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World Happiness, No Falling Sky on Broker Distribution Channel, Nepal Relief

Posted By Thom Young, May 19, 2015
Updated: April 28, 2015

World Happiness Report

Canadians are apparently the 5th happiest people in the world. You wouldn’t know it watching the news lately. The recently released "World Happiness Report" has rewarded us Canadians with a rather good standing in ranking our approach to life and the satisfaction that we receive from it. These kinds of “studies” and expert reports are always amusing to me, particularly when determining the source and the funding of the work that goes into “research” on such a topic. These reports and discussions, as near as I can tell, originate from the United Nations. As these things often go, a discussion may have started between a couple of bureaucrats about how happy a place our planet is and then an application was made to obtain funding to look further into the problem. Now, perhaps I’m raining on the parade here thinking about all the troubles in our world, but the United Nations could probably better use its resources to find a solution to things like getting clean drinking water to all the people who live in our world or producing a plan to promote pluralistic harmony between people shooting at each other. Still, they were given funding for measuring the temperature of happiness. Of course, the interesting talking point in these important announcements is where different countries sit in the ranking. In order to spare you the tedious task of mulling through the 176-page report referenced in the link above, I’ve listed the top 30 countries ranked by happiness below:
  1. Switzerland (7.587)
  2. Iceland (7.561)
  3. Denmark (7.527)
  4. Norway (7.522)
  5. Canada (7.427)
  6. Finland (7.406)
  7. Netherlands (7.378)
  8. Sweden (7.364)
  9. New Zealand (7.286)
  10. Australia (7.284)
  11. Israel (7.278)
  12. Costa Rica (7.226)
  13. Austria (7.200)
  14. Mexico (7.187)
  15. United States (7.119)
  16. Brazil (6.983)
  17. Luxembourg (6.946)
  18. Ireland (6.940)
  19. Belgium (6.937)
  20. United Arab Emirates (6.901)
  21. United Kingdom (6.867)
  22. Oman (6.853)
  23. Venezuela (6.810)
  24. Singapore (6.798)
  25. Panama (6.786)
  26. Germany (6.75)
  27. Chile (6.670)
  28. Qatar (6.611)
  29. France (6.575)
  30. Argentina (6.574)
While I was originally going to list only the top 10, I decided to expand that number to 30 to include a fair representation of European countries in the review. I have been fortunate to have been in 17 of the countries referenced and could give a firsthand opinion on the accuracy of the research for those. In that regard, I don’t have much argument with the results of this study. The conclusions as to the reasons why the rankings came out the way they did are for much further discussion.

One can clearly see the correlation between the standards of living and the rankings, but a few anomalies appear in the mix. Certainly, the inference of cultural differences doesn’t leap out from the report. For the most part, those who live in a country with a high standard of living and a fair political system seem to be winning the contest to be happy. You may find a different answer in your review. An interesting read. I, like most of you, already knew that Canada is one of the best places on the planet to live, and that fact makes me very happy!

The Sky Is Falling, the Sky Is Falling

insurance umbrellaFrom Walmart to Google, everyone seems to want into the General insurance business. The best method of distribution continues to be up for much debate, and our industry press likes to stir the pot with this popular topic. The headlines often begin with a dire prediction that the independent broker network is under attack again, and our imminent demise is predicted because some new and improved method of distribution will gobble up our market share. Now, far be it from me to give the impression that there are no threats to your market share in this competitive environment. We deal with the realities of it each time we quote a new piece of business or service our existing clients. Still, most of us seem to win our share of new business and hold onto our existing clients.

No doubt, this isn’t the case for everyone—not everyone should do well in a competitive market. A well-run insurance brokerage will always be responding to competitive pressures to correct failures and reward successes. Production reports are reviewed at least monthly and comparisons are done at least quarterly. Trends are identified quickly and a market response made to correct deficiencies. This is the norm in any service business, from the corner grocery to the multinational distributor. If you’re not taking care of your business in this manner, then you are vulnerable to the next competitor who calls your customers, and you won’t know you’re not taking care of business until it’s too late to fix the problem. Often people who fail in this manner are quick to announce to the world that outside influences overtook their business unfairly. The reality is more apparent than that.

Over the years, I’ve watched many good producers make a very good living in our business. When you review how they accomplished that, it usually boils down to customer service backed by good processing systems. These producers are the ones who are in tune with their marketplace and are usually the first to identify a trend in the market that poses a threat to their business. The entry of a new player undercutting the market in rate or underwriting silliness puts pressure on your market share and makes retention of your clients difficult. Fortunately, the rules apply to these new players too. A couple of decades ago, when we were constantly being visited by new competitors such CIBC, the Bank of Nova Scotia, and Canada Trust, we saw them “cherry picking” the best customers with rate and coverage enhancements that couldn’t be matched by our markets. Many brokers were very alarmed about the business they were losing, and producers were suffering badly against this “unfair” competition. Still, the rules of the marketplace applied to these new entrants, and the discipline of competitive factors came to play on them very quickly. No doubt, the banking executives holding their insurance divisions to account for failing to obtain a sustaining market share while losing money with the product had a lot to do with these companies either leaving the marketplace entirely or increasing their rates and refining their product to match the norms in the marketplace. I know for a fact that the claims service and customer service provided by these entities had a lot to do with their failure to advance in the marketplace. I actually recall a high-value client who we had lost to the Canada Trust program telling me that the $300 Canada Trust saved him on his home insurance didn’t amount to any savings when he factored in the nonsense he had to go through just getting hold of the adjuster assigned to his claim. Every time he phoned, he went through the call centre dance and ended up at the beginning of the story with a new person. Competition works, people. When the service you’re providing fails to meet the needs of your customers, they won’t be your customers for long.

