Carving out a niche market – Bernie Robertson describes what it takes


In the May 2017 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker, Bernie Robertson describes what it takes to specialize in the Mining and Exploration sector:

Bernie Robertson, Corporate Risk Manager, Knox Insurance Brokers, Ltd. handles “everything from an explosives hauler, blasting contractor to diamond core driller exploration companies.”

Having insured the mining and exploration sector for the past 23 years on operations in six countries, you could say he’s dug in.

By getting involved in trade associations and providing them with risk management […] I get a lot of referrals back.”

He’s on the board of the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and the Canadian Diamond Drilling Association. “By getting involved in trade associations and providing them with risk management […] I get a lot of referrals back,” he says.

Canadian mining companies have projects worldwide and Robertson has become well known among the mid-tier and smaller operations.

“There seems to be a disconnect within the larger firms in dealing with the small to medium sized accounts. If it doesn’t meet a certain premium threshold […] in most cases they don’t get the same level of service that I provide.”

A hands-on approach

“I go to the site and I actually look at what the needs are.” That level of attentiveness pays off. In one case, for example, a graphite operation wanted a sprinkler system. “Their cost was $150,000. I came back to them with a proposed work-around […] which reduced the cost down to $40,000, and still met the underwriter’s requirements,” he says. He’s not there to volunteer, however. “I don’t work on commission basis; I charge a fee for service to my accounts.”

Chatting with a hockey buddy in the industry led Robertson to the sector, identifying it as an opportunity to get into an area “not everyone and their dog” already understands.

Specialization takes time

“It took me about seven years to really become a specialist. My expertise developed over time with more exposure to more people; word started getting out that I know what I’m talking about,” he says.

Obtaining that knowledge can’t just be done from a desk, either. “I sat on a remote site for four days in the freezing cold and observed, then completed two days of on-site safety training to get a better understanding of what’s involved in the process.”

Mining companies need the same type of coverage as a small manufacturing company, Robertson explains, but “there are usually more zeros at the end of the numbers”. “As far as risk level goes, we’re not just talking about potential loss of life, but also potential lost production. When you have a major mine down for an extended period, we’re talking millions per day.”

Always keep learning

Robertson understands his research is never complete. Autonomous vehicles, for example, present a new set of challenges.

“It will make the industry a lot of safer, but it will deplete the number of miners that are required,” he says. With cybersecurity in play, “now I’m having new conversations with the companies that are moving into that risk space.”

Granted, Robertson knows it’s harder for younger brokers to carve out a niche market as they have to “align themselves with what management wants,” he says. “But you may have better luck finding your special something within the boundaries of a larger structure,” he says.

To read the rest of the article So, You Want to Specialize, eh? from the May 2017 issue of Canadian Insurance Top Broker:

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