By ERIN GAZICA, a freelance writer living in Pottstown, Pa
No doubt insurance brokerage firms rely on their dependable, seasoned veterans during good times and bad. The old hands know the inside politics of the firm, they know the carriers and the markets. Most important of all, they know the clients, what they want and why.
Even so, for many brokers all the experience in the world couldn't help them through the brutal recession of 2008 and 2009. Some of the industry's most august veterans--Integro's Power BrokerTM Mark Noonan, a long-time workers' comp veteran at Marsh, for example--were shown the door as brokerage firms, battling a soft economy and a soft insurance cycle, fought to increase their margins to deliver more value to shareholders.
The turnover has, of course, meant a golden opportunity for cadre of bright, young brokers to step into the shoes of their predecessors, or build a brand-new book of business from scratch.
Even for the old hands, the turnover offers them the opportunity to approach the industry anew. Noonan, for example, had no trouble joining Integro Insurance Brokers, for whom his expertise will pay immediate dividends.
This year, among the Power BrokerTM winners and finalists, Risk & Insurance® counted as many as 57 commercial insurance brokers under the age of 40. They represent a new, young army of talent we believe corporate insurance buyers should be keeping tabs on.
See the names, faces, ages (as of Feb. 2010), titles, firms and locations of all of these Power BrokerTM Under-40s here. And browse our 24 categories of winners and finalists on our 2010 Power BrokerTM
As these young brokers progress through the ranks and forge new careers for themselves, buyers and other brokers--never at a loss to fire up the competitive spirit--will want to know who is best at developing an insurance program tailored to buyers' needs. Hence, all the attention to these younger brokers.
It is the young brokers who, after all, represent the future of the industry.
Young brokers have energy--the energy to visit three clients in three different time zones in three days while using the newest iPhone applications to determine what insurance markets will best serve those clients.
This enthusiasm and these kinds of skills, coupled with the hunger of ambition, may not replace a senior broker's decades of knowledge and industry relationships. But the qualities that many young brokers exhibit in spades are often attractive to brokerage firms looking for lower-priced talent and producers able to differentiate themselves and the firm from competitors.
"We have the energy, we are aggressive, we want to prove ourselves and we don't want to let down our clients," said Chris Choi, 30, of Aon Risk Services. Choi, account executive and real estate practice leader at the firm's Los Angeles office, was named a Power BrokerTM finalist in the real estate category.
DON'T GET TOO COMFORTABLE
Getting creative when renewal comes around is something that brokers do regardless of age, but the older the broker, the more tempting it might be to keep things the same.
"Once someone gets comfortable in a position, they tend to relax in terms of how innovative they can be," said Daniel R'bibo, 30, director of business development with Aon/Albert G. Ruben Insurance Services Inc. in Los Angeles. "Older brokers can get into a recurring cycle, rather than think about new products that might be available in the market or whether a new product needs to be developed."
As can be expected, the issue of age in insurance brokerages and in the insurance world in general is a testy one. Risk & Insurance® found that out over the summer when we published online an interview with Marvin Kelly, the former president of the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Society.
In that interview, Kelly advocated for the industry to appeal to youth to keep the talent ranks fresh and vibrant. Some risk managers and other insurance professionals reacted negatively and saw it as a call to sweep aside industry knowledge.
There is something to the connection between youth and innovation, however, at least in some cases that we encountered.
R'bibo, for example, recently developed an insurance program to cover a film school's expensive production equipment used by students for class projects.
Each student enrolls in the insurance program, having a dedicated equipment limit covering all the student's film projects for the semester for a flat premium. By working with the students directly, the enrollment, premium payment and certificate issuance processes were all streamlined, making it a much more cost-effective solution for Aon, the film school and the students.
Sure, it might sound like small potatoes to seasoned insurance brokers securing coverage for Fortune 500 companies. But R'bibo's innovation is now being marketed and sold to film schools all over the country. (R'bibo earned distinction this year as a finalist in the entertainment category.)
WIRED AND READY
In addition to their energetic and competitive nature, younger brokers also know how to use the latest and greatest technology to their advantage. Although it's rare these days to find any insurance broker, AARP member or not, who can't send an e-mail, the younger generation generally adapts more easily to the newest tech sensations.
Jack Sallada, 34, a senior vice president at Marsh in New York, said that instant communication, whether via e-mail or cell phone, has allowed brokers to open up access to their clients all over the world, whether it be shooting off an e-mail to Bermuda or sending a text message to London.
Brokers, he said, are therefore in the position of being able to offer their clients more insurance options, compare and contrast them more accurately, and accomplish all the legwork much faster than brokers would have been able to do even five years ago. In the end it makes a difference to the bottom line.
