I propose a challenge to the surety industry. You have ten seconds and three words to describe your line of business. Can you do it? My guess is that one of those words will change over time. If not, then I either applaud the quality with which you think quickly or the business you are in must not be that exciting.
“There are probably 10,000 words,” responded Chris Sekine, SVP of Surety operations at Trisura. “Let me come back to it.”
“Ok,” I said, breaking the rules to my own exercise, “We can talk about change instead.”
“I was drawn in to the industry by looking for a change from working at a bank.”
It turns out he saw an ad in the newspaper.
Consider the near-extinction of classified paper ads and how the job search has changed since 1991, when Chris started working for Mike George at Wellington Guarantee. Change found Chris, regardless of him looking for it. Change continued its relentless pace from the beginning of his career, and still persists today. Fast forward to 2006 when Mike George called him to join Trisura. The rest is history, though history did not transpire without its share of challenges.
“The biggest challenge in our industry is when we disappoint a broker.”
“Unfortunately, it happens. Walking the tight rope between good underwriting decisions and keeping brokers happy means some decisions are not always going to be the most popular.”
Challenge comes with the territory. Chris learned this fact through experience. Challenge also acts as a necessary catalyst in the evolution of the industry, ultimately separating the best from the rest when devising a successful business formula. This led me to conclude that challenge is the only thing immune to change.
“It’s not easy,” he says, “It requires finesse; selling a decision that isn’t going to be popular. Underwriters have to be skilled on both the technical side and on the relationship side. Don’t surprise. Step into their shoes. Think about if someone was delivering that message to you.”
“That’s what separates Trisura from the majority of our competitors,” he said when I asked him to elaborate.
“What we do better is forging our relationships. We try not to get caught in bureaucracy.”
“The question isn’t so much what our competitors do better. It’s a strength vs. weakness analysis. We do that a lot. We self-assess and look at what’s threatening our business. Honesty comes first, then we make a plan.”
A commitment to long-term planning is a way to defend against the unpredictable side-effects of change. What about something as elusive as technology? What good will planning do when the next-big-thing comes out of nowhere and changes everything? There are aspects of technology that are predictable based on current trends. For example, more owners are moving towards electronic procurement of construction. This manifests in the electronic delivery of bonds for the surety industry. Sekine notes the practice is still in its infancy, but Trisura has developed its own e-bond delivery solution for the exclusive use of Trisura’s surety brokers and contractors.
The way that brokers, contractors and surety companies collaborate will change as a result of technological advancements. The way business is transacted hasn’t changed, only the way documents and information are delivered. Chris is sure that will change as well.
“The opportunity is to change the way all three parties collaborate, share information and deliver service to the customers.”
What about the mercurial nature of change versus the constant assurance of challenge? It always comes back to the brokers. The brokers are like a constant, one that is to be relied on and trusted.
“Our lifeblood is our brokers. The brokers bring us their business. The brokers entrust us with their business, so for us to do nothing would be cutting off our lifeblood.”
“The challenge comes when the interest of Trisura from a risk perspective diverges from what the broker needs. The broker relationship is the lifeblood of Trisura’s business, and the lifeblood of the broker’s business is their client relationship. They can’t cut off their client.”
This is the opportune moment to return to the three word challenge to describe the business between brokers and insurers. Sekine doesn’t hesitate this time.
“Relationships, relationships, relationships.”
The three word challenge needs tighter guidelines, but I like what I’m hearing.
“We’ve got a whole lot of things we do in between,” continues Sekine, “but without relationships, we don’t do anything in between. It’s multifaceted with our brokers, our reinsurers, our staff; it’s with the contractors, it’s with our senior executive team. Our relationships forge our business. Without relationship, we don’t have a business.”
At the beginning of this article I made the claim that challenge is the only thing immune to change in the insurance industry. My conversation with Chris Sekine revealed that isn’t an entirely accurate statement. Forging invaluable relationships is a way of business and a way of life that will never change in its effectiveness. The real challenge isn’t to impulsively come up with three words to describe a line of business, but to confidently name three business partners who will stick together through thick and thin, the good and the bad, through challenge and change. You have ten seconds. Go.