In Episode Three of The Enlightened Agent, we speak with Jeff Gallimore, Chief Operating Officer, US National Accounts, at Zurich North America.
It's a far-reaching conversation full of great insights. We hope you take a moment to listen.
You can hear the conversation on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify.
Dean Gemmell: Alright, everyone, we're back with another episode of The Enlightened Agent. I'm Dean Gemmell, and I'm joined as always by the CEO of Broker Buddha, Jason Keck; it looks like it's directly from your pinkish home office, Jason.
Jason Keck: What's up, Dean? It's actually National Women's History Month, so here I am, in my daughter's pink bedroom, sitting under her bed as I usually do. What a great conversation with Jeff today.
DG: He's a terrific guy - Jeff Gallimore, from Zurich. We covered a lot of ground and a lot of different topics, from tech to diversity to empathy.
JK: That's right. Innovation and collaboration. He talked about some interesting new technologies that they're looking at and gave us a little bit of plug, which I appreciated. He talked about some other stuff, which I think is interesting. Jeff's one of those guys that everybody really enjoys being around. I certainly did when we spent time in the innovation lab with him. I hope that I have a chance to work with Jeff for the rest of my career.
DG: I could see that.
JK: That was really fun.
DG: Lots of times, people don't think there are personalities in insurance, but Jeff's obviously a big personality and an awfully smart guy.
JK: Yeah, he was great. I think people are gonna enjoy hearing our conversation today and learning from what we talked about.
DG: All right, let's get to it.
It's another episode of The Enlightened Agent, the podcast that features top insurance professionals and tries to figure out where this industry might be headed. Today, we are joined by the Chief Operating Officer for US national accounts at Zurich, North America. Jeff Gallimore, welcome to The Enlightened Agent.
Jeff Gallimore: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
DG: Yeah, it's great to be here with you. We've got Jason Keck on as well, of course, the CEO of Broker Buddha. I want to start out, Jeff, by asking you to give me your background. Give me your elevator pitch and backstory, and tell me how you ended up in your current role as the CEO at Zurich. COO, sorry - I'm promoting you already!
JG: I like that. Yeah, keep it coming. Mine is probably not too different from many stories that you heard, and I fell into the industry. My major opportunity, and what I was going after at the time, was to find a job. How do I get a job and start getting some money into the bank account? But once I started to kind of really dive in, I started as an operations analyst on the claim side at AIG - I've been in the industry for 30 plus years. Once I fell in, I started to understand what the opportunities look like. I don't want to date myself too much, but we didn't have Excel; we were using Lotus 123 - a little DOS background.
DG: Jason knows that I wish we could still use Lotus and Word.
JG: In any event, I started to really understand what we were trying to accomplish from a business perspective. After a year as a junior analyst, working for my boss, the operations manager, he said, we have to find you another job. And I said, whoa!
JK: You're firing me already?
JG: He said, No, no, you're doing such a good job; I have to get you into your next role. That was my first leap and when I really started to understand how to build relationships and move through a larger organization. I've been very fortunate in my career that, at these very critical forks in the road, there was always someone there to tell me to make this left turn here and make that right there. Largely, I would say, on the business side, in shared service, operations, IT, back and forth, back and forth, throughout my entire career.
I spent 17 years at AIG; I had six or seven roles there where I bounced back and forth. There were two employment moments. I was with the AIG environmental team, and my boss, Sharon Jane, was the manager of information systems. I remember this very vividly. She used to bring me along to various kinds of leadership meetings, and I started to learn what was going on. One day, she said, I need you to stand in for me; I'm not gonna be able to make that meeting. I said, okay. Cool. I went to the meeting, and I was able to hold my own.
The meeting ended early, so I went back to the floor in the office, and as I was walking past her office, she was sitting there typing, like a normal day. I stopped, and I said, I thought you had a conflict or somewhere else to be. She started laughing and said, sit down. Then she started telling me, Oh, that's your meeting now. It was a way where I really got a solid opportunity to show my leadership wares. At the same time, I can look at it in retrospect; she was building me up to be able to take over that meeting at a certain point in time. Essentially, she didn't tell me the truth in terms of-
JK: I like that she just dropped you in it! There you go!
