Young Talent Pushing Forward
Many insurance professionals say they “fell into” the industry. Our Power Broker® winners and finalists under age 40 are no different, crediting their introduction to the business largely to family members who got them an “in.” Their experiences entering and working their way up through the ranks demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the industry, and paint a picture of what the future may hold.
2014 Under-40 rankings sponsored by:
Denton Christner, 36, a Power Broker® in the Gaming and Hospitality category, started working as a file clerk in his father’s Allstate agency as a high school student. He stayed with Allstate through college and eventually became an agent at the age of 21.
After agency consolidation left him and other brokers with smaller books looking for other options, he took a tip from another family member and went the independent route, joining BayRisk Insurance Brokers at 24.
Eleven years later, Christner is vice president and has helped BayRisk build its biggest new business source: a program for food truck insurance. Taking advantage of social media and online marketing, he has used the Internet as a primary sales driver, bringing InsureMyFoodTruck.com to the top of search engine results lists.
“Trying to sell commercial insurance to business owners who are oftentimes 10, 20 or 30 years my senior was very difficult. That was a big obstacle as a young agent, trying to prove my professionalism.”
— Denton Christner, vice president, Bay Risk Insurance Brokers
“It was an amazing experience; totally life-changing,” Christner said. “I pretty much ate, slept and breathed food trucks for 18 months getting it launched.”
Lindsay Roos, 30, and a Power Broker® in the Pharmaceutical category, secured an internship with Marsh as a college junior with the help of a family member. In fact, internships and early training programs are a common thread among our young success stories.
“I interned in our Morristown, N.J., office for two years,” said Roos, a vice president and excess casualty placement broker at Bowring Marsh. “It was my first real work experience, and I really liked the work and the company. Most importantly, I really liked the people.” Marsh hired Roos into a graduate training program that gave her a well-rounded and formalized immersion in the industry alongside her peers.
Kate Simons, a 28-year-old Power Broker® finalist in the Retail category, took a summer internship with Aon as a college student “without really knowing what it was at first.” But the program drew her in, opening up the world of learning opportunities that the insurance industry has to offer.
“In this job, the thing I like is that you ultimately get to learn about all the industries your clients are in, whether it’s retail, real estate, manufacturing, food, and the list goes on and on,” she said.
Like Roos, Simons participated in an early career development program at the company. The 18-month training helped her home in on what aspects of insurance most appealed to her and exposed her to key mentors, leading her to her current position as senior broker.
“I also felt that the industry had a really good focus on developing young talent and investing in the future,” Simons said.
Indeed, internships and intensive training programs continue to be key tools in bringing new grads into the fold.
Big brokers like Aon, Marsh and Beecher Carlson reach out to colleges to find prospective talent and introduce them to the industry. If all goes according to plan, those interns become full-time hires.
A year or two of initial training for new employees gets their feet wet in every aspect of the business. Those onboarding programs help young brokers find what niche appeals to them, and in what function they can excel.
For many, that process helps young professionals move on from simply “falling into” insurance to really embracing it as a rewarding and exciting career.
As evidence of these programs’ successes, notice that this year’s “Under 40” class of winners and finalists includes 60 brokers, as opposed to last year’s 40. More young brokers are thriving in the business.
“The best experience comes from clinging onto some good people who are willing to teach you.”
— Lindsay Roos, vice president, Bowring Marsh
Yet, for an industry that invests considerable time and resources in developing new talent, the concern remains that not enough young people realize the benefits of working in insurance. In spite of a wealth of opportunity, the influx of new grads remains troublingly low.
“There are not enough young people getting into insurance, unfortunately,” Christner said. “It takes a lot of convincing and hand-holding and mentorship to get new producers settled into their career.”
Roos echoed that thought, noting that most college students aren’t necessarily looking for a professional career in insurance, but end up there via a tangential skill or interest.
That’s how a career in insurance brokering developed for Blythe O’Brien Hogan, a director in the Global Fine Arts Practice at Aon. O’Brien Hogan majored in art history as an undergraduate, then pursued a master’s degree in art business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. That got her interested in art protection, both for personal collections as well as in transit or on display in a gallery or museum. She eventually wrote her master’s thesis on the development of insurance and risk management for fine art.
“From there I segued into the very dynamic, but a little bit niche, risk management insurance industry for fine art collections,” she said.
Aon’s Global Fine Arts Practice, launched in 2005, allowed O’Brien Hogan, a Power Broker® in the Fine Arts category, to work more closely with all players in the art industry, from handlers, shippers, storage facilities, and conservators to appraisers and tax attorneys.
Despite being given opportunities and responsibilities early in their careers, many young brokers have had to overcome ageism in order to move ahead.
“Trying to sell commercial insurance to business owners who are oftentimes 10, 20 or 30 years my senior was very difficult,” Christner said. “That was a big obstacle as a young agent, trying to prove my professionalism.”
“It is challenging at times to get people to look past your age,” Simons said. “Being younger and still successful; sometimes, people tend to look for a little gray hair.”
Ultimately, though, a sound working knowledge of clients’ industries wins out, gaining their trust and building a positive reputation.
