In his 35 years as a broker, Graham Stevens’ brokerages have been through many name changes – at least seven, in fact.
“It’s funny because when you sit down with clients, they’ll go ‘Well, who do I make the cheque out to today?’,” he says. “I’ll tell them it’s Edgewise now and they’ll ask why I keep changing the name. I usually just say it’s because the creditors were getting very close but the reality is that the personal relationship is what’s important.
“So long as the person who looks after them is still there and the relationship is strong, then the name doesn’t matter as much. I started broking in 1980 and I’ve still got clients from 1980.”
An overriding belief in the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with the right people is central to Stevens’ philosophy of broking, and is set to be a powerful factor in shaping his recently commenced term as NIBA President.
Stevens is the Executive Director of Melbourne’s Edgewise Insurance Brokers, a general insurance broker with a team of 27. It operates in the time-honoured fashion of partnering with businesses as advisers and delivering ways of managing risk. But there is also another side to the Edgewise business, thanks to the digital revolution.
One part of this other side is Edgewise’s expressinsurance.com.au, an online and telephone portal allowing contractors and small business operators to find quotes and secure public liability and professional indemnity cover for hundreds of professions in as little as five minutes.
Edgewise also runs Insurenet, which provides software for brokers who operate facilities, reducing their processing and transaction costs.
In both initiatives, technology is used to automate processes that were traditionally done manually. “It is using technology to take the work out of all that high-volume, low-premium business, the sort of business that can actually be put into boxes. You can say ‘if you’re a bookkeeper and you have this turnover, then this should be your premium’. This is a valuable tool,” Stevens says.
Stevens is known to many in the broking industry as Bear, but why?
However, launching websites centred on removing people from the transactional process has done nothing to weaken Stevens’ conviction of the importance that personal relationships play in broking. “The brokers who actually just want to process premiums and collect commissions – as opposed to meeting with their clients and properly understanding their needs and providing the right risk solutions – I think those brokers simply might not be here in the future,” he says.
“Technology is a tool to increase our efficiencies, but what we can’t do is go away from what we’ve always done, which is going to see the client, listen to them and then give advice.
“That’s the rewarding part of it too, and what makes [brokers] stand out from the rest of the financial services industry. We form relationships with our clients over a longer period of time. In a lot of cases, they become friends.”
Of course, keeping broking as a people-based industry means getting the right people into the industry, which is a task Stevens is hugely passionate about, in large part because of his own experiences.
“I came into insurance much like the rest of us – I fell into it,” he says. “At the age of 16, after leaving school, I applied for a clerical position and ended up at GRE.
“It was a much simpler time. Business was done on a different basis. You could have a beer coaster signed off at the Mitre Tavern [in Melbourne] on a Friday afternoon and if something happened over the weekend that was binding.”
Much hard work and a series of partnerships, including building GIS Insurance Brokers with Gary Seymour, have brought Stevens to where he is, with much gratitude for the opportunities the industry has provided him.
“This is a sensational industry and almost everyone in it feels that way. Most of us fell into the business but we’ve all had such great lives out of it,” he says. “It is always interesting. It takes you to places and people and businesses that you’d never usually find.”
Spreading awareness of the opportunities presented by broking and the wider insurance sector is a key goal for Stevens, and work is already underway on an industry-wide initiative aimed at putting a spotlight on the opportunities offered by the insurance world for the country’s most talented young people.
“[Zurich Australia General Insurance CEO] Daniel Fogarty is heading an awareness and careers project that NIBA and many other organisations are involved in. ANZIIF have already done a lot of work with career surveys and industry research, so we’ve got a lot of information on where people come from and where they go,” he says.
“What the industry needs to do now is come together and form a strategy and put in some funding to take the message about what an incredible industry this is out to schools.
“I think there are about 2500 high schools and colleges you can go to, so it’s a mammoth job but it is something that everybody wants to happen. Everyone I’ve spoken to about this has been ready to lend support and put people on the ground.”
One of the key steps, Stevens says, is to convince the major stakeholders to invest the sums needed to give the initiative its requisite scope and impact. “Obviously, ensuring you’ve
got talented people coming into the industry in the future is a wise way to spend your capital,”
Stevens says the absolutely crucial aspect of having an impact is getting the industry to work together. “Unless we all get together, it’s not going to happen,” he says. “I’ve seen attempts made so many times. We tried it at Steadfast and ANZIIF has tried it too.
“But what is very encouraging is that at the last meeting we had we had representatives from nearly every part of the industry. Everyone wants it to happen.”