JG: That was the way because otherwise, I would have said, what do you mean? I can't do that! That was one piece, and then the second was something that was in the back of my mind throughout my entire career. I was working with a woman named Jody Urban, and she was the head of administration for a global energy unit. I'm giving her an update and telling her what was going on in a couple of key projects. I noticed she wasn't really paying attention to me - she was just looking at me.
At some point, she stopped me mid-sentence and said, you're going to be COO one day. I didn't know what a COO was back then. But I made it my business to learn a little bit about what a COO was. I did my research, and I guess, subconsciously, it's always been in my sights. Operations, IT on a number of fronts, and a couple of good people along the way to point me in the right direction.
JK: Nice. I remember my first operations role out of college; I learned that it was cool - you touch all different parts of the business, process, people, tech, and everything. For somebody coming out of college, I didn't realize that was like a thing. Oh, you actually have somebody just responsible for operating the business? That's pretty cool. And so, you know, one of the things I love about that operations function is that it does have such a strong technology component. Technology is super powerful. When I came into the insurance industry four years ago, it was pretty clear that insurance hasn't exactly led the charge with technology and innovation. Given the role you're in now, I'm curious, what are some or one of the most eye-popping pieces of technology you've seen in the last year? What's come across your desk?
JG: We're actually engaged with an external vendor now because one of our big problems is around our large property space. You can imagine some of these large conglomerates have many locations across the globe, and it's very difficult to manage the building construction exactly. What type of repairs have been done? What type of sprinklers do they have? Think about all these companies trying to manage all those locations and this data.
JK: It's a lot of detail.
JG: A lot of detail, and obviously, they want to make sure they have their fingers on the pulse as well. We have been engaged with this vendor; they've been talking to customers, as well as distributors, and finding a way to make it easier for everyone involved in the value chain. We, as an organization, saw a lot of promise in a few ways, but off the top of the head, we talked about these SLBs. Really understand the values at the location level. We can receive that as part of a submission on an Excel spreadsheet. 80% is there, but you don't know if it's 100% accurate or not, and for the other 20%, you've got to figure it out or do some plugin to get you through.
This vendor, part of their value proposition is to help customers, and they're going to be invested in it, and they're going to work on that platform. The beauty of it is that they'll send the submission detail, once ready, electronically via API, and it will suck that stuff right in.
JK: They're helping the businesses manage their statement of values? It's like a single interface to manage your property coverage, and then when it's ready, you just bang it in.
JG: It's not only from an insurance perspective; it's from managing their statement of values and their properties. A cool feature is they're able to send in submissions more electronically. Also, a stronger value proposition: how do we create less friction-type information flow, which also improves our agility and creates some efficiency? How do we enable enriched integrated data to support superior underwriting, if you will?
How do we use this capability and technology to strengthen our relationships and connect digitally with our customers? So again, efficiency, superior underwriting, strengthening the relationships. They're eliminating all that scrubbing, blending the data, your data with our data. Turn it around and create very powerful insight that the customers believe is important.
JK: Yeah. I'm curious. I actually want to know more about the technology. Is this something that risk managers use? Is it something that clients use, or both? It probably fits more for your national account world, where you've got a ton of property to manage where you need that. Your average small business doesn't really need that stuff.
JG: I wouldn't say small, but probably some middle market as well. Different use cases, but you're spot on - definitely large or big customers. There's a lot of value at stake for everyone in the value chain, as I mentioned. Then the other one, he gets a little bit of a shameless plug, Jason. I think our working relationship, relative to Broker Buddha, and some of the things that we think we could do together to help us get an increased share of wallet and create that frictionless experience are two things I would highlight.
JK: Yeah, I'm hearing two things. I'm hearing the same thing from two different partners, which is clean, seamless submissions, an easy way to work with your clients, whether those are agents or customers themselves. And I happen to like the theme you're on here, so I appreciate the plug!
DG: We're just gonna carry on with that, Jeff. As a bit of an outsider to insurance, Jeff, it's easy to take potshots at the industry and say, Oh, this industry doesn't embrace technology, as it should. But there's a certain size, scope, and level of detail that makes it difficult. I'm just wondering if you can tell us about some of the obstacles just to implementing insurance. It's not an easy industry to bring insurance into or technology into, is it?
