An energetic, enthusiastic and naturally elegant young woman at the head of a brokerage firm. Am I dreaming or am I awake?
It would be great if we were lucky enough to be in environments even just a bit less misogynistic than insurance offices sometimes are.
In 1992, against general industry practice, a young twenty-four-year-old is invited to
implement the start-up of a captive brokerage firm within the Ligresti Group. It is a well-known fact that "the Engineer" sometimes likes to bet on young people of high calibre, and he doesn’t hesitate to light on Alessandra Talarico, who promptly leaves Paros to jump into this new adventure.
And this is how Sopabroker (formerly Assigeco 90) began, which today celebrates its first twenty years of existence. Not that things were always easy. In fact, in coming to grips with a financial reorganisation plan in the mid-'90s, the Ligresti Group was forced to dispose of all its non-strategic investments. One of these was Sopabroker.
Alessandra Talarico then decided to get involved directly in the capital to ensure an absolute majority in the company’s shares; and this company, at the time, starting from scratch, was just beginning to make its own brand known, alongside major industrial companies such as Grassetto and Richard Ginori.
Sopabroker achieved good results, becoming one of the medium-sized brokerage firms consistently at the top of the charts, if we take into account profitability criteria (profit / commissions), structural soundness (profit / premiums) and productivity (profit / employees). This is all the more impressive if we consider the extremely turbulent period in early 2000, "we lost a major customer, recalls Talarico, one that accounted for approximately 40% of our turnover."
This is something that would have been enough to have sunk a company much more broadly based than Sopabroker. But it takes a lot more than that to break someone with Alessandra Talarico’s strong personality.
"We just rolled up our sleeves and started again, she says calmly, and we just set off in search of new customers. In addition to using our own personal knowledge, we have focused on a close relationship with our client, a merchant bank; and this enabled us to get in touch with new clients outside the Ligresti Group, which for years until then had been our main reference point. In this way, we were able to create new business opportunities that allowed us to pass the time without too much trauma, anyway."
But just who is a typical Sopabroker client?
"Basically, these are industrial companies operating in a range of sectors, answers Talarico, from engineering to textiles, right up to foodstuffs and they also include small and medium-sized enterprises. In short, they are the traditional main targets of any brokerage firm's operations”. Despite this, we do not lack for clients of some size, although as Alessandra Talarico emphasizes, "a big industrial group usually goes to the large brokerage firms that are considered the best. Then again, it may be that they come to find themselves under-insured, but that's another story”.
To try to reduce the size gap, every operator shall adopts its own strategy. Sopabroker has always very motivated to go for cutting-edge technology systems.
"We have invested heavily in computer systems, said Talarico. Nowadays, we have a unique
system that manages our company's entire portfolio.
"But I can also remember the major financial commitment we had to make right at the start when
we decided to adopt this system (AS400), which was only used by large brokerage firms at the time”.
From a technological standpoint, this is just what these companies have to do.
“Right, says Talarico, but anyone who doesn't move with the times will have to suffer the consequences, as the market always operates by natural selection. We work only with leading companies, and in particular with those organised so as to assist the broker. In fact, there are companies that are absolutely at the cutting edge of technology and can assist the broker during the assumption of risk stage and with which it is possible to interact online and obtain the policy on time and in the manner requested. But the majority of companies still take days to send even simple documents like a product liability questionnaire. Products. In short, firms need to become aware that, for companies, it is possible to achieve positive results by providing carefully calibrated, standardised guarantees in line with the real needs of companies and with sufficient muscle to protect the corporate assets of such clients. And to do this we need to focus on competing on service and not on actual policy cost.”
Technical skills but also legal and regulatory training are the essential requirements for all members of the Sopabroker team.
"To always maintain the level of quality achieved, answers Talarico. That means making available the very best of what can be found in the market, from insurance products to loss adjusters; this includes legal support and making sure that we are always available to the client who, in time of need, must know that he can count on us. We do not intend to enter the public sector and will continue to consider retail as an additional service. And we will not pursue growth patterns on a scale letters unthinkable for a company like ours, because we are well aware that profitability decreases in proportion to the workload of each employee. In fact, too high workload in a reduction in both the quality and quantity of the services provided to the client. "
So you will continue to operate as an independent.
"That's for sure, because I have made independence into something of a personal badge of honour, says Talarico. I think it is possible to continue to operate as an independent by entering into a gentlemen's agreement with major competitors, as we have done. I see no difficulty in submitting a request to a company that occupies a leading role in a particular niche market, in order to better serve the client. All of which brings us to the civil liability policies for Boards of Directors, which is our strong point. We were among the first, in 1998, to create this type of product, which featured a ceiling of 100 billion old lire. "
Brokers continue to devote little attention to marketing.
“That’s not true for all of them, adds Talarico. Currently, we are engaged in implementing e-mail marketing initiatives designed to sensitize and alert clients to the potential risks that their businesses are exposed to In the past, we repeatedly got involved with sponsorships that were linked to the world of sport: basketball and rugby, mainly. But to ensure visibility, I think it's better to have a good web presence. A project is currently underway for construction of our own website that will be very simple and divided into different sections: industrial line, personal line, motor and a section dedicated to the company itself, providing all its key figures and detailed information from our managers. Clients will then be able to communicate with us and obtain information and report loss events. But they will also be able to view our newsletters and conference reports showing the proceedings of conferences in which we participate as speakers. They will also be able to reap the most innovative judgements that we will be uploading to the site from time to time.