Mitchell & Whale’s (M&W’s) big win at the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) awards is the classic story of the overnight success that was ten years in the making.
Recognized as Brokerage of the Year for 2018, the Whitby brokerage that’s “making insurance not suck” is not about winning awards; it’s about winning customers over with the best products, the best rates and the best service that the industry has to offer. But they’ll take the awards too. What else are they gonna do with that big trophy case?
President Adam Mitchell took over this family-run brokerage ten years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. After spending a number of years in the U.S.—teaching kiteboarding—Adam didn’t know a whole lot about the family business of insurance, but he did know something about risk, and he knew quite a bit about how customers like to be treated.
Ten years later, Adam has grown M&W from a 3-person operation serving Whitby and the surrounding area to 50-person juggernaut serving customers across Ontario. The secret has not been one single thing. It’s a lot of things. It’s creating a workplace where people feel comfortable and inspired. It’s implementing technology to make the experience of buying insurance as painless as possible. It’s listening to customers, and letting them decide how they want to communicate and when.
The recognition comes largely from the fact that M&W has grown its business tenfold in ten years, from $2.5 million $25 million in Gross Written Premiums (GWP). That’s a lot harder than simply losing a decimal, especially given that all the growth has been organic. In other words, they didn’t buy another brokerage, they weren’t bought by an insurance company. They grew to ten times their size, and they did it one customer at a time, by telling customers the truth and taking much of the mystery and frustration out of buying insurance.
Adam Mitchell sat down with us to offer his thoughts on winning Brokerage of the Year, what it means for the business, and what’s next for the brokerage that treats its customers like gold and its team like family.
M&W: What does it take to win brokerage of the year? What sets you apart from the competition.
Well, you need to be doing amazing things in just about every area of your business. We do some pretty fun things in terms of creating a great working environment for our insurance team, like ping-pong tables and a full gym. You also need to show that you’re improving your efficiency as a business. We’ve worked hard to create a world-class website that generates as many leads as we can handle. And we have lead management software that ensures we contact those leads within 60 seconds. I’d say that’s pretty efficient.
You need to show that you’re making things better for the customer, and that’s where we really shine. We’re constantly looking at new ways to serve customers where and how they want to be served. So we’ve implemented, among other things, a fantastic phone system that allows customers to choose phone, email, fax, or even text as their preferred method of communication.
And you have to show that you’re growing the business, but the growth comes from all the other things. There’s much more, but let’s not bore the readers.
M&W: You’ve won other awards over the years. Is Brokerage of the Year special?
It’s special in what it represents. It means we are delivering what customers want. And our growth is special in what it represents. Ontario consumers are smart consumers. We’ve won each and every one of our customers by delivering a product they need, at a price they can’t beat, in a way that makes them feel respected and valued. To put it another way, it’s special because it proves we don’t suck.
M&W: You’ve become fairly well-known as a brokerage where fun comes first. Does a happy workforce translate to happy customers?
It’s not really an exact science like that, but I think there’s no question that when people feel good about where they work, they are more motivated to do a good job; go the extra mile for the customer; share a kind word and a smile. All this makes a difference in a person’s day.
No, it’s not a direct line from happy worker to happy customer, but yes, I would say that on the whole, we are productive and engaged and able to meet customers’ needs because we feel relaxed and respected, and because frankly, foosball is a great way to relieve stress.
M&W: You’re known for being on the cutting edge of technology, going largely paperless, adopting e-signatures and offering text payment reminders. Yet you don’t offer real-time online quotes. Is that a contradiction?
We sometimes forget that technology is a means to an end. We are constantly looking for ways to innovate and bring new tools that will help improve the efficiency of our team and the customer experience. We used an online quoting engine for a time, and what we found was that we were able to service more customers by going back to an older way of doing things. Customers submit a request online, but a broker then reaches out to go over the details and provide a quote.
I have no doubt that there will come a day when it makes sense for us to go back to a quoting engine, but we feel strongly that if we try something new and it doesn’t work, we won’t stick with it just because it’s high tech. Ultimately this is a people business, and technology helps our people work smarter and faster. If it’s not helping, we try something else.
M&W: You taught kiteboarding before you sold insurance? Any similarities between the two?
That’s one I haven’t heard before. There are quite a few things I learned from teaching kiteboarding that I use today to sell insurance.
I ran a business offering 3-day kiteboarding camps to the well-to-do. They weren’t cheap. I suppose if you can sell kiteboarding lessons for thousands of dollars, you can sell anything. That was a tremendous education for me in sales, customer service, and customer retention. Also, I learned a lot about managing risk.
Kiteboarding isn’t the most dangerous sport in the world, but being aware of people’s health challenges, the weather and the tides, to make sure it was a safe and fun experience for everyone. That’s something I bring to my understanding of insurance. I also learned how to take risks, which is something you have to do in any business if you’re going to succeed.
M&W: Your company motto is “making insurance not suck”. How are you doing? Does it still suck a bit?
Insurance sucks when you need it and you can’t get it, when you don’t understand it and you don’t know what you’re paying for, or when you have to fill out forms for no reason. We’ve now got contracts with 40 insurance companies, meaning that it’s much more likely we’re going to find you the coverage you need, and the best rate available. We’re proud to be able to support underserved groups including motorcyclists and vintage car enthusiasts.
We’ve also taken a lot of the headaches out of applying, going to e-signatures, extending our hours and removing a lot of the paperwork. And because our brokers are able to work more efficiently, they have the time to really explain the policy to customers and answer any questions they have. I’d say insurance sucks much less, but we’ve still got work to do.
Adam gets a lot of the credit for the remarkable growth and innovation that’s taken place under his watch, but he is quick to pass the credit to his talented team. He just removes obstacles and tries to put the team in a position to succeed. And that they are doing. Brokerage of the year recognizes ten years of hard work, good fun and remarkable growth. It may sound like a cliché to say that the next ten promise to be even better, so we’ll just say they promise to suck much less.