JG: No, not at all. We're not bleeding edge, by any stretch of the imagination. I don't even know what we would call the insurance industry - slow followers?
JK: You mentioned that the new CEO's a get things done kind of guy. Let's not mess around; we're gonna move on this. What are you guys doing? Or how do you guys approach him in innovation and technology adoption? Is there anything special that he's doing or other companies are doing?
JG: The insurance industry is known to be slow. I think we're making strides for digital transformation, just like any other organization. The way that we're engaged right now, leveraging these tools, is a signal, if you will, in terms of where we're headed in the digital landscape. When I think about some of the barriers, again, I go back to early in my career, when I was really trying to understand what underwriters do. I would say, most of the time, the underwriters say, I don't need any support or help - I did my first deal on a napkin in a bar. That's the mindset of: I can write up this deal right here, right now, without any tools.
Now, certainly, we're not in that space, in the 90s, any longer, but there is still a little bit of that mindset. Innovation and the like, and I have all the intellectual capital on my head, and a machine can never replicate what I think. Well, I think I can because of all of your results in how you've underwritten over the period of a year from a historical perspective. There are some trends in there, and you as an underwriter do some things that are fairly similar. So I can replicate that. We have that conversation; then I assure them it's not about replacing them; it's actually making them more effective and efficient based on having an evidence base. You get the final say at the end of the day in terms of sending that quote to the broker. It's not leaving without you looking at it.
In large, in particular, in national accounts, it's a little bit of change management involved as well. As we push down to the lower levels, like small businesses, you can actually underwrite this stuff from a portfolio standpoint. It's changing the dynamic; it's changing the mindset. Innovation and how we get that push to finish off your question, Jason, it's leadership. We have a leader who is very keen on understanding how to leverage data and insight to help us create innovative propositions.
I think one of the misnomers around innovation is that a lot of people automatically go to technology equals innovation. Innovation is products, ideas, and process. Once you have that laid out, then the question is, how do you get the technology to enable that innovation? Then everything at the end of the day is innovative. That's how I think about it. I think we're moving in that direction in terms of what our organization is thinking about. Then our leader is pushing us to do it. He says we should be angry about not having data, and we should be pushing the organization to get it wherever we need it.
JK: I like that word. I hear some emotion in there, being angry. When the boss is angry, shit happens. Things start moving along.
JG: He wants all of us to be passionate about it, too. Don't just take no, or we can't do that till next year. Why? Let's push it until we can get something. We might not get the 100%, but if we get 60, we're moving in the right direction.
JK: Yeah, change management, you brought that up - I think that's a non-trivial component that we've seen in our businesses. We introduce a ton of change management when we've got to roll out our platform for agents. They're not a lot different than your underwriters. They're used to doing things a certain way, they're very comfortable, and they don't want to get it wrong. The technology can help, but, whoa, this is different! We actually invested a ton in change management as part of our offering, and we've seen huge results. Don't underestimate that you can have crazy ideas; you can build the technology to do it. But don't forget about the execution, because man, changing people's behaviors is tough.
JG: It's the toughest.
JK: I'm glad to see your senior leadership is driving that and is forcing you guys to think about that.
DG: Hey, Jeff, I want to switch gears here for a moment, just touching on senior leadership. I don't think I'm revealing anything groundbreaking here when I suggest that the C suite at most major insurance companies probably doesn't reflect the diversity of our population. What's your own take on that and how your industry supported diversity inclusion, and how do you see Zurich and others addressing it going forward?
JG: Obviously, in light of the things that have happened over the last couple of years, this is a really important topic. I'm proud that Zurich has taken a leadership position in recognizing and trying to do something about it. I want to start off by saying the industry has been operating in a certain way for a number of years. Historically, there's been a ton of nepotism involved. I personally don't see anything wrong with that. We all go to our friends and family and people we know to find colleagues to come into your organization. I've done it. You guys have done it, right?
As you mentioned, there haven't been a lot of minorities in leadership roles or in underwriting roles. There's a tendency that most minorities are in more back-office service support, and then they may not have the skills, capabilities, know how to raise their hand, reach up, get pulled up, etc. I shared my story earlier. I was very fortunate, but I think I also put myself in a position to be recognized for where I want to go. I would talk to someone and tell them what I knew. Personally, I try to help out those that I mentor and support who happen to be minorities. I mentor and support all races, colors, and all that kind of good stuff. That's who I am. But I share with them that you got to raise your hand.
