This past Friday, October 14th, over 500 insurance professionals from around the Massachusetts insurance industry came together to toast Charles “Charley” Brophy, the Chief Executive Officer and President of HUB International New England and the 2016 Insurance Professional of the Year.
In a career spanning over 25 years in the insurance industry, Mr. Brophy has used his guiding principles of “passion, relationships, value and respect” to build a well-respected career within the Massachusetts insurance industry. As Mr. Brophy’s former mentor and colleague at Travelers, Stephen Lilienthal, wrote in his opening remarks for the awards luncheon, “Although others can speak more in depth about leadership in his post Travelers career, I could see it early on. What I saw was confidence, not hubris…Charley was one of those people whom I met during my career that “had it”, “got it” and “did it”. His star shined brightly from the beginning.”
Agency Checklists interviewed Mr. Brophy to get a little more insight into his thoughts about the insurance career and what it means to be the 2016 Insurance Professional of the Year.
Congratulations on being named this year’s insurance professional of the year award. What does it mean to you to win an award like this?
Receiving this award means a lot to me, because it is coming from my peers, my fellow-agents, brokers and carriers, of whom I have the utmost respect. It was also a surprise. I had nominated someone else and so it was such a honor to be chosen myself.
I am also very happy with the attendance, which I believe was record-breaking this year. Not just for myself, but what it means to the insurance library to have that support from such a large turnout [over 600 attendees].
What do you look upon as being the major factors that shaped your career in the insurance industry?
As I mentioned in my acceptance speech, in reflecting back on those life-changing events that impacted my business career, I mentioned, believe it or not, that my career really started when I was 11 years old, which is the year when I got a paper route.
Back then, the goal was to earn a few dollars to help pay my tuition at St. John’s Prep. What I now realize, however, is that this experience was the foundation of my business career. First, it gave me the chance to interact with customers. Second, it made me recognize the importance of providing customer service. Third, it held me accountable – I had to deliver the paper daily and on time, regardless of whatever else I had going on.
And how did you first get started in insurance?
My initial inclination was to become a teacher. My mother was a teacher and I have a great respect for the teaching profession and the impact they have on students’ lives.
During a college interview, however, the Director of Admissions, at one of the universities I was applying to, indicated that I would be a great candidate for their business school. So, as fate would have it, I changed my focus to business. But the idea of having an impact, one person at a time, has always stayed with me.
After graduating college, I accepted a job in marketing. Since the job wasn’t scheduled to begin until July, and I had already graduated in May, I decided to help out my father with some projects he had. While helping my father, my uncle, who was a partner at Brewer and Lord, called my dad one day convincing him that I would have a great career in insurance.
(So to please my dad,) I reluctantly went on a few insurance carrier interviews. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the experience and the appeal of the industry. I was offered a job and so before I knew it, I was on a plane to Chicago to start an underwriting training program with Aetna.
A year and half later, I joined Travelers at 125 High Street in Boston where I had the pleasure of working for Don Coutu, Stephen Lilienthal and Jim D’Agostino. My initial job working at Travelers is what gave me the foundation, knowledge and passion for the industry.
As rewarding as those five years with Travelers were, I was intrigued by the opportunity and challenges of being a producer. So, I ultimately made the move over to Broad Street in Boston, where many of the insurance brokerages were located at that time. Fortunately, my selling instincts took over and the rest is history.
What factors would you attribute to your success in this industry?
I have my four guiding principles: passion, relationships, value and respect.
Aside from these principles, I would say the experience I gained at Travelers laid the foundation for my career. Second, working for a London broker gave me the tools to really shape my career. It was there where I learned how to establish rapport with customers and how to sell. It gave me the momentum and confidence to go forward.
Your career has been in the insurance brokerage and agency business. What do you see as the changes that have been beneficial or detrimental over the years to these distribution channels?
As I look at our industry today, I think we face a few critical challenges. One is attracting new talent. I think it is incumbent upon all of us in this industry to take the time to clearly articulate the attributes of our industry as well as to give back by spending time as a mentor. We need to plant the seeds of success with the young guns of our business.
Millennials also are changing the marketplace. Their buying habits and demands, the 24/7 access they demand, as well as how to attract them as employees and to create career paths for them are some of the challenges facing us as an industry.
