Amazing that a brokerage can last for 80 years and even more amazing to have an 80-year-old relationship with the same underwriter. In celebration, I spoke to Larry Marcus, Bryte tied agent, Bryte CEO Edwyn O’Neil and Chris Grieve, Executive Head Broker Distribution at Bryte.
COVER: Larry, it is said that you are a carbon copy of your dad, and I suppose the brokerage today is also a carbon copy of what your dad started. So can you tell us how the brokerage has managed to navigate the changes over the last 80 years and still remain at the forefront of what you do?
Larry Marcus: Every challenge needs to be dealt with individually, as separate issues and be handled with care, honesty, and integrity. If one has a positive attitude, then any challenge can be overcome. I have been truly fortunate of having the backup of a company like Bryte, and its predecessors, behind me over all the years. With the addition of my father in the earlier years of my career. So, that has spurred me to carry on in the positive manner of business, as I have done over the last 44 years, having succeeded my father in the business in the late 1980s.
COVER: People are always talking about the good old days, and when we look at today’s environment. How do you see the changes and the challenges that we are focusing on today in the context of the past years that you have been in the business?
Larry Marcus: The challenges are quite different today from what they were in previous years, and I referred to TCF, POPI and all the other regulatory issues. One must be vigilant and careful in what one does, and as long as you abide by the regulations today, as compared to the past, then one should have no fears of being able to manage the business in a fair and reasonable manner. If one has the association, that I have, with a company of Bryte’s stature, then that is really personifying itself in the success of the business over all the years.
COVER: From Bryte’s side, you have had a long standing relationship with Larry, and the specific brokerage. What makes that relationship last and what makes a good relationship?
Chris Grieve: The word trust comes to mind immediately, we work with Larry in a relationship of trust, and he understands our strategic objectives around profitability and profitable growth. He works hard at keeping his brokerage, tied agent, fit from a profitability point of view. I think the type of clients he selects, the corrective action he takes, we do not need to push, he deals with that himself. It allows us to focus on other problem areas and we trust Larry to get on with the business.
We have known each other for a long time. He knows a lot of our staff from further down in the organisation to the top level, but Larry is also happy to deal with anybody in the organisation and that also comes with the education for our staff. When somebody like Larry assists and guides people in terms of insurance rulings or precedent etc.
Edwyn O’Neill: That is absolutely right, and it starts with a partnership, where there is an alignment of values. That is what we have between Larry, the Marcus family, and that alignment of core principles, core values, develops in deep trust. That trust takes years to evolve and mature, and then doing business, as Chris has just alluded, is easy.
COVER: In an insurance relationship, you have Bryte as the insurer or underwriter, then you have Larry as the connection with the client, and then you have the client. That trust line, Larry from your perspective, runs just as deeply with your client as your client with you.
From a Bryte perspective, you deal with a client and you deal with Larry as the broker, you have to ensure quality service to both, but still manage the risk. How do you keep that synergy going?
Chris Grieve: I think Larry keeps us very honest, when there are issues or claim disputes, or policy wording discrepancies, Larry is very good to us, in terms of pointing these things out, things that we may not come across on a day to day basis, but he does with the customer. Off the back of that, we would take that into account in our thinking and try and improve things wherever we can. A ties agent is linked to the company, more so than a traditional broker. I believe Larry would feel open about telling us where we are going wrong, or what we need to improve, whereas another broker may just move on and select another insurer if we are not listening. So, Larry does keep us informed of what is going on, on the ground and we adjust and adapt to meet the client needs.
We do not always engage with the clients, we like to where we can. At the recent celebration in Cape Town, a number of Larry’s clients were there as well. So, we engaged with them in a social environment, which was nice. But day to day, Larry still gives advice and continues, just under another heading called a tied agent.
COVER: Larry from your side, obviously you have a lot of experience, with challenges with clients, challenges with underwriters, etc. If I was to ask you for some advice for the younger brokers, or brokers who have just started out and are still building, what would you say they should focus on, especially when just starting out?
Larry Marcus: A younger broker coming into the industry should look to their superiors, and be guided by the many years of knowledge and advice. If they abide by the support and knowledge provided to them, they should be able to overcome any hurdle that they encounter. The real crux is that they must be positive, filled with honesty and integrity, and they will succeed in their endeavours. That is really what it is, if you have the honesty, and as Chris eluded, the faith and trust of everybody and they listen to their superiors, then they will succeed.
COVER: Chris, your experience from dealing with successful brokers like Larry, where you have a good relationship, what do you think differentiates a successful brokerage from an average one?
Chris Grieve: It comes down to the attention to detail, the engagements with the client. You know, a record of advice, record everything, confirm everything in writing, so there is no disputes at the claim stage. I think managing your book in terms of keeping the insurer happy, in terms of profitability and corrective action.
Edwyn mentioned the word partnership earlier, where we can work together towards the benefit of the client, tied agent and ourselves. When you have the perfect formula, where you can sit down talk about problems, not knee jerk, not overreact. It is all about engagement and communication and discussing each other’s strategies and outcome requirements, it makes our life a lot easier. We have a broker who is cooperating with us and doing all the right things, yes, they are going to have bad years and not every year will be profitable. But where we can sit down and engage and work out a way forward, that allows us to push on and focus on other business issues, knowing that we can trust the broker to get on with looking after our interests and the clients.
COVER: Edwyn, a bit of a general question, in terms of broker business, we have, during this period of COVID, seen a lot of activity in the insurtech space and the direct space, are you still positive about the broker market?
Edwyn O’Neill: 100%. I think that the nice thing that we have heard today is that the absolute focus on the client, client engagement and the professional way in which Larry and Larry’s dad has done so over many years, ultimately leads to success. So, there is an alignment of purpose. Ours is to protect our customer’s businesses and protect their livelihoods. Because we are aligned, and this partnership has grown from strength to strength, we are incredibly pleased with the way in which we have gone through this crisis over the past 18 months.
As an insurance industry dealing with CBI claims, we are very proud of the way that we have done that. 95% of all our claims have been settled, so we have worked tirelessly ensuring that the client is at the centre and dealing with a client correctly. The point that Larry raised earlier, integrity and honesty, that is absolutely aligned to our values, the very first value that we have is one of Larry’s values. It works so well with our distribution partners, all of them, and we have had remarkable success over the past five years. Seeing continued growth surprised me personally, that we have exceeded our plan for last year and for the six months this year, in growth from our distribution partners, so there is true value in professionalism and knowledge that our brokers can give our clients
COVER: Larry any last words from you in terms of relationship and the insurance industry?
Larry Marcus: My motto is pleased to produce, satisfied to succeed, and that really says it all. That is really what my focus is in, if I can satisfy everybody throughout the chain, be it at the client, be it at Bryte, be it everybody, that to me is a successful venture. Once it comes to fruition and the satisfaction is there, then I know that I have done a good job.
COVER: Wise words to take note of in any business, not just a brokerage.