With almost 30 years in the insurance brokerage business, John Bullock, president of Willis of Mississippi Inc., has carved out a niche bridging marine and casino insurance. In a February interview with Cyril Tuohy, managing editor of Risk & Insurance® magazine, Bullock revealed what it takes to be a top broker in today's marketplace.
Cyril Tuohy: Is there an ideal dynamic between the client and the broker, or is there no such thing?
John Bullock: No, I think there clearly is. While I may not be able to put my finger on it exactly, I think what has served us well is the fact that we come to the table prepared. We know the exposures that are inherent with gaming. In the first five or 10 minutes of a conversation, I think they know whether you know what you're talking about or not. I think I can relieve tension very quickly with some sharing of knowledge to their industry, how it ties in to total cost of risk and how it ties back to insurance. And I think it's just kind of a logical progression rather than snazzy hooks or sales pitches. I really just come in, and we kind of talk and explain what our goals are and what their goals should be and where is the pain in terms of your program, and where would you like to see it, and maybe we can help you get there. It certainly has worked well.
Brokers are always thought of as salesmen, which they are . . .
JB: And that's what I am, plain and simple. I never hide from that fact. I think I'm a successful broker so I must be an adequate salesman. I just think that there's a little more to it than just a sales pitch. There's the preparation and the study. In commercial lines you really have to know what you're talking about, particularly when you're talking about the numbers that we talk about now, the premium volumes and the claims. A lot of it just comes from experience.
CT: When does that dynamic between the client and the broker become its most fruitful? Is there a threshold that you cross?
JB: It happens several times during a business year, and if things work out well, it happens at the renewal because you work shoulder to shoulder, not just with the risk manager but a lot of people that work for him in terms of putting the submission together so you can go to market and bring back the best terms, the best conditions and the best pricing available. When that works and everybody's working together, that's one of those moments.
CT: When is the time when these things deteriorate as well? I would imagine that the relationship sometimes hangs in the balance.
A situation where you take your eye off the ball, whether it's the risk manager, whether it's the broker, whether it's the underwriter . . . maybe a little hubris sets in or something like that, not paying attention to detail. That can certainly create some issues, and, fortunately, we don't have a lot of that, but it can happen to anyone at any firm.
CT: Is there a personality type that makes brokers successful or is there no such archetype?
JB: I don't think so. The reason I say that is being involved with the Exceptional Producer Council at Willis, which is the top producers of the whole country, and, likewise, interacting with colleagues at other firms and the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc., I think there's room for just about any type. There's not a set formula. There's not a set personality. That makes it interesting. It keeps it fresh, and you never know. It keeps you on your toes and keeps your competitors on their toes.
CT: Give me an example of the subtleties between a really good marine policy and an exceptional policy. Is there such a thing?
JB: When I first started there were different forms. Some were broader than others, and certainly they are dated now. Right now the basic forms of both property and marine are very good. We still like to tweak both of them either through endorsement or by manuscripting certain issues if we don't feel they are addressed properly.
CT: That's where you come in with your experience.
It's not only the experience, but it's critical to listen to what the client's needs are and where their appetite for risk is.
CT: I would imagine that $1 billion can hang on a sentence?
JB: Oh, yeah, a comma. It can get tricky sometimes when you are adjusting the claims.
April 15, 2007
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