Allan Reynolds, EGM of Steadfast Direct and New Zealand, as well as deputy chair of ANZIIF, talks about his 43 year insurance journey, a memorable claim in Papa New Guinea and working alongside Robert Kelly
Why did you get into insurance?
I had been offered a bursary to go to university to study of all things librarian studies. During the Christmas break I saw an ad in the local paper for an insurance company which said work for them for 12 months and if it worked out they’d pay my way through uni. That company was NZ Victoria (now NZI) and 43 years later I’m still in it.
What is the appeal of the broking side of the industry for you?
I left what I like to call the dark side (underwriting) 13 years ago to seek out an opportunity with Steadfast. I saw there was a great opportunity to be able to have a direct impact on the way brokers transacted in the market. My underwriting background actually helped me in some ways, particularly around the area of providing technical assistance in developing products and working through processes that brought some more structure to a lot of small business operators.
One of the key things about insurance broking is that they are by definition SME businesses.
Steadfast has the ability to work with these businesses not as a head office where we tell them how to run the business and what to do, but provide tools and resources that a large broker would normally provide to its brokers in the business.
How would you sum up insurance brokers in three words?
Advice not price.
What’s the most important thing a broker can do to develop their business?
I think brokers need to step back every now and again and sit down and review their business. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day business that you don’t get to do the helicopter view and plan and set goals for the business going forward.
So, thinking about where they will be in 3 years, 5 years’ time, what about the key people in their business, the clients, and having a look at the way the business is run.
Also, I think it’s important for brokers to segment their business into two main areas from the development perspective – how do I retain my clients and how do I grow my business, because there’s not much point growing if the business is leaking out the back door.
Do you think we’re seeing the end of the small, independent broker outside of a group or cluster?
Yes, they can still exist but they’ll find it more and more difficult to resource their business at a level that will enable them to make a reasonable income out of it.
What would be your most bizarre work story?
Very early on in my career I was GM of NZ Victoria in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. There were a few unusual insurance contracts and some confronting claim situations in my 3.5 years there, but one in particular where myself and the loss adjuster had a client in the office who owned a public motor vehicle, or bus in this case, who wanted more paid out in his claim. He had two of his mates with him, both carrying bush knives, so it was a delicate negotiation over the claim. Fortunately the loss adjuster was a big overpowering man who was in the military police. I wouldn’t have liked to have been there without him.
What’s the background of your ANZIIF involvement and what does your role now entail?
I first got involved with ANZIIF when I started lecturing in property and liability insurance which I did for 7 years in Western Australia, and during that time I ended up being president of the Institute in WA. To me it’s important to be able to call ourselves a profession and you’re unable to do that unless you have professional qualifications and standards to work to so I’ve always been a very, very strong supporter, and not just of ANZIIF, but NIBA too.
I’ve been quite fortunate in 1) being made a life member of ANZIIF and 2) being asked to go onto the board and even more surprisingly after one year on the board being asked to step up to the role of deputy chair. I was humbled when I was asked to take on that position.
However I’m a very strong believer in giving back to an industry that’s been good to you and I’ve had a great lifestyle off the back of the insurance industry, having worked in Australia and overseas. So to me it’s not a chore, it’s a job that I do with pleasure and hopefully others in the industry benefit from what I’ve been able to learn over that period of time.
How would you change the industry?
If I was king for the day, I would ensure that we had industry representation at every university open day because one thing we do not do well is sell our industry. I commend the work that ANZIIF is doing with their Careers in Insurance program and I think it’s incumbent on all of us in the industry to support that and others to encourage more quality people to come into our industry.
There’s a lot of talk in our industry about disruption and digital disruption and how the buying patterns are changing, the millennials versus older, more traditional purchasers. We recently did quite a bit of work reviewing a peer to peer opportunity for insurance. When you’ve been around the industry 40-plus years you do tend to see various cycles and ideas that have come through the industry. When you think about it, a peer to peer we used to call a scheme or a facility - a group of like-minded people that come together albeit the difference today is the way that group comes together which is driven by social media rather than a club, association or society.
The challenge for brokers around digital disruption is how do they get their name out where the customers are seeking that information because we’re of the view that people will use the internet to research but not necessarily purchase, and you still see that there’s a very strong advice role to be played from mums and dad insurance right through to your SME clients. The question for the broker is how do they get their name in front of those people that are doing the research? So everything from your search engine maximisation is important to make sure that brokers remain relevant going forward.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
You only have one brand – so look after it. One of the things I always talk to with new mentees who start the program is their personal brand: what do you want your brand to be in the industry and also your personal brand that you carry with you wherever you go. If you have that in the back of your mind it actually influences the way that you present yourself, the way you carry on whether it be socially, or networking events etc, so protect the brand.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Being part of the team that took Steadfast and Steadfast brokers to what is now an ASX 200 listed entity in August 2013. I was privileged to have the opportunity to sit down with 192 brokerages and talk to them about their future. It was actually humbling to spend time with these people who chanced their arm.
What is it like working with Steadfast boss Robert Kelly?
Robert Kelly is a very driven person with an amazing amount of energy and is larger than life in many ways. He lives and breathes Steadfast and most of the time he does it at his own personal expense. He gets driven by the brokers within the network. One of the things I really respect about Robert is he wants people to stand up and put forward their point of view, he likes a good argument and respects people who are prepared to put forward their position. But overall it’s his commitment to Steadfast brokers, I’ve never seen that same level of commitment that’s been provided by an individual to others. We have a lot of fun as well. We try and show to people within the group that we might work really, really hard but there are times when you’ve got to step back and have a little bit of a laugh, we’re not big party people but we definitely like the opportunity every now and then to sit back and have a little bit of a laugh at what’s been going on around us.
What other achievements have you got on your insurance career bucket list?
The main thing I want to do is at age 60 continue to be relevant. I suppose my biggest achievement going forward will be the mentoring role that I continue to play with people, to pass on my experience.
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t in insurance I would be…?
Filing books! I didn’t know there was such a thing as being able to do a degree in librarian studies so I find it quite ironic in some ways. Interestingly the advice I got was go to uni because there was a thought I’d go into teaching and as it turns out I did 7 years teaching and until recently I did a lot of training of brokers in the Australian market so some people said I sort of got that teaching thing in there as well.
Insurance industry 'on the cusp' of major change
Investment in youth key to future success
Insurance industry must not fear disruptors