Gaining an edge: one MGA’s simple but effective secret weapon

During one hour of a typical workday, Doreen Teoh’s mobile phone vibrates over a dozen times, almost always signaling contact from brokers hoping to take advantage of her 30+ years of exemplary hospitality underwriting. They not only seek out her experience, but also the extraordinary lengths she takes to fulfill her job in a high-quality manner. “It’s all about the coverages you’re providing and educating everybody to understand what’s at stake,” said Teoh, senior underwriter with South Western Insurance Group Ltd. “Usually the deficiencies in coverage don’t come out until there’s a loss, and it becomes almost a he said/she said situation between the broker, client, and possibly us.” Although she only receives the information that brokers supply on the application, Teoh takes an additional step of learning everything she can about the client, in order to obtain as clear a picture as possible of any potential claims. “I especially try to read what people say about the business, because it’s not what the bar says about itself, but what patrons say about the bar that’s the best place to find out about any risks,” she said. She makes it a point to note particularly scathing reviews of an establishment, and will steer clear of any venue that has multiple marks against its name. In addition, she checks official channels to see where legal issues may arise. “I look at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission’s website, and see whether they’ve ever had a liquor license suspended. I’ll also search on Google to see if an establishment has proper licenses and passes government mandates for cleanliness, food handling, and abiding by regulations,” Teoh said. Part of what makes Teoh's strategy so effective is that the dynamic between actors has shifted so dramatically in recent years. Whereas renewals were once “brokers’ bread and butter,” many can no longer rely on them as a main source of business, since clients can easily gather information digitally and shop around for appealing policies. This especially becomes an issue when players such as domestics employ “first in” policies that block the market. Teoh doesn’t play into these politics, but will write quotes for all interested parties, since she does not believe that she should remain relegated to whoever approached her first. “For me and South Western Group, we don’t engage in ‘first in’ for hospitality. We quote to everybody – if the client had five brokers, five brokers can approach me and I will release five quotes to those brokers,” she said. This willingness to work with anybody, combined with her deep knowledge of insurance and the adult beverage industry, is what keeps her phone buzzing day in and day out. “At the end of the day, most brokers just want to deal with someone who knows more than they do,” she said.