Bridging the gap between the client and the carrier, insurance brokerages are an important cog that keeps the industry running smoothly. And even amid hard times and hardening markets, many brokerages have been able to distinguish themselves by going the extra mile for their clients. To uncover these standout brokerages, IBA surveyed hundreds of clients on what they look for in a brokerage and how their own brokerages rated in six different categories.
Overwhelmingly, the most important factor for insureds when choosing a brokerage is customer service. For Jeff Arnold, CEO of 5-Star Brokerage RightSure Insurance Group, that all comes down to the customer journey. Whether they’re communicating with clients via phone, web chat, email or text, Arnold says, RightSure employees do what they can to maintain a customer-centric focus and deliver a topnotch experience.
“We like to say that the experience you have with us will be such an exceptional, unmatched experience that you’ll not only buy from us, you’ll tell your friends, too,” he says.
Cheri Amaro, COO of another 5-Star Brokerage, The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers, agrees that communication is paramount. “We have an environment where there will always be growth opportunities on new products and coverage in the marketplace to remain at the forefront of industry developments, and we pass this knowledge on to our clients,” she says. “We also encourage calling clients over emailing as the main form of communication to better understand their needs and forge deeper relationships.”
Robert Holmes, president of 5-Star Brokerage Spectrum Weather and Specialty Insurance, says his company’s goal is “to make the process of acquiring a weather insurance policy as easy as possible for our clients, while making sure that all questions are answered and any concerns are addressed.”
Of course, a big part of customer service is responsiveness – 95% of clients said speed in fulfilling requirements is an important quality in an insurance brokerage. Amaro says Liberty “strives to return all client inquiries the same business day or within 24 hours if it’s the end of the business day.”
However, Arnold admits that turning quotes around quickly can be a challenge in an industry known for being monolithic and slow.
“If you don’t have your foot fully on the gas and speed integrated into every part of your process, your customers will leave,” he says. “Consumers literally believe that there’s an ‘easy button’ when they call an agency, and you just push a button and get a quote.” In reality, brokers are often at the mercy of wholesalers and MGAs in obtaining, revising and issuing quotes – but this is where good relationships come into play.
“It is our relationships with these entities that allows us to benefit from a degree of expediency, especially at times when the deadline to bind coverage is near,” Arnold says.
In the know
Product knowledge is another critical factor for insureds when selecting a brokerage – 97% told IBA it’s either important or very important.
“Our people are the greatest and most highly educated group of insurance geeks you’ll ever meet,” Arnold says, adding that insurance is basically selling complex legal contracts, so RightSure invests significantly in continuing education to make sure its brokers understand what they’re selling.
“There’s the old saying – the CFO said to the CEO, ‘Hey, what if we keep spending all this money on training these people and they leave?’ And the CEO says, ‘What if we don’t train them and they stay?’”
Liberty likewise provides many opportunities to educate staff on new products, policy forms and coverage, from webinars hosted by industry specialists to examining actual claims scenarios to better understand client exposures.
At Spectrum, Holmes says, “product knowledge is essential to matching the needs of the insured with the best coverage option – or options – to meet those needs. We are proud of the variety of options we have available for our clients – a full quiver of arrows, if you will – and understanding the nuances of each of those products can both provide the optimal coverage and, at the same time, reduce premium.”
In addition to educating themselves on products, brokers must take the time to learn as much as they can about their clients’ businesses. As the president of a weather insurance brokerage, Holmes says he has acquired education in everything from snow management to fair management so he can stay one step ahead of his clients.
“Understanding our clients’ business has been a key to our success,” he says.
Amaro agrees. “In order to properly advise our clients, we spend time and energy to truly understand our clients’ business goals and assets,” she says. “We do a comprehensive review of all new clients’ business operations that involves completing a detailed questionnaire and on-site visits when needed or requested.”
If brokers don’t take the time to fully understand what their clients are up to, Arnold says, the results could be disastrous. For example, what if your client is a medical device company and you provide them with coverage for their shipments, but you don’t realize they’re importing the products from China – so they’re out of luck until their shipments reach the US? “You’ve got to roll up your sleeves, do a deep dive, suspend your stereotypes and ask probing questions,” he says.
That combination of thorough product knowledge and understanding of a client’s business goes a long way toward helping insureds secure the best possible coverage for their requirements – something that 97% of clients told IBA is important when working with a brokerage.
“Offering specific and appropriate coverage to meet our clients’ evolving requirements and protect them against exposure is of utmost importance,” Amaro says. “To provide this for our clients, we are appointed with numerous carriers with a wide range of coverage forms.”
Arnold underscores the importance of matching clients with the proper coverage with another hypothetical scenario: If a tree trimmer buys a policy that prevents him from cutting down trees over 60 feet tall and his job is felling trees 60 to 80 feet tall, then the policy is useless.
“You just have to challenge the customer to be open and honest with you,” he says. “It’s not just about price.”
But what about price?
While it wasn’t at the top of their list of attributes that are important when working with a brokerage, clients haven’t forgotten about the bottom line – 95% said a brokerage’s ability to deliver the best deal/pricing is important.
However, Arnold argues that consumers erroneously believe insurance is merely a commodity, so he says it’s important for brokers to educate the client on the nuances of quality and price.
“The only differentiator is price, right? Nothing could be further from the truth,” he says. “We have to explain to them that I can sell you cheap, but it won’t be good. I can give you good, but it won’t be cheap.”
Holmes has a similar perspective. “Relationships with our insurance partners allow us a certain degree of freedom that our clients find beneficial,” he says. “It goes well beyond a simple pricing advantage. Our markets know that when we bring them a risk, the clients have been well versed and the documentation will be in order, making working with Spectrum a more efficient process.”
To uncover the best brokerages across the country, Insurance Business America surveyed hundreds of businesses, asking them to rate the service they’ve received from their brokerages over the last 12 months. Clients were asked to rate their brokerage’s performance in six categories:
Clients were also asked to rate the importance of each category when choosing a brokerage. The end result is a list of 39 5-Star Brokerages that are recognized based not on revenue, but rather the service provided to their clients.