I have my head down; I did a really good job; someone's gonna identify me and promote me. I don't know if that ever existed, but I haven't seen it in my lifetime. That's not the way to advance. How do we educate people around that? But at the same time, we all have unconscious biases, wherever the case may be. You may not think I need a diverse hiring panel to see if we're thinking about this role in the right way. I make sure that I have a diverse candidate pool. I need to actually request that if I'm a leader.
Those are some of the behaviors that need to change because I think once you size folks up and you have an opportunity to see them, organically, the right choice is going to be made. We still always want the best professionals; we're not trying to be slanted in any certain way, we've made that clear at Zurich, but we need to make sure that we invest in having a diverse talent pool. We have a diverse slate, and the people that are interviewing them are also diverse. I think if we continue along that journey, the dynamics will begin to shift.
My leader Paul Horrigan, head of national accounts, has actually got three of his leaders set up to drive a very specific workstream. One is around talent. Sometimes we hear, we don't know where to find talent. It's out there, so how do we connect with some of these agencies? Naya is one, and I have a good friend, Aiko Consulting, she's an agent, Risk Manager, etc. She started a consulting firm, so there are ways to tap in - you've just got to know who to tap into. I'm making that obvious, and my organization has been very supportive of it. It's gonna take some time, and it's gonna be a journey. You can't change the Titanic overnight. But I'm very satisfied with the fact that there is tons of attention on the topic, and we'll make inroads over time.
DG: I think it starts with honest conversations, just like you mentioned. Implicit bias is something that we all have to recognize, and if we start to do that, we can make some progress.
JK: Jeff, you and I talked about this last summer in the program when all the uproar was happening around the country. I definitely noticed at a minimum in your social feeds. There's a lot of activity coming out from Zurich around diversity and inclusion, whether it's minorities or women or anybody that you guys are encouraging and promoting, so I think that's awesome. At Broker Buddha, we've done some similar things. We have a biweekly meeting where we talk about diversity, inclusion, and culture.
We've introduced some simple changes to our recruiting practices to ensure we've got minorities in the recruiting pool. We talked about some more aggressive moves where we hide people's names from resumes because you can get biases down to things as simple as that. It feels a little bit aggressive, but on the other hand, you've got to find ways to combat the biases, and it's tough. There's work to be done, for sure.
JG: I think you hit on something that's important. I think we've had traditional HR practices in place for many, many years. You mentioned not looking at the names. I share this feedback - sometimes, it's even in the questions that we ask. Applicants on the application itself, how we look at resumes and credentials - all that good stuff. It's just fairness, having an open conversation, as you mentioned. I know it can be a tough discussion for some. I try to make people very comfortable, and I know where your heart is, so you can't say anything wrong. Say what's on your mind, and if it's not exactly right, I'll correct you. Just keep moving. I know you have no ill intent.
DG: I think part of it too is educating allies so that allies know how to respond to people like Jason. It shouldn't all fall on your shoulders, is my other main point. That's been a misnomer.
JG: That's also one thing that my boss Paul told me too. He said, you're not the head of DNI, so if people come to you, you don't have to do everything. I'm gonna have my other leaders play a significant role here, and I'll just keep you as one of my trusted advisors. I appreciate that he understands that that's important.
JK: That's great, man. So, Jeff, the name of our podcast is The Enlightened Agent. We'd like to play a bit on the Buddha branding here. Enlightenment is defined as the state of having knowledge or understanding. The podcast is really all about enlightened insurance agents - the people you rely on to distribute your products, and those are your partners out there. I'm interested to know who are some of the enlightened agents that you know? You're welcome to name them by name or talk about them, but how are your stories about the people you've worked with over the years, and what makes them special?
JG: Well, I won't name them, but I'll give you some stories. What I'm most impressed with in the agents that come to mind is their passion and energy. They have to go out and get these clients and make sure they satisfy them. They have to be creative, innovative and really make sure they garner that trust. How they go about doing their jobs with that level of passion has been very impressive to me. They need to understand their customers - they need to know how to hook in and engage. Then they need to be persistent, not only with the client but also with their own firms and with carriers too.
