Broker: Robo-advice is an oxymoron

Broker: Robo-advice is an oxymoron | Insurance Business New Zealand

Broker: Robo-advice is an oxymoron

Commercial broker Lisa Williamson has been in the industry for more than 23 years and it was her school days that inspired her to get involved.

She recalls how she enjoyed learning insurance processes in her economics class and hasn’t looked back since. Now, Williamson, as a broker branch manager, works with Rothbury’s Northland clients whose businesses she structures insurance programmes for.

Insurance Business had a quick chat with Williamson and asked her thoughts about the robo-advice exemption. In this Q&A, she also shares how she enjoys her weekends.

Insurance Business: Who or what has inspired you to become an insurance broker? What led you to this industry? 

Lisa Williamson:  I think I buck the trend on this subject. Insurance was actually something I thought about at school! I enjoyed learning about the history and processes of the industry while studying economics. There are very few vocations that offer the variety, flexibility and challenges that broking does.

When a close family friend (who worked for State Insurance at the time) suggested I apply for a position there I jumped at the chance. And soon after working for several insurers, broking was the next logical career move for me. The rest is history.

IB: What has been your most memorable client experience?

LW: I have had two memorable client experiences that really stand out for me. In both cases the clients had large claims declined – each over $100,000 and were facing financial ruin. They were both willing to work with me to have these decisions overturned. For one of those clients it took two years! Being able to make this sort of difference in someone’s life is really fulfilling and strongly highlights the value a broker can offer to his or her clients.

IB: What’s the hardest, most challenging part of being a broker?

LW: Constant change and keeping up with it! Our industry never stops.  As a broker you have to keep up with a myriad of changes which can be challenging – but I think that’s probably exactly what keeps me engaged. 

IB: Tell us briefly about your company and its role in the industry. What makes it different from other companies in the same space?

LW: Rothbury provides expert insurance advice and solutions to both small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large businesses. We also have a strong presence in the rural and domestic sectors.

I believe our point of difference is our culture and our people. We have a local ownership model and we’re the largest majority Kiwi-owned general insurance brokerage in the country with more than 40,000 clients. We have a strong regional presence with 18 locations around the country. This really resonates with our clients who like to know they are working with a business that has a stake in the local community.

IB: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for brokers this new year?

LW: Climate change is providing brokers with a huge opportunity to assist clients with their risk management programmes. Whether you believe it’s a natural occurrence or man-made, climate change is real and it’s happening now (despite what Mr. Trump may think). We’re experiencing the effects of this first hand and, as a result, people are less likely to leave the protection of their assets to chance.

The media is assisting us in educating clients with the numerous articles published about climate change and underinsurance. While insurers are unlikely to offer cover at the current levels for at-risk locations, as brokers we have a great opportunity to start that conversation with our clients.

IB: What can you say about the robo-advice (digital advice) exemption under the FMA that comes into effect in May?

LW: This is an oxymoron. On one hand our industry is being told to raise the bar in terms of education, professionalism and the level of advice we provide, and on another is an algorithm that can do what we do?   

While there may be a place for robo-advice in the form of education and creating awareness of the types of exposures there are in certain locations or occupations, I think it must be carefully tempered with a recommendation to seek professional insurance advice tailored to your individual needs.

IB: Does the industry need more regulation?

LW: I think as an industry we are very good at self-regulation. The modern broker is a professional who is educated and conscious of adhering to our code of conduct. We need a governing body, a recognized qualification, and regulation absolutely! But I’m not convinced it needs to go beyond current levels. 

IB: If you could change one thing in the industry, what would it be and why?

LW: There is a definite lack of appreciation for the work undertaken by a professional broker. We aren’t just the middle men and women clipping the ticket, we work hard to build relationships with our clients through good times and bad. Providing well researched advice in a constantly changing environment takes a high level of skill. For every account we win where we receive our hard earned commission, there are several more we miss out on where the same level of time and effort has gone in for no remuneration at all.  

IB: Outside the broking business, what else do you enjoy doing?

LW: We’re very fortunate in Northland, the sea is in our blood and most activities revolve around being in, on, or under the water. I like to stay fit so usually kick the day off by wrecking myself in the gym – which actually helps me get through the day (apparently I get a bit grumpy if I miss a session).

IB: Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t in insurance broking, I would be…

LW: Hosting a radio show and being paid to talk!

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