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Dean Romany knows how to get the job well done. He exudes charisma and humility and is passionate about the insurance industry. However, when he was awarded an insurance scholarship years ago, his father was disappointed.
“My father said, ‘After you went to QRC you going to do insurance? I was like, ‘Dad that’s what I want to do. I’m taking the scholarship, you don’t have to pay anything for me. It will be better for us.’
“My dad was a police officer and his salary wasn’t all that. I was firm about what I wanted,” Romany recalled.
That was more than 30 years ago and Romany has acquired a wealth of expertise and knowledge, spanning a broad cross-section of the industry since then. His recent appointment as president of Guardian General Insurance Ltd (GGIL) seems just the latest natural progression.
In this new mission, Romany’s main objective is to enhance the company via the P5 mission statement: people, purpose, process, passion and performance.
Of these, he said, the most important is the people—some 33 committed agents and 215 dedicated salesmen, apart from the thousands of clients.
“The P5 was created to drive change. I went around the company, even to our office in Barbados, to talk about why the need for change,” he said
“I showed figures that the markets are very challenging and if we continue like this and the increased cost by reinsurers, we have to reduce our cost somehow because we can’t keep on increasing the rates to policyholders. We had to change our game and ourselves internally.
“With the P5 mission you get the performance and we show the performance and change month after month and we are doing things better,” Romany explained.
Further linking the vision to the mission, he pointed out that part of the P5’s logo simply means “improving every day.”
“I wanted a vision that was simple and by employees improving every day it also enhances products and customer experience. The shareholders, by the results, will be improving every day. It’s our own code about improving everyday,” he added.
Romany started off in the industry in a clerical position and quickly worked his way through the ranks, topping all the posts assigned to him, including in San Fernando and Jamaica.
“The key points are development, exposure and the link to the people part of the business and how I am focused in terms of building the people so they could serve customers a lot better.
“We are a lot about people development, processes, efficiency…to enhance the policyholder experience,” he said.
This philosophy is critical, especially when companies are seeking to reduce costs. Guardian Group is no different.
“There is a lot happening with respect to catastrophes—hurricanes, earthquakes—and as that happens you find the cost of the wholesale insurance or reinsurance that we purchase…that cost will increase. As that cost increases we have to find ways of keeping our prices stable or how can we reduce premiums or enhance products.”
But what does this mean for job security in the company?
Will there be job losses?
Noting that the Guardian Group isn’t immune to tough economic times, Romany said the company is, however, focused on improving efficiency.
“By doing this I don’t think we will feel the effects of what is happening in the country. We are focused on our razor sharp vision and mission, not being distracted by a lot of things that are happening around.
“I also changed the organisational structure. We now have private risk solutions, corporate risk solutions. Those are not usual names because we are saying we are here to help you. Our claims manager is called our claims solutions manager. When you have a claim we don’t want that to be a problem, we want a solution.
“It’s a mental attitude. The names were changed because if the people have the right attitude then my job is so much easier.”
Guardian Group recently introduced initiatives to improve the brand, including offering a legacy discount at a time where companies are faced with serious cost increases.
“GGIL is recharging. The company has been around for a long time but we are reintroducing the company to the public.
“With increased regulations via the new Insurance Act and with increased catastrophe activity, the need is even greater for us to improve our efficiency levels, for us to monitor our portfolio, to enhance our products, for us to look at the speed of our transactions, especially for the younger people who want to do everything much faster. They don’t want to come into the office to transact business so we have to cater for that population,” he said.
In 2004, the company settled claims in excess of $1 billion due to damage caused by Hurricane Ivan. Last year, for Hurricanes Irma and Maria, that figure was closer to $2 billion in total claims settled.
With flooding a perennial problem in T&T, insurance coverage is a necessity. Romany has noticed an increase in the number of policyholders who want to increase the perils they have insured.
“For instance, taking out flood insurance where flood insurance was not taken out before, even taking out earthquake insurance where this was not taken out before.
“That’s now an obvious trend. We urge policyholders to review their values, to look at not only whether or not they have insurance but also do they have the right type of perils insured,” Romany said, adding that inadequate coverage for natural disasters remains a problem.
“Let’s say you ensure your property for half the value. It means if you have a claim you’re going to get half the amount,” he said.
“We saw a lot of that happening. Close to 60 per cent of insurers were inadequately insured and we saw how that affected them. We saw families not knowing what is the next step because their most significant asset, the place where they lived, was affected by a loss and they only insured it for half the amount.”
The company, in its appeal for proper protection, sends out notices to holders at every renewal date.
