Brokerage Growth—Perspective from Two Leaders in the Industry

Melanie Muise—COO, Navacord

Chris Coniglio—COO, Highcourt Breckles Group

Tell us about yourself and your brokerage.

MM: I’m about to celebrate my three-year anniversary with Navacord, one of Canada’s fastest growing multi-line brokerages. I’m responsible for guiding Navacord’s broker partners to achieve their growth plans with a focus on operational excellence. I oversee client and employee experience, marketing and carrier relationships, product development and IT including infrastructure, cybersecurity, data and digital strategy.  

Navacord was founded in 2014, is headquartered in Toronto, and we have over 2000 employees and over 100 offices from coast to coast. From commercial and personal insurance to surety, employee benefits and retirement consulting, Navacord leverages national strength and resources with the local-touch service of industry-specialized Navacord Broker Partners to deliver the trusted advice, expertise and custom insurance solutions clients need to face the future with confidence.  

CC: I’m the COO at Breckles Highcourt Group. I’ve been a broker for over 35 years, specializing in commercial lines risk placement. I’m also an educator, working with the IBAO on the CAIB Immersion program, along with being a coach and mentor to many brokers throughout Ontario. I was awarded the Dale Rempel award in 2020 from IBAC for professional development.

Highcourt Partners and Breckles Group of Companies merged to form the Highcourt Breckles Group, a proudly Canadian-based and owned, growing operation to help Canadian businesses and individuals thrive in this new normal post-pandemic world with access to global wealth preservation solutions in the anytime, anywhere digital world. 

Your brokerage has seen substantial growth over the last few years. What was the path you took to lead your brokerages to such success?

MM: Navacord takes a three-pillar approach to growth. Our first pillar is organic growth where we focus both on attracting new clients, and cross-selling with existing clients. Our second pillar is Merger & Acquisition—we have a unique ownership model and value proposition that makes us the preferred partner for entrepreneurial insurance brokerages seeking to grow as part of something bigger, while maintaining their distinct identity and culture. And, our final pillar is attracting and retaining talent—both new to the industry and experienced—in sales and service who can help us achieve our ambitious growth goals.

CC: In 2021, Highcourt Partners Ltd and Breckles Group of Companies amalgamated to form the Highcourt Breckles Group. Together these two dynamic brokerages have brought together risk management solutions, access to global insurance providers, digital service offering along with domestic retail insurance risk placement for both personal and commercial lines. The result for the organization has been a steady increase in consultative sales and stronger development of international relationships, along with a highly disciplined and educated staff.

What is the process and how long does it take for a merger or acquisition to usually come to fruition?

MM: There are two parts to that answer. The first is how long it takes for someone to get comfortable with becoming a potential partner—and, that can take years in some cases. It’s not unusual for us to close a partnership where we’ve been meeting with someone for five or more years waiting for them to be ready. Secondly, when it comes to closing a deal, we’ve found that having a standardized process based on the type of transaction is important but knowing when that process needs to be flexible is more important. It’s not about getting it done fast but getting it done thoughtfully so both sides feel energized to continue to build together moving forward. 

During the pandemic we had to pivot to virtual M&A activities and we learned that having great digital solutions to keep everyone in touch seamlessly during the process was an important factor to the point where we’ve kept many of those digital tools and processes in place even though we are able to see each other face to face again.  

CC: Merger and acquisition start with a patient approach and mindset. The first goal is to see if there is a cultural fit. Organizations need to ensure that they share the same vision and operational goals. Growth for the sake of increased market share is not a recipe for success. It must be balanced by an aligned philosophy between the organizations coming together. 

This process often takes one year or more to come together. The due diligence process should be exhaustive and well thought out. By doing this work up- front, it helps to eliminate surprises later on and confirms that many of the operational goals are appropriately balanced. 

What is some advice you have for brokerages looking to achieve similar growth?

MM: Plan ambitiously. At Navacord, we often start with the statement, Let’s plan to double your business in the next five years. Then, we work back to understand what must happen to make that statement come true. We follow that up with a three-step formula: establish KPIs, set goals annually, and get together quarterly to talk about successes and challenges. This helps us continue to reach or exceed that five-year goal. You don’t just flip a switch and achieve top-of-market growth. You need a disciplined approach to put in the work every day, year after year to achieve it.

CC: Stay true to your core beliefs and grow from your operational strength. Your customer is the most valued asset, and must be the focal point of your attention. Keep the insurer relationship professional and respectful and watch your success factor grow. The brokerage is the supply chain link between customer and insurer. If you manage those relationships effectively, you will achieve the anticipated growth.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for growth in insurance?

MM: I see two opportunities that have me really excited for the future of insurance. The first is the amount of focus being put on diversity, equity and inclusion. To me, there is nothing more energizing or empowering than being with a group of people who think differently than you and feel comfortable expressing themselves authentically. 

The second opportunity is digital adoption. Trends like the Great Resignation, hybrid workforces, automation and connectivity have us rethinking how, when, and where we work. Accelerating digital adoption and harnessing technology to eliminate tasks that don’t require a human touch gives us the possibility to use our human skills like empathy and curiosity to maximum effect.

CC: Cyber risk is likely the greatest opportunity for growth within the insurance industry. As technology continues to develop, it becomes more sophisticated. Brokerages are operating from more of a remote basis than ever before, which leads to cyber threats being greater than anticipated exposure. Client awareness of these threats is high, and brokerages need to equip themselves with the knowledge, experience and market strength to allow them to meet the business need of this ever-growing risk threat.

What is some of the best advice you’ve gotten throughout your career that has helped lead you to where you’re at right now?

MM: The top three I tap into regularly are: 

Never start from scratch. There’s always someone, somewhere who’s gotten a start on an idea and that gives you a huge opportunity to collaborate and consider your idea from different angles. 

Don’t hire anyone you couldn’t see yourself working for. 

Lead with positive intent. Open and honest communication is a core value of mine and I personally find the benefits of leading with openness and trust far outweigh the small percentage of times that turns out to be a bad move.

CC: The best advice I’ve received time and time again is to be a proud Canadian. It’s important to remember that our country has been built on a strong financial system where insurance is respected and trusted by Canadians. This lines up with our mission: Built on trust, Highcourt Breckles Group purpose is to help Canadian businesses be more competitive and assist individuals in preserving their wealth, wherever they may be.

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VOLUME 21 | ISSUE 6