"(Younger brokers) can drive more aggressive deals because they can go to the hotter markets more quickly," said Sallada, who was named a Power BrokerTM winner in the transportation category. "I think you can use technology to service your clients better, and I think you can use technology to get them better pricing."
Nor should anyone forget that, along with the younger brokers, are younger clients, risk managers who are also coming up the ranks as new generations of talent rise in lockstep with each other.
Catherine O'Leary, 30, a vice president at Marsh in New York and a Power BrokerTM winner in the environmental category, said that technology makes it easier to connect with a client or a prospect. For a successful broker, young or old, there's no excuse for not using the Internet to demonstrate to clients that brokers have a thorough knowledge of the company's business.
"It can be as simple as Googling information," she said. "It's so easy to learn about clients and learn about their business. You can read their 10-Ks before you even meet them."
In a prime example of the importance of technology mixing with insurance, R'bibo started off at Aon/Albert G. Ruben nine years ago as--no joke--the IT administrator. Like any IT guru, he talked to all the employees he helped and, over the course of 18 months, was encouraged by one of the producers to drop the computer gig and break into insurance sales. R'bibo, now a director of business development, said his IT background gives him an edge, especially when helping clients in the entertainment industry.
GOTTA START SOMEWHERE
Technological savvy and a drive to succeed aren't the only things that our Under 40s bring to the table. All of them exhibit a willingness to learn and an openness to new experiences. After all, an insurance brokerage was a new experience to every broker at some point.
O'Leary grew up in Chicago, where she babysat for a family who lived across the street. The man of the house owned a brokerage firm and had offered O'Leary an entry into the business after she graduated college.
Unlike her friends who had interests geared toward communications and advertising, O'Leary didn't know what kind of career she wanted. But she wanted something in New York and something that gave her the opportunity to advance.
"Even though insurance is kind of the stepchild of the financial services industry, there aren't a lot of things I could imagine doing where I'm suddenly on the phone with the CFO of some very important companies, thinking to myself, 'How am I doing this?' " she said.
Mike Milligan, 31, a principal at Barney & Barney LLC and a winner in the 2010 Power BrokerTM pharmaceuticals category, was encouraged to interview with the brokerage firm by the CFO of the University of San Diego, where he was a student. A salesman by accident, Milligan spent his college days sweet-talking the school's administrators into allowing the students to restart the school's defunct television station.
After 10 years at Barney & Barney, Milligan has developed a specialization in the life sciences, inspired in part by his father who beat the odds in his fight against cancer thanks to experimental treatments and state-of-the-art care.
Marisa Thielen, 38, of Aon, started out at Marsh 15 years ago, partly because they were paying for her M.B.A. Within her first year, she was interacting with many different clients in a sales capacity. That kind of exposure at a young age, she said, is difficult to find in other careers.
"The nice thing about insurance was that you could start doing things like sales at a younger age," said Thielen, a director with Aon in Washington, D.C., and a finalist in the Power BrokerTM aviation category. "I ended up really enjoying it, so I stayed even after my M.B.A. In this economy, young people who think they want to do something in finance should be thinking about insurance."
For his part, Marsh's Sallada started out at a small insurance agency. After three years he decided he'd outgrown the family shop and should either get out of insurance or join a larger brokerage firm.
He turned down more lucrative offers from other financial services companies because, after a few years in the industry, he decided there were benefits to a life in commercial insurance brokering.
He maintains that most brokers never intend to get into the business, and that the most successful of his peers have liberal arts degrees like himself.
FINDING A HOME
Despite the varied stories of their entries into the insurance industry, our Under 40 winners and finalists have all decided to stay. Although they may not have expected to, for the most part they enjoy it here. The industry has given to them, and they are happy to give back to it. "I've been really lucky," said O'Leary. "I've worked with people who are really great mentors and are really good at their jobs, so you get the benefit of it rubbing off on you."
"I think when you're young and you work with people who have been successful, it's about being willing to put the time in and be a student every day," she also said.
After five, 10 or 15 years of experience, these brokers are no longer green. But they acknowledge that they have lots to learn--from, ironically, some of the veterans who've moved on or been pushed out to make room for younger brokers.
"I think we communicate a lot with text messages and e-mail and other things that aren't very personal," said Milligan. "But one of my old pals who recently passed away, he would get an e-mail from a client and just drive out to see him. I think our generation can learn a lot from the older guys about how important personal touch is."
As much as they text and tweet, younger brokers are aware of the potential pitfalls of being too "wired."
"You have to make sure you don't become faceless to your clients," Sallada said. Yes indeed, and that's a lesson that the veterans know all too well--and a lesson that the young turks are often fated to relearn.
February 1, 2010
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