Sarah Cunningham-Scharf
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Suds and the bright lights of Niagara: the Young Brokers Conference | Canadian Insurance
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Suds and the bright lights of Niagara: the Young Brokers Conference

"A lot of us are bosses' kids. It's a chance to differentiate yourself."

It’s late in the morning at the Hilton Hotel and Suites in Niagara Falls, and attendants of the Young Brokers Conference are split into two rooms—commercial lines and personal lines. Though they’re separated, there is one striking similarity between the brokers in both groups: the majority is hunched over with blank, hungover gazes, grasping white mugs of hotel coffee like a lifeline.

At noon, everyone heads upstairs to the Watermark Restaurant, which has pristine views of both the Canadian and American Niagara Falls, for lunch. On the elevator, two thirty-something male brokers say, “I want a beer.”

“Then the casino?”

“Yeah. Beer then casino.”

Every year, the Young Brokers Conference—sponsored by the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario—features speakers from the industry addressing pertinent topics.

This year, says broker Megan Rood, the conference is “more driven to sales. The last couple years it was all about tech, telemetrics.”

That’s because, says Alex Guthrie of Guthrie Insurance Brokers during a panel discussion, the advantage brokers maintain over direct writers is that “you can have that conversation with the client discussing price, offering different options. You can offer that decision making and cognitive skill.”

The ability to form a personal connection with clients is a key theme at this year’s conference. While technology is creating competition, it is also creating opportunity to improve brokers’ value propositions, says Reith & Associates’ Crystal Underhill during the discussion. “The future of the broker channel is abundant. There are more areas to show and have value.”

It’s clear that young brokers already know how to build relationships. When all the attendants came together after lunch in the same conference hall, they were chatting and laughing neighbours at tables like old friends, even though they may have known each other for only 18 hours.

One twenty-something male broker says with a grin, “We talk good and drink beer.” He also says the conference is a great opportunity to network and “broaden horizons,” because the insurance industry can still be a family affair. “A lot of us are bosses’ kids. It’s a chance to differentiate yourself.”

“It’s a great chance to learn how other brokerages work,” adds Megan Rood.

One way to broaden those horizons was succession planning. Guthrie argues that “fifty percent of owners are prepared to handle business with succession plans. The other 50 percent are ready to retire, and with no succession plan. Young brokers need to prime for success—it’s not the click of a button, and the brokerage is yours.”

Panelist Brent Stefan, a broker with McFarlan Rowlands Insurance, suggests young brokers “talk to principals and ask to be a part of the legacy.” Underhill agrees and urges them, “Position yourself and educate yourself. You need to differentiate yourself and know your competition so you can prove your worth to your clients.”

Stefan says education is a large part of the broker value proposition. “We can educate clients and explain options.” And he says brokers can educate each other to stay relevant. “I know some of us compete, but we’ve got to work together to keep this channel going.”