Auckland-based broker James Bidwell has been in the industry for more than 18 years. His dad, who was also working in insurance, inspired him to pursue a career in the industry.
In May 2017, Bidwell joined aibGroup Insurance as a senior broker and branch manager. Insurance Business chatted with Bidwell and asked his thoughts on the opportunities for brokers in 2018. For him, security is no longer about burglar alarms and fire extinguishers, while data security could be the biggest loss for brokers.
Bidwell talks about his thoughts on the industry and also shares what he’d be doing if he wasn’t in insurance broking.
Insurance Business: Who or what has inspired you to become an insurance broker? What led you to this industry?
James Bidwell: I graduated with a degree in Business Marketing and Management back in 2000, before an opportunity to join International Marine/Royal & Sun Alliance (now Vero Marine) gave me my start in this industry. My dad (Ken Bidwell) was already working in the industry, which gave me a very good insight and understanding to pursue a sustainable career in insurance.
I transitioned over to Royal & Sun Alliance Liability (now Vero Liability/VL) as a liability underwriter. It was then that I really discovered my niche and enjoyment for the industry, dedicating 14 years at VL and building my reputation as an astute liability underwriter.
I had always made it a goal to one-day transition over to the intermediary/broker market to seek out new challenges. Moving into a specialised liability book allowed me to make a seamless transition to working and understanding the daily requirements of being an insurance broker while building a new skillset.
My current role with aibGROUP, as the Auckland branch manager, has a new business focus allowing me to tap into my passion for connecting with local businesses to find them the best risk solution.
This role also gives me the ability to build a business and a team in Auckland for aibGROUP to mirror the success we enjoy in Wellington.
IB: What was your most memorable client experience?
JB: Not long after starting with aibGROUP, I attended a client conference which was a perfect introduction to getting to know the owners and understand their business. I believe every interaction and contact point with my clients needs to be “memorable.” I firmly believe that as brokers we need to continue to raise the bar higher with our service and delivering proactive advice.
IB: What’s the hardest, most challenging part of being a broker?
JB: The consistency in trying to exceed our client’s expectations in an ever-changing insurance landscape. Clients find it hard to understand that insurers want to chop and change their ability to offer cover and pricing from year-to-year; so, it is about getting on the front foot and having those tough conversations to prepare our clients and avoid any surprises.
On the flip side, we also need to be seen and heard with the insurers working towards a winning solution for all parties.
IB: Tell us briefly about your company and its role in the industry. What makes it different from other companies in the same space?
JB: aibGROUP is a New Zealand-owned and operated insurance brokering company that loves connecting and making a difference with fellow New Zealand companies.
The aibGROUP team consists of 27 experienced, knowledgeable and committed people who have a genuine passion for insurance. aibGROUP has offices in Wellington and Auckland and is proud of its affiliation to the national NZbrokers network.
Being a medium-sized company, we are big enough to provide some clout and expertise to our clients (I provide a fair amount of help internally when it comes to liability brokering). On the other side, we are agile enough to pivot and work closely with smaller clients within our portfolio. We get to know our clients on a professional and personal level so that we can understand their risk needs and provide a suitable program.
We have a very low turnover of staff and as such have some enduring long-term relationships.
IB: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for brokers this new year?
JB: Data security (cyber insurance) is relevant and very topical now, especially for the online supply of goods & services, phone application & payment software and specific industries. It would be fair to say that there have been the early adopters from both the broking and insurer space.
As technology develops, brokers need to be aware of the many exposures that clients face. Security is no longer about burglar alarms and fire extinguishers. Data security could indeed be their biggest loss.
The other is digital marketing/promotion via social media channels.
IB: What are your thoughts on the robo-advice (digital advice) exemption under the FMA, which comes into effect in May?
JB: Robo-advice definitely has its place in the market.
More and more the next generation is looking online for advice in environments where a call centre has traditionally been preferred. However, brokers cannot ignore the impact robo-advice may have on their business in the future. Robo-advice may actually enhance the broker’s communication with clients who prefer online tools.
As far as the exemption under the FMA, it is potentially too early to call. I certainly would not place my insurance decision entirely on robo-advice no matter how simple I thought the product was.
IB: Does the industry need more regulation?
JB: No. However, upskilling & training is the critical part of this game. The industry is moving so fast now that you need to be right up to date to remain current.
IB: If you could change one thing in the industry, what would it be and why?
JB: I believe that the insurance industry in NZ is missing out on the best talent. We as an industry do not show a direct path to school leavers as other industries do (e.g. accountants, lawyers, land surveyors). Ask most people how they got into insurance and the answer is often “they fell into it.” This simply is not good enough. We need to do more from an education point of view to highlight our industry and its benefits starting at a school level.
Without insurance and the capital it provided, Christchurch would not have been rebuilt.
IB: Outside the broking business, what else do you enjoy doing?
JB: I am quite competitive, so pre-spinal fusion I played most sports & have several hobbies.
My favourites include fishing, wakeboarding, diving, squash, walking my chocolate Labrador (Charlie), and cooking clean and lean food. I plan to make it to a State of Origin match this year for the first time – Go QLD!
IB: Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t in insurance broking, I would be…
JB: Living in Northland with Sophia, close to a beach & boat ramp, with a herd of buffalo and an Avocado orchard.
“We need to be consistent with the rest of the world”
Broker on the one thing she wants to change in the industry