Seth Cohen, 30, and an Entertainment Power Broker®, worked around the challenges of youth and inexperience by focusing on educational opportunities and industry training.
“I realized I could really accelerate my experience beyond my years,” said Cohen, an entertainment area vice president with Arthur J. Gallagher. “I got my ARM and CPCU as quickly as I could. I took a UCLA filmmaking and production course that was very intensive. I continue to attend media law conferences. Staying on top of current affairs helps to stay ahead of your inexperience.”
A little persistence never hurt either.
“Hard work and perseverance, being creative and asking questions has been the way to work through all that,” Simons said.
Younger brokers also have the advantage of greater familiarity with changing technologies, which shape industry best practices in a number of ways. Social media and online marketing are becoming increasingly common and important ways to reach clients, as Christner proved with the success of his food truck program. Sophisticated data analysis and modeling are now equally invaluable items in the broker’s toolbox.
“The younger generation probably embraces it more and adapts better,” Simons said. “They have more innovative thoughts as far as asking, ‘What else can I do with this technology and data to look at things a different way?’ ”
Tips for Success
So what can entry-level brokers learn from our Under 40 winners and finalists? First and foremost: Pounce on every new venture.
“I would say take advantage of every single opportunity, meaning every chance to be involved with other professionals [in the industry],” O’Brien Hogan said.
Simons echoed that advice. “Jump on every opportunity, and there are many in the industry, but you have to make the most of them,” she said. “Work hard. Be confident.”
And that uncle, sister or cousin with experience in the field? Tap into their knowledge base, and pick mentors’ brains as often as possible.
“The best experience comes from clinging onto some good people who are willing to teach you,” Roos said.
Finally, the best brokers — no matter what their age — always have an in-depth knowledge of their customers’ industries. Specializing in areas of interest helps develop expertise that clients covet.
“Knowing the industry is key,” O’Brien Hogan said. “From all different angles — not just insurance, but all the little components that go into risk management.”
While challenges remain for the industry’s stability and growth potential, the growing number of Under 40 Power Broker® winners and finalists offers hope that the industry will remain dynamic for the future.
Listing of Power Broker Winners and Finalists Under 40:
Driving Success for GM
Al Gier, GM’s director of Global Risk Management & Insurance, felt so strongly about Elisa Black’s work in 2013 that he nominated her personally as a Power Broker®. That’s quite an endorsement. In fact, Gier and Frida Berry, GM’s manager of Liability Risk Financing, agree that not only did Black manage that critical global juggling act, but she did it with her professional, focused style.
“Elisa was instrumental in helping reduce collateral requirements and improving the efficiency of the global claims handling process,” Gier said. “Her client philosophy focuses on being prepared and setting the marketing standard at the forefront of the negotiation.”
Gier explained that any broker can negotiate with a carrier post-quote. More impressive is doing the legwork so you come to the table prepared to negotiate ahead of time, a Black trademark. Also, for a large global enterprise, he said, timing is everything. So finalizing financial negotiations early allows the time to fulfill the administrative and contractual obligations of an insured — the lifeline of most international programs.
Gier said Black is great at articulating obligations and time constraints.
Bermuda Excess Market Wizardry
With the automotive market continuing to recover, the Bermuda excess market is looking to boost premiums come renewal time. To help alleviate that pricing stress, Chris Heinicke and his Aon team do their best to negotiate with markets to keep premiums from climbing.
In 2013, Heinicke faced a specific challenge for a client that was in the midst of a claims issue with one market that had a sizable amount of capacity on the excess casualty program. The issue was on a completely separate line of business, but was enough of a problem that the client had made the decision to cut this market from all of their lines of business. That decision was made after the entire program had already been quoted at the expiring premium and there was little to no capacity left in Bermuda. Heinicke and his team worked quickly by increasing capacity with the only market in Bermuda that had something available, and then worked with the U.S. and London teams to get the terms, pricing and capacity needed to replace the market. In the end, the client was pleased with the results and impressed at the quick response.
“Chris’ knowledge of the Bermuda markets helped us structure a program with the broadest coverage,” said the liability risk financing manager from another large automaker. “We have a very good risk profile, and Chris ensures we aren’t being charged improperly.”
A risk manager from a third automaker credited Heinicke with doing a “fantastic job” in helping the company identify critical areas the Bermuda markets focus on, as well as what is needed to communicate those key areas to underwriters.
Marshalling the Marsh Resources
In this case, the product over-shipment would create a much larger balance sheet exposure than the client would normally face. Also, the client’s treasury department wanted to use the large shipment to enhance cash flow as well as its borrowing base. Kowalski found a solution involving both private insurance and governmental support to manuscript a program that not only provided vital risk mitigation, but also enhanced this client’s cash flow management needs.
To make things happen, Kowalski often collaborates with Marsh brokerage teams on a global scale — from Detroit, New York, and Chicago to Bermuda, London, Zurich and various offices throughout Asia. Along the way, he has successfully placed complex risk finance programs involving more than 73 global markets and billions of dollars of capacity for a single line of coverage.
