Sharp Insurance came into the industry in 2009 after noticing the notorious client service inefficiencies of insurance brokerages. Within a short period of time of its inception the firm turned many heads as it increased the number of policy holders to over 6,000 in 2012, an 80 per cent increase from 2011. Only four years in existence, Sharp Insurance employs 16 staff enjoys revenues of over $1 million, and the company expects this exponential growth to continue on for the foreseeable future.
This success is mostly due to its management led by Sherif Gemayel, and his uncanny ability to, as he put it, “get things done.” The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Gemayel about the company’s unprecedented success in Alberta’s insurance industry.
Gemayel noted that he entered the insurance business from a whole different professional walk of life, and to the question what prompted him to get into the insurance business, he said, “I was actually in the oil and gas sales and every so often I visited Harp Nijjar, a friend of mine, who worked for a brokerage, and the more I learned about the insurance business from him, the more I realized how insanely slow-moving the insurance world is, not really catching up with the times.”
That’s when Gemayel decided to create a different kind of insurance brokerage — a firm that would be more agile, and which would offer clients faster and flexible service according to the needs of the client, not according to the needs of the brokerage. In August 2009, Gemayel and Nijjar started Sharp Insurance, one of the fastest growing brokerage firms in Alberta, and arguably in Canada.
Gemayel gives credit for this uncanny success to spearheading the adoption of new technologies that the insurance industry has not previously embraced. “For example, up to three to four years ago, insurance transactions were done on paper, many brokers did not even have email addresses, most brokers did not have websites, they didn’t understand how to use a website and social media to drive traffic (to gain leads), and how to bring the insurance to clients instead of making client going to the brokerage to get their insurance.”
All these intransigent issues accumulated and brought on the hard facts — over the past 15 years the insurance brokerages had been steadily losing market share at a 1.5 to two per cent rate per year to the direct writers (such as banks) with better online coverage and service. “In this aspect, Sharp Insurance is a hybrid. We play in the same arena as the direct writers but we are broker that gives the customer the choice of various insurance companies.”
“Our approach was very different at the time. I like to think that we paved the way for brokerages to realize that there is the opportunity to reinvent themselves. I expect some big changes in the industry within the next 12 to 24 months. I think the industry will realize that it needs to make changes in terms of deliverables and keeping up with what the consumer is looking for, and that the traditional way of doing insurance is outdated,” says Gemayel.
The company also noted its competition’s continuous efforts to follow suit in regards to creating better accessibility for clients. Sharp is very much aware that its success relies on its technological advantage, and the company continuously invests a large share of its profits into creating new technologies, and into finding new ways of making their clients’ insurance experience more complete and easier to access. “We are launching our new mobile app. This is cutting edge in the whole industry. Our app will cover all the mobile platforms (Android, iPhone, Windows and Blackberry), and clients will have access to their insurance policies on their phones where they can find their policy, proof of insurance, when is their next payment due, as well as an online portal to login where they can fill in forms and submit claims … everything a client needs to communicate with us efficiently. We are truly empowering the policy holders, getting them support right away, and giving them what they need.
Fast growth comes with its challenges, and in Sharp’s case, it’s the acquisition of suitable industry professionals. “When you are growing at the pace Sharp has been growing, you develop a certain business culture. Acquiring the right talent has been challenging because employees have to be licensed; also, we don’t like hiring within the industry because they have certain preconceived notions and habits. We prefer to hire and train ‘the Sharp way’ so to speak,” says Gemayel.
While the company grows in leaps and bounds by itself, it also turns the heads of the larger industry players. For example, Rogers Insurance, one of the largest independent brokerages in Canada, acquired a minority equity share in Sharp Insurance, and its presence has been helpful bringing additional resources to the table for Sharp, including access to a larger talent pool. “Rogers really has been a great partner, and the expertise and size they provide will help propel Sharp to a whole new level,” says Gemayel.
The Sharp business is growing due to its agility, flexibility and speed of helping its clients, but according to Gemayel, the core of the business being successful is in its team and company’s internal business culture. “Our culture is ‘work hard – play hard’, simply get things done. Our staff really believes in what we are doing and that’s what drives our success. We foster employee engagement to maintain this attitude. I tell our employees that I work for them; my job is to make their job easier, and make them enjoy coming to work. For example, we set annual goals, and if we achieve them we go on a trip as a team, whether it’s Mexico or Hawaii. It’s motivating, and it makes the team feel as part of something bigger. This team mindset plays a key role in our success,” concluded Gemayel.