Introducing Chris Johnson, our new Regional Development Manager for the North West

Chrisblog

When did you get started in the industry?

This is my 30th year in insurance – which probably qualifies me as an ‘industry veteran’! I’ve worked right across the spectrum during this time, from stanard to prestige, personal lines to commercial vehicles.

Tell us about your role at ERS?

I’ll be managing our North West broker relationships and making sure they’re mutually beneficial. Our internal mantra is ‘to ensure brokers think of us first when placing a specialist risk’. Visibility is the key to this because, to me, visibility breeds relationships, which breeds opportunity, which breeds business. 

Having worked in the sector for so long, I know many of the brokers already, yet the sheer diversity of ERS’ specialisms means there’ll also be brokers in categories such as agriculture that I’ve never worked with before. It’s a great mix for me, and a chance to enter into all relationships with a fresh pair of eyes to see how we can continue to improve.

What does a typical day in your world look like? 

It’s my third week in the role, but already I can tell you it’s not going to involve much time in the office! The strongest broker relationships are built on trust, and this trust has to be earned. That means going out and meeting brokers, learning about their challenges, needs and opportunities. You just can’t do this sat behind a desk.

What differentiates the North West from other regions? 

It’s a really diverse region in terms of both broker and customer profiles, largely because it spans everywhere from North Wales, which is a rural and (relatively) sparsely populated area through to huge urban conurbations such as Manchester and Liverpool. There’s a wide spectrum of customer opportunity which brings our full product range into play.

Tell us about some of the major trends you’re seeing in the industry right now?

One problem you’re likely to hear about when visiting brokers day-to-day is relay theft, i.e. tech-savvy thieves intercepting keyless device signals in order to gain entry to and steal customers’ keyless entry cars. It’s a market-wide issue and brokers and insurers alike have an important role to play in educating customers about the threat.

Then of course, there’s the ongoing trend of customers assuming that they can get everything direct from aggregator websites, which is putting pressure on brokers operating in the standard, non-specialist markets. 

There’s a fine line to balance between building trusted human relationships – which really underpin the specialist motor insurance sector, where manual underwriting is required – while also delivering everything faster than ever. That’s why ERS now has its own eTrade portal to facilitate greater speed and convenience, but it’s always backed up by human expertise so that brokers have access to our experts whenever they need them.

What’s the biggest opportunity for ERS in the year ahead? And what should we be mindful of?

I see opportunity in the North West across the entire ERS product range. We’ve talked about the Prestige opportunity before on our website, but there are also big opportunities for us to increase our North West footprint in areas such as fleet and agriculture.

Of course, in every area we face a variety of generalist competitors – e.g. high net worth insurers who include motor cover in their packages.

That’s why we must continue to communicate the importance of specialism, to remind brokers that customers who have high-value, highly-prized, or high-utility vehicles need experts insuring them.

What is it that makes ERS stand out in the market? What made you join us? 

I’m drawn to ERS because ERS doesn’t chase the standard, narrow-margin market. Instead it goes after higher-value risk that requires genuine expertise to price. In the North West right now, where many local community brokers are struggling to compete against online aggregators, ERS is – through its specialisms – demonstrating one way that these brokers can continue to add value for their customers.

Is there anything that still surprises you about the industry? 

One thing I’ve observed over the years is that there’s always somebody trying to chase premiums down or pay out of the ordinary commissions (sometimes both) – a new player that will come in with crazy rates, prepared to take a heavy loss as part of a short-term gamble to mop up customers.

It can be frustrating when it happens, but I’ve learnt to pay less attention to anyone engaging in this behaviour. It rarely works, yet people seem to keep trying it nevertheless.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt along the way? 

The lesson is simple: people buy people. 

For all of the changes in our sector, customers still choose their brokers, and brokers still choose their insurers, based on the quality of the relationships they enjoy. A decent price won’t ultimately atone for a lousy relationship. 

Also, we must remember that these relationships are ‘many-to-many’, not one to one. Individual personnel may move on to pastures new, but if you’ve built the relationship the right way then the trust, support and the overall bond between the two businesses should still endure. 

What are your passions and pastimes outside of working hours?

I’ve been involved in junior football and grassroots coaching for many years now, including stints at the Barnsley and Manchester City development centres and I coach the Under 11's, Under 17's and Under19's sides at Shelley Community Football Club in Huddersfield, where my sons play. When I'm not coaching I'm watching Sheffield Wednesday, my hometown club where we have season tickets, and looking after our young puppy Monty, a bouncy Cockapoo.

If you weren’t in the motor insurance business, what would your dream job be? 

Growing up I wanted to be a police officer or a PE teacher. These days, maybe I’d be a balloon seller on Main Street at Disney World – my family and I are lifelong Disney fans.

You can email me on chris.johnson@ers.com or call 07841 342 362.

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