Adapting to the C-word: What it takes to run a successful brokerage

In August, BizCover for Brokers hosted a webinar that featured four thought leaders in the broking industry.  

The panellists – PNO’s Peter Conquest, Austbrokers’ (ABS) Rebecca Wilson, McLardy McShane’s Mike McShane, and BizCover for Brokers‘ Michael Gottlieb – have seen it all.  

Having worked in multiple businesses and facets of the insurance industry, they have a lot of wisdom and experience when it comes to broking.  

This article explores some of the lessons learned and things they’ve adopted or changed along the way that have helped them run a successful brokerage.  

Adapting to the C-word  

Experience and industry knowledge is one thing, but how do you implement the C-word when no one wants to hear it?  

We’re talking about Change. And this is the dilemma ABS Managing Director Rebecca Wilson found herself in when she took over as Managing Director in 2009.  

“The biggest mistake I made when I came to ABS was that we had four companies coming together, and I kept telling them what to do… But I wasn’t showing them what to do,” Ms Wilson said.  

As Rebecca put it, the four companies were “banged together”. Four different systems. Four different cultures. Nobody in agreement. And it was Rebecca’s task to unify this merger.  

After six months of frustration over the results and a lack of cohesion, it dawned on Rebecca when her mentor told her to lighten up.  

“I really needed to change the direction that I was going in… I started working with the team trying to find out what they needed and how I can help them in the moment,” she said.  

While the process was difficult, asking people to change to a whole new system after they’ve built their ways of working over decades always will be. But after bringing her team in on the journey, Rebecca finally got results.  

“I certainly got more buy-in from the team, and we started an education process. It took three years, but it really changed the culture through education as opposed to just telling people things… People adapt to change when they understand why,” Rebecca said.  

“It wasn’t just a case of saying we have to do this but actually taking them through the journey, showing what the systems can do and explaining why we need one system and one process.”  

Change comes for those who wait 

PNO Director Peter Conquest echoed this sentiment of adapting to change.  

Coming from the high-performance corporate banking space, Peter joined PNO in 2011, which was your typical suburban brokerage.  

Established in 1977, the founders had been there for quite some time, and everyone was content with how things were operating.  

“I learned a bit of a lesson in that I could see what would be beneficial to the business, but the leaders didn’t want to change that much, which was very difficult…There was no easy solution to it,” Mr Conquest said.  

“It took me a while to realise that I had to slow down as change wouldn’t happen quickly. And if I’m trying to make it happen quickly, it would actually do more damage than good.”  

After easing into the job a bit more, Peter eventually got the change he wanted.  

“There were a lot of really good things within the business that we retained, and I just had to go slowly on some of the changes we made.”  

During this period of frustration, Peter received feedback. He was too focused, too disciplined. So he made a conscious effort to change himself.  

“One of my personal goals is to bring more humour into the business. I’ve been cracking jokes around the office, and I’m sure I’ll get there,” he said.  

Some things don’t change 

While some processes and systems need to change, other principles should be set in stone. For Michael Gottlieb, Co-Founder of BizCover for Brokers, that principle is doing the best by your customer.  

“In insurance, I think we too often forget who our customers are,” Mr Gottlieb said. “Absolutely, you need great relationships with your insurers and to be honest, transparent and keep your deadlines. But at the end of the day, look after your customer.”  

Michael said that whether it’s around negotiating better pricing or coverage, or about understanding their business better so you can actually talk to them about their business, brokers need to question themselves about what they can do better than the biggest broker across the street because, by definition, that’s the average.  

To be better than the average, you need to be different.  

“As boutique brokerages, we don’t have to have the same processes around putting all our business into facilities and schemes. We can know exactly where they are placing their business. We can know the strengths and weaknesses of that. And we can do something better,” he said.  

“So again, it’s all about who is your customer? Are you representing them? And what are you doing better than your opposition?”  

The value of good mentors and office osmosis 

Another thing that won’t change, according to Mike McShane, is that mentors are an invaluable resource in the broking industry.  

Starting his career in 1975 and co-founding brokerage McLardy McShane in 2008, Mike knows the value quality relationships can bring.  

“In life and in the insurance sector, in particular, it’s all about having good mentors around you,” Mr McShane said. “I’ve been lucky; I’ve got great mentors both in business and outside the industry too.”  

Mike said not to underestimate the value of learning from good people around you. While COVID-19 has changed how the industry does this, the principle remains the same.  

“Even talking to the people on this panel, for instance, they’re quality people, and we get to talk for a reasonable amount of time,” he said. “We don’t get together in person as often as we’d like with COVID slowing us down… I hope that changes.”  

Mike worries about the next generation of brokers given the seismic shift towards working from home in recent years.  

“From webinars, seminars and podcasts to being taught directly one-on-one, there are many ways of learning,” says Mike. “But there is an osmosis that you get from working in an office where everyone’s learning, listening, and sponging information around them.”  

“We’re in the people business and I want to get back in the office as soon as possible because of the benefits it can bring.” 


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