The Leeds event speakers gave the audience plenty of insight, advice and inspiration

Simon Mabb, Romero Insurance:

Romero Insurance managing director Simon Mabb gave the audience his take on broking from the front lines of the recession.

Mabb said Romero was growing well in the good times before 2008 when he joined. “You’d get to the end of the financial year, and they were wondering how to spend the money quickly before the taxman turned up,” he said.

But shortly after, the recession hit. Mabb said the downturn gave him a chance to apply the skills he had learnt at insurers to his new role at Romero.

“I’d come from an insurer, and we were used to controlling budget,” Mabb said, adding that saving costs helped steer Romero into profit in the tough times.

Tight control of finances is doubly important for Romero, because the broker has no interest in acquisitions, meaning that growth has to come from within the firm.

“Organic growth is the only way we will grow our business; we are not looking to buy a broker,” Mabb explained. “You are under huge pressure, so you have to keep growing.”

Winning business is harder for brokers now, Mabb said. “You can’t go in now and take a piece of business off another broker that easily. You really need to know your stuff.”

Mabb has big plans for Romero, and added that he wanted the firm to double in size over the next five years.

Lisa Galek, Edgar Galek:

Brokers can make more money by working out precisely what their clients need and using that knowledge to increase sales, said Lisa Galek.

The director of market research company Edgar Galek warned that this is not always as straightforward as it sounds, however.

“It’s very unusual for commercial clients to know exactly what they want,” she said, adding that canny brokers should try to bridge this gap.

Galek highlighted a survey of personal and commercial lines clients, which showed that businesses could be split into “abdicators” and “delegators”.

Abdicators are generally smaller businesses that leave insurance buying to their brokers, while delegators are likely to be more involved in the process.

The research showed that anyone buying insurance for the first time tended to want guidance and support from brokers initially.

As businesses mature, the distinction between delegator and abdicator becomes clearer, Galek added.

Brokers need to show clients that by buying insurance they are being good consumers and businessmen, Galek advised.

Brokers could also add value to their clients by being prepared to give advice beyond the cover limits of the policy, she added.

Sarah Willingham, BBC2

Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 Sarah Willingham revealed to the IT Pack audience how she gave the Bombay Bicycle Club Indian restaurant chain the edge over its competition.

“Really, number one for me was control over the business,” she said.

Willingham, who presents The Restaurant on BBC2, said she inherited an under-par book-keeping system from the restaurant chain. However, after she overhauled the system to work out where every penny was going, the business began to break even.

Willingham said this experience underlined for her the importance of a tight control over finances. She used the metaphor of a dam with many leaks.

“There are so many people in business that just spend their days sorting out little leaks,” she said, adding that the key was to find the cause of the leaks and fix that instead.

Willingham advised that the best technique for raising brand awareness was through PR, leading to word-of-mouth recommendations.

“Don’t shout about your business unless you have something to shout about,” she said.

Another good way to raise awareness of a company is to get the press on board, Willingham added. She gave the example of sending out a press release to the local papers if one of her employees won an award, to help build brand loyalty.

Leon Walker, JLT Specialty

Networking can be one of the most powerful weapons in a young broker’s arsenal, according to JLT Specialty associate, and 2010 IT Pack winner, Leon Walker.

Walker stressed that networking and building relationships were key for any broker looking to get ahead.

Industry networking events like the IT Pack give valuable opportunities for meeting good contacts, Walker said. He advised the audience of up-and-coming brokers to get to know each other, and added that many of the assembled young business people could potentially know each other for the rest of their careers.

“You guys are the cream of the crop of your market,” Walker said. “When I was here last year, I went away with a business card of everybody that I met. These are relationships that you need to build from this level.”

Walker explained how he started out in law, then moved into compliance and from there into insurance broking. He said that winning the IT Pack had done wonders for his career so far, but said that determination was the deciding factor in being successful.

Walker added: “I’ve never considered myself to be particularly talented, but where I excel is ridiculous, ridiculous ambition.

“I want to be the best. This is where my drive comes from.”

Soundbites

Show your face

“When they’re involved in a claim, clients would like to see your face, just to know that you are there along with the loss adjuster.” Ryan Roberts, H&H Insurance Brokers

Don’t sit back

“Today is not about shrinking violets. This is your opportunity to shine. If you are thinking: ‘If I sit here, my talent will shine through and I’ll get selected’, it probably won’t happen.” Clark Ross, Aviva

Take control

“A successful entrepreneur leads. We take risks; we don’t avoid them. We achieve, but we don’t simply get results. We have followers, but we don’t have subordinates. We have vision, rather than objectives. Entrepreneurs inspire, they don’t instruct.” Sarah Willingham, BBC2

Do anything

“Young brokers want to be told what they can do, not what they can’t do. There are people out there that are willing to help you, but you have got to make the first move. I went to four or five networking events in one week. I’d go to the opening of an envelope.” Leon Walker, JLT Specialty