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People skills are still in fashion: insurance veteran

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People skills are as vital as ever in insurance, newly retired veteran broker Reg Mawhinney says. They have been “a constant” through the decades in an industry undergoing a sea change.

Newcastle-based Mr Mawhinney, a well-known figure throughout NSW and Queensland, retired from Gallagher on April 30 after almost seven decades in the industry.

He advises new graduates wanting to carve out a career in insurance to hone their “common sense,” be prepared to manage over-reactions and remember that word of mouth is “the best advertising you can get”.

“Insurance is a good opportunity providing that you are prepared to work,” Mr Mawhinney told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“Education is a very important part, but the skill of handling people is more important. My intention was always to get eyeball to eyeball with a client, feet under the table.”

Mr Mawhinney, who grew up in Grafton but later settled in Newcastle, started at Mercantile Mutual in Sydney at the age of 15.

“If your tie was too bright you got called up to the manager,” he says.

The early advice he received still holds today. “Remember first names and ring and have a conversation to confirm details before sending an email.

“I’ve always made a habit of trying to remember Christian names in particular, and I think it’s done a lot of good because people like to be recognised,” says Mr Mawhinney, who enjoyed football and surfing in his youth.

An early role in his career saw him based in the NSW town of Armidale, servicing the surrounding “black soil” farming areas such as Walcha and Enfield, visiting stock and station agents and farmers.

Here he learned to always leave the gate the way you found it. “If it was open, leave it open!”

He remembers his rural experience as one where he enjoyed a great deal of hospitality. “You’d get somewhere for breakfast and then to someone else for lunch. At times I even slept on the riverbank. It was great experience and I enjoyed it very much.

“And I had good referrals, which helped a lot.”

Mr Mawhinney remembers carrying large amounts of money in coins to make calls from public phone booths and having to order a trunk call to Sydney or Melbourne hours in advance.

In Newcastle he became manager at Mercantile Mutual in his early 20s, and in 1978 set up his own insurance brokerage in Newcastle, which grew to a team of 15. This business was acquired by OAMPs in 2004, which Gallagher acquired in 2014.

Claims from the 1989 Newcastle earthquake saw assessors brought in from all over Australia, New Zealand and overseas and Mr Mawhinney remembers they could be hard to contact.

“Most of them used to dine out around town, and I’d find two or three of them and have a couple of drinks and a bit of a yarn to get where they were up to on claims and then report back to my clients.”

He is now concerned about his former hospitality clients struggling under COVID-19 prevention measures, with many hotels in particular heavily mortgaged and struggling with outgoings.

“It is really stretching the cashflow and I think there will be a lot of people finding it difficult to survive even when they do reopen, because [customers] won’t have the money to spend, either.”