“Michael is our client executive and we have worked together for a number of years,” said Al Gier, director, Global Risk Management & Insurance at General Motors. “He has the skills we like to see in a broker — mainly, responsiveness and delivering the proper resources quickly.”
When the Going Gets Rough, the Smart Come to Aspen Insurance
Sometimes, renewals don’t go as expected.
Perhaps your company experienced a particularly costly claim last year. Or maybe it was just one too many smaller incidents that added to a long claims history.
No matter the cause, few words are scarier to hear this time of year than, “Renewal denied.”
But new options are now emerging for companies that are willing to tackle their product liability challenges head-on.
Aspen Insurance’s products liability team – underwriters, loss control engineers and claims professionals – welcome clients who have been denied coverage from other, more traditional carriers.
“For our team, we view our best opportunities to be with clients who have specific problems to solve. In these cases, we leverage our deep expertise and integrated team approach to help the client identify root causes and fix issues,” said Roxanne Mitchell, Aspen U.S. Insurance’s executive vice president and chief casualty officer.
“The result is a much improved product or manufacturing process and the start of a new business relationship that we can grow for many years to come.”
“We want to work with insureds as partners, long after a problem has been resolved. We seek clients who are going to stick with us, just as we will with them. As the insured’s experience improves over time, pricing will improve with it.”
— Roxanne Mitchell, Executive Vice President, Chief Casualty Officer, Aspen Insurance
Of course, this specialized approach is not applicable to all situations and clients. Aspen Insurance only offers coverage if the team is confident the problems can be solved and that the client genuinely wants to engage in improving their business and moving forward.
“Our robust and detailed problem-solving approach quickly identifies pressing issues. Once we know what it will take to rectify the problem, it’s up to the client to make the investments and take the necessary actions,” added Mitchell. “As a specialty carrier operating within the E&S market, we have the ability to develop custom-tailored solutions to unique and complex problems.”
For clients who are eager to learn from managing through a unique, pressing issue, and apply the consequential lessons to improve, Aspen Insurance can be their best, and sometimes only, insurance friend.
The Strategy: Collaboration from Underwriting, Claims and Loss Control
Aspen offers a proven combination of experienced underwriting professionals collaborating with the company’s outstanding loss control/risk engineering and seasoned claims experts.
“We deliver experts who understand the industries in which they work, which is another critical differentiator for us,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell described the Aspen underwriting process as a team approach. In diagnosing the causes of a specific problem, the Aspen team thoroughly vets the client’s claims history, talks to the broker about the exposures and circumstances, peruses user manuals and manufacturing processes, evaluates the supply chain structure – whatever needs to be done to get to the root of a problem.
“Aspen pulls from every resource we have in our arsenal,” she said.
After the Aspen team explores the underlying reason(s) and root cause(s) producing the client’s problem in the first place, it will offer a solution along with corresponding price and coverage specifics.
“We have a very specific business appetite and approach,” Mitchell said. “We don’t treat products liability as a commodity.”
As noted, a major component of Aspen’s approach is that they seek to work with clients who are equally interested in solving their problems and put in the work required to reach that end.
Mitchell cited two recent client examples of manufacturers of expensive products that could endure large claim losses but had some serious problems that needed to be solved.
A conveyor systems manufacturer had a few unexpected large claims and lost its coverage in the traditional insurance market. The manufacturer never managed a product recall in the past, and Aspen’s loss control engineers dug into why several systems failed. Aspen also helped the company alert customers about the impending repairs.
Another company that manufactured firetrucks had three or four large losses, when telescoping ladders collapsed, resulting in serious injuries. The company’s claim history was clean until this particular product defect. When Aspen researched the issue, it found that the specific metal and welding used to make the telescoping ladders didn’t have the required torque to keep the ladders from collapsing.
Both companies worked with Aspen to correct the issues. Problem solved.
“It is so important that our clients are willing to actively engage in finding out what is causing their losses so they can learn from the experience,” Mitchell said.
Apart from the company’s problem-solving philosophy, Mitchell said, the willingness to allow qualified clients to manage their own claims is the second biggest reason companies come to Aspen.
“We are willing to work with clients who have demonstrated the expertise to handle their own claims — with our monitoring — rather than hiring a TPA,” she said. “It is a useful option that can save them money.”
Mitchell explained that customers who stay with Aspen for the long-term can be confident that Aspen will help them – whatever the challenge. For instance, if they need a coverage modification for a new product that they bring to market, Aspen can help make it happen. Mitchell noted, “We pride ourselves on the ability to develop custom-tailored solutions to address the complex and challenging risks that our clients face.”
Aspen’s desire to help solve difficult client problems comes with a caveat, but one that benefits both Aspen and the insured: It wants to move forward as a true partner – one with clear long-term relationship potential.
In a nutshell, Aspen’s products liability worldview is to partner with a manufacturer who is facing a difficult situation with claims or coverage, help them solve that problem, and then, engage in a long-term, committed relationship with the client.
“We want to work with insureds as partners, long after a problem has been resolved,” she said. “We seek clients who are going to stick with us, just as we will with them. As the insured’s experience improves over time, pricing will improve with it. This partnership approach can be a clear win-win.”
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.