Managing a Commercial Team

Mark Rouleau, Western Financial Group

Since joining Western Financial Group in 2019 as the Chief Strategy Officer, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the brokerage side of our industry. A thirty plus year career (hard to believe as I write that, it went by so fast) which began as a claims appraiser with stops in underwriting and business development management with various carriers and finally as Senior Vice President for Western Canada Region at Aviva until making the jump to Western. 

Over the years I’ve volunteered on several different industry boards and committees including recently joining the IBAO Board of Directors this year. This is a real honour that I’m looking forward to experiencing and participating with a great group of colleagues. I’m the first member to have joined from out-of-province.

I think we’re working in one of the most dynamic of times, maybe that’s a cheesy cliché, but certainly within my career I can’t recall a period when there was so much motion. A prolonged period of low interest rates, consumer behavior evolution (revolution?), extreme climate related losses, a pandemic and fluid global environment. Add on capacity challenges and action-packed M&A environment.

“We kept looking to the future and saw a picture emerging about how customers were changing. We explained to our teams what we saw and how were intended to respond. Leadership, transparency and providing a relatable, inspiring vision for the path forward kept us moving ahead.”

Somewhere in all of that action are insurance professionals trying to sort through it and explain it to stressed consumers that often still don’t get us. So, during the early part of the pandemic, we focused on the people. We kept our sales teams whole from an income standpoint and had them focus on keeping their clients informed about what was happening. Customers in the most difficult classes (you know the ones) needed the most detail and we worked with our markets to get the story right. Like most brokers we had to scramble at times for capacity, but we remained transparent with our teams and customers. Making sure everyone heard the story and understood what the options were, helped keep the teams engaged. 

While we were focusing on keeping our customer and teams connected a new channel emerged seemingly overnight. What the pandemic did for online sales broadly, it did for insurance sales. Brokers who were the first movers were best prepared when consumers made the shift.

We were lucky in that we already enjoyed strong online relevance, but we were not ready on the key area of fulfillment—the real secret sauce in my opinion. Customers were looking for experience choices and only a few brokerages were ready. We had to build it on the fly.

We explored online raters without much luck and landed on online sales centres as a solution. One for Personal Lines and one for a growing number of Commercial Lines clients looking for a digital option. Our experience, maybe it’s different than others, is that we still needed to augment the online experience with live broker support. I believe that in the long run we need to get the online quote experience option right and accurate before trying to introduce that again. It turns out that even in the digital world we needed the human touch.

Over the past couple of years there have been numerous challenges and organizations made choices. Some focused on keeping the organization intact at all costs, which made sense for them at that time. Our CEO, Kenny Nicholls, made the people the priority. Both customers and staff. We stayed transparent about what was happening in our business. We kept looking to the future and saw a picture emerging about how customers were changing. We explained to our teams what we saw and how were intended to respond. Leadership, transparency and providing a relatable, inspiring vision for the path forward kept us moving ahead.

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VOLUME 21 | ISSUE 6