Robert Kimball of Pearson Insurance in Sussex, NB, sees his brokerage as more than an insurance provider. Their goal is to help build a better community. Robert shares what he's learned about culture, success, and being true to your roots.
What makes a brokerage prosper or succeed?
I would say first off it is the people who have been involved in our brokerage. The people here have a vision. Without that vision, it’s a lot harder to succeed. We make sure we don’t waver from that vision and when people join our brokerage we ensure they know what that vision is.
Before people start here, many of them know about Pearson Insurance’s philosophy, our reputation and the way we operate in our community. They know we are forward thinking. Today, we have someone retiring from our brokerage who has been here for 54 years. She has stayed on because of the people – not just our staff, but our clients too.
What is your business philosophy or vision?
Pearson Insurance is first and foremost a member of the community trying to make the community a better place. We are also here to help the customer and industry through a win-win proposition. It doesn’t have to be us winning an account. We view it as the customers winning and the insurance companies winning. That is what we are here for.
We are a family business with deep roots and long ties in the community and the insurance industry. We have a lot of extended relationships with the clients we have dealt with through the years, and also the underwriters we have worked with for decades. We try to build those relationships, maintain and nurture those relationships and not burn any bridges. You never know who will be working for you or who you will be working with in this industry.
How would you characterize the culture of Pearson Insurance?
The culture of our brokerage is very important to us. It separates us from competitors in a positive way and is recognized by our clients. It is shaped from keeping our image up in the community. We constantly reinforce our culture of being a Main Street, accessible, professional and friendly brokerage.
It is reinforced back to us by our clients. We know our culture is strong by the way our clients enjoy being part of our brokerage. To know that our culture is recognized by our clients makes it easy to reinforce on a day-to-day basis. We get feedback from customers all the time.
What kind of feedback do you get?
Our clients are different – in a very good way. They are not necessarily looking for the lowest price or the latest discount. The fact is that they like the people here, they like dealing with us on a regular basis and they trust us. I think people like coming to our brokerage because they feel we are more unique than the typical 1-800 insurer or broker.
To me, our clients make us just as different as we do.
What advice would you have for someone starting out in this business?
I am relatively new in the industry, being in it for nine years (six as a broker). I would say to be patient. Hard work and dedication will eventually pay off. Choose the path you are going to take and stick with it. Also, choose your battles wisely.
Don’t forget to look back and remember what your goals were. You might have a goal now; three or five years later, look back and remember what your goals were. Although you have changed and the insurance world may have changed, you should think about how you have achieved those goals or whether you have to refine them or work on new ones.
You need, of course, to focus on tomorrow, but you have to look back on yesterday to realize where you are today. Use your past experience to help with your everyday work and operations and to guide your future.
What specifically do you mean about choosing your battles wisely?
It could be technology, company relations or government interference that causes you problems. There is no end to the list of things that could end up being a battle, so you have to choose wisely and focus your resources on things that really matter.
Be patient, as well. You also have to understand that someone might be having a bad day and you have to still be able to work with them. Don’t hold a grudge. In this industry, we have to work together – that includes brokers and insurance companies.
Has there been a high point in your brokerage?
Look at the retirement ceremony (last May) for an employee who had been with us 54 years. It’s a loss that we lost her, but it’s a win that we have had her for so long.
Another thing that confirms our culture is the fact that we have been voted as the #1 insurance brokerage in Kings County, New Brunswick for five years in a row.
Have you seen more pressure on client retention and competition from direct insurers?
We have not had the same amount of competition from direct response insurers. I know there has been that increased competition in other areas of New Brunswick and certainly other parts of the country. We are a small community broker that has been around for a long time. We have four generations of clients, even close to five on some of our clients –great grandparents, grandparents, parents and children that are insured with us. We have not been as affected by the price comparison shopping of direct insurers because of our longevity and our client loyalty.
What happens a lot is people compare insurance online and then get quotes, including from our website. But many don’t want to bind online. So they come into see us. We often end up writing these kinds of policies. If we can offer the same thing as direct writers, on price and on coverage, and have that Main Street presence and experience, they will often go with us. A lot of consumers tend to shop online and then come into the brokerage to talk with someone face to face. There is a comfort level there.
How do you combine that Main Street presence with technology and keep pace with modern client expectations?
Technology is one of our top priorities. It is always well received within our brokerage when it comes to adoption and usage. Our staff embraces technology. Even the employee who is now retiring after 54 years with us still embraced technology. We do incorporate technology as much as we can into our personal and commercial lines. We update it and modify as we go, but we don’t get too overwhelmed by it. We are pretty cautious as to what technology we use as it can quickly get quite expensive.
We use Policy Works for commercial property and casualty. We mainly use it for marketing, in terms of requesting quotes, getting proposals to clients, getting submissions to companies. It consolidates all that information. We also have a broker management system that we use in combination with Policy Works. That has worked out very well for us. We are about 80% personal lines and 20% commercial lines in terms of business volume. We are growing in both lines, but we are attempting to grow our commercial lines quicker.
What have you learned about leading a brokerage?
I would say it is key to know where you are headed, keep an eye on where you are going and don’t forget about where you have been. We try to look at every situation as an opportunity – a win-win potential to work with our clients and our insurance company partners on finding the best solution.
The other thing I try to reinforce is that employees should have a buy-in to what they are doing. It is not just a job but it should be a career and something that you look forward to, enjoy and want to do well in.
What about the kind of legacy you would like to leave?
I would like to be recognized as someone who is respected and respectful in this business. I would also like to be seen as someone who treated others as I would expect to be treated. That is something we emphasize a great deal at our brokerage. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would be that I was seen as – an ethical, even and level headed individual who took great pride in his family, brokerage and community.
Pearson Insurance has been here for 80 years and I would like to see us be here for another 80 years. I think things can change pretty quickly in this industry, but it is often a matter of scale. We have benefited from having the experience and knowledge of people on our staff who have been in this industry for 50-60 years. If you ask them about the main successes and challenges back then, I don’t think they would be entirely different. It’s just a matter of scale.
Although things change, especially in technology, at the end of the day, there are still so many similarities. The issues haven’t changed, but the way we do things has evolved. You just have to roll with the punches.