They came from opposite sides of the insurance spectrum: Yvonne Choong was new to the broking, working for her family’s niche firm, while David Bruton, a Principal at Marsh, has half a lifetime in the industry. NIBA’s mentoring program brought them together with the aim to help young professionals to develop focused goals and strive for high levels of performance. According to the pair, it demonstrated they both had something positive to gain from each other’s experiences.

Mentee

Yvonne Choong, Great Wall Insurance

I started out in the insurance industry in July 2014, so I’m a relative newbie. I’ve always had a vague idea of what an insurance broker’s role is, mainly because my dad has been in the industry for almost 20 years. But when I joined Great Wall Insurance, I was surprised at how steep the learning curve was.

Last year I was in a transitional point in my career, I was moving into a new industry, I had just moved countries, I had just moved from a company with about 30,000 people to being essentially self-employed in a brokerage. I was previously in advisory governance and control with a chartered firm in Melbourne and then in the banking industry in Singapore. So there was a lot of change. The NIBA program came at a really opportune time.

In my career I’ve always sought out one or two people, whether it be in my peer group or someone in a senior role, who I look up to and whom I could seek advice from. I was expecting to someone who had been in the industry for a long time and could tell me who was who and how the dynamics worked.

Mentoring

I was surprised when they matched me with Dave because our brokerages couldn’t be more different. Marsh has corporate clientele, and Dave helps corporates translate complicated insurance requirements. He gives risk management advice, in terms of an insurance program, and his clients know their industry and have a good insurance literacy.

At Great Wall Insurance, we are an eight-person team dealing with niche community-based clients, small businesses owned by migrants who might be completely new to running a business in Australia. Many are first time business owners, or it might be their first time operating outside of Hong Kong, Malaysia or China. It’s worlds apart.

But once I got into the program that wasn’t the case at all. When it comes down to it the fundamentals are still the same. You have to understand what your client does and provide advice based on it, and that’s where you add value.

Dave is level-headed, patient and incredibly down to earth. I would get caught up in the every day operational challenges and he would help → me step back and realise it’s not so different from what I was doing previously: you need to build a team, you need to be transparent, you need to encourage accountability and most importantly you need to know your clients. That was one of the biggest lessons I learned from the program.

Dave and I spoke on the phone every week or two for the duration of the program. I set some learning objectives at the beginning and we walked through them each week.

One of the strong points of the NIBA program is the value of seeking out someone in a different organisation who has had a different experience in their professional life.

One of my goals was to pay more attention to how staff are measured – how we define KPIs, what success looks like, what expectations are, and how our sales people are performing to those expectations. Because we’re a small brokerage, we have evolved quite organically. So Dave’s perspective coming from a big corporate was that you have to have a framework in place, and there needs to be transparency and clear expectations for each individual as to what they are expected to achieve.

We discussed what I wanted to achieve each week and any setbacks I might be facing; he would reflect on what worked well in his team and we would discuss what elements might also be applicable in my working environment.

I think there’s value in seeking out a mentor and it’s important you find someone you feel comfortable seeking counsel from, who is proactive in making suggestions and who is objective as well.

I hope I can provide the same type of counsel and support that Dave has given me to someone else. I think at the moment I’m still a bit green so maybe in the next five years!

Mentor

David Bruton, Marsh

NIBA’s mentoring program was promoted within my company, Marsh, and I was one of one of three people who volunteered. I’d worked with a lot of young people over the years and one of the things I enjoy is helping them in their careers and training. So it was something I was comfortable doing, but had never done formal mentoring before. But I was keen to give back to the insurance industry, which I’ve been a part of for half my life.

Once we signed up to be part of the mentoring program we received a handbook so we could get a better understanding of the expectations and timeframes. I hadn’t had any feedback from people who had previously done it, so I went in with very much an open mind and had very few preconceived perceptions of what was going to come out of it.

Because I work in the city and Yvonne works in Springdale, it wasn’t practical for us to do face-to-face meetings on a regular basis, so we agreed to catch up over the phone after work once a week, and most weeks we did.

For the first week, Yvonne put together a list of objectives and ideas she had as far as how to achieve them and what she wanted to cover off, which was a big list! At the end of the day we focused on a few of those and each week she would tell what she’d been doing, and anything that had come up during the week she wanted to discuss and get feedback on.

Yvonne holds a management role in her family brokerage firm, so she was mainly interested in ideas on how to manage the firm, some of the ways we do things at a larger firm and how they could be implemented in her firm. There were a number of ideas she would bounce off me, such as how to deal with staff issues.

For example, one of the areas was to do with how well staff were performing, and they weren’t tracking their individual financial performance. Until they did that it was hard to work out how well different individuals were performing and who was performing above average. By starting to measure these sort of things they were then able to work out whether the current level of performance was good, and areas that could be improved.

I think any initiatives where you’re getting people from different areas of insurance together to work with each other and help each other is good for the industry overall.

I’ve been really impressed with how quickly Yvonne has taken up some of the ideas we’ve talked about and how enthusiastic she’s been to make improvements. She is a friendly lady, very intelligent.

She has a finance background and only joined the insurance industry a couple of months beforehand. She came in with an open mind and was keen to learn more about the industry, in particular the broking side of it.

I found it interesting talking to Yvonne because she comes from a small broking firm on the opposite end of the scale from Marsh. I came to understand the types of issues that a smaller firm faces, and I gained appreciation for the procedures and processes we have in place at Marsh, whereas otherwise I would just think it’s just the way we do it.

But having someone else present the issues, I was able to draw upon those processes to give recommendations as to what might work.

I also found it fulfilling to be able to give something back to the industry. I was concerned going in that it might take up a bit of time, but it didn’t require a huge amount of time. I’d definitely like to do it again.

Click here to learn more about the mentoring program.