Cowan Insurance Group Commercial Account Executive and Transportation Industry Leader Brian Boileau recently sat down with us to talk about his career in insurance sales spanning three decades. Soft-spoken and mild-mannered, Brian doesn’t reflect the typical brash sales persona shown in popular culture. However, during our interview, he took a call with a client, and the usual soft-spoken Brian we know transformed. His demeanour and natural confidence shone through as he helped guide a client through a challenge with their business. As an experienced insurance professional, it’s clear Brian knows what he is talking about.
So, Brian, let’s start by hearing about how you got into the insurance industry in the first place.
I started my sales career in electronics. It was an exciting industry to be in, but there weren’t many repeat customers. Back then, you would make a sale to someone and then you would be right back to looking for your next customer. It was also very sensitive to changes in the economy, as it’s more of a want than a need for most people.
When I started thinking about changing careers, I knew I wanted something where there was an opportunity to build long term relationships with clients. I had some friends in the financial planning and insurance industry and thought I’d give that a try. The father of a friend offered me a job at his insurance brokerage as a commercial broker.
Once I got my Registered Insurance Broker of Ontario (RIBO) license, I was handed a phone book and told to find some leads. Between the cold calls and some contacts I had from my previous role, I started to build my client list. I also did many drop-ins to local family businesses. I’d stop in and introduce myself to the owner and ask to take a look at their policy. Then I’d get some quotes and bring it back to them, and we’d go from there. This approach helped me build more relationships in the community. The fact that I could often save the business owners some money meant that I started to get referrals.
This strategy is where it started to take off for me, but I’ll admit it was challenging at first. In my second year as a broker, I almost quit. However, through persistence, coaching, and a bit of luck, I decided to stick with it.
What is your current role at Cowan?
I wear a few different hats. One of them is Commercial Account Executive. This role involves me working with an extensive roster of clients, servicing their accounts and maintaining relationships. Additionally, I manage a group of other account executives at our Cambridge Head Office. I work with them to provide leadership, training and mentorship.
Finally, I’m also our Transportation Industry Leader. This position involves me acting as the internal expert and thought leader for the company, giving insights into the industry for other staff and clients and building relationships with different markets.
What do you see as the significant issues affecting your clients today, versus when you first started out?
Today, everything is regulated. For example, when I write a policy for an auto fleet, the insurer requires all operators to have a Commercial Vehicles Operator’s Registration (CVOR). A CVOR monitors all defects and infractions done by vehicles owned by the company. That and the drivers’ history have become critical factors in obtaining renewal pricing that is reasonable or even getting their policy renewed at all. When I first started, no insurance companies even knew what a CVOR was, and driving records. Now with the amount of regulations to follow, we have become industry consultants as well as brokers to our clients. We offer assistance on how to clean up their CVOR, hiring criteria, and driver eligibility to help them obtain the coverage and pricing they need. We have to act as partners in their business, not just service providers.
What advice do you have for new brokers and young professionals just entering the industry?
Commercial insurance is one of the best industries in the world. There are great opportunities to be successful, both financially and professionally. As a broker, you are offering a valuable service to companies, and a product that can genuinely make a difference in their lives if something happens. While it’s not always easy, there isn’t any other career I’m aware of that offers this level of freedom and experiences available to you.
My best advice for young brokers trying to build their book of business is to find your niche. Pick an area and learn as much as you can about it. You could get additional certifications and licenses, research new regulations and trends, and attend events and tradeshows in that industry. This will help you position yourself as an expert and eventually help you to build a network of clients and positive word-of-mouth. At this point in my career, I don’t need to do much prospecting. Most of my business is from referrals because I’ve taken this approach.
I’ve found several niches throughout my career and mentored many of our young brokers to find theirs as well. This has allowed us to build a great team of advisors that truly understand our clients, no matter what industry and offer leading-edge products and services.