In Queensland’s dynamic but always competitive general insurance broking market, knowing a client’s business to the point of anticipating its changing risks trumps merely selling insurance, says Marsh’s Corporate Leader for the state, AnnMarie Rodgers.
While the Sunshine State passed the summer relatively unscathed by fire compared to those sharing Australia’s eastern coastline, ongoing drought in some parts natural disasters such as cyclones and floods that come with autumn and the ongoing COVID-19 scenario coloured ANZIIF’s 2020 Business Breakfast in Brisbane on 13 March.
Rodgers spoke as part of a panel at the professional development and networking event alongside state representatives from QBE, the National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA) and the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), with a focus on emerging local challenges, issues and opportunities.
THE FUTURE OF DISASTER INSURANCE
The presence of ICA’s Karl Sullivan, General Manager Policy, Risk and Disaster Planning Directorate and former global disaster troubleshooter for Qantas meant insuring for extreme and catastrophic weather events was also be up for discussion.
It comes with the territory in such a vast and diverse region, however the question of whether some businesses, property and other parts of everyday life that Queenslanders hold dear will remain insurable is becoming such a concern to the industry that it wasn't an elephant in the Sofitel function room.
Rodgers concedes unviability of ongoing insurance as a possibility but deferred to the panel’s insurers to make that call.
‘On the broking side, the challenge is producing solutions for a client,’ she says. ‘Some may not be traditional insurers, so use innovative solutions. Ultimately it’s not about addressing insurance problems for clients so much as business risk problems.’
ALWAYS AN INSURTECH OPTION
Rodgers adds that with the insurtech advances being made there are always new products that can be developed to anticipate extreme weather events, so even if something is uninsurable there will always be a risk management solution.
‘Moreover, there is self-insurance and insurance through captives. Marsh is upskilling itself and challenging how things have always been understood to encourage innovation in how brokers bring those solutions.’
The foundation for brokers thinking outside the square, however, is knowing the client’s business well enough to identify risks and then bring solutions to the table that are right for them.
‘There’s no single off-the-shelf solution but something that has to be developed on a case-by-case basis,’ Rodgers says.
A CAREER OF CONTRAST
Rodgers’ faith in fresh thinking may sound easier said than done, but it is sincere, deeply held and borne of decades working across the gamut of general insurance roles.
She has traversed everything from new business development to program placement and client servicing — and a portfolio of clients that spanned airports and aviation, government bodies, utilities and real estate, food and beverage, and manufacturing industries.
‘I always enjoyed general insurance and having a diverse range of clients — they have kept things fresh and provided new challenges and insights into risk issues from other angles,’ Rodgers explains.
‘I could have specialised in particular areas but always enjoyed learning new things,’ she says.
BACKPACKING PAVES A PATH TO INSURANCE
Rodgers left her native Scotland about 30 years ago, having finished business and marketing studies in Glasgow, to spend a year backpacking on the other side of the world.
While taking a ‘gap year’ travelling was not then unusual for young people who could afford to take the opportunity, for Rodgers it was as much an important assertion of independence as an odyssey to see where life would take her.
‘I was more interested in languages than anything else, but I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher, and I’d worked in recruitment and consultancy in office management,’ she recalls.
After backpacking throughout Australia, Rodgers returned to Glasgow, where she worked for the insurance firm Sedgwick on a parental leave contract.
‘I found that I actually didn’t mind it,’ she says, ‘so, I moved to London to work in their property team wholesaling for four years, then to their Brisbane office in 1995. I joined Marsh in 1999, where I’ve stayed ever since.’
EVOLVING WITH THE CITY
Rodgers has effectively lived and worked through Brisbane’s growth from a big bush town of blokey boys’ clubs into an outward-looking cosmopolitan centre for post-industrial service industries.
‘There was astounding change when I arrived, with Wayne Goss’s government ending decades of limitation and everything being done in very certain ways,’ she says.
‘The city has really evolved and to me it’s always been a place of opportunity but one where you can also raise children — so now I have a 22-year-old son who’s grown up here.’
On the other hand, Brisbane is not representative of the rest of such a decentralised state as Queensland, and Rodgers — who at one point had Mount Isa Mines as a client — cautions that there are as many different challenges and opportunities in each of its regions as between different states.
‘In Brisbane we have normal CBD clients compared to regional and coastal areas that face business challenges of a different order to Melbourne or Sydney.
While Marsh state branches have quite distinct perspectives, Rodgers says Brisbane has a number of ongoing projects such as the casino complex and railways that will leave the city looking very different.
'Then there’s the mooted ‘Top End’ projects and the Olympic Games bid — all of which are a boost to economy. I see our role as to advise clients of challenges and opportunities if those things go ahead,’ she says.
The potential of north Queensland with its proximity to Asia, the socioeconomic progression of Brisbane, and population growth and diversification of southeast Queensland generally have informed the former Glaswegian’s open-ended attitude to her work environment colleagues and industry.
‘We’ve all got a responsibility in driving diversity and inclusion and addressing social issues,’ Rodgers says. ‘If we’re all the same type of person, how do we bring diversity of thought to our business and our clients?
THE KEY TO A STRONG TEAM
Rodgers says the key to a strong team at work, and who she wants to be in her team, is to not pick people who are the same as herself and to trust them.
'Even if you get it wrong, the mistake can be good to learn from,' she says.
But so far, the strategy hasn’t gone wrong and Rodgers can have a conversation with a client to talk through changes they might make to increase diversity and inclusion, with the aim of providing workplace flexibility and agility and ameliorating risks.
‘Sometimes a client might have the right policies in place but through talking with them you can become conscious of their biases and see if they walk their talk,’ Rodgers adds.
‘How do you deliver innovation and fresh ideas if you don’t have it yourself?’
AnnMarie Rodgers was a panel speaker at the 2020 Queensland Business Breakfast.