From breakfast club to formal association

By Kate McCaffery | December 19 2011 04:47PM

What started out as an informal breakfast meeting for group insurance brokers has turned into the industry’s newest professional association, quite possibly the first formal organization that specifically serves this relatively small group of specialists.
Just like the working life of most independent brokers, the business of group sales can be a little isolated. Clients provide enough human interaction, but working independently means there are few opportunities to interact with colleagues (also known as the competition, depending on your mindset) or to access the water cooler social aspect that a lot of people take for granted.

Because the group insurance business is not as large too, professional development days put together by other associations might touch on this part of the business, but rarely do they focus on it exclusively or provide enough material to satisfy a group specialist’s continuing education needs or requirements.

Enter the Canadian Group Insurance Brokers (CGIB) association. The fledgling organization started out as a series of both educational and informal breakfast meetings in Toronto and Markham. The effort has since grown to include breakfast meetings in Oakville and Ajax, Ontario and counts just over one hundred members so far.

Plans are underway to launch two more breakfast meetings, likely in Newmarket and Cambridge, Ontario later this year. In response to constituents there, the group is also working on ways to expand in Winnipeg and Vancouver as well.

Continuing education seminars

In addition to the breakfast gatherings, the new association also runs regular continuing education seminars so its members can collect CE credits as well. Most recently, Mike Sullivan, president of Cubic Health Inc., discussed the impact that rising drug costs are having on employer-sponsored insurance programs. In short, he says plan sponsors and advisors who do not actively manage prescription drug benefit plans face significant threats to their program’s sustainability.

Other presentations in the past have been conducted by employment lawyers who discuss contract employee issues, hiring, firing and related promises made by employers which all impact employee drug and benefit plans. Similarly, representatives from the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) Trillium Drug Program have presented to the group, as have long-term disability (LTD) specialists, representatives from the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

“We’ll do group-focused CE credits. All the associations that do summits and different educational events are mainly insurance or investment focused. They’re not employee benefit focused – just one or two speakers, not enough to get credits. We’ll do five of those a year, enough to get your renewal,” says Dave Patriarche, owner of Mainstay Insurance Brokerage Inc. and founder of the CGIB group. “I want valuable credits that are useful and very focused on group insurance information because that’s what our members are interested in.”

The breakfast meetings, meanwhile, are not accredited for a few reasons. First, it can be difficult to provide CE credits without conducting formal presentations, complete with power point presentations and the like. Although the meetings are sometimes highly structured with an agenda, just as often they are free-flowing, with only one or two agenda items. “We’ll go around the room,” explains Mr. Patriarche. While some discussions will focus on technology or some practical business management query, other times the group could end up talking about the industry golf day.

“I want valuable credits that are useful and very focused on group insurance information because that’s what our members are interested in.”— Dave Patriarche

“We don’t want this to be a CE event where people come just to get credits,” he adds. “I want people who are there because they want to be there. I want people who want to contribute, who want to learn, share and help.”
Although the association has no designs on assuming an advocacy role, interesting things have been known to happen in this respect when individuals get together to share and discuss the things they encounter in the field.
In one example, an agent brought to light a newsletter which had been sent to all clients, informing them about several different policy changes – none of which had been shared with brokers who sold or managed the policies. “Half of the insurance company reps didn’t even know it was going on,” he says.

Whether the company was trying to slide changes through under the radar or if it was simply a case of one business unit not communicating or coordinating well with the other (something brokers say happens when the silo business structure reigns supreme at any given company), only by sharing that information were the independent agents made aware enough about the changes to have the problems addressed and rectified.

“The mail is full of stuff from insurance companies. I get the same stuff from every company, but each with their own slant. Just trying to keep up on it all is kind of nuts,” Mr. Patriarche says.
The perspective different people bring to the meetings is helpful too. In addition to group insurance brokers, the association’s membership roster includes insurance company reps, human resources specialists, third-party administrators (TPAs) and employee assistance program (EAP) providers.

Pool of talent

In addition to the perspective different members bring to the group, answers to certain questions are far easier to come by with the larger pool of talent to draw on. Instead of talking loosely about what the different insurance companies are doing, the insurance company reps in the group are able to more definitively answer questions. Mr. Patriarche says some insurance company reps even recommend that newer brokers attend meetings. “As time has gone on, we’ve got more insurers, TPAs and some HR people. There’s a good flow back and forth,” he says. “For the insurance company reps, it’s a great way for them to keep in touch with their brokers and provide the insurance company perspective on things when brokers throw the questions out to them.”

For those interested in trying things out, the group does welcome visitors. More information can be found at the CGIB website,

“I think the only way for us to get ahead and do the best job for our client is to stay ahead of education,” Mr. Patriarche says. “That’s not a solo endeavor.”