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Broker profile: ‘it’s a really commendable profession’ 

Mark Vanzo Photo 2023Melbourne-based Mark Vanzo founded SMART Business Insurance a decade ago after selling an advertising agency. 

How did you become a broker?  

I looked at probably 40 different industries before choosing insurance broking. 

I was in my early 40s when I started – it was from scratch and I was bootstrapping it with my own cash. Cashflow in the early years was extremely challenging. It did take several years for the brokerage to become profitable. I stuck with it because I could see the growth. 

I had a plan in terms of how many businesses we needed to be successful and each year we always steadily grew the number of clients we were serving.  

We turned 10 officially last month on April Fool's Day, which is incredible. There was 6-12 months planning and building out the website and the assets before that. 

When I founded SMART, coming from my background – the customer journey didn't make sense to me, the way small business owners were searching for insurance given the technology that was available. Online platforms weren't really providing a lot of advice and guidance. We thought we could do it better, having a good marketing platform, and knew how to get the inquiry going and serve the customer better from a guidance point of view. That was really the missing link. 

How big is the team now? 

There are nine of us now in South Yarra and a couple more remote. A lot of the team we've grown and developed here, we try and hire out of uni and pair them with a senior broker because we have a couple of really good, experienced brokers. 

A lot of companies have values but they're just on the wall and no one really knows. Everyone had a voice in setting our vision.  

Each week we go around the room and share how team members demonstrated one of those values. It has become like muscle memory for us and when we're recruiting we put those values to candidates so we get a good fit. 

Who are your clients?  

A lot are not easily defined, they are niches that might have a couple of occupations, so there's a little bit of complexity to the business. They want a bit of personalised service. That's where our value proposition stacks up, we are offering the full broker service remotely.  

It can't just be tick a box online, they want to get covered properly, have a considered conversation and get suitable cover from a broker located in Australia that they can pick up the phone and talk to.  

How are they faring?  

Businesses that have pricing power or a differentiated proposition are still expanding and growing.  Niche operators that have got a little nuance and don't have a lot of direct competition are holding their own.  

Some businesses are starting to find it a little bit tougher, especially real estate related and some hospitality businesses. While property prices are holding up, their sales volumes are down 30-40%. And in hospitality, as interest rates crank up people are feeling the pinch. 

We're trying to promote cyber insurance. Emergence are really good in that area and if there's exposure into the US, we do have a few clients that have that, then Chubb are good as well.  

Clients have to go through the renewal questionnaire. That helps them say, ‘Okay, these are precautions we should be taking in our business', such as multi factor authentication. Some clients are operating in isolation – we are insuring lots of similar businesses, so we can give some guidance there. That’s a big part of our role. 

We're finding for the risks that the insurers deem desirable – offices and low risk industrial commercial property, simple trades – there's plenty of capacity, plenty of competition. Pricing is pretty competitive.  

There are other risks where underwriters may have underpriced and experienced claims and they're coming off that, for example cosmetic manufacturers. They once would insure a small one quite inexpensively, that's not the case anymore.  

Tell us about yourself 

My wife and three daughters keep me very busy and motivated. The eldest was at Deloitte and she joined us here which has been great, the middle one is studying software engineering and the last one is still at school, she thinks she's going to be a soccer professional. 

Otherwise I am probably at the footy or at a restaurant or out with my mates a little bit. I am a mad Carlton supporter – I don't talk about that too much! One of the young guys that works with us plays at a high level so I watch him, and I also go watch my mate’s kids play. I definitely try and get some fresh air, that's for sure. 

I am more passionate about business insurance now than ever. There's a lot of ways you can make a living but you don't necessarily feel good about what to do, whereas insurance broking is helping owners protect their assets, finding them suitable cover.  

It's a really commendable profession. That's why I'm still here and why our team gets enjoyment and satisfaction. They get that positive feedback.