You should remember the number one rule:

If we don’t look after our customers properly, someone else will!


You have my permission to copy and paste that phrase onto a full-sized piece of paper, print it out, and put on all your CSR’s desks.

So Google is coming? Well, who cares? I will do a better job than Google of looking after my customers, and I know you can too! The broker distribution network is in good hands, and the solutions we provide for our customers are better than any direct writing influence. You just need to remind your customers continually of that truth. Contact them at renewal, stay on top of the coverages and the rates with the companies you represent, and give your clients the best choices for them. The first of those best choices is always you!

Asia Once Again Dealing with Huge Natural Disaster

On April 25th, the people of Nepal had their world turned upside down. One of the largest earthquakes in living memory shook the mountains and valleys of this small impoverished country and its neighbour Tibet. The very urban city of Katmandu had suffered a similar earthquake in the 1934, but then it was simply a small village with few structures built of any significance. The damage then, while significant, has no comparison to this current event. As in many third-world countries, the urban development has been rapid and without engineering discipline. Building codes and the logic of civic engineering intermesh with ancient customs so that many of the rules we’ve become accustomed to are bypassed and overlooked. When the earth shakes, the buildings fall down in total destruction, taking many of the residents with them.

Initial estimates of several thousand dead seemed very optimistic to those who have studied natural disasters. While the tally at this point of writing is approximately 5000, the recovery effort has only just begun. With little in the way of heavy equipment to clear away the tons of rubble, the search for survivors is now fruitless. Doubtless, the number of fatalities will soar into the tens of thousands. The small villages of several hundred or a few thousand in the steep valleys have been isolated by avalanches and, while at this juncture the news is focusing on what’s happening in Katmandu, others report that many of these communities are not just isolated but also entombed by the rock that has fallen from the mountains. Surely, this event will be on record as one of this century’s largest natural disasters.

Earthquakes can happen anywhere and are about as predictable as rain. Even the best forecasters can declare the certainty of the event but cannot provide details as to when and with what severity. While many experts will forecast probabilities, without certainty, little attention is paid to them by anyone. Nothing except the strange behaviour of animals gives any forewarning of an earthquake. Even the strange behaviour of animals gives little advance warning that can be used to initiate any action to mitigate the effects of this natural event.

The earthquake in Nepal occurred along fault lines in the earth where two tectonic plates are grinding away against each other at the rate of some 5 cm per year. This physical action over millions of years has produced the world’s highest mountains, and the tremendous pressures produced by this action are often released in sudden cataclysmic earthquakes. The fierce movement of the hard rock produces the most damaging results of any earthquakes and brings with it the largest loss of life. In such an area, you would think that buildings would be constructed to reduce the risk, but they are not. The technology exists and is known as can be evidenced by the ancient temples and palaces that are still standing after centuries of earthquake movement.

We need to do what we can to help the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by this event. In the global village, the idea of brokers helping the community expands geographically. Our federal government has again initiated the matching program—matching our personal funds with government funds to help those in need. If you can spare a dollar or two, it will double in benefit. Details about the program can be found in the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund webpage. By the time you read this column, only a few days will be left to get your money into this plan. Many companies also match employee donations to worthy charities. Our social and civic responsibility is to help where we can.

As we continue to follow the events in Nepal, we should be reminded again that natural disasters can occur anywhere at any time. Recently, a large earthquake occurred off our west coastline near Haida Gwaii, hitting a sparsely populated area without many high-rises to worry about, but it was still damaging and frightening. The Haida Gwaii earthquake was similar to that in Nepal where hard rock realigns itself in rapid violent movement, not like the slow undulating kind of earth movement usual to the Southwestern U.S. quakes. Still, either can be devastating depending on several factors. The numbers given to the event are difficult to understand as a factor 6 can be as damaging as an 8 depending on the geology of the epicenter. No matter what size, the event is terrifying to those experiencing it. The largest North American earthquake recorded occurred in 1811 at New Madrid, Missouri. Estimating the size is difficult, but the record shows that shock waves traveled through the earth raising the ground 10 to 20 metres as they emanated from the epicentre. The earth readjusted to the extent that the Mississippi River actually ran backward against itself for several days before finding a new course. Destruction from such an event today would see present-day St. Louis reduced to nothing but rubble and the loss of life unimaginable. Here in Calgary, a seismic fault runs diagonally northwest from the south east part of the city to just south of Cochrane. You can see the fault’s strata while driving on Highway 22 and then to the west on Highway 1. One can only speculate when the last realignment of this fault line took place, but certainly its results are evident in the geology. Will it move again?

We have a kit in our vehicles that gives us a 48-hour fighting chance in the event of an emergency. Are you prepared? I heard an interview with a resident of the Queen Charlotte Islands where he spoke of his ready bag by the door. I haven’t got to that point yet, but maybe I should.

In Closing

Time commitments of conventions and holidays have me writing this piece several weeks before it is due to be distributed. I apologize if the flow of the discussion isn’t as timely and topical with regard to current events as it usually is. I’ll get back on track on the next issue, I promise!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  broker channel  customer service  Google  Nepal Relief  Walmart  World Happiness Report 

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