The emotional toll of wildfires on brokers and their clients

The emotional toll of wildfires on brokers and their clients | Insurance Business

The emotional toll of wildfires on brokers and their clients

As wildfires become an ever-present threat across parts of Canada, brokers working in at-risk areas are becoming more entrenched in the recovery process and getting clients back on their feet, besides being threatened themselves as brokerage offices are forced to evacuate when flames draw closer.

Crystal Petrie (pictured), an area manager at HUB International Insurance Brokers, was in the line of fire during last year’s outbreak in BC and told Insurance Business about the impact that the catastrophe had on herself and her brokerage.

Tell us about your career path. How did you end up in the insurance business and an area manager for Hub?
A lot of people enter the insurance industry very unintentionally – they have a relative or someone suggests it to them. I had decided this was something I wanted to do after being in the real estate industry and really not liking that environment. I wrote a CAIB exam, I got hired at a start-up company, and I was able to work with them. As they grew, I grew, so it was a great opportunity for me to learn. From there, I went to a branch manager role with Capri Insurance. They’re an amazing company and I was with them for a couple of years, and this area manager position at the time came up. I think I was ready for that next step and applied for it, got it, and here I am.

When you look back at your career, what have been some of the standout moments so far?
The wildfires last year were definitely one of those moments, and probably one of the best learning opportunities that I’ve received in my career. I’m also involved with the Insurance Brokers Association so I’m on their executive committee and I currently hold the treasurer position. And there have been some definite moments within that opportunity that have stood out. Even just presenting financials at an AGM is a thrill.

What are the challenges facing brokers in BC right now?
BC is a little bit different because we have government auto here, so there was a change in the government leadership provincially last year and that kind of brought forward some of the challenges that were maybe ignored as far as pricing goes and some product reform. That’s something brokers are definitely having to navigate and we don’t know what’s going to happen – there’s been no major announcements – but we know that there’s change on the horizon.

The concept of the direct model versus a broker model is something that we are constantly having to work with and support, and find ways that the consumer can see value in a broker model.

Tell me about your brokerage’s experience dealing with the wildfires. How were your clients affected?
We have a lot of clients in the north region that were quite affected because a lot of them were evacuated and some of them did have losses, whether it was just a fire retardant damage or an actual loss sustained. I think we had 8,600 clients affected, which is huge. We have three offices that were directly in the line, and I think two of them were evacuated. We had staff that were evacuated, so Kamloops, the area that I’m in, really became a centralized location for those people to come after they had been asked to leave their homes. We had some of our offices up north ship all their commercial files because they were still on paper files. They were shipped to our location, they were put in our lunchroom, the board room. We had team members welcome staff members from other communities into their homes, which was just so amazing to see.

The process that followed is we were set up at the claims resiliency centre with a lot of the insurers, and we were there for about two and a half weeks as support for our clients that had been asked to leave their homes. They didn’t understand the process and we were there educating them [on] what mass evacuation coverage looks like and partnering up with the insurers to get them those cheques so that they were able to live outside of their homes for this period of time.

How did the wildfires and recovery process impact you personally as a broker?
At the time, I didn’t think that it impacted me in a way other than that it was a great learning opportunity. My bosses were amazing during the process, they really said, ‘here’s what we need to do’ and helped me along with that, but looking back at it now, I get a little bit emotional when I see the news about wildfires. We had a scare here in Kamloops a couple of weeks ago and it was quite close to my home, and it was surprising how emotional that made me, so there’s definitely some emotions behind it and maybe a little bit of PTSD. It’s definitely an emotional process.

Were there any lessons learned moving forward for the brokerage community in BC, as wildfires continue to be a threat in the region?
For the most part, last year’s evacuation process went very well. There were a lot of people who knew what they were doing, experts in either our industry or other industries that really helped the process be very smooth. That being said, there’s always an opportunity to learn. I think the biggest space where we could maybe develop a little bit more is the communication between key members and mainly between the broker and the insurance community, and the municipalities because I think that there was a little bit of a breakdown between what we were intending to do and what their perception of why we wanted to be involved with that was.

Has that relationship improved moving forward?
It has, a little bit. I know that I definitely make efforts to get more involved at a municipality level with the city council and the key decision-makers in that regard. It’s a bigger process than just me for sure. It’s going to be a little bit of time before that relationship and that communication is where it needs to be, but it’s definitely just a matter of putting that effort in to have that conversation. If this happens again, or if something worse happens, what does this look like and how can we work together?