As for personal lines, technology is certainly causing disruption in the marketplace. But, if you look back, I think the arrival of competitive rating in 2008 was a dramatic change for the industry as well. Particularly from an agent and broker’s perspective because of the arrival of the direct writers to the marketplace.
On the commercial side, data is disrupting the marketplace. The use of models by national and even regional carriers for pricing is changing the marketplace. It is now less about relationships and more about the growing utilization of data and the maximizing of technology in terms of doing business. So, that is what has changed on the commercial side.
Where do you see the relationship between insurers and agents and brokers developing as technology changes the nature of the distribution process? What about the rise of “insurtech”
The rise in “insurtech” is creating disruption and will continue to do so. As for the online platforms, while I don’t see all of them succeeding, a percentage of them will.
Charley was one of those people whom I met during my career that “had it”, “got it” and “did it”. His star shined brightly from the beginning – Don Coutu”
There is also the customer interfacing component, however. As important as the front end and image is, you have to have the product and the ability to take care of the customers on the back-end as well. That is where the agents gain. While it is probably a losing battle on the technological front, agents and brokers have to remember that where we can shine is in delivering value. In providing, consultation to clients versus a simple transaction based on price.
We do have to factor out a segment of the population, however, that is really only interested in a transaction based on price. There are others, however, that will want value. Claims is also another area in which agents can shine. Agents can be an advocate for their clients versus those who have to file a claim with GEICO in an office in another state.
On the commercial side, insurance is still more complicated requiring the needs of an agent. So, while personal lines may ultimately become more of a transaction, small commercial is still complex buy.
Hub International has been a great success story since its origins in Canada. Could you tell us more about the size and scope of Hub New England? How has the company changed and grown during your tenure?
Hub International New England was originally the C.J. McCarthy agency, an independent agency based in Wilmington since 1867. In 2000, Hub International, then a Canadian-based company, decided to acquire the agency as its first acquisition in the United States.
After the acquisition, I continued on with Hub New England and was charged with growing the agency within New England, which we have done over the past 16 years.
We started, back in 2000, as a $12 million-dollar agency with 51 employees. Through both organic growth and targeted acquisitions, we are now a $115 million-dollar agency with 542 employees operating in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
For you what has been the greatest reward/challenge during your tenure at Hub International? What are your current priorities for the company?
Initially, when we were acquired by HUB, the goal was finding a way to grow the firm both organically as well as through acquisitions and expand our revenue. Now, without taking our success for granted, the focus, I would say, is more on acquiring human capital, talent, skill sets, as well as building career paths for those within our company.
What advice would you give young people that are considering entering the job market about careers in insurance and how they should go about developing the skills like those that you have developed and used so successfully throughout your career?
As I view our industry today, I acknowledge that we may not be the sexiest profession, but it is certainly a noble one with a lot of promise and diversity in career paths.
When I talk with graduating seniors, I emphasize the many different avenues that they can pursue (in an insurance career). But, whether they join a carrier, reinsurer or brokerage firm, I always lead them back to my four guiding principles: passion, relationships, value and respect. You have to love what you do. Second, strive to create trust and credibility in all your relationships. Third, you need to bring value to the deal in order to differentiate yourself. Fourth, you should always have respect – respect for your peers, associates, and your competitors.
Do you have any final thoughts on the state of the insurance industry in Massachusetts and what the industry’s main priorities should be right now?
This is a great industry to work in. As I travel around the country visiting other HUB offices, it is evident to me that the New England Insurance market is a close knit group of brokers and carriers who not only care about their customers but have compassion for each other.
We have had more disruption and change over the past 5-10 years, however, that in the last 50. The pace and acceleration of change is breathtaking.
Millennials, however, will soon represent a majority of the buying power in our economy and have different expectations on how they will communicate and transact business.
Interestingly enough, I recently read a survey that indicated that millennials do find that insurance careers are fulfilling. More than 90% say that insurance careers meet important criteria essential for job satisfaction, including work/life balance career development opportunities and financial stability.
So, our next challenge will be… Millennials. How do we communicate with them? How do we sell to them? And how do we create an attractive career path for them within our organizations?
I think ours is a great industry and I love it. It has so many opportunities for a young professional to flourish. At the end of the day, however, we have to do a better job at articulating what those opportunities are. We are a very stable business and for young people they can do financially well as well as have a balanced lifestyle and we need to do a better job letting young people know about this.