Between turbulent financial conditions, a destabilised geopolitical landscape, and the upsurge of concentration on what generative AI might mean for the future, brokers are tasked with helping their clients navigate an increasingly complex external trading environment. And as SVP of strategic distribution & development at Sompo International, Maxine Goddard (pictured) has a 360-degree view of what’s pressing on brokers as they look to do so.
“Client needs are changing, macroeconomic needs are shifting and so, we have to be dynamic,” she said. “We are in a competitive environment and everybody recognises that they need to be responsive and they need to be flexible, but the key theme is – who can do it better?
“We are in the time of the VUCA - the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, and therefore we need to be responsive to those changes. And so being innovative in our products, and innovative in how we deliver our products and our services is absolutely critical.”
Goddard noted that what she relishes most about her role is that it allows her to work in such a hands-on capacity with the broker market and to find out what they need from their providers first-hand. It’s an inherently collaborative approach that’s required, she said, which centres on discovering what it is and isn’t working, and determining what needs to be done differently to meet expectations.
“So, we’re always having conversations with the market, with the brokers, with the clients to find what they’re looking for and then be adaptive to those needs,” she said. “It’s a very liberal role in the sense that [my team is] fluid and wants to do things differently and really make a change. And because Sompo is quite new to being seen as a strong top-10 player in the market, we want to be highly visible and proactive.”
Sompo’s collaborative approach is especially timely given the demand for responsive insurance partners, which is being driven by the increasingly interconnected risk landscape facing organisations of every size and sector. Goddard highlighted that increased discussions around sustainability and weather-related events are an example of an area where brokers and clients are looking for insurance providers to be ready and adaptive to their ever-evolving needs.
Where new protection gaps are opening up, Sompo needs to be on-hand to deliver products and services that meet those needs, she said – and to help empower brokers to have new conversations with their clients around sustainability and ESG. There needs to be a strong response to the changing regulatory landscape – a demand coming from third-party suppliers, regulators, clients and brokers alike.
“So it’s really about having a 360-degree view of how things are evolving and making sure that we can respond to those needs,” she said. “Sompo Japan - which is our mothership – has seen earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., so it is very responsive to the needs of weather and climate. And across the entire organisation, the culture is to look at ways to innovate, to look at those underwriting solutions that will help.
“Whether it’s parametric solutions, whether it’s using technology to support how we deliver products, that is absolutely key. From a broker management perspective, I come in to find out from the brokers if these solutions are able to exactly suit their client’s needs and if they’re what clients are demanding. They can help us understand if our products are fit for purpose and also what others are doing in the space so that we can actually innovate and be a little bit unique.”
Supporting brokers through these challenging external market conditions really all starts with listening, Goddard said. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so providers can’t afford to take the attitude that they know it all already, particularly when the landscape is moving so rapidly. COVID was an example of how fast the risk environment can change in ways that people just don’t see coming – and it’s critical to use those lessons to explore new emerging risks before they are realised.
“It’s about listening and keeping your ear close to movements in the market, what customers are talking about and what they’re worrying about,” she said. “But it’s also about looking at the macro-horizon to see what’s coming. It does take some degree of being a ‘fortune-teller’, to be able to almost see what’s coming - backed by the right data sources.
“There’s a lot of science behind insurance, with our experience and exposure models. We do also have hunches but they’re just about listening more and being in tune. When we talked about risks back in 2020 at the World Economic Forum, of course, disease and pandemic was discussed but it was never top of the agenda. Now it very much is, along with climate and weather-related cat events. So, it’s about being aware these risks are real and that some of these emerging risks aren’t actually emerging, they’ve happened before and we’ve got to be ready for the next cycle.”
Critical to Goddard’s role is amplifying Sompo’s voice in the market to ensure that the provider is recognised as a credible and innovative modern insurer. She is relishing the opportunity at hand to build the brand, she said, and to work closely with brokers and clients, as well as looking for new strategic partnerships. As a Japanese-headquartered company, Sompo is very relationship-focused, and it’s interesting to see how this is becoming more of the norm across the Western world.
“My team is a small team, but we do work with brokers across the entire UK to make sure that the brand Sompo is recognised, visible and front of mind, and that we are seen to be an insurer that will be flexible and adaptable to clients’ needs,” she said. “And I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how brokers are responding to that. We’ve been highly regarded as a new player and we do see ourselves as a challenger insurer.
“We’re the new kids on the block and we are coming in with some products that are innovative in the sense that we’ve come to the market with something that’s ‘fresh for old’. And what I mean by that is, for example, the multinational international programmes market has been the typical five players for a number of years. Now we’re offering new capacity at Sompo and it’s refreshing for brokers because they’ve got something different they can offer their clients in that space.”