You can tell those agents and brokers who are persistent because they have a real problem to solve, and the customer expects them to solve it. The other thing I think about, along with the carrier and what has got a good thing going, is creativity. Creating solutions for customers and clients.
JK: It's easy to think you're just out selling a product, but there's a lot more to it. You've got risk management, mitigation, combining products. You even see agents creating products. We've heard of agents who say I've been talking to a bunch of companies, and there's just nothing that fits here. I'm going to create my own product. Then they go find somebody to back it, and that's amazing. Talk about innovation.
We had a company on last week called Assurely, and that's what they do. They're trying to stay ahead of the game and trends and get ahead of the demand for insurance products. They develop the products, and then they go find the backer - super-creative. I should connect you guys, actually. It's interesting - it's a way to do innovation without having to take the risk yourself. Do any stories come to mind around agents that the result of their work has really helped a company or saved a company? I'd be curious to hear what comes to mind.
JG: Saved their company or the carrier?
JK: Good point. Saved the business. That's ultimately what you guys are doing. You're all there to protect the businesses that are shaping the world.
JG: That's why I'm really leaning into creativity. I would say they save their relationship. They actually show the value at stake by having them in Ops, and they can demonstrate that. They start with empathy, and what I mean by empathy is listening. If you understand the problems in a deep way and don't try to just push your product offering, it could be one-size-fits-all. Each company has differences, even if they're in the same industry. Understand their nuances and problems and how they want to solve them.
Position an agent to engage with the carrier and come up with a solution that's fit for purpose. Whether you're smaller, whether you're larger, all those things apply. Be knowledgeable. There are some solutions that are cookie-cutter, you can just give to everyone, but I think at the end of the day, if you want to add value, you have to really look at that business individually, understand their needs, and meet them.
JK: It's a lot like building a business or running a startup. Understand your customer and their problems, and find a solution for them. I think what's amazing about these agents is that every single one of their clients is a different problem to solve. Maybe in the small world, it's a little bit cookie-cutter, but certainly, in middle-market insurance, especially commercial, there's not a lot of cookie-cutter going on. The data collection might be similar, but the problem space is different.
The businesses are unique, the protections they want are entirely different, their situations are different, and they're at different stages of growth. That's a complex problem to solve. That's just understanding the problem, and then they gotta go find solutions and partner with people like you to go out and do that. There are some special people out there for sure.
JG: The last thing I'll add is that agencies, certainly if you're mainstream and looking for that growth potential, in the early stages, sometimes may not be large enough to engage with Zurich from an appointment standpoint. But again, there's an entrepreneurial spirit in that persistence. Those who don't go away and continue to build their business and look for ways to have relationships where you may not be actually transacting business day one are the ones that last.
They find a way to be mentored and translate that mentorship into sponsorship. Then the next thing you know, they're appointed with the right capabilities, the right know-how, in terms of actually understanding what Zurich's risk appetite is. They're able to be in a better position to sell. That's my experience with agents. I've seen it directly, and I've seen it on the periphery. As I said, I love to see the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation come to life.
DG: Hey, Jeff, I really enjoyed this conversation. We've covered a lot of territory here, from empathy to diversity to innovation. I don't know if there's anything else you'd like to add before we go? Shout outs, or anything like that? But thanks so much for your time. I know Jason appreciates it a great deal, and we're glad to have you on.
JG: I've got to shout out Zurich. Everybody knows that's where I'm from. Shout to Zurich, shout to my people there and to all my friends in the industry. And to you, Jason, for having me today and also Dean yourself.
JK: I'm going to give a shout-out to the New York FinTech innovation lab for putting Jeff and I together. Broker Buddha went through that program during COVID. In April, May, and June of last year, Jeff and I had an opportunity to meet almost every week for the whole quarter, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience. Probably most notably because Jeff and I got to know each other really well and are continuing to work together. But a shout out to Maria and the team there for making that happen.
DG: Real quick, was that during COVID? Have you not been in the same room yet?
JG: At the very beginning, we were, but then after that, no.
DG: If we can have a celebratory drink when this is all over somewhere in New York, I'm all for it.
JG: Let's do it.
JK: Let's do it. I'm in.
DG: Thanks, Jeff.
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