“It’s heartbreaking and devastating. All these businesses damaged. All their stuff floating in flood soup. And the worst part? The smell. You never forget the smell.”
This is how Mandy Cooper describes the scene after visiting one of her SME clients when the Queensland floods hit in February.
After receiving an email about a claim late on Friday night, Mandy went to check up on the nearby small business the next morning.
“They were stuck in the premises… They were flooded in. I couldn’t get near them because the water was everywhere,” said Mandy, who operates her brokerage CPR Insurance Services in the suburbs of Brisbane.
With help now on their way, Mandy stuck around to support her client in any way she could.
Mandy says her clients often reminisce about that morning.
How they were standing there beside themselves in the murky water. How they looked out the front window and saw Mandy waving from a raised area across the street.
How they thought someone gives a stuff about me. Someone actually cares.
The core value of empathy and integrity
Over the next few weeks, Mandy had multiple claims from businesses close by to her office – all with a similar story.
That one flood, which ripped through large parts of New South Wales and Southeast Queensland, resulted in $5.56 billion in claims – the most expensive natural disaster in Australia’s history.
And that flood is just one of many extreme weather events that have resulted in more than 800,000 claims, from the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires to the most recent flooding in Central West NSW, according to the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA).
While this data shows the impact disasters have on small businesses, it also shows that hundreds of thousands of Australians were helped by their insurer and through the advocacy of their broker.
With extreme weather only expected to get worse in the years to come, Mandy says the need for empathy and understanding will be a crucial skill for brokers in the future.
“It’s not just about getting them to buy a piece of paper. You need to be able to look after and empathise with your clients and help them get back on their feet,” she says.
“It’s that empathy, that compassion, that understanding and ability to give that client the emotional support needed to get them through because it’s not just about the money. Their business is their baby – a member of their family. And they will be traumatised when things go wrong.”
But equally, Mandy says, brokers need to do what they are paid to do.
“As a broker, it’s all about the integrity of ensuring that the claim you recommended will be paid if it’s legitimate and strongly advocating for a solution if a situation occurs.”
“They need to know that you are in their corner fighting for the best outcome.”
Balancing service and profit in commercial insurance
For Mandy, the empathy she feels comes from a place close to her. To walk a mile in her clients’ shoes, she would only need to put on her own footwear.
Specialising in the SME insurance space, Mandy has gone through the ups and downs of small business.
But with the commercial insurance notorious for low premiums – especially for micro-SME clients – maintaining the level of advice and empathy that Mandy prides herself on seemed initially at odds with turning a profit.
“When we started, we were that small brokerage. That small business that needed support for the small-end clients that came to us because we wrote everything that came through the door – we had nothing,” she said.
“We had to pay the mortgage, feed the kids, and you needed to have something to support those people that knocked on your door.”
This was until they began using BizCover for Brokers (B4B) – a platform that streamlines the end-to-end broking processes for SME clients.
“The reality is the premiums of some micro-SME clients are going to be a few hundred dollars. Before B4B, we would struggle to find a cost–effective solution for them while still being profitable for our brokerage.
“Instead of going uninsured, now we can really efficiently service those small businesses that need cover and support but also can’t spend a fortune.
Mandy is constantly on the lookout for new technology and ways to improve her processes and urges others to do the same.
“As our role of being a broker gets more demanding, you’d be silly not to look for ways to improve your processes and be more efficient without losing that human touch.”
The pressures of the future
With over 35 years of experience working as an insurance broker, underwriter, and risk adviser across Australia, Mandy has seen it all in the insurance space.
But even she admits there are no easy fixes to the many pressures the industry currently faces, with the current economic climate, interest rate rises, and labour shortages wreaking havoc on small businesses
“It’s quite sad because if we go too far down that track, we will see a lot of small businesses tip over, and we don’t want that to happen. But down the track, it’s a real possibility,” she said.
“Already businesses are struggling. Just the other day, a beautiful bakery business that opened across the road during the pandemic had to close its doors just before Christmas because they couldn’t find any pastry chefs… It’s devastating.”
From watching the increase in claims and premiums during the current market cycle to the great debate about commission fees in the insurance industry, there is plenty to think about.
And that’s not even including the stress of supporting businesses through any future climate disasters that seem to be breaking weather records every other week across Australia.
But through it all, one thing, says Mandy, will remain the same.
“If you’re an ethical broker with integrity, your clients will support you because you support your clients. It’s about finding those solutions to help those clients through the journey. That will never change in broking for good brokers,” she said.
“The only thing that the pressure of the industry will do is that for brokers that lack integrity will be weeded out. Clients aren’t going to pay these fees and commissions without the advocacy and support from the broker.”
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