A hard market. A pandemic. The fast pace of technology and consolidation. Remaining independent in today’s marketplace is a tough ask of brokers. Thankfully, there’s a way to keep your brokerage and level the playing field…
More than ever, challenges are at a peak for independent brokers who find themselves having to make some tough decisions about their survival.
“It’s a tough time for brokers who want to invest in their future without selling. Most options out there involve selling portions of or your entire business and losing control,” says Jeff LeGrow, chairman and founder of Cal LeGrow Insurance and Financial Group, Atlantic Canada’s largest independent commercial insurance broker.
“When it comes to competing, economy of scale is everything and given all the challenges – a hard market, the pandemic, consolidation – it’s hard for an independent brokerage without some form of collaboration or network to continue to operate prosperously.”
Joining Canadian Broker Network (CBN) has offered LeGrow the chance to continue operating independently with the advantage of having the clout of a large national brokerage, he says.
He became a member of CBN in the fall of 2016 and is its current vice-chairman. “From the outset, I not only recognized the advantage of scale that CBN brings to our brokerage and the ability to remain independent, but noticed the level of expertise our members can tap into, the passion and collaboration from executive to sales and marketing level, the trust and willingness to invest in each other, is unparalleled in the industry.”
Among other benefits, like collaborating on technology and digital strategies and the ability to focus resources based on a shared national data capturing project, LeGrow says his brokerage has benefited most from CBN brand recognition by insurers and the value of collaborating with his regional peers. “We now insure one in every four clients in Newfoundland and Labrador and can compete with large commercial brokerages on a level we couldn’t get as a smaller brokerage, without having to have sold in these tough times.”
A LONG-TERM INVESTMENT
That’s exactly why he founded CBN in 2002, says Bruce Rabik, chief operating officer of Rogers Insurance.
“Back then, I was a member of various broker groups getting together to share best practices. We became aware of the shortcomings of some of these groups and set out to create a truly Canadian network that genuinely has the independent broker’s best interest at heart,” Rabik says.
“Today’s challenges, in addition to M&A activity starting up with a frenzy again after the first COVID-19 lockdown, has brokers experiencing an unprecedented amount of stress. Brokers are feeling the pressure to sell. Joining CBN allows brokers to stay independent whilst sharing and innovating together to invest in their future. That’s our absolute passion and longstanding value.”
Since its inception, CBN has grown beyond a best practice sharing group to a network of likeminded independent brokers focused on growth and making a real difference in the industry, he adds. “For example, we collaborated to build Bullfrog Insurance, Canada’s first digital commercial insurer. None of us could’ve done that alone but by joining forces we did it together.”
If a broker-owner does end up deciding to sell, CBN offers the advantage of long-term investment, Rabik says, “unlike the purely profit-driven private equity model”.
“There used to be an insurance broker in every small Canadian town. Now, there’s a wave of American private equity washing over our borders and the number of independent brokers are dwindling. In truth however, private equity is just short term financial gain. With CBN, organic growth is much more important to us and we can come together to offer a competitive succession solution,” he says. “What better option than to sell to your Canadian peers that are already invested in your growth and the future of the independent broker channel.”
Brokers who are invited to join CBN commit to being “fiercely independent and proudly Canadian”, says Lorie Phair, CBN’s president.
“We’re based on a mutually beneficial model. We’re looking for truly independent, mid-sized brokerages that are prepared to invest in their business, have a good brand in their community, good relationships with their insurers and commit to sharing expertise and helping their peers grow.”
In turn, members reap the benefits of a national entity to better serve their clients, gain access to a range of services and resources and can collaborate with their peers from coast to coast. These include support for acquisitions both financially and in expertise; marketing materials like national cobranding; access to national programs and special facilities and benchmarking studies; collaborating on a national data warehouse and technology initiatives; attending annual recognition events and sharing best practices and support on a real-time communications platform.
“There really is nothing like CBN in the industry,” says Phair, a former CEO of several brokerages who has been with CBN for four years.
“We’re unique in that we’re not an association nor consolidator. We’re far more of an alliance of forward-thinking, independent brokers invested in securing their future.”
And the future with CBN looks bright, Phair adds. “We’re expanding our membership and due to growing interest in CBN we plan to launch another best practice sharing group in early 2021, in addition to the one launched in 2020.”
It’s the value that CBN offers, Phair believes, that will help their members continue to grow in an increasingly hard market. “As well, brokers are competing against major new entrants and increased consolidation activity. The concern is about relevancy to their insurance carriers and the ability to better serve their customers. CBN is the only truly Canadian viable option out there for brokers who want to continue to operate a successful independent brokerage.”
CBN’s latest member, Rorie McIntosh, president of McCAM Insurance based in Oshawa, can attest to this.
“We’ve definitely benefited from stronger industry partnerships due to our affiliation with CBN,” he says.
Since joining a year ago, McIntosh says he has gained a national footprint through CBN to grow his business and has enjoyed the sense of community and support from his CBN peers across the country.
“By accessing CBN’s national data sharing and research projects I have a better pulse on my brokerage and a clearer sense of what insurance will look like in future and how to stay on top of things. Many small brokers have great ideas but can’t necessarily capitalize on them but through CBN I have access to resources I can’t get on my own. There’s support and guidance, transparency, technical expertise from the brightest and best, even pandemic-related support. Of course, the best part was that I didn’t have to sell the business that once belonged to my father,” says McIntosh. “I’ve been in the industry for 26 years and joining CBN is the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s a game-changer.”
*If you think your brokerage is a fit and would like to learn more about the opportunities at Canadian Broker Network, reach out to Lorie J. Phair at email@example.com.