INTERVIEW: IBAO’s Norah Black Q&A on Supporting the Broker Channel During COVID-19

Norah Black leads the marketing team at IBAO (Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario) where she creates an engaging member experience for the association’s 14,000+ members and drives the conversation with Ontario’s public on the importance and significance of insurance brokers. In this interview, Norah shares some of the challenges brokers have been grappling with during the current epidemic, how they’ve been pivoting and adapting to enable this essential service to succeed and why empathy and communication are critical.

We’re now over 4 weeks into full work from home mode and social distancing here in Ontario. How are Ontario brokers managing?

Norah: They’re facing challenges just like everyone else. Things continue to evolve quickly, and operations have to keep up. Working remotely is a huge adjustment for most businesses—some are better setup than others, but this is reality across most industries.

How have brokers dealt with the technology challenges that come with running a business remotely?

Norah: There have always been technology challenges within the insurance industry, but brokers adapt where they need to. I’m sure operations will shift and evolve as the state of emergency starts to lift and businesses begin reopening—as an essential service, brokerages are open (remotely) but many of their clients’ businesses are closed.  

And how have they managed getting their teams fully operational at home?

Norah: The majority are working from home, at different levels. Some were already set up to work remotely, some have had to move their operation off–site.   
Over the next few weeks, brokers are focused on helping their clients with the specifics of their policies, advising them how they can save money in the current environment, based on what each individual insurance company is doing. Once they get through the initial wave—there could be others—they’ll be looking at how to communicate within the new reality. 

We are seeing a lot of brokers looking for tools and platforms to help with that communication. What are you seeing with your members?

Norah: Brokerages leverage different processes depending who their clients are and what they need. But the importance of informing and empathizing is at an all–time high right now—if you’re able to achieve these through self–service/automation, well done. I’d suggest showing compassion and offering comfort often comes from personal contact, whether by email, phone call, text or other means. This isn’t always an option depending on size and resources. But right now, wherever possible, people are looking for genuine help and connection. They need detailed information about their specific coverage, based on their unique situation. We’ve never had to share such detailed information in such a hurry. And today’s response has never been more important as it relates to tomorrow’s loyalty.

Digital Transformation seems to have worked its way up to the top of the priority lists across many industries.

Norah: Brokers who were sitting on the digital fence are now moving quickly. And rightly so. Businesses must make this transition. And as an association, we’re trying to help and support them however we can.

There’s been a shift in marketing, with a renewed focus on customer communications. How have you seen this manifest with brokers?

Norah: We’ve definitely seen a shift from product marketing to brand marketing. This is true within the broker community and across other industries. It’s not about selling, it’s about focusing on solutions. Engage with your clients. Offer value. What tips, advice and insight can you share? How can you help your clients and communities? Brand marketing—the way you communicate, connect, support and advise—is where you should be spending your time right now.

What are some of the ways IBAO is helping brokers through COVID–19?

Norah: We’re talking to stakeholders every day, bringing brokers’ questions and concerns forward and working with the many markets, areas of government, regulators and governing bodies on solutions. We’re bringing answers and approaches back to our membership as quickly and as often as we can, trying to be a step ahead wherever possible.

We’ve been able to leverage virtual classrooms to keep key education offerings going. Brokers can get all their RIBO hours online through our eLearning platform. 

And we’re making sure brokers stay connected, whether that’s with us, their peers or the broader insurance community.

How has IBAO’s own communication strategy changed?

Norah: It’s going against everything I’ve learned about our membership over the past few years. Seriously! I’m breaking all my own rules on frequency. But what’s important right now is keeping the lines of communication open and updating our members as often as possible with answers to their questions and guidance on next steps. I’ve quickly learned it’s okay to pivot your processes. If you start down one path but shift when it’s not working or add new elements to get you closer to your desired outcome, that’s okay.   

And now the million dollar question: What do you think the insurance landscape will look like when we come out of this?

Norah: It will certainly look different. Just like the business community will, including its processes, client interactions and marketing strategy. But despite the unknown, if we continue building and supporting strong communities based on genuine connections, offering comfort and reassurance wherever possible, we’ll be in a better position regardless of what the landscape looks like. And we’ll be able to reflect on this time and see the enormous impact it’s had—hopefully one of collaboration and innovation. 

 

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