Recently, I was asked what has changed over the nearly three decades that I have worked in the brokerage industry. It sounds cliché, but everything and nothing has changed.
Yes, we’re all moving at a more rapid pace. New technology is transforming how we connect, live and work for better or worse. We’re online 24/7 with no place to hide. In the mid-’80s fax machines and word processors were the latest and greatest. I remember feeding documents onto the fax cylinder to send out. It was slow and cumbersome, but it worked. Suddenly snail mail was looking obsolete.
What else has changed, or not?
Gone is the dependence on carriers’ largesse. Agencies are far more professional and run like a business, rather than an adjunct to a carrier. Cost accounting and benchmarking production is a standard practice.
Gone are the days of the infamous New York broker’s association annual dinner noted for men in tuxedos smoking cigars, drinking and frolicking late into the night. (Oh come on. Don’t tell me some of you don’t remember those parties!)
Gone is the end of the day. Technology makes it possible to work anytime, anyplace.
Gone are meetings as just social events. Socializing is still a valuable component, but now agendas are packed from dawn to dusk with as many meetings as can be crammed in.
Gone, thank goodness, are long, rambling speeches at meetings.
Gone are the lavish dinners at the NAIC meetings. I say this with irony. The NAIC dinners were never lavish, but one notable dinner got the NAIC into hot water and a primetime 15-second segment on national television news.
Gone is accepting that it’s OK for men to miss their kids’ events because they are working. Now they check email while watching little Susie pirouette across the stage.
Gone are the three-martini lunches or lunch for that matter—dry or wet.
Gone are the days when there were no women at the table. Now there is at least one.
Gone are the days when women couldn’t have children and a career. Now they’re as stressed as men. That’s progress. (Well, sorta.)
Gone is the fear of banks in insurance. Allowing banks into insurance was something of a sea change in the industry. Many of our members have benefited, and some models are working well.
Not quite gone are family-owned commercial agencies. The number of family-owned agencies in the commercial space has declined as firms grow and merge and the older generation retires.
Long gone is laissez-faire regulation. Regulatory scrutiny of the industry has increased dramatically as a result of the financial crisis and the globalization of the business.
Gone are countersignature laws—thanks to The Council.
Gone are the days that state-by-state regulation of insurance makes sense for an industry that operates nationally and internationally.
Gone are state barriers to non-resident licensing for agents and brokers, thanks to The Council. Next up is NARAB II, which will set up a federal clearinghouse for licensing.
Gone are the conflicting and inefficient state surplus lines regulations—thanks to The Council again.
Gone (hopefully for good) is Eliot Spitzer, but disclosure is here to stay. (And with Eliot turning up on cable channels repeatedly, I wonder if he will ever be gone.)
Still here is the perpetual problem of recruiting young talent to the business. Firms are still stealing talent, but that won’t work forever. Twenty years ago, the average age of a producer was 55. I don’t think that has changed much.
Not gone and still here are insurance cycles. Smoothing out cycles has been talked about for as long as I can remember. Until and unless a new model for risk transfer emerges, cycles will not be gone but will stay with us.
Here are golden opportunities to grow business. Advances in technology, bio-medicine and other cutting-edge products are creating new risks and a need for new products to manage those risks.
Here to stay is the need for brokers, who are at the heart of it all. They are the first responders. They identify clients’ needs, advise them and find solutions. If a product doesn’t exist, they create it. As Mike McGavick, CEO of XL, recently told risk managers about emerging risks, “We can’t just stand on the sidelines or be on their heels. We have to be out in front, spotting risks and providing the solutions.” That’s what brokers do every day.
And here to stay for another 100 years is The Council, because Ken Crerar and his staff earn it every day.
On a last note, I am retiring at the end of this month. Many people have helped me in my career, but I will mention a few: Robert Moore, who started me on this road; Charlie McCrann, who was a patient mentor and friend; Pat Borowski, who taught me insurance; Jon Harkavy, who taught me what risk managers do; and Howard Greene, who made us all laugh until we cried.
And the best for last is Ken Crerar, who “moved my cheese” daily and gave me an opportunity to work with a great group of brokers and travel the world while doing it.
Till we meet again, I’m gone.