Selling Peace of Mind

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-By Claire Suttles

Imagine ringing a large insurance company and having your call answered – by a person and not a machine – in three rings or fewer. That’s the promise that Austcover makes. The team believes in doing things a little bit differently, from developing specially tailored insurance programs to nurturing long term relationships between clients and Risk Advisors. The end result, Managing Director David Ingram says, is complete, individualised coverage and peace of mind.

Austcover provides corporate insurance to businesses and takes a personalised approach to provide solutions for clients’ insurance needs, targeting multiple industries, including hospitality and clubs, mining services, professional services, SME/Entrepreneurs, manufacturing and industrial, home warranty and education. Mr Ingram describes his company as “one of the bigger independently owned insurance brokerages,” but is quick to add that, even though the team handles a number of blue chip corporations and hotels, it welcomes all clients. “It can be a mum and dad,” Mr Ingram explains. “We don’t have any minimum incomes.” The team’s priority is simply to “look after people who appreciate what their insurances are about and what their insurance broker adds to that relationship.”

Mr Ingram believes that the client – Advisor relationship is tremendously important. “It’s about building that relationship that gives you that sense of comfort,” he says. “That you can ring [your Advisor] 24/7 and say ‘I’ve got a problem.’ That you get that same level of comfort and service that you have with your accountant or your lawyer or your doctor of 20 years.” Mr Ingram points out that very few people, if asked who their insurance broker is, would be able to come up with an individual’s name. “They only have a company name,” he says. Austcover Advisors, on the other hand, “have very close relationships with their clients. They know what’s going on with their lives, and they keep in contact with them. And I think that’s really, really important to make sure, if something does go wrong, you have somebody [who knows the client].”

Knowing clients well enough to analyse their individual, and ever changing, insurance needs is central to the Austcover philosophy – and differentiates the team from competitors. Brokers “don’t just sell product, they give advice,” Mr Ingram says. For adequate coverage to take place, brokers “actually take the time to look at [a client’s] individual situation… to learn about their business, to learn what their needs are.” He explains that, “individuals all have their own different risk appetites. Some people will not insure certain things, while other people will want to insure everything. So you’ve got to build an insurance program on the business to start with, and then on the individual’s own personality.”

Relationships between clients and Austcover often last years, or even decades. These long term relationships are possible because both employees and customers tend to stay with the company long term. It is not unusual for sales or administrative staff to have been with the company for 20 to 25 years, a factor that Mr Ingram says adds greatly to the company’s competency.

Having a long term relationship with your broker doesn’t help if you can’t reach him, so there is that three ring guarantee. “We’ve always got somebody who will pick up the phone,” Mr Ingram says. “That’s our front door, and you don’t leave somebody standing at your front door for fifteen minutes while they knock.” The promise to give every customer immediate and personalised attention keeps clients satisfied – and draws in new business. Mr Ingram tells the story of a time he was pitching to a potential customer and, after finishing his introduction to Austcover and their ethics, Mr Ingram mentioned the three ring policy. The man got up, went straight to the phone and sceptically dialled the company number. “It answered in a ring and a half,” Mr Ingram remembers. “And that was it; he knew he could trust my word. That was all it took.”

The company also wins customers over with honesty. In an industry notorious for confusing clauses and loopholes, Austcover “builds an environment of trust,” Mr Ingram reports. “[We] are very transparent in our approach and don’t hide loopholes… What you see is what you get.” Furthermore, the team doesn’t try to woo customers with promises of lower prices. “We are not interested in being the cheapest or trying to compete in that field,” Mr Ingram explains. “It’s not about who’s the cheapest. It’s about making sure that you are covered adequately.”

When Mr Ingram bought out his partners in 1996, the company had a staff of 11 and turned over about $10 million a year premium. Today, Austcover is a $60 million a year premium operation with around 80 employees. The team wants potential customers to know that it is their expert knowledge and dedication to customers that has made them such a success. “We’re confident in our services and we know we’re good,” Mr Ingram says. “But how do you express it without sounding arrogant?” The answer has been to launch a rebranding campaign to get the word out about “what our values are and how they work, and letting people know that there is an option out there that isn’t typical.”

One marketing plan has been to remake the Austcover website to better exemplify the company culture. “There was a great story that needed to be told,” Mr Ingram reports. The company’s recent video showcases its dynamic team and their dedication to the job. It sees the camera racing around the office with team members holding up the number of years they have been with Austcover.

The company isn’t just relying on advertising to share the message, however. “It’s about the whole team getting out there and networking with other people,” Mr Ingram says. “It’s about getting out there and telling the interesting stories, showing case stories of all the great things [the team] is doing, especially during the floods.” Changing public perception about insurance brokers isn’t easy, Mr Ingram admits. “You are kind of pushing uphill against the industry. But I think it’s important that we do that.”

Austcover’s success is particularly notable in light of recent challenges. The GFC has been difficult, of course. But Mr Ingram says that a worldwide recession was easier to deal with than the flooding last January. “We’ve had a double blow,” he admits. “But we’ve managed to maintain our growth and our level of service.” During the QLD floods, the team had to handle over 300 new claims in less than seven days – while flooded out of its own Brisbane office for a week and a half. A small group flew to the Sydney office while the rest of the crew made do on mobile phones at home. The work was intense. “You’re talking to people who have lost their houses,” Mr Ingram explains. “And you’re trying to get them looked after. It was a pretty horrible time.”

True to their word, the team put in the hours needed to give every client the individual attention promised. “We probably did two years of work in a one year period. We’re all still a little bit tired,” Mr Ingram laughs. “It’s kind of like we’ve just run two marathons and [we’ve] got to do a couple more sprints next week. The team also has had to deal with this year’s rise in insurance rates due to last year’s disasters. It isn’t easy telling clients, particularly those who suffered in the flooding, that their bill is going up. “But that’s the nature of insurance,” Mr Ingram explains. “We all pay for the disasters.”

Mr Ingram is encouraged by the company’s resiliency during tough times. “The team came together incredibly well,” he says. Based on their competent and caring reaction, he believes that “the future is only going to be good.” Going forward, the company plans to continue its growth by welcoming more clients and brokers to the business. Some things, however, won’t change, no matter how big Austcover becomes. “[We] are not going to move away from the core values that have won [us our] business to date,” Mr Ingram insists.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:33 AM AEDT