Brokerage Ops the October 2021 issue

Better Every Day

Q&A with Council Chair David Becker, CEO, Cottingham & Butler
By Brianne Spellane Posted on September 30, 2021
Your motto is “Get better.” There’s got to be a story behind that.
It’s a phrase that a number of my friends growing up used as smack talk on the basketball court. For those of us who would lose every once in a while, the response from the other team was, “Just get better.” If you don’t, you can’t win. I’ve taken it and turned it into one of our mottos at Cottingham & Butler: “Better every day.” At some level, you can either lament your state in the world or you can get busy and try to change it. My experience is that the latter is typically a better answer than complaining. So it’s kind of stuck with me.
What did you learn about our industry from 2020?

First, our organizations and our people are way more resilient than we ever gave them credit for. Management often erects imaginary barriers to progress based on what we think is possible. What COVID showed us is things that we never would have dreamed could work worked really, really well. Think about the work-from-home situation. A month before that, we were talking about whether we should start to allow some more flexibility on working from home. The question was how would we manage it. Then in four days, we move the entire place home and don’t miss a beat. To me, the reflection on it is how much of this is our own inner beliefs versus our real understanding of organizational resilience.

The second thing is, it’s really easy to get lulled into sleep and not think about disasters. Ultimately insurance is about the disasters and their problems. Our clients underestimate big events like this, so we need to make sure that we are thinking about how not to underestimate catastrophic risk and then how to educate our clients about that more effectively.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing brokers right now?
The one that everyone’s talking about right now is talent. Most firms took adverse action when the pandemic came and they laid off people, didn’t give them raises, the uncertainty was so huge. And the exact opposite problem showed up. Now, you can’t fast-forward the training of insurance professionals. This is an apprenticeship business, and I can’t hire someone who doesn’t know anything about the business and turn them loose in a couple of weeks. I think it’s that painful need in the face of the incredible growth of our industry, to get people up to speed and ready to go take care of clients and deal with all the pending retirements that are coming. It’s a struggle right now with the P&C market being hard and clients being upset, but in general, our business is doing incredibly well. I think we all should feel pretty damn lucky to be where we’re at.
If you could change one thing overnight about the industry, what would it be and why?
I think the industry is so complicated and so unstandardized, in many ways, that it’s difficult for innovation to take hold. Despite the billions being spent in insurtech, the reality is, in most areas, there hasn’t been huge changes. Everyone has the stereotype of brokers and carriers not being innovative. The reality is, they understand the complexity of it. To give you an example, we’re looking at launching a new program, and we’ve got to get licensed in 50 states, we’ve got to file in 50 states, we’ve got to put rates in 50 states. It’s not a trivial process when you’ve got 50 regulators and every carrier has a little different spin on the world. So we may look technologically backwards, but it’s a product of the complications of our industry, not the fact that we all hate technology. I think moving toward a greater simplification of the business system, and also the regulatory system, is what we need if we’re going to truly make this consumer-friendly in time.
What excites you about the future of the industry?
At a macro level, if you look at what’s happening in the world, it appears that risk is increasing all over. So our clients need advice and support more than ever. Our industry is poised to provide that and help them navigate a more complicated world, which means that the value of our services should be going up. I’d rather be in an exciting, growing industry dealing with bigger problems than in one that is on the decline because everything has been solved.
As you prepare to hand over the reins as Council chair to incoming chair Nancy Mellard of CBIZ, what advice do you have for her?
I think the biggest thing to do is make sure that you balance all of the ideas you have and how to make things better with the reality that you’re transitory in the role. So nudge it in a good direction and make an impact but recognize that there’s so much going right, the biggest thing is try not to mess it up [laughs].
Brianne Spellane Director of Membership, The Council Read More

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