January 23, 2024   by Jason Contant

Smaller brokerages in the Canadian P&C insurance space can benefit from sharing best practices and platforms with other brokerages while still remaining independent, said the president of a family-owned brokerage in Nova Scotia. 

Earlier this month, Halifax-based Keyes Insurance became a member of the Canadian Broker Network (CBN), a national alliance of independent insurance brokerages representing more than $2.5 billion in property and casualty premiums, as well as employee benefits and life and financial services. Keyes Insurance remains a fully independent brokerage solely owned by president Shaun Keyes. 

He told Canadian Underwriter in an interview that the possibility of becoming part of a larger group gives a bit more relevance to a smaller brokerage like his. 

“The sharing of best practices allows independent brokerages to see how it’s being done at scale and implement those [practices] in their own brokerage,” Keyes said. “The value of being able to sit at the table with some of those other brokers that are larger across Canada…is huge.” 

A traditional family brokerage with 20 or fewer employees, for example, would have limits on who they can represent. However, with access to a broader network of brokerages, “there’s really no company you can’t access, or risk you can’t look at, because you have a shared pool of expertise and market access,” Keyes said. 

CBN has a shared platform where brokers have access to risks they haven’t seen before.

“You can go to the shared platform and say, ‘Hey, has anybody seen this type of risk? Who would underwrite it? What things do we need to gather from an underwriting point of view?’” Keyes said. “So that’s really valuable. As a small broker, if you didn’t have all the market access, there’s probably somebody within the group you’ve met who would be willing to help you with market access.” 

Also, collaborative opportunities exist. The broker network meets several times a year to discuss topics such as compensation or technology. “What [tech] are people using?” Keyes asked. “What are the costs they’re paying? What do you like? What don’t you like?” 

Cost-sharing is another benefit. “As an example, a bot is built…and brokers who want to participate shared the cost.” 

Remaining independent was crucial for Keyes. He didn’t want to get acquired by a consolidator or a brokerage with insurance company ownership. “Some of us, when we would look at some of the acquisitions, and who owns the brokerage, [would] see a conflict of interest when the underwriter is the brokerage.” 

Keyes’ brokerage has been family-owned for generations. His great-grandfather started the first Keyes Insurance about 100 years ago and Keyes’ father started the brokerage he owns in 1980. The family brokerage also has another independent brokerage in Gananoque, Ont., owned by Keyes’ cousin. Keyes’ Halifax brokerage offers a variety of products, including auto, boat, motorcycle, RV, commercial, home, tenant and life and financial insurance. 

For Keyes, scale matters and size matters. “Don’t try to do everything on your own,” he advised. “There are people rooting for you, hoping for you, and wanting to see you succeed. Independent brokerages, we’re not each other’s competition.” 

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