When Insurance Business Canada magazine revealed its Top 30 Elite Brokers for 2013, O'Grady and Associates Insurance Services Inc. of Tillsonburg cracked the Top 10 coming in nationally at No. 7.
The Top 5 brokers, all with annual revenue over $1 million, were from Toronto, Calgary and Montreal, representing 6,086 total policies, 3,960 clients and an average experience of 23.4 years. The GTA dominated the list with eight of the Top 13 Elite Brokers.
In addition to O'Grady and Associates, the only other non-city brokers were from Hartland, NB; Duncan, BC; and La Broquerie, Manitoba.
"This caught me by surprise," said Mike O'Grady (B.A, A.I.I.C), owner of O'Grady and Associates on Brock Street West.
"Pleasantly surprised," he smiled.
O'Grady submitted a general survey with his 2012 figures, and the Insurance Business magazine's Top 30 Elite Brokers, sponsored by Applied Systems, was announced in December 2013. O'Grady found out in January 2014 when people started congratulating him.
Earning power affected the rankings, but the magazine also looked at brokers taking advantage of technology, using the various 'tech tools' at their disposal. Not only were they looking at advanced, high-profile brokerages, they wanted to reward smaller firms "punching above their weight and achieving big things." It was a combination of things, said O'Grady, including how much business you write, how many policies you write, and how many new clients you add.
"The interesting thing about the survey is they worked with different sized brokerages," said O'Grady, ranking O'Grady and Associates as a medium-size broker in Canada.
The magazine profiled each of the Top 5 Elite Brokers, and one of the common traits was exceptional customer service, something O'Grady firmly believes in.
"We all talk about customer service, but in my area – between here, Aylmer, Port Dover and the lake – there are maybe 30 brokers where you can buy insurance. In Tillsonburg, I think there's 12 or 13. When you talk to insurance companies about how many brokers are in this area, they're just amazed."
That means to compete in Tillsonburg, the brokers have to be working hard. This is all about really hard work and really looking out for the customer.
“Brokers are selling a legal product and the documents need to be interpreted correctly and understood.
"People are coming out of high school without financial skills – they know nothing about insurance – and insurance is being marketed these days that it should be purchased based on price alone. Not all the buyers, but I would say there's a big movement in that direction. And the problem is that buying insurance is not like buying a pair of running shoes. You can buy the identical pair of running shoes at different prices. And in fact you can buy the identical insurance policy at different prices, but it's a complicated legal document. Price is important, but to be able to back up what you're selling is so extremely important, and to be able to understand how the fine print works, how it ties together."
O'Grady, 61, who has 36 years experience with the family business his father had owned, says he spends a lot of time troubleshooting claims and troubleshooting 'what if' scenarios because there are so many different interpretations.
"This office is known for it. If people have problems with other insurance providers, we've heard from the word on the street is, 'go to O'Grady's and they'll sort out your problems.' And we do. We take a lot of pride in that. We take a lot of pride in just pointing them in the right direction. I think I really get a lot of enjoyment out of helping people, helping out the average person.
"We'll see people coming in here when they've had a bad experience with a claim, when they've had a bad experience with some other insurance provider not phoning them back promptly and they're just not happy overall. When you buy insurance online, you deal with a different person every time, you never build up a relationship with a person. So we really try to nurture and educate our the clients. We try to work with the clients to give them all kinds of information and really help them out.
"If they have a claim, we want to hear what's going on. We'll coach the client in all kinds of areas. And we don't record conversations.
"This business works on referrals and word of mouth. It's not just me. I've got six people working for me, and two just retired – they were here for 17 years and 22 years. They were the ones who really made this happen. My staff right now... I've got one that's been here more than 20 years, another one 20 years, so it's the knowledge of the staff and how they approach the client... and trust.
"If a person comes in here, they really don't have any worries. Everything doesn't go perfect, nothing does. But when people come in here, they can say 'just look after it.' So people get well looked after I think they appreciate it."
Not only is customer service important and their relationship with clients, O'Grady said a broker's relationship with insurance companies is also key. Insurance agents deal directly with one insurance company, but a broker deals with a number of insurance companies.
"After having worked with the insurance companies for so long, we have a really good relationship. A lot of this business is based on trust. You've got to build the trust factor – with the client and with the insurance companies.
"We insure everything, we do everything and anything to do with insurance. I think our motto wraps it up pretty good – knowledge and service you can count on. There's a lot of meaning in that."
The bottom line, O'Grady summed up, is hard work – complicated hard work – and having a good understanding of the business.