The NIBA Mentoring Program connects industry professionals nationwide in an effort to nurture a culture of support. IRP spoke with a recent pair about the relationship between brokers and underwriters, and how to make it a good one.

by Cecilia Harris

As an underwriter, the world of broking has never been QBE Service Manager Jessica Bryce’s main bag. Writing good business for her company has always been her top priority.

But when she got paired with NQIB Manager Ray Pavey in the NIBA Mentoring Program, Jessica
suddenly had access to an extraordinary cache of broker know-how. Offered the chance to learn about what makes a broker tick, Jessica used the opportunity to develop her approach to professional relationships. Meanwhile, Ray found himself contemplating the industry and how, in the end, everybody’s got the same goal.

“I’ve had it drilled into me to make the most of mentors and to get involved in learning as much as I can, so when the opportunity came up I just jumped at it. I hadn’t heard about the program before, it was shared with my team via email to see if anyone was interested. I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest. I didn’t know what I’d get out of it. I went into it thinking that at least it would be good for networking. I didn’t have any expectations in regards to the outcome.

Once I got accepted, the organiser said to me, “You’re going to be partnered with a broker, so you can learn about the other side.” I went in with that in mind – getting a perspective of the industry from the other side of the fence. I’ve never been a broker, so I saw it as an opportunity. Ray and I met most weeks. To begin, we sat down and had a chat, learned about each other’s backgrounds, because we didn’t know much about each other. We hadn’t dealt with each other before, which was really good.

We went from there into what I wanted to learn and how he thought he could fit in with it. Once we knew that, we set up meetings – my office, his
office, back and forth, every week or two.
We had a set agenda. It was pretty malleable, but it was driven by the fact that I wanted to see the industry from his perspective.

Each week we had a specific topic and we’d both come prepared. I’d come with questions around that topic, or areas that I wanted to delve into, and he’d come with the information and knowledge that he had. From there, if it spiralled off into something completely different, that was all well and good. But we generally started with a goal in mind of what we wanted to discuss.
A lot of what I learned was about broker perceptions. As an underwriter, I know that I have to
concentrate on writing profitable business within my company guidelines. But I didn’t know how broker chains work as businesses.

We spoke a lot about brokers’ wants and needs from a client’s perspective – what type of clients they want, as well as what they want from their underwriters and their insurers. It was really interesting to get an understanding of the types of clients brokers seek, but also what type of underwriter they want. I was able to understand what brokers are expecting from their underwriter, so I can now try and fit myself into that mould to build better relationships. I’ve never been able to ask anyone about this type of thing before. You don’t usually get the opportunity.

I also got Ray and one of his colleagues to collect perceptions of me from their staff. They went around to all their brokers that I deal with and asked what they thought of me. I got to see what impression I am projecting. It gave me the opportunity to think about how I could better match to what they want. It was extremely valuable, because then I knew where the gaps were and what I needed to concentrate on changing.

Ray is an amazing person. He knows a lot about how businesses operate and how relationships work, and insurance knowledge in general. He’s able and willing to share it all, and he shares it really well – he’s completely open and knows that holding onto it doesn’t help anyone. We had some really good, intelligent and thought-provoking conversations. My professional opinion of Ray is extremely high. It would be amazing to work with him.

I would definitely recommend the program to anyone. I already have. Being from a smaller town, there were only four pairs of us. It was quite an intimate group. But if anyone can get on board and take the opportunity to ask these types of questions, then I would recommend everyone jump on it.”

“We sat down and talked about what Jess was looking to do in her final presentation. We looked at perception and how the brokers that she worked with perceived her. I didn’t actually know Jess at all, other then a couple conversations I’d had with her in passing. I’m not involved in hands-on broking so much. That was good because I didn’t have any expectations of her. I did a little bit of a survey. I asked brokers about their perceptions of Jess and asked her what her perceptions of herself were, from a professional point of view. It was interesting how her answers tied in quite closely with the feedback that I got from the brokers.

We also looked at what brokers expect of underwriters and what brokers are trying to achieve, when they were either placing a piece of business or doing a renewal. We did a session on claims as well, and various other things along the way. We went through a few different things along the leadership side of things, too. Those were the sorts of topics we worked through. The idea was to help Jess get a perception of the industry from the other side.

I think it worked well. Jess is an organised person. We sat down on the first day and figured out what we’re going to cover each week. She was very open to
listening and taking on board information. We agreed from the start that I wasn’t going to try to convince her of anything. I was just going to give her another way of looking at things and then it was up to her to determine what parts of that she considered would best fit in with the personal brand that she wanted to project. We weren’t there to agree on anything, but there are other ways of looking at things. You have to consider what fits in best with you. She was very open to that.

The mentoring program reminded me that we all start from the same situation. I’ve worked for insurers before, but I’ve been working for a broker now for almost 14 years. Things do get a bit us-and-them,
after a while. As a broker, especially when you’re involved in claims such as I am, things can get a bit cloudy. You start to see each other as the opposition.

But we have all ended up in insurance. We’re basically all trying to do the best we can on the side that we’re working on. It reminded me that the insurers are looking to achieve the same thing we are. They’re looking to assist people.

There is an experience gap in the insurance industry. You’ve got an older group of people who have been in the industry for a long time. There was a differentway of educating people back then. These days, people tend to come in and out of the industry a lot more. Retention in this industry doesn’t seem to be the same. There’s a danger that the younger people coming through are not going to get that experience handed back down to them.The program offers an opportunity for that to happen. I think it’s an opportunity for the old guys to pass on some of what might get lost otherwise.”