excellence in Philanthropy & Community Service
The Insurance Business Magazine Readers’ Choice Award for Best Advertising Campaign
The Insurance Business Canada Awards 2020 were produced by Key Media – the organization behind Insurance Business magazine and insurancebusinessmag.com. Thank you to everybody who tuned in to join the celebration, and a huge congratulations to all of the gold winners and excellence award recipients.