Melbourne-based Network Insurance Group Senior Account Executive Chris Prowse has no regrets after abandoning plans to be a dentist for a career in broking.
How did you pivot from dentistry to broking?
I started working in insurance backwards. While I was finishing my science degree at university I was doing part-time claims handling at Marsh. A friend was already working there.
I had aspirations of being a dentist but it got to the point where I’d have to give up my social life, work, playing football, or study. One of those had to drop off if I wanted to continue dentistry, and I was enjoying my football too much. So I decided to pursue life in the corporate world. I spoke to HR and worked my way into working as an assistant executive.
I also did a stint with [investment group] Vanguard, which was really beneficial, and then jumped back into the insurance game and started working at Honan. Once you work in the industry you realise how great it is. There aren’t many jobs where you’ve got the problem-solving aspect with an insurance program, the client and insurer relationships, and the ability to negotiate.
Those are things that I was looking for in my future job to pursue, and insurance broking ticked all three, which is rare to find in other industries.
Definitely no regrets (dropping dentistry). I could be driving around in a Ferrari right now instead of a Honda! But the role I’ve got has the freedom to be out on the road visiting clients, and experience speaking to different industries. There are not many roles where you might be speaking to a large transport logistics company in the morning, and then with an entertainment industry client in the afternoon. You’ve got that variety that not many other jobs offer, so I definitely have no regrets.
What is your current role like?
I am in a team of about 15 in the commercial corporate broking team. I am really enjoying the job. It’s a really supportive environment that I’m in.
I’ve got one client based in Sydney, and I am heading up there to visit them in the next couple of weeks. It’s a large Australian sporting organisation. It was a previous connection that I had and I just won that recently.
Part of the job that I really love is really diving in and getting to know my client’s business. I don’t enjoy sitting in front of a computer screen and plugging in numbers into a system to pump out a price.
I love talking to an underwriter about a risk and explaining why I like a risk – and why they should like the risk.
That’s the part of the job that I love the most – where you’ve got a relationship with the client, you’ve understood their business, the ins and outs of their business. And then you’ve got relationships with those underwriters that you can then pick up the phone and call them and explain the risk, getting the best deal for your client in the end.
Two different risks that might look the same on paper have to be different in reality, if you know the people — that they’re responsible and all that sort of thing. That’s kind of where I look at my point of difference – that I really know the client and can communicate that to the underwriter, rather than putting through a slip with numbers on a piece of paper for them to then put through a system.
There’s a real lack of pathway for university students in this industry, which is a shame. It’s quite glaringly obvious with the talent shortage. I think the underwriting side of things is a bit better – I feel that’s kind of held at a higher state perhaps.
How are your clients faring?
You see some clients that are doing well, while some are really struggling.
I just renewed a client that works in an apple orchard and they’re really struggling in terms of the effects that they’re seeing from the big supermarket chains. They’re in a high-risk insurance program so they’re kind of getting hit from both ends. They’ve had to revert to local talent to do fruit-picking, labour costs are increasing and so are fuel costs.
But a lot of my clients are specialist manufacturers and they’ve really been able to thrive in this environment. Turnover is increasing. I’ve got long-term, tightknit relationships with a lot of their clients and the suppliers.
The market in general is not helping out. It’s not a fun conversation that we’re having – renewals with increases in premiums, unfortunately. Increases are tough, though I’m not struggling in terms of finding capacity with my clients, which is a blessing.
With Steadfast, we’ve got really strong relationships with a lot of insurers and we’re able to find the capacity.
The market in general has definitely plateaued. I kind of subscribe to the idea we won’t see an insurance market cycle as such, in general, going forward. I feel insurance and underwriters will write risks for which they are to maintain a profit and I don’t think we’ll see the years of the past where private insurers were fighting against each other and applying huge discounts to win business.
With the scrutiny and the regulation that’s going to be placed on these insurers, they won’t have that opportunity. They might target certain sectors but I don’t think the whole insurance market will go through a soft cycle as such, I think it’s kind of going to plateau and be a bit more consistent.
The focus on underwriting and profitability is definitely going to remain and whether a risk is worth writing or not, which will lead to winners and losers I guess.
Has covid affected your worklife?
It’s a bit different at the moment with the working from home element. You kind of feel that that the culture is kind of a little bit lost. You lose that romance that we previously had pre-covid where everyone was at the office and all the bustling and the culture was high. So it’s tough in that regard, but we’re really good in terms of having monthly catch-ups, and social events to promote that culture.
Our June 30 party was quite eventful. We had a nice dinner at Supernormal and then karaoke. We also do get-togethers in our office meeting room, get an update from our GM for the month and then just have a catch-up – get the cheeseboard out and crack a few drinks on Wednesday afternoon and enjoy each other’s company.
We’re all in the office Monday to Wednesday. That touchpoint three days a week is really good. Being able to turn around and speak to a colleague and ask them a question and working with the claims team and being able to walk down and go, ‘how’s that claim going?’ – it’s really beneficial, that collaboration side of things.
Do you still play football?
Yes, AFL, which is good fun. We won’t make finals this year unfortunately, but it’s a good release to get out of the 9-to-5 and go out with your mates. Saturdays I spend at the footy club. It’s a great culture down there. I bring a lot of the stuff I learned from playing football into my work life as well in terms of leadership, communication, culture – things that can be transferred across into the workplace.