Vehicle owners have also experienced their fair share of losses. Those who drive along South Quay, Port-of-Spain, know all too well the hazards of driving through flood waters.
“A lot of insureds don’t anticipate their vehicles will be affected by floods. What they anticipate is it will be affected by collision damage, by theft. That’s one aspect where they are normally inadequately insured.
“But in Trinidad we have not had significant losses by way of floods, so from our standpoint this would not have affected the premiums to the pool of policyholders. There’s an element called special perils insurance so holders will have the option of having that or not.
“It’s not a mandatory requirement. For example, on the high income side a lot of the vehicles like Porsche, BMW are insured for third party only. They are not even insured in paying for their vehicle if it’s involved in an accident. Some people choose not to insure the vehicle itself but they will insure if they bounce or hit a third party.”
Romany said the majority of people in the country are covered for earthquakes.
“In Trinidad, the catastrophe exposure is earthquakes—not hurricanes or flooding—earthquake is the major catastrophe exposure.”
T&T was struck by a 6.9 quake just last month and the company has had more than 200 claims to date. However, this figure can increase since this type of natural disaster affects a building’s structural integrity which takes a while to be properly assessed before claims can be submitted.
From a cash flow perspective, Romany said, Guardian Group is always one step ahead in its planning.
“We prepare when there’s a significant loss. Now that we know about Hurricane Isaac, for example. We have had our meetings, we have had teams formed and we have had adjusters ready to go out if it strikes.
“In terms of a cash flow stand point, we have had meetings as to how to get money quickly to insurers. All of that is being prepared before the loss happens as compared to after the loss happens.”
He said it’s important for the Government and insurance companies to play their respective roles in creating greater awareness about the importance of proper insurance coverage.
Catering to the next generation
Guardian Group is the new single brand of the largest indigenous financial services and insurance group in the English and Dutch Caribbean. It operates across the region including the eastern and northern Caribbean, T&T, Barbados, Jamaica and the Dutch Caribbean.
The group includes parent company Guardian Holdings Ltd, Guardian Asset Management in T&T; Guardian Life of the Caribbean and Guardian General Insurance Ltd in T&T and Barbados; Guardian Life Ltd and Guardian General Insurance Jamaica Ltd, in Jamaica; Fatum Holdings NV and all of its subsidiaries in Curacao and Aruba and across the Dutch Caribbean.
Describing Guardian General as a well-established company with a large bunch of loyal policyholders, Romany said the company is also catering to the families of those holders who are much younger.
He explained: “It’s by using technology as a platform to facilitate this. How do we use technology to monitor our portfolio, to look at the portfolio to see whether we are managing the risks very well. That’s very important because in managing risks very well you find expenses are less and if expenses are less then the enhancements goes to the policyholder and that’s our focus.”
Quoting 2017 statistics, Romany said from a regional standpoint the market has gross premiums of about $3.3 billion “of which from the regional share Guardian has 35 per cent, so it’s a significant player. If you look at the Trinidad-only business, that market is about $2.6 billion of which Guardian has 26 per cent market share. In terms of the Trinidad market, our property market share is 39 per cent, motor, 15 per cent.
“That’s part of the reason why we are targeting the motor business because we have what we consider a small market share but in both cases—in property and motor. We are the largest in Trinidad and from a profitability standpoint as well. The gauge is the combined ratio. We have a combined ratio that is less than 90 per cent,” Romany explained.
Challenges facing the industry
The new Insurance Act means capital requirements will be higher and more demanding.
“It means companies must be focused on how they manage their portfolios. Portfolio management is key and without that we can have some disastrous situations. Managing the portfolio and the competencies of the people that should be the focus,” Romany said.
He said companies should also examine various ways of transferring the benefits of insurance to the next generation.
“I’m looking forward to telling my son that I can pass my discount onto him. I think that would start the interest in insurance.”
Flexibility, he added, is also a staple for the survival of any company.
“A lot of times we sell products that are market savvy but not necessarily what people need. We have, for example; if you want a bare bones policy you can get it. An enhanced policy? You can get that too.
“We have reached the point where you can come in and say, ‘this is what I have, what can I get.’ It’s almost like cafeteria-style; you can take some or a little of everything.”
Over the next couple of weeks the company will be the “game changer,” introducing fresh, unique products where people can experience general insurance as something beneficial, he said.
“We will use technology to bring new policies to the market. Technology in terms of research, technology to reduce premiums. We think technology is the key, so strategically that’s where we are focused. Look out for us!”
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