When the fires first broke out, our clients were incredibly nervous. Even in Hobart, there was a strange quiet on the streets as people just waited for the fire.

Our number one priority at the time was to work out which clients we had in the vicinity and how could we get in touch with them quickly to give them alerts and assistance.

Some clients who were threatened were on the Forestier Peninsula in an aged-care facility. There were people hooked up to machines that needed to be powered constantly so we had to make sure those generators were secure.

I was in contact with those clients consistently, making sure that their family and property were all safe.

After the fires came through, it all became about what else we could do.

So that’s when I could call on the relationships that I’d built over time with my clients. I called on a number of our supermarket clients and said, “Look, is it possible for you to donate goods?”

Two days after the fires went through, we loaded up a container with essentials – baby supplies, food, water, that sort of things – threw it on back of the four-wheel drive, and took those down to load on to boats to go straight to the peninsula.

What was great was having my manager support me in that time as well. When the fires hit and I said: “Look, I want to take the day off. I want to go down and deliver these goods.” My manager just turned around and said go.

Having that support and being able to get those goods across to people who needed it was a wonderful moment.

On the ground

We had insurers that were on the ground at the time who were doing assessments and everything else as soon as the fires were clear and safe to get by.  There was no way of actually getting to the peninsula at that time because Dunalley is right at the arm of it.

I called on a number of our supermarket clients and said, “Look, is it possible for you to donate goods?”

From a risk management point of view, we needed to be in contact with clients and make sure that everyone was being safe, particularly for the security of the properties. Clients were busy dealing with the here and now so we focused on just touching base and asking: “Where are things sitting? What do you need from us?”

That initial conversation may only take five minutes but it lets the client know that they’re not on their own, and that can be a great help in helping them settle down.

Lessons learned

My advice is that as soon as you learn an event is coming,  get in touch with your clients early. Pinpoint where they are, because if they’re in another country, they don’t know what’s going to happen to their properties.

My clients appreciated the fact that I contacted them and made sure everything was okay, but all had my mobile number so they could contact me at any point that they needed assistance or even just a sounding board.

It didn’t need to be about what to do with their insurance. It could be just the fact that they were facing annoyance and they needed someone away from the situation to chat to.

On top of this, as brokers we must deal with the fact that when natural disasters happen, the media will run with a story of devastation and highlight whenever there is a lack of assistance from the insurance companies.

But we just get in there and get the job done. Sometimes you need to have hard conversations. If you haven’t done your job and said ‘Look, these are the areas you’re not covered for’, it makes it a much harder conversation to have with someone who’s lost everything.

It’s about maintaining those relationships with your clients. You’re not just a broker. You’re an adviser. You’re a business partner.

Sharon Cannon is Arthur J Gallagher’s Warragul Branch Manager.