As demand for specialized coverage increases, so has the need for managing general agents (MGAs). MGAs are vested with underwriting authority from an insurance carrier, which allows them to quickly quote and bind policies that suit the specific needs of their clients.
But running an independent MGA is no walk in the park, as Gary Hirst, president and CEO of CHES Special Risk, tells Insurance Business. CHES Special Risk was inducted into Insurance Business’ Global 100 of 2022 – a list of the top 100 names in insurance around the world – so we spoke to Hirst to learn more about how he went from being a consultant to the MGA in 2015 to running the award-winning company the following year.
When asked how difficult it has been to run an independent company like CHES, Hirst mentioned that it can be tough for an independent operation to even identify any difficulties without some outside perspective. But the experience itself can be a great lesson.
“It just teaches you – I think – to be agile and fleet of foot,” said Hirst. “You have to think strategically in terms of engaging with markets. You have to have a really unique offering to be able to convince brokers to do business with you, or insureds to trust you with their insurance policies.”
But more than market agility, Hirst noted that being independent constantly reminds you that “you can’t sit still.”
“You’ve got to keep looking for opportunity. You have to be aware of developments that are going in the marketplace, either by insurers or by software.”
But while MGAs can operate independently, they also need to be regulated.
In addition to leading CHES, Hirst was also the first president of the Canadian Association of Managing General Agents (CAMGA), established in 2017. When asked about his time as the leader and how he was able to juggle his responsibilities as CAMGA president and CHES’ chief executive, he shared that he is currently happy that the organization is now in good hands.
“CAMGA, I have to say . . . is really something that I’m most proud of – and probably prouder now that I’m no longer the president,” Hirst quipped. “It dawned on me that looking around the various territories that I’ve done business in over the years that Canada didn’t really have an association or a body that represented the MGA industry and could promote the MGA industry.”
Hirst told Insurance Business that prior to CAMGA’s formation, he had engaged with senior executives across the Canadian MGA space and discussed the possibility of the MGA market’s regulation with them. In addition to regulation, he also wanted to discuss the education available to those in the MGA industry – in particular, education at the time had equated MGAs to “being a broker or working for an insurance company.” Hirst also wanted to push for the MGA space’s advocacy with regulators, insurers, and professionals looking to start a career.
“Previously, most people fall into insurance – but then you trip over and again and fall into the MGA market,” he said. “So I was lucky enough to convince six people to join the first board.”