From the March 5, 2012 issue of National Underwriter Property & Casualty • Subscribe!

Five Key Steps to a Successful Broker/ Risk Manager Relationship

In the view of insurance brokers, a successful relationship with risk managers depends on the broker’s ability to achieve a clear understanding of a risk manager’s strategic objectives—and then to supply the information and programs that lead to satisfying those needs.

It is a relationship in which the primary goal of the broker is to listen and understand the business objectives and strains that each risk manager faces. That means understanding the business they are in; the factors driving their risk decisions; the resources they have available; and how they are judged by their superiors.

Here are the five main steps a broker must take in forging a successful relationship with a risk manager:

1. IDENTIFY THE TYPE OF RISK MANAGER WITH WHOM YOU’RE WORKING

Risk managers fall into two different camps, says Rob Meyers, senior vice president and P&C leader for insurance broker USI. One carries the formal designation of risk manager, an individual whose role has grown in sophistication over the years.

The second is the middle-market C-suite executive who turns to an insurance broker to augment his or her role and wants a broker to be “a true partner” in any decisions to retain or transfer risk or to manage it through an alternative-risk vehicle such as a captive.

In situations where there is no official risk manager, and the insurance decisions are made by the CEO or CFO, Meyers says the broker’s role is expanded to advising the executive on any possible threats to the business and then consulting on what can be done about them.

One major component in either of these relationships is trust, notes Meyers, which means a broker delivers no surprises, such as sudden higher premiums or insufficient coverage.

2. LISTEN AND LEARN

If there is a single key to the broker and risk-manager relationship, it is “effective listening,” says Tim Kelly, president and CEO of Lockton Houston and director of Lockton’s national financial-services practice for the Kansas City, Mo.-headquartered insurance broker.

A broker who successfully practices effective listening will understand the restraints of the risk manager’s budget and will develop a program “that is sustainable through a changing market,” Kelly says.

The bottom line is an understanding of the risk manager’s business and the challenges and opportunities that the risk manager identifies.

“If you have a relentless approach to always understanding and driving for results based on the philosophy and perspective of your client, you stand a much better chance of having an enduring and long-term relationship,” he adds.

3. BESPOKE SERVICE, WITH TECH IN SUPPORTING ROLE

The successful broker/risk manager relationship is a highly individualized one, says Todd Macumber, president  of the risk-services division at Hub International Ltd. Cultivating that relationship starts with the expectation that the broker understands the finer points of the risk manager’s business and helps him or her to anticipate what their risk needs will be.

“A good broker and risk advisor takes the time to understand the client’s needs and concerns,” he notes. “But being in tune with a client extends beyond specific industry knowledge and skills. It’s an ability to listen, understand, perform and help drive results. Ultimately, it can become a very personal relationship.”

A broker needs to bring more value to the table than premium rates, Macumber says: “If you win on price, you can also lose on price. When you deal effectively with risk, your value as a broker goes beyond price.”

Technology, he says, actually plays a minor role in the grand scheme of the broker/risk manager relationship: Its primary purpose is to supply a self-service format for those clients looking for some degree of self-control.

“There is a role for technology, but you try not to use it as a crutch,” says Macumber. “It is all about picking up the phone and calling, and you being there for them when they need you. A broker needs to understand their client’s urgency and perform—that solidifies the relationship.”

How does Macumber know when he’s delivering the level—and speed—of service his clients need?

When a client tells him, as he says they often do, “you are not one to wait to solve a problem when it can be done now.”

4. IDENTIFY SHORT- AND LONG-TERM GOALS

“It is the obligation of the broker to understand the risk manager’s short-term and long-term goals and to help optimize the success of his or her risk-management strategy,” says George Haitsch, executive vice president of Willis Global Solutions.

It sounds like something any broker should be able to do, says Haitsch, but it doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Haitsch knows of what he speaks: For the past two years he has worked as a broker at Willis, but prior to Willis he spent 10 years as the risk manager for SAP, a business-management software-solution company.

He says that a relationship that does not work well is one in which the broker focuses on renewals and claims but fails to step back and solicit the kind of information from the risk manager that allows the broker to engage in a shared understanding about the risk manager’s issues.

Feedback, Haitsch notes, is critical—and that often means more than a conversation taking place during the month of the renewal process. He says it should be a year-round discussion in which clients discuss their strategic imperatives.

The bottom line for brokers, Haitsch says, is to keep their risk manager successful by regularly and proactively offering guidance on key issues pertaining to the client.

“A lot of risk managers have pretty lean operations within their own company,” Haitsch observes. “Often the broker acts as an extension of the risk-management team. It is a relationship built on trust, with the results being a long-term partnership.”

5. ASSEMBLE YOUR FINDINGS, PRESENT THEM & FOLLOW UP

USI’s Meyers says it is paramount for the broker to prepare all possible insurance options months prior to the renewal, before even opening a dialogue with a client.

At USI, for example, the firm gets a group of its brokers together and brainstorms over what an outside broker would bring to an account. Through this peer-review process, the firm “comes up to speed on all the possible alternatives,” he says.

For middle-market accounts that lack a risk manager, the broker goes in and ensures that the C-suite executives understand all their risk options and what they need to do to lower or stabilize the cost of their insurance, he adds.

“What resonates with the CFO is dollars,” Meyers says. “[A proposal] that comes to them has to have a major economic impact.” That, he explains, means finding the exposures that could prove costly and developing risk solutions that address them.

For example, he says, “I could get the client a policy for less than last year, and those savings are appreciated. But if I go in and show them that there is a giant hole in their property program that could cost them $2 million in revenue, then my value is seen in a whole different light.”

And through a combination of technology tools, the broker can bring the client clear indications of where the cost of their risk stands in the marketplace.

For the broker, success means establishing credibility in the eyes of risk managers that the broker’s team will do the best job to get the risk managers where they need to be.

“The last thing we want is for the carrier to tell us what the numbers are,” says Meyers. “We work with the client to understand what the number should be.”

Meyers’ final advice? “Always work with your client as if they are a prospect.” 

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