Hard lessons to be learnt in a hard market

As remote working challenges training and development in companies, it is critical the right support networks are in place, says Ed’s Andrew Draycott.

It’s hard not to start an article by saying, “in times like these…” But the inescapable fact is that the global reinsurance market is experiencing one of the toughest markets it has seen in two decades, with difficult business conditions compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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This is when experience and knowledge become absolutely critical in the negotiation and placement of policy coverage. Brokers are seizing the opportunity to remind both clients and carriers of the value they add to business discussions – perhaps particularly true for our slightly greyer colleagues who have seen a few cycles come and go.

At Ed, we have a number of colleagues who have seen hard markets before, including some who began their careers in testing circumstances and so cut their teeth on having to work incredibly hard to bring deals together. In a market that we constantly label a ‘people business’, the diversity of their experience, the lessons they have learned and their understanding of how to negotiate with other people are critical.

As our colleagues dust off their skills at negotiating, approaching shrinking capacity, higher rates, tighter terms and conditions, they are also passing that priceless knowledge on to younger brokers as they learn how to approach more complex, long and drawnout deals. Discernment and a calm head are needed as conversations are becoming more fraught – not only with clients, but also underwriters who face exactly the same challenges.

A key approach for us and probably many of our peers, is that we are encouraging our teams to start everything early and to approach it with an open mind-set. Little is likely to be the same as last year, so we need to be creative and start coming up with different options, testing out ideas with colleagues or leaders, and understanding all the details of the risks we are handling.

We also need to remember that developing the skill set of our younger talent is as important now as ever, and we need to be focused and committed to that. Given the restrictions of remote working, this is not as simple as attending the same meetings, picking up tips from an overheard phone call, or an off-the-cuff coaching session while getting a coffee with a senior broker.

”Little is likely to be the same as last year, so we need to be creative”

As with a lot of things in recent months, training and development currently requires adaptation and more effort to get the same result. And so we have to find different ways of sharing the skills and knowledge that it takes to succeed in this market. It has become a slightly more formal process as we set up open forum sessions with our business leaders via video conferencing.

We may need to pick up the telephone more often to consciously check in on younger colleagues and coach and encourage them. But over the last few months we have become more comfortable with these formats, and we see that our teams remain keen to engage and learn.

More broadly, as we continue to hire new colleagues, we have to find new ways of making sure they feel “part” of something. It is critical that in the absence of constant exposure to others in the organisation, we put the right support networks in place, for instance a much more intensive new joiner process and well defined talent development pathways, to keep both employer and employee motivated and invested in one another. Continuing to invest in and develop our people is how we will thrive and grow. They are the ones that our business and our clients will depend on in the future, as well as “in times like these”.