Self-made owner on what it takes to build an insurance brokerage | Insurance Business Canada
When Rajiv Verma (pictured), moved from Delhi, India, to Canada in 2011, he struggled to re-establish his insurance career in a new setting. Already 20 years into insurance at the time, Verma had to start over.
“I used to own a brokerage [in India]. Despite that, when I came here, it was very challenging to even get a job as an insurance professional,” Verma shared with Insurance Business. “You're in new country with your family. How do you survive? That’s the struggle of most immigrants.”
Verma worked his way up from an independent insurance broker to a team leader within a brokerage, but entrepreneurship beckoned. In 2017, he decided it was time to branch out. In 2018, he started AiA Insurance Brokers in Ontario with just two other people.
AiA Insurance Brokers now stands among 27 star brokerages in Insurance Business Canada’s 2022 Fast Brokerages list. The list honors companies that have achieved impressive growth, with average revenue growth of 20% in 2020 and 2021.
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Verma recounted the story of leaving his former company to take the leap: “I promised my former employers that when I left, I would not join any other brokerage, but start my own. I kept that promise and purchased my book [of business].”
“There were two more brokers who wanted to move with me; I purchased their books as well,” he added. “My vision was big. We were three people, but I took an office in a prominent location with an office space of 6,000 square feet, because I planned to fill it.”
Initially, Verma and his colleagues struggled to secure funding for the start-up and obtain contracts from carriers. The first two years were difficult, he said, but they persevered.
On top of the challenges of establishing a new brokerage, the team soon had to contend with the uncertainty of the pandemic. But even as their strategy shifted to retaining business, Verma looked beyond COVID-19.
“We didn't stop hiring and training producers. I knew when the pandemic was over, demand would go up, and by that time we would be ready with our producers. We found that people were looking for new jobs and new careers, so when they came [to join us], we trained them. In the past two years, growth was almost 40% year-on-year,” Verma shared.
But retaining their brokers would prove another challenge, as Verma said they faced competition from larger insurance companies. “When I said, ‘big fish trying to eat small,’ it's not just about business, it is also about your producers, your employees. Some brokerages are sitting on big funding. They have been here for 20 or 30 years. After we train a new broker, they will hire them by offering $5,000 to $10,000 more [in salary],” he said.
“But if you are building people’s careers, then you can sustain [your workforce], and that’s one of our biggest advantages. We try to give all our brokers the best training. We motivate them to build their business,” Verma added.
“People come and go, but by and large, the people who stay with us are making good money and enjoying good careers even though they never even thought about getting into insurance in the beginning.”
Verma said he asks all potential hires in the interview process whether they wanted to pursue a career in insurance, regardless of whether they were applying to be an administrative assistant or receptionist.
“We don't restrict ourselves. We try to get people from different communities. To me, it doesn't matter whether they have insurance experience. All are welcome and we have full confidence to train them if they want to be trained,” he explained.
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AiA Insurance Brokers’ workforce of 46 includes members from different ethnic backgrounds. That number may soon grow as the company looks to open two or three new branches next year.
Verma’s experience in building a brokerage has gifted him with a wealth of insight that he’s now happy to pass on to other brokers.
“Anyone who’s looking to open their own brokerage and wants advice is more than welcome to just come, have a coffee and chat with me,” Verma offered. “I'll be happy if they take my advice and go on with their life. I'll be more than happy.”