Insurance brokers often talk about client service and how they put the client at the centre of everything. It’s how they do it though that sets them apart. Willis Towers Watson Head of Broking Services Helene Madell tells Insurance Adviser that it’s all about going “back to basics”.

Insurance Adviser: Willis merged with Towers Watson only last year, how has that changed your approach to clients?

Helene Madell: There are a lot of things that can be generic in our industry, so quite often the only thing that we can differentiate ourselves through is our proposition, service and results for the client.

Willis was already going through a transformational change project before the merger with Towers Watson. Since then, we decided we needed to go back to basics, putting the client at the heart of everything we do, as well as build a pipeline of new business. By looking at our clients holistically, we are able to identify their risk and provide innovative solutions.

It’s important for NIBA to work with the regulators and lobby them on behalf of the broking community to provide us with one voice.

We’re now able to look at a client’s industry and the particular needs and challenges of that industry. We have people working for Willis Towers Watson who’ve come from various industry backgrounds, so they have lived in that environment and truly understand the risks. That gives us a depth of knowledge so that we can have insightful conversations with clients about what is keeping them up at night. We can then provide bespoke solutions for some of those risks. It’s not just taking what insurers are offering off the shelf. We are looking to partner with insurers around industries to develop a true value proposition.

And, importantly, we are working far more as a global, cohesive organisation, joining our lines of business.

IA: How is Willis Towers Watson doing that?

HM: We are breaking down silos and building a very inclusive culture – to make sure that people want to engage and, importantly, are encouraged to engage.

We are trying to differentiate ourselves by actively bringing our teams together right across the globe to ensure the connectivity is there. We want to make sure we take the very best of both Willis and Towers Watson and leverage that – with the client at the heart of everything we do. This means considering how we can best serve our clients and build a value proposition that encapsulates the best of Willis Towers Watson.

Let me give you an example of this in action. We won a client recently, via our consulting team. Talking to them about some work that they had done for a client, our Corporate Risk and Broking team was able to identify how they could assist the client further in other areas of risk. It’s a shift in the way we’re used to working, but a very welcome and exciting development.

IA: What does that mean for the Willis Towers Watson brokers who are on the ground?

HM: Our brokers are learning to be more collaborative.

Yes, we work in teams and it’s nice to come to work and speak to the person next to you in your team. But are you going to make the effort to go and interact with someone in a different division and find out what they’re doing in their client space? We needed to facilitate a way for our colleagues to do that.

We’re encouraging a change in mindset so that our colleagues come together to consider both traditional insurance risk and people risk. That means our team members who have direct client relationships and immerse themselves in client needs can now talk about different types of risk, go to different subject matter experts around the business and bring the best of Willis Towers Watson to the client. Essentially, we’re broadening our capability.

IA: And how has the market reacted so far?

HM: I think it has been very positive. We see this as a great opportunity to have a good level of growth in our business in Australia and New Zealand and we are looking to leverage the talent across the overall business to start to grow in a more holistic way.

IA: You seem positive about the future of broking, given it could be a tougher market now. According to the latest Vero SME Index, SME use of brokers is falling. What is Willis Towers Watson’s response to that?

HM: Vero is a valued opinion – but there are competing insights around this.

For instance, another insurer has done work looking at different buying behaviours of clients in the risk space. One type of client they’ve identified – the analyser – likes to go online and look at their options. They also want to validate what they find or what is on offer. They may then speak to a broker to understand if it is the right way forward. If the broker validates their thinking, they might go back online to finish that transaction.

 We need to be trusted advisers. Independent broker advice is still very important.

The key is making it a simple journey for the client. That’s where technology can be the answer. Chat rooms are one way where you can have a broker advise on limits and be independent, because there might be several options for the client, and we are able to advise what other clients with similar needs are buying. We’ve found that it’s a key area where we’ve added value.

We need to be trusted advisers. Independent broker advice is still very important. Our experience is that our clients still value that personal advice that we can provide to validate their thinking. However, it must be in a very succinct, easy, and seamless way.

Additionally, in the claims space, if it is anything that could be contentious or clients are not getting the right level of service, a broker can help be an advocate since we understand the technicalities of the policies and know how to get claims paid.

We do need to also look at how we can be innovative in this space, to create new marketplaces between our clients.

Willis Towers Watson last year launched Startup Cover. Working in partnership with CGU, we are testing how we can help and service start-up businesses, look at the growth that they have and how we can support the client. We’re having good success in this space.

IA: Another challenge is the hardening of the market that has been talked about a bit this year. How is Willis Towers Watson preparing for this?

HM: I’ve been hearing this since I arrived in Australia three years ago! We are seeing evidence of correction in some areas by a couple of large insurers. They are increasing their rates or walking away from the business. But it’s not wholesale and there’s still an abundance of capacity. While rates are increasing in certain lines, I wouldn’t say that there’s an overall hardening market.

However, we do need to be ready. We need to make sure that we stay ahead of the changes in the market as they happen. Having good risk information is critical. Our Risk and Analytics team through their analytical tools are able to qualify client requirements and bring science to the insurance process. We have a core responsibility to make sure that we have good information about our client and we can model the risks and demonstrate value when we present the risk to the market.

Communication with the client is another important factor – making sure they know what different insurers are offering. This allows them to make an informed decision.

IA: Finally, in such an environment, what do you think is NIBA’s role?

HM: I think NIBA is hugely valuable to brokers.

I think a challenge for everyone is staying relevant. NIBA needs to ensure it remains a very relevant voice for the broking community – from the small broker right through to the globals. And then, it’s important for NIBA to work with the regulators and lobby them on behalf of the broking community to provide us with one voice.

It’s also about making sure that NIBA has good insight into emerging risks and the changing regulatory landscape in terms of the lobbying side.

Further I think the education piece is important and NIBA needs to work hand in hand with ANZIIF. I think it is imperative that we show that we have a broking community that is doing its job in the right way; that we are educated and professional. Part of that is our Code of Practice. It is a great set of protocols and guidance and a valued operating tool that makes sure that we have a recognised industry standard for professionalism.

Also, having a voice on the world stage of the broking community is great. NIBA has representatives at global conventions so we understand what is going on in the wider community that could influence Australia both now and in the future, particularly in the regulatory space. For example, some of the thematic reviews carried out by FCA [Financial Conduct Authority] in the UK, we are seeing a version of those coming here. It’s very important that we have a broader understanding and have NIBA there to communicate those changes to brokers.