Under 40? Get Lost.
Editor's note: Managing Editor Cyril Tuohy turned 40 in May. Reaching the milestone gave him a reason to reflect on how his life lessons to date might be of help to commercial insurance buyers.
Watch out for the young whippersnapper broker under the age of 40. They're all young, almost always bright. They're usually men, often handsome, always looking "tight." Sometimes they're women, always poised and elegant. Many come from modest means, yet now are setting a precedent. But, man or woman, they're always on the make, oh most eager for their take. That's why you've got to keep those youngsters at bay, at least for the time being.
Brokers under 40 are just too young to be doing business with many a commercial insurance buyer, most of whom have been in the business for at least 15 or 20 years. Let young brokers take their lumps and suffer a boot or two. Let them squirm before they come to you. Let them taste the green nectar of a cresting market, and let them plunge with the troughs when the market goes soft.
Let them earn their living by building a relationship over decades, not months. Let them build a reputation, just as you did as a commercial buyer. If brokers are serious about your business, then your prospective representatives will be patient and wait to nurture you.
Young brokers like to think they do a good job. Many, no doubt, do. Their travel schedules are packed. Their Blackberries never quit. They have enough energy to ink deals on two continents in a day. But many of them with the largest firms are also deeply conflicted. They serve two masters: their clients on the one hand, and their firms on the other. Sure, they need to find the lowest price for a property renewal cover. Yet if they want to survive and climb the corporate rungs of their large publicly traded employers, they also have to turn in good sales numbers by the quarter. To do that, they need to sell clients a policy at the highest price.
It's not an easy place for brokers to be. Many don't last very long. They leave for smaller firms, or start their own companies. Others jump ship, ditching the brokerage side, and become buyers for the Fortune 500 instead.
That's precisely the kind of winnowing process that helps separate the young broker from the veteran. There's no better way to find out who's in the business of representing the real long-term interests of buyers than a little time, a lot of experience, and a round or two of hard knocks.
Buyers should think back to when they first started in the business. How many of you paid too much at renewal? How many of you thought the terms were too restrictive? Who among you would have acted differently if you'd only known what you should have known?
How many buyers out there were left unhappy with the advice from former brokers? Come to think of it, how many buyers out there were left with a transactional relationship, not a service relationship?
Next time a fresh-faced broker comes knocking, ask for ID. Tell them not to try to sell you anything. Tell them you don't need to hear their pitch. Tell them to leave their terms and exclusion lingo at the door. Tell them to go build a book of business at someone else's expense. Tell them there's plenty of opportunity in other places, just not with you, just not yet.
Ask them how many market cycles they've been through. Ask them whether they're in the business to make money or to render a service. Ask them whether they've ever been bankrupt. Ask them whether they, like you, have ever been burned by past business deals.
Act like a bouncer outside a big city night club and check to see whether their name is "on the list." Tell them this is the big leagues, where admittance to Club 40-Plus requires more than a college degree or a CPCU. Tell them that the entry fee is that they take their lumps, that they ride the market's highs, and crash with its lows. Tell them to just grow up, and send them packing. Life, tell them, begins at 40.
CYRIL TUOHY is managing editor of Risk & Insurance®.
June 1, 2006
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