Understanding the needs of both individual members and the group as a whole helps Marsh's Lyne Erwin build successful insurance programs for associations and groups
Professional groups and associations are created to formalize trust among their members. Participants should feel confident the other members meet certain professional criteria in terms of ethics or quality of work.
It’s no surprise, then, that trust is one of the keys to success for Lyne Erwin, a managing director at Marsh Canada who oversees the brokerage’s business for associations and affinity groups.
“Foremost is to gain the trust of the client while demonstrating that you care. [You also have to] surround yourself with a strong team that can deliver on that promise,” she says.
The trust Erwin has garnered as an expert in insurance for groups and associations is well earned. She entered the insurance industry right out of high school, following in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. After a few years, she gravitated towards client management, tapping her natural affability. Early on, Erwin was asked to support a healthcare program and a trade association and soon found herself working specifically with groups and associations. She developed her career in this area, moving from support functions to client executive and on to group manager. Along the way, Erwin achieved her Chartered Insurance Professional (CIP) and her Canadian Risk Management (CRM) designations, while fostering expertise that would position her as one of the industry’s foremost authorities for the development of risk management and insurance programs for associations and groups.
“Thirty years later I continue to perfect that area of expertise by looking at innovative solutions for our clients,” she says. “And that’s where I find myself.”
Early in her career, Erwin came to recognize the unique role that brokers can play in this niche. “I had clients in healthcare, trade associations, retail, not-for-profits and a number of affinity professional clients as well,” she says. “With small and medium-sized enterprises, your point of contact is usually the owner or the controller. When you handle Fortune 100 companies, you generally deal with C-suite executives and/or the risk manager. But in the association space, there is no risk manager or a voice whose primary function is to oversee the insurance for the association and its members. That’s when I realized I really wanted a career focusing on that space, to become a specialist rather than a generalist.”
Erwin emphasizes that fostering trust is one of the important pillars supporting her success. “It’s like any relationship. Without trust I don’t think that you have a partnership with a client. We do become their trusted advisor and they put a lot of faith in what we do for them.”
A large part of that has to do with understanding the client’s requirements from various levels—and with groups and associations, this requires working under a different business model than with traditional business clientele. In Erwin’s experience, whatever is done in terms of providing insurance and risk-management services has to support the needs of the association as a whole, including its membership.
“It reflects on more than that one individual,” she says. “And it’s basically our reputation that’s on the line. I always do business on the basis that it’s my personal reputation as well as that of Marsh on the line.”
Another important element is teamwork. Part of Erwin’s job is to assign her staff members to support particular customers. It’s crucial to ensure the team has the proficiencies that each client requires. For instance, the needs of a professional association will differ from those of a retail customer, which requires insurance advice spanning a wider range of lines of coverage, which can include property, liability, crime, and in some cases auto exposure.
Today Erwin’s group provides insurance expertise for a range of businesses, including automotive, retail, financial, foodservice, not-for-profit organizations, and religious institutions.
How do associations and groups differ from other kinds of customers? Erwin says that for most businesses, the communication chain is straightforward: broker works with customer; customer has certain requirements. With groups, however, there are usually two categories of customers: the association itself (including the executive director and the board of directors), and the individual members. Insurance programs have to address both sides of the equation.
The association’s goals and the members’ goals don’t always align. “At the association level, management may want to maintain and increase the organization’s membership, or it may have a political advocacy goal,” Erwin says. “It may want an insurance program that emphasizes risk management, while a member might just be looking for the lowest insurance premium.”
Often the key to winning over members is through building a full understanding of the value and benefits of the group insurance program. “Over time, we strive to educate members that it is not just a competitively priced program, but there are other benefits to it,” she explains. “I’ve personally never sold a program on price. It’s not sustainable. If losses start to occur and there’s not enough premium volume, then the program may see significant premium increases. And the insurer may just withdraw their participation.”
Understanding those two aspects–the members’ insurance needs and the association’s–comes down to research, and learning about the customer’s goals. Why is the association looking for an insurance partner? Does the group consist of hard-to-insure members? Does the organization already have insurance, but is it unhappy with the level of service the product provides, or discontented with the costs? “If the association is looking for a lower price, that’s going to be very different than if you’re looking at implementing risk management to build a sustainable program for years to come,” she says.
Erwin also underlines the importance of developing a good rapport with the group’s board of directors and the management team. “The board is generally made up of members, so if you get their buy-in, the program will be successful. Getting buy-in sometimes requires some creative account management on the part of the brokerage. “It’s different programs for different needs. In some cases, programs are centralized in Toronto,” where Marsh Canada is headquartered. “In other cases, programs require local service, so we engage our representatives within our branch offices.” She explains that Marsh calls in the local support system for associations whose members require a “hands on” approach due to the complexity of the member organization’s multiple lines. In those cases Marsh’s local branches can provide the resources needed to assess individual members’ situations and offer tailored insurance advice and claims advocacy.
“In other cases, we actually also have a significant sub-broker network, so brokers with existing clients can access the program through Marsh.” So if another brokerage already has the association member’s business, Marsh will work with that broker to ensure the customer’s needs are met.
Part of Erwin’s success can be measured in how successful her association clients are at reaching broader goals, such as membership growth. She recalls one trade association she worked with that was having trouble finding affordable rates because of the area of business its members worked in.
“The client had significant automobile and environmental risk exposures,” she says. Marsh Canada worked with the association on a program that met the risk-management needs of its distributor and contractor members. “It helped the association grow its membership, and improve its retention rate,” she notes.
Of course, success can also be measured through improvements to the insurance experience of members. For example, a retail client of Erwin’s was looking to enhance services for franchisees, and wanted an improved insurance package to offer franchise operators. “We needed to develop a strong risk-management process and procedures that included claims litigation,” Erwin says. “The client was also looking for a web platform that would enable its franchisees to access their insurance online. We were able to deliver all of that and provide an innovative, proactive claims-management solution to the all-around satisfaction of the individual franchisees.”
Alongside trust, Erwin lists passion as one of the elements that has factored into her success. She points out that when talking to people outside the insurance industry about her career, they’re sometimes surprised to learn how multifaceted and interesting this sector is.
Erwin says she carries that passion into customer conversations as well. “When you have fun and you have passion for what you do, clients see that.”
Advice for Young Brokers
“Understand what excites you. Is it the client interfacing, or more the insurance companies? Is it more the risk management side? You have to find your niche. It’s also important to find a mentor within the organization with similar interests and with whom you can share experiences.”
Copyright 2011 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the May 2011 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.