Entrepreneurial Journey | Advantage Insurance Brokers

May 8, 2024

With Chris StarkSenior Insurance Executive, Advantage Insurance Brokers 

What inspired you to start your own insurance brokerage? 

I  genuinely love sales, and selling insurance is a tough grind. Either the market is soft and there’s no incentive to move brokers or insurance companies, or the market is hard and there’s no product to sell due to underwriters having capacity or underwriting restrictions. The nature of insurance is that it’s a grudge purchase for a large portion of customers across Commercial and Personal lines. My peers may disagree about that statement, but that’s why we started our brokerage. To make it our mission to become a sales-focused organization, we work with a select group of carriers presenting the best risks. 

What distinguishes Advantage Insurance Brokers? 

Technology and programs! How many dozens of articles have been published in the last five years stating that the future of insurance is based on deploying the right technology and specializing in a segment? Our brokerage purchased a platform three years ago that automates a vast majority of our policies. The strategy we’ve deployed is that we don’t bank on APIs being widely available for the next ten years. We’re 90% Commercial—it’s very unique to have a Commercial program brokerage in Ontario. We also have a producer partner program we’re very proud of. You build your book from scratch one policy at a time, and when it gets to a certain threshold, we offer you various ownership opportunities. 

What challenges did you overcome in the early stages of building AIB? 

Starting a brokerage nine months before COVID during a hard market—that was just bad timing. But we overcame it one policy at a time, staying in the segment. Every lead receives multiple follow-ups. If we lose the business, we ensure they’re contacted next year. We also stayed true to our word on a long-term plan and committed to what we said we’d do. The volume commitments and sales goals we made have always been met. 

Was there a pivotal moment in your journey?  

When you start a brokerage from scratch, there are always milestones—your first policy, your first renewal, your first employee. There isn’t really a pivotal moment. It ends once you sell or retire. You have to love the evolution of the brokerage, the market and the risks. Insurance never stops because it’s on a year-long cycle, inside market cycles, inside economic cycles, so you need to embrace the fact that the only constant is change.  

How do you stay innovative in a constantly evolving insurance landscape? 

Read and listen a lot. We use LinkedIn daily, read industry articles and listen to international podcasts. We also use technology to service our clients for policy and payment documents so we can spend time talking to them. We learn new ways to focus our vast sales efforts by speaking with them. In the last five years, there’s been a massive push to use technology to replace brokers. The push to self-service portals for both carriers and brokers also takes away resources for hiring staff. Our brokerage has gone the other way. We use technology to automate the insurance standpoint so our staff can answer the phone and reply to emails while automatically logging into our BMS.  

What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own brokerage? 

Start your own, and don’t inherit a book. There’s a massive book transfer going on between boomers and millennials. Starting from scratch and earning your way to a large book allows for ownership and autonomy and reduces the risk of ownership politics.  

Respect your underwriters, be patient, be realistic with investors and companies and understand the seasons. Your frontline underwriters, receptionists and accounting department will be your best friends. Be patient—this is going to take years! Insurance is a slow industry on a yearly calendar.  

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