By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®, and DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
Welcome to the 5th annual Power Broker® issue of Risk & Insurance® magazine, one of the most widely read issues of the year.
Once again this year, selecting the winners was a very difficult task. Our judges and staff editors made hundreds of phone calls, and spent hour after hour talking to risk managers and insurance carrier executives, asking them to weigh in on the nominees.
In the end, only 144 brokers were declared winners out of thousands of applications that were submitted. Browse the 24 industry categories on the 2010 Power Broker® page to see all of the winner profiles .
While only so many individuals can earn top honors, we also recognized that there were many other deserving brokers. For the second year, these 111 "finalists" appear here on our Web site under their respective categories.
The concept of the Power Broker® was born five years ago as a way for commercial insurance buyers to get a sense of which insurance brokers they could rely on to help them structure their insurance program and as a device to flat out give credit where credit is due.
The issue, published every February, has become not only a must-read for many in the insurance industry but is one of the most educational phases of the entire editorial calendar, for us, the Risk & Insurance®
This is the time of year when, all in a rush, we may learn more about insurance than we do all year. We get to peak behind the veil and see and hear not only what risk managers think of things like their brokers' customer-service abilities, but get details on the innovative programs that brokers and buyers are working on with their insurance carrier counterparts.
For more details about how Power Broker® winners and finalists were chosen, please read our story here, and for those brokers who didn't make it this year, we encourage you to apply for 2011.
POWER TO THE BUYER
The big story in commercial property/casualty pricing in 2009 was that rates, which were expected to harden, never did.
The smart money figured that, after an expensive 2008 hurricane season, which saw hurricanes Ike and Gustav storm ashore, and which saw the collapse and near-collapse of some of corporate America's most storied financial services companies, rates would harden.
But for the most part, it was all "downward drift" for the rest of the market thanks in part to plenty of capacity.
That meant that much of the negotiating power at renewal time rested with buyers, and in 2009, they were playing offense. Brokers were relegated to playing defense.
Still, with several stunning losses in aviation, that was one place where carriers started to feel pain and pricing rose. And pricing for directors' and officers' liability insurance for the financial services sector was very tough through the first half of 2009.
In the financial services sector, because of some difficult renewals, the dozens of corporate restructurings, many complex claims situations and changes within the C-Suite at many major financial institutions, buyers were grateful for brokerage veterans like Siobhan O'Brien, a senior vice president for Marsh in New York.
"When you compare what Siobhan has done--it blows the rest of the field away," said one of O'Brien's clients.
Outside of these tough D&O renewals, for many brokers 2009 was the year of "killing me softly."
A softening price environment cut into the profit margins of brokerage houses everywhere, and some of the nation's largest brokerage firms continued to resort to layoffs because of it.
If carriers weren't willing to give up much on price, they certainly were willing to concede on terms and conditions. A number of buyers reported lower renewal rates even when going into negotiations they expected flat pricing.
Even risk managers facing potentially catastrophic losses saw their rates go down.
A hospitality sector client of broker Robert W. Hessel, senior managing director with Beecher Carlson, was astounded that Hessel was able to secure lower premiums and increased limits and sublimits for his excess liability program, despite his renewal occurring so soon after two major terrorism attacks on international hotel properties.
"During these economically and politically charged times, that was magnificent," the risk manager said.
Another broker, Cari Hernandez, a vice president with Aon, was able to secure a 4 percent reduction in premium at the D&O renewal for one of her Las Vegas-based gaming company clients after bringing a group of 15 underwriters to the negotiations. Because the client had recently experienced choppy waters, the risk manager was expecting a premium increase of as much as 10 percent.
In the utilities sector, broker Brenna C. Melvin, senior vice president with Beecher Carlson, was able to reduce rates for one client by as much as 15 percent and provide broader coverage.
With another utilities industry client, Melvin was faced with an insured with a loss ratio of greater than 100 percent. Engaging multiple carriers, she worked to secure a renewal nearly 33 percent cheaper than the expiring coverage.
Or take Vincent Flood, winner in the financial category. "We've been a challenging risk to insurers over the last two years," one client explained.
Why? In addition to a large property placement, including terrorism coverage, this client had a new captive that needed coverage and a new headquarters coming out of construction.
None of these situations was easy, but Flood and team pulled off the needed solutions.
"I couldn't be happier," the client said.
FIRST TIME, LASTING IMPACT
This year, 92 out of our 144 Power Broker® winners were first-time winners, more first-time winners than ever before (with the exception of our first year, of course).
Thanks to the influx of so much new blood, we got an even wider view of the innovative work being done in insurance brokering. (To see in-depth profiles of some of these first-timers, see our story here.)
We met Stu Cohen, a principal and founder of the Somers, N.Y.-based City Builders Owners Insurance program, a subsidiary of Stuart E. Cohen Ltd./Somers Agency.
Cohen saw an opening in the smaller commercial real estate space and walked through the door. He's reached the seven-figure point in his first year of business and saved his clients as much as 30 percent on their insurance premiums--while getting them better coverage.
Marsh's Jon Finley broke through in the chemical sector. With a global recession roiling manufacturing and energy, Finley dove into the M&A activity that came about due to so much economic dislocation and kept coming up with solutions. One chemical sector risk manager told us that Finley was able to save him 40 percent on his combined programs' premiums in just such a merger.
It says something about the depth of experience in insurance--how many able veterans are out there--that many first-time winners have 20, even 35 years in the business.
That's the case with Mark McGinnis, a Los Angeles-based senior vice president and managing director at Marsh who has 35 years of experience in insurance.
With the Southwest looking like a place where water wars are set to break out any minute, McGinnis was project director for major wrap-up programs for groups such as the Southern Nevada Water Authority. McGinnis and his team developed a specially tailored program for a tunnel project under Lake Mead designed to bring water to Las Vegas.
We also learned about Mike Honeycutt, part of a crack education team at Willis led by repeat winner Mark Goode. Honeycutt and the Willis team pulled off an insurance coup in a volatile political climate in a Southern state that will have to remain nameless.
With longtime local, entrenched, political and business insurance partners screaming every step of the way, Honeycutt and his team were able to meet the demands of state education officials who wanted to combine the insurance programs for nine institutions of higher learning.
These are just some of the stories you will find in this issue. Stories of your fellow professionals who are giving your craft a very good name. Even if you didn't win, many of you will no doubt walk prouder after hearing these inspiring stories.
February 1, 2010
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