BY: MICHAEL CAMPBELL

Without a second thought, I punched in the numbers on the keypad of my Toronto landline, sending a signal through 541 kilometers of wire to connect me with Josée Levesque, Assistant Vice-President of Specialty Insurance Solutions at Trisura’s Montreal branch. 10 years ago, it was likely the same stretch of wire that connected Josée to some of the names in her rolodex.

“From making phone calls one by one to going 1000 miles per hour,” says Ms. Levesque, “Everything has always been for yesterday. If you can’t handle the million things thrown at you that day, you’re not going to make it.” For this reason, Josée connects speed with the evolution of the insurance industry, and an important factor to take into consideration when establishing a relationship with the broker. “We need to be pertinent to them…they don’t have time for anything else. So we need to figure out how to be that for them.”

“We’re in the business of helping brokers be successful, win the business…make their lives easier,” says Ms. Levesque. “We help them by offering competitive terms and conditions, by being fast and efficient, and by offering solutions to their challenges.”

Gone are the days when one marvels at the technological miracles that have made communication instantaneous and easily accessible. We’re always focused on what’s next; what’s bigger and better and faster. If everything is moving so fast, what time is left to think? It’s all about finding that balance, says Ms. Levesque, starting with fundamentals such as organization and prioritization. She also sympathizes with the brokers, acknowledging that as the insurer, “we have the luxury of saying ‘no’…brokers are squished between two parties.” Because of this, she expresses her utmost respect for brokers.

“IT’S MORE CHALLENGING TO BE A BROKER TODAY THAN EVER BEFORE. TODAY, THERE ARE TIMES YOU FIND YOURSELF OUT OF BREATH, LIKE RUNNING A MARATHON.”

When it comes to the product lines, change is reflected in subtle ways. “D&O and E&O used to be considered highly specialized lines of business,” says Ms. Levesque. “We used to be choosy with very thorough underwriting, but now they have become commodities. Claims have also changed, in that they are more expensive, and more frequent…unfortunately, though the pricing has dropped; the exposures have remained the same.”

How can Trisura compete in an industry where the product lines do not change (a D&O is a D&O), where it would seem the only advantage can be gained by getting faster and faster; cheaper and cheaper? Compared to what Ms. Levesque calls the “Goliaths” of the industry, Trisura is in the position of David. So what is the stone Trisura uses to slay the giant? “Balance” says Levesque. “We strive to offer the best price possible and be as aggressive as we can on a quote, while still paying special attention to make sure it’s a good account. We can’t underwrite on the same level as we used to…everything is quicker, and more efficient. The challenge is finding ways to balance solid analysis and speed.”

“THE RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR BROKERS NEEDS TO BE VALUED ENOUGH THAT IT GOES BEYOND SIMPLE NUMBERS AND FIGURES.”

“We need to give them a good reason as to why they wouldn’t just go with the competition, who might be cheaper. To add to everyone’s challenge, direct writers, who were not known as specialized in the past, are now throwing these policies into the forms for peanuts- so we have to compete with that.”

It’s not just competitors, including direct writers or automated insurers, that present challenges in our line of business. The differences in provincial law can be a hurdle as well. For example, the deductible doesn’t apply to defense costs in the civil code, but it does in common law. When quoting a policy in Quebec, you can’t rely on a deductible to make any given risk more palatable.

Ms. Levesque acknowledges that the language barrier is also a constant challenge because everything is created in English first. It takes a lot of time and competing priorities to keep up with the changes and updates in applications and manuscripts. Every time a new product is made, it’s release is delayed in Quebec for this reason. The excitement and momentum surrounding a new product launch can be lost, in part due to timing. This is a reality of all insurers in Quebec. Ms. Levesque remains proudly bilingual, especially considering some insurers neglect to translate their documents and polices at all.

There are unique advantages associated with the language barrier. In the process of translating documents, Ms. Levesque sees an opportunity to “dig-in”, which forces a better understanding of the products.

Above and beyond the task of keeping pace and overcoming barriers in translation, there still exists other challenges. There are bigger, more important clients out there that need to be looked at with increased care. Ms. Levesque raises the call to actively develop dual strategies. “In the past we had the same strategies for all clients but now we aren’t able to do business that way anymore. We just can’t put the same effort on a small account as we do on larger risks.”

The first prong of the strategy is to develop ways to streamline commoditized lines, The second is to assess more complicated risk as trusted advisors, offering education, training, value added service-“to go above and beyond simple underwriting,” as Ms. Levesque puts it. “The same can be said for brokers- they can’t be just brokers anymore. They need to start offering more services like risk management, for example. So we’ll help our brokers with the commoditized lines by streamlining the process and, as trusted adviser, help by offering our expertise on tougher risk.”

“IT’S BEEN A TOUGH (BUT FUN) RIDE SINCE OUR BEGINNINGS. FROM BEING THE UNDERDOG TO THE GREAT COMPANY WE ARE TODAY. IT ONLY ENFORCES MY BELIEF THAT WE CAN COMPETE WITH ANY GOLIATH OUT THERE, AND WIN.”