Back in the late 1980s, the Mitchell & Abbott Group Insurance Brokers Limited looked at the senior insurance market and realized it was a niche waiting to be found. “Seniors don’t usually have kids jumping around in the back seat of the car distracting them, they don’t have occasional drivers driving their vehicles very often, and they don’t put a lot of miles on their cars,” says the firm’s vice president of operations, Tom Graves, CIP, CCIB.
The conventional wisdom had labeled seniors as a normal segment of the general population of the insurance world. It’s this notion that Mitchell & Abbott rejected, which put the company on the leading edge of an enormous trend. “Now everybody has a seniors program, it seems,” Graves says.
with Tom Graves
1. What does innovation mean to your company?
We’ve always been proud of the fact that we have been transactional with our insurance companies, long before anyone else thought of going to insurance-company portals. We have been technically cutting edge for a very long time when it comes to communicating.
2. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
I think we’re very service-oriented. The customer’s always first here. Our 800 number is working between nine and five every day, but after five o’clock, if you hit the general mailbox, you can still be attached to my cell phone, even if it’s two in the morning.
3. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
We expect our brokers to think on their own, and if there’s a way to solve a problem, we look for it. We review every renewal that goes out of this office, and our retention is excellent. It’s over 90 percent.
4. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
Obviously it has a lot to do with information technology as social media. For example, right now we’re looking at establishing a Facebook presence. We already use paid search engines. We try and look for things that will keep us in front of the public.
5. What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
Innovation, to me, is staying on the cutting edge of your industry needs, but also not being afraid to look at anything new. We’re still very hands-on with our customers. It’s that consistency of knowing who you’re going to be talking to—that’s a big comfort to people.
Following its discovery of the senior market, Mitchell & Abbott has continued to move the insurance industry forward by looking at the existing landscape with new eyes. In the mid-1960s, Wayne Abbott identified a need within the restaurant industry, calling for a brokerage with the expertise to stretch from advising the corporate team back at headquarters to providing coverage for franchisees at locations across the country. Tim Hortons was the first to participate in Mitchell & Abbott’s comprehensive new franchise program, and it remains a cornerstone of the brokerage’s success. “It is our largest account,” Graves says. “We do everything from the stores to the auto fleet to the children’s camps and foundation—and all the liabilities in between.”
Other restaurant chains, such as Wendy’s, also participate in the program. And along with adding an employee-benefits department and other innovations, Mitchell & Abbott has a growing list of out-of-the-box accomplishments.
In one area, Mitchell & Abbott is proving that customer-focused change is still the key to moving forward, rather than reducing service and satisfaction to mere dollars. “We do a whole bunch of things for seniors besides just writing their insurance,” Graves says. He and his team regularly speak to groups at retiree association meetings, giving Mitchell & Abbott the chance to not only be recognized within the market, but also the opportunity to continue learning what its customers need.
And the brokerage is known for helping clients no matter what. “We’re on the phone a lot with people who we don’t even insure,” Graves says. “They’re just trying to pick our brains so they can avoid insurance nightmares.”
With agents increasingly moving to a cheaper, call-centre approach, Mitchell & Abbot’s have realized that, despite costs, its commitment to old-fashioned customer service is simply the right way to do business. “We encourage our clients, if they have a question, to call us instead of the insurance company,” Graves says. “We are your broker, and we’re the ones you pay a commission to—to help you in the world of insurance.”
Providing that kind of one-on-one support has dropped off the radar in today’s e-mail-saturated world. “I think it’s an innovation that’s been lost, and we hold onto that dearly,” Graves says.
With customer service as a primary driver, it isn’t hard to encourage innovation within the Mitchell & Abbott organization. Orphan files—where clients may have their auto policy through one brokerage and their home through another—are one example that Graves says gives his brokers the opportunity to help customers save money while building the firm’s book of business. “I think we’re at 80 percent of multipackaging for all of our clients,” he says.
And instead of just sending out automatic renewals, Mitchell & Abbott contacts each client directly. This hands-on approach continues to provide the firm with a solid bottom line, and Graves says that Mitchell & Abbott’s satisfied customers frequently offer his team the highest compliment of all: “We get a lot of business from referrals.”