Broker Roundtable | 2023 Perspective

For our final issue of The Ontario Broker this year, we brought together three brokers who’ve recently taken the reigns at their brokerage for their various perspectives on the past year.

Jeff Hall President & Broker J Hall Insurance Brokers

Ruxandra Rodgers Vice-President Leslie & Giles Insurance

Carson Pileggi Broker & Owner SWITCH Insurance Sudbury

Tell us about your brokerage. 

JH: Opening my own brokerage had always been in the back of my mind, but leaving the security of being a full-time agent with a direct writer made me hesitant. With the support of PROLINK Broker Network, J Hall Insurance Brokers was born and ready for business in April 2023. We’ve spent a lot of time on carrier training/on-boarding, brand awareness and what our mission will be. At J Hall Insurance we take pride in our high level of specialized customer service, accessibility and diverse solutions. 

RR: Leslie & Giles Insurance has been serving the public for over 95 years. Our independent brokerage located in East Toronto is now managed by myself—the third generation of my family to own the business. By providing sound advice that outlasts the trends, we aim to serve and guide our clients for the best possible outcomes in the long run. 

CP: After starting our insurance careers as captive agents, my partner and I wanted to move into brokerage ownership to put our clients’ best interests first. In September 2020, we opened our doors with the help of Switch Broker Network. Joining a network allowed us to focus on what we cared about most—our clients—while the network took care of everything else. We’ll always work toward being a community-focused brokerage, staying invested and involved in as many ways as possible.

Looking back at 2023, what were the most significant challenges and successes your brokerage experienced?

JH: Learning the day-to-day operations of running a business, worrying about where our clients will come from, how we’re going to pay the bills and how to market were all challenges along the way. In saying that, we have made many successes in these short few months which make it worthwhile. We’re extremely proud of how quickly we were able to onboard with carriers, create an identifiable brand and service new customers.

RR: In 2023, some of the most significant challenges we’ve faced have been the high inflation rates coupled with the yo-yo underwriting of premiums. The lack of stability in premiums has caused our insureds unnecessary stress when they’re already facing financial constraints. But through our proactive approach to addressing premium fluctuations and our clients’ expectations, we’ve been able to somewhat mitigate this for our book and have been able to experience growth. 

CP: It’s the same answer for both—growth. Our brokerage is growing rapidly through word of mouth and referrals, which is fantastic. But like many other brokerages, we’re finding it harder and harder to find good, motivated individuals to join our team. Our network has provided excellent support in workflow optimization and staff augmentation. Still, having the right folks in the right seats will be a problem for years to come.

Is there a success story or accomplishment this year that showcases your brokerage’s ability to navigate industry challenges while providing value to clients and partners?

JH: The fact that we were able to launch a new, small brokerage in a year where the industry saw several small brokerages in Ontario being acquired, in a hard market, is a huge accomplishment for us. We’ve faced many challenges and are very proud of how quickly we overcame most of them, all the while creating our brand, carrying out our vision and providing exceptional service. 2023 has been a year of learning and developing that base for growth in 2024 and beyond.

RR: Success stories happen on a weekly basis in our brokerage, which we celebrate as a team. Small wins such as a simple courtesy call to the insured to avoid a cancellation for non-pay, to bigger wins by negotiating for our clients with the insurer around premium and/or eligibility. 

All our efforts to go above and beyond every day makes for great client experiences where people can trust that their assets and families are in good hands. We’ve also gotten involved in claims to support our clients and smooth over the claims handling experience. 

CP: As most business owners do, we spend most of our time working in our business instead of on our business. We’re so busy with the day-to-day operations that we lose sight of how we wanted to grow. This came to a head earlier this year when we were forced to decide what kind of company and partner we wanted to be and how we wanted to present ourselves. Thankfully, our team and partners supported us while we made some tough decisions.

How is your brokerage improving client interaction and experience?

JH: As a modern insurance brokerage who is remote and mobile (no retail space), we emphasize being available in many ways so we can reach several different demographics. Whether via email, phone/text, virtual or in-person, we believe our availability will be an advantage and lead to higher customer satisfaction and retention. Another way we’ll improve satisfaction and retention is to continue to grow our social platform to share, educate, and bring industry information to the forefront. 

RR: There’s no such thing as guaranteeing client satisfaction, but we strive for perfection in every interaction. Our focus has always been responsiveness and empathy when working with clients and insurer partners. Though expectations are evolving rapidly, at the heart of it, the human factor is still number one. We’ll continue to be client-centric while being consistent in our advice and ensure our messaging is unwavering despite economic and industry trends.

CP: Without giving away all the secrets, the entire network is focused on returning to basics: answering the phones, addressing concerns, being proactive in our interactions and earning our commission dollars and clients’ business and trust. We can only do that by working as a team, putting pros in their places, having honest conversations and holding ourselves accountable.

Looking ahead to next year, which industry trends do you foresee having the biggest impact on brokerages?

JH: We’ll continue to see increases (modest, I hope) in the overall cost of insurance, specifically on the personal lines of Home & Auto. In saying that, I believe carriers are trying to be proactive and recognize the need for consumers to save. Initiatives I like to discuss are the telematics programs on the auto side and soft credit checks on the property side. In my opinion, it will be those brokerages who are forward thinking, willing to adapt to new initiatives and respond quickly that will achieve a competitive advantage. 

RR: I expect the continued trend of poaching talent is going to have a negative impact on the independent brokerage sector. The smaller P&C brokerages are responsible for bringing in and training a lot of great brokers, which is particularly necessary after the mass exodus post-covid as seasoned brokers retired. Encouraging frequent job switching seems inefficient for our industry. The use of AI will impact both policies and claims handling. I expect this will offer efficiencies on one hand, and added costs related to trouble shooting and code development on the other. I hope to see consolidation in the number of programs and portals we’re expected to navigate to reduce time wasted on data entry rather than advising clients.

CP: Client-facing AI and automation will significantly impact the insurance brokerage sector. Every time we push a client to a carrier app or portal, we lose the opportunity to develop a relationship and provide value to that client and, in time, make ourselves redundant.

Given the rapidly changing landscape, what are the top priorities for your brokerage?

JH: Without our clients, we wouldn’t be in business, so they’ll always be our top priority. I learned at a young age to treat people how you want to be treated (shout out to Mom), and we apply that approach when it comes to our customers. Our plan to stay ahead of the competition is to focus on training and development, being accessible, efficient and social. We’ll be current with industry trends, education, new products/coverages and technology.

RR: Our top priorities will be client communication and expanded product offering. My aim is for our team to have a solution to every problem, or at least most of them. This will involve investing in continued training, insurer partnerships and technological advancements. In terms of communication, I feel that the human factor is the most important, memorable and impactful aspect of business. Building relationships is the only way to differentiate yourself from commodity business marketing ads.

CP: The focus stays the same—figure out how to provide better service to our clients without losing a personal connection to them. We plan to leverage our network to simplify our backend processes so we can present for our clients when and where they need us.

What are you most grateful for this year?

JH: The support of family, friends, clients and partners from PROLINK Broker network who have allowed me the opportunity of pursing my dream of being a business owner. Without that support system, J Hall Insurance Brokers wouldn’t exist. I owe a big thank you to those along for the ride with me. 

RR: I’m most grateful for my team, my industry partners when they go above and beyond for our team and our clients, and for our loyal clients. Most people in our industry are fantastic — working with them to solve problems is what I enjoy most about being a broker. 

CP: I’m grateful for the opportunity that was presented to us, the trust that was placed in us and the support shown to us by our clients, partners and employees.

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