By MICHELLE KERR, who writes on risk management and safety issues
If Risk & Insurance® had published a list of Power Broker® winners 25 years ago, you can bet it would've looked a whole lot different. The category list would've been shorter, for starters. The number of women among the honorees probably would have been substantially smaller. The one thing you would've seen more of: gray hair.
Among the 2011 Power Broker® winners and finalists (see all of the categories and profiles at the 2011 Power Broker® Landing Page here), Risk & Insurance® counted as many as 49 commercial insurance brokers under the age of 40. (See the full list of our Under 40s here.)
While these young, talented individuals share much in common with their older counterparts, they are in no way simply younger versions of the same. These young producers think differently; they work differently; they approach problems differently. And by the time they've all gone completely gray themselves, they will have turned the commercial insurance brokerage industry on its head.
Many of the young brokers you'll see profiled on these pages hail from the generation known as millennials. Some see them as a quirky bunch, or have difficulty relating to them. Should that be surprising? Consider the unique circumstances of their time on this orb. The main constant in their lives has been inconstancy. The past 10 to 20 years has been a period of rapid and unprecedented change in every arena--economic, technological, scientific, social and political. Change is what they expect.
"It's a faster-paced world, and part of that is simply more change, more often," said Ryan Murphy, vice president with the Seattle office of Wells Fargo Insurance Services. The pace of change and of innovation has been in continuous acceleration, he said. "We're the first generation that came up taking that for granted. So constant change isn't a challenge to us, it's just a part of our everyday lives."
The 20-somethings and 30-somethings, also ironically dubbed Generation Y, were tagged early on as having a lack of respect for authority. But that characterization wasn't quite fair. It's not authority they have a problem with, it's the status quo. In other words, it's the absence of change that they find suspect. Go figure.
Maybe that explains why younger brokers get prickly when they come up against roadblocks like "Let's just keep it the way it is," "That's the way we've always done it," or "That's never been done." If you think about it, though, that makes them ideal champions for buyers, especially the many who are grappling with exposures that never existed before.
Marsh's Manpreet Gill, a Power Broker® in the entertainment and media category, was recently approached by a startup company, a peer-to-peer personal car exchange. The company, one with no comparable business model in existence, asked Gill for help trying to address the need for coverage where no program existed to cover such a unique arrangement.
Gill, vice president and client executive at Marsh, working out of the San Jose, Calif., office, said that's the kind of problem he loves to solve. He was able to develop a coverage program that allowed the venture to launch, and has provided the tools and education the company needed to remain loss free.
There's absolutely nothing that's not doable, Gill said. "So long as you understand what the risk is and what the client has done to mitigate it, then you can find a carrier willing to bite."
"I can't think of a time in recent years where I've ever told a client, 'No, that can't be done,'" said Kristin Springer, director of mergers and acquisitions at the St. Louis branch of Aon Risk Solutions. Instead, she said, it's "let's sit down and think about this, look at all of the different components and see what we can come up with."
Not having decades of experience can be its own advantage, said DeWitt Stern Group's Mary Pontillo. "The benefit of being younger is that you don't have all of the preconceived notions of the way things have to be," said Pontillo, vice president and director of business development for her firm's New York City office. "You're thinking of the way things could be and asking, 'Well, why aren't they that way?'"
Turning that philosophy into a culture of innovation may turn out to be part of the lasting legacy that this generation of brokers leaves upon the industry when it's their turn to pass the torch.
In working with associates new to her team, for instance, New York City-based Lauren Giangrande, vice president, Marsh, said she encourages brokers to innovate and personalize, and not be afraid to make changes even when something has been done the same way for years. "Now put your spin on it," she tells them.
A few veteran brokers may scowl and call these free thinkers rebels (or worse). But just because younger brokers are more likely to be hiding tattoos under their power suits, that type of label sells them short. These bright professionals are intensely creative. When others heard the word "insurance" and fled, these are the people who were drawn to it. Many say they saw it as a way to feed their need to remain challenged.
Gill articulates why so many young brokers have a high level of job satisfaction. Each client has a different set of exposures that need to be addressed either though insurance or though a risk management consulting program, he said. "I've found it to be motivating and intriguing. It's always kept my desire to learn at full speed--every day I learn new things."
There's no question that technology has shaped the lives of brokers under age 40. The majority of brokers in their 20s and 30s can't remember a time when there weren't computers in their homes. Many used the Internet to research schoolwork rather than the library or dusty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. They are accustomed to having answers at their fingertips, and to having instant access to people who can answer any questions they can't answer on their own. Technology has had a profound role in shaping the way young brokers find solutions for their clients.
Lauren Robbins, a Power Broker®in the construction category and a vice president based in Marsh's Philadelphia office, said that all the texting and Twittering your teen does may actually be priming him or her for a future as a broker.
"We're very open," Robbins said. "We're on Facebook, we're on LinkedIn, we're on all these things and we're used to instantly connecting with one another. We're not afraid to reach out to other people and collaborate to get things done or to share something that we went through and get the word out about it. It's not a mindset where it's your book of business and you keep things close to the vest."
It's no secret that younger brokers are adept at using technology. Several, for example, began finding ways to make their departments run more efficiently before they'd even finished a month on the job, and still they're eager to see even more reliance on technology to stay competitive and increase value for clients.
They don't have a choice. Risk managers, treasurers, comptrollers and chief financial officers have grown more sophisticated in their buying approach, said Richard Moxley of Willis, and brokers need to keep up. That means everyone needs to be more technically adept, and to have a stronger grasp of the use of analytics. "People are focusing on their total cost of risk, not just buying insurance," Moxley, a vice president working from the firm's Mount Pleasant, S.C., office, said.
IN PRAISE OF MENTORS
Despite their ambition and their desire to ascend, young brokers are in no hurry to sweep older brokers out of the way. Quite the opposite. They're deeply grateful to their mentors for offering strong models from which to pattern their own relationships and personal interactions.
Murphy, a winner in the technology category, said it was a former boss who taught him an important lesson. "The thing he said over and over again was, 'You don't need to sell this today in order to feed yourself,'" Murphy said. "In other words, just work on the relationship; don't worry about the quick sale."
Though it was hard to follow the advice at the time, the Wells Fargo broker recalled, he eventually came around. As you progress, "you start to realize that being given that base-level relationship training was so much more valuable than being given a phone and a phone book and being told to hit a quota in six months or you're out," he said.
Pay attention to what the people who are successful in your industry do, Pontillo advises brokers just starting out. She said that most of what she knows about relationships came from older brokers and mentors, even down to small acts like sending a handwritten thank-you note or bringing a homemade olive-oil cake to a renewal meeting with a gourmand client.
"Little gestures really do set you apart when there are other people out there who are just as competent as you are," Pontillo said. "If you can master those things as a younger person, it really gives you a leg up."
Most young brokers agree that both brokers and clients would benefit if stronger mentorship programs were developed to help young brokers find their way.
"There's a fantastic base of knowledge in the older generation of insurance brokers, but I think there needs to be a better process of transferring that knowledge to younger individuals and helping them develop their skills, so that they're ready to step in and pick up wherever the older generation leaves off at some point," Springer said.
February 17, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications