NU Editor-in-Chief Shawn Moynihan sat down with WSIA Executive Director Brady Kelley during the recent Spring Summit in Phoenix to discuss the newly united organization post-merger, communicating the value of the wholesale distribution system, and where WSIA goes from here.
Moynihan: The mood at last night’s annual business meeting and election of officers was high, there was a lot of positive energy in the room. Members seem very pleased to be part of a united organization. How does that feel for you?
Kelley: It feels amazing. Being here to launch this event is huge for us because it’s just the one that changed the most: It was our responsibility to make sure that anyone who attended last year’s AAMGA Annual Meeting or NAPSLO Mid-Year felt comfortable and productive here. So to see them here, having a good time and in very positive moods is really pretty incredible for us.
Moynihan: The process of merging legacy NAPSLO and AAMGA was made seamless through the hard work and due diligence of the Merger Committee. What was the biggest surprise or revelation for you during the merger process?
Kelley: The Merger Committee did an incredible amount of work. They went through a ton of detail. Their proposal addressed so many of the details and issues that there haven’t been many surprises; now, we’re just executing the work that was already laid out.
Moynihan: It seems, at least from my perspective, that the overwhelming response seemed to be very much in favor of merging the two legacy organizations. Is that fair to say?
Kelley: I would tell you that the idea of the two associations merging was not brand-new. That had been discussed many times before, so maybe if there was ever a surprise to me, personally, it was that this time we crossed that hurdle from theoretical to practical. Let’s sit down and talk about it and figure out how we could make it work.
Once that committee got started, I knew it was going to happen but I never expected it would be supported as overwhelmingly as it was. The membership responded to what that committee put together and I think they did a fantastic job of scoping it out. Now, we get to just roll it out and it seems to be going really well.
Moynihan: Merging the two groups’ educational programs expands the curriculum considerably. What kind of challenges does that present from a logistics perspective, and also in trying to get the word out about all of these offerings? As I understand it, they are very popular — and there are now quite a few of them to promote.
Kelley: Yes, the volume has been significant, but it’s a good thing. What that allows us to do is get a little bit sharper about how and who we message with respect to these programs, because that’s been maybe the biggest change for the members since we’ve merged. We’ve sent a lot of messages out.
Just working through those kinds of logistics is something we’re still doing, but there’s no doubt that curriculum has expanded. It’s diverse in terms of very technical product-level underwriting training to very high-level professional and career development. It’s a great curriculum.
Moynihan: In terms of WSIA’s legislative advocacy, what’s the latest on that front? What are you excited about?
Kelley: We’re still very excited about the Flood bill. Our bill is now part of that NFIP reform package (it’s really a package of several bills), which is extended through the end of May. We’ve got high hopes that can get done. If the Senate takes that seriously, I think they’ll get it passed.
Moynihan: I think it’s safe to say we’re past the inflection point now where not bringing in the private sector isn’t going to be an option.
Kelley: I think so, too. It just doesn’t work. FEMA has a goal to double the amount of flood policyholders, and there’s no way to do that with a bankrupt Federal program. You have to look to the private market to accomplish that.
Moynihan: Jacqueline Schaendorf has just been named president of this organization. What does she bring to that role?
Kelley: Jacque brings a load of talent, she’s a very skilled leader. She knows this business extremely well, she knows the leaders of this industry and she’s a sharp strategist. Jacque served on the NAPSLO board beginning in 2010, so she’s got a number of years of experience on several different committees and she was also active in AAMGA committees. She’s the type of natural-born leader that will be an asset to the leadership team.
Moynihan: I want to talk a little bit about the challenge of attracting young people to this industry. To me, NAPSLO had been at the forefront of working to help attract that talent and shape the careers of younger people in the insurance industry. I was wondering what you think has to happen for the industry to change its image and attract more young smart people? Because when the P&C industry is even less sexy than law, that’s not a good sign.
Kelley: I appreciate your point about NAPSLO being at the forefront. I think that WSIA now is trying to do the very same thing. We sponsor student symposiums, we do three of those a year. We did one just in fact last week here at Arizona State where we bring experts in the industry and leaders in our business into the classroom and try to tell our story to as many students as we can.
Last week we thought we would get about 75 students, and we had 106. Now, 106 students at a time is not going to fill the talent gap that you mentioned, but every time we have those sessions where we can put a successful broker or a successful carrier executive in the room to describe their career path, to talk about how their work has impacted their professional lives and their personal lives, students get very interested.
In my opinion that might be a baby-steps approach to it, but those symposiums change the perception of being in the insurance business. I wish I could have sat in on one of those when I was in college.
We add symposiums wherever possible; our foundation continues to support that. Our foundations have merged now as well, as of this March. I think they will continue to expand what they’re doing with talent outreach and symposium work. That’s how we’ll get the message about the industry out: to keep doing what we’re doing and expand it where we can.
Moynihan: Emphasizing and communicating the value of the wholesale distribution system has always been paramount for NAPSLO and the AAMGA. What else needs to be done on that front, and how will WSIA approach that now as a newly merged organization?
Kelley: The messaging that we’ve created and the fact that the 1,300 people who are here [at WSIA’s Underwriting & Leadership Summit] are demonstrating their value in the market every day are what perpetuate their value proposition with their clients. We try and do our best to advertise that and message that when we can, but their value speaks for itself in the market. You can see that in the growth in surplus lines premiums. The segment is only growing, and I think that’s because people deliver valuable solutions to their clients.
We need to continue to communicate that value, and I think we can continually do that better. We can provide more analysis like the studies we’ve done with Conning and will continue to do so, but in the end the value that our members and the professionals in this industry deliver every day speaks for itself very well.