A full service, boutique, general insurance brokerage in Calgary, Alberta, Sproule Insurance sells and provides advice for automobile, property, commercial, and life insurance products for all Albertans.
Company owner and Broker Principal Jay Sproule is an entrepreneur with a background in hospitality, retail, sales, and management, and an insurance professional. In 2013, he had the idea to create a new insurance brokerage, focused on referral marketing and a unique customer experience designed to deliver products, services, and advice tailored to the individual customer. Mr Sproule spoke to us recently to tell us about how he built the business, the unique offering the company has in the industry, and the resurgence of Alberta as a great place to do business.
Building a business
“I started in the business back in 2003,” Mr Sproule says, “just fell into the business in a customer service role with a different brokerage, and learned the ins and outs of the insurance business, and all the products and the services and understanding the customer.”
Mr Sproule soon moved into a sales role with this brokerage, spending his time meeting new customers and learning all about their businesses and what they needed to help them grow. This later led to a move into a management role, and the opportunity to buy in an equity position in his existing list of clientele
“By 2012, I could see changes happening in the industry, and I had a real vision of what I wanted to do and bring to the table. I was at an age where I could take on a bit more risk, and was pretty excited about maybe what I could do in the industry. To that end, I made an offer to purchase my book of clientele.”
From there, Mr Sproule met with various top ten insurance companies operating in Canada and was able to obtain contracts to place his business. By May of 2013, he was able to open Sproule Insurance Inc. as a full-service general insurance brokerage.
As a full-service brokerage for products and advice, the company offers automobile insurance (personal or commercial), personal property insurance (homes, condos, rented and seasonal dwellings), commercial insurance (small, medium and large businesses), and term life insurance.
“One of the newest products that we have to offer that we’re incredibly proud of is a high-valued homeowners insurance product. It’s a very specialized, niche product. We have the availability of a few unique products, and we’re one of the few brokers that have access to this line of business.”
The insurance space in Canada is big, and there are a lot of different ways to operate within it. Sproule Insurance takes a flexible approach, doing business whichever way the individual customer wants to.
“Insurance started as a brick-and-mortar situation, and really over the last ten years or so there’s been a switch to the digital, online space. I think moving to the digital space our competitors have tried to make insurance seem very simple, and it can be in some respects, but these are very complicated products.”
Customers need trained staff to help navigate these complex contracts, and Sproule Insurance aims to sit in the middle of the digital and traditional spaces, bringing both a hand-holding approach and an online offer.
“Whether customers want to meet us face-to-face,” Mr Sproule adds, “either at our office or their place of business, or complete the process online, we can certainly accommodate all those facets.”
As with most industries, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has created some interesting effects when it comes to insurance, with Sproule Insurance encountering several different issues in terms of staff, customers, and the company as a whole.
“Luckily with our staff and team, we had already put the infrastructure in place prior to covid hitting, which we’re certainly thankful for, having the ability for staff to work outside of the office. So we were able to really just flick a switch, so the learning curve for us was very simple. I think the customers had a harder time with it.”
As a result of the industry serving several different demographics, issues arose from the difference in age ranges and comfort levels in doing business online. This resulted in the need to spend more time with customers, teaching them how to use the online infrastructure and communicate with the company in a different way.
“If we look at it from a provider’s standpoint, it actually had some positive impact in certain ways. We can talk about less frequency of claims, less vehicles on the road. Also with staff working from home, they’re able to mitigate problems that were happening at home, so we’re actually seeing a little bit of a decline in claims frequency on property insurance too.”
In the vast insurance space in Alberta, Sproule Insurance is a mature business moving through an ever-changing industry, with one of the most significant recent changes being the move to a direct compensation model for automobile insurance.
“We’ve had to navigate these changes, and certainly it brings an importance to dealing with a good insurance company. We’re really having to communicate to customers some of these changes.”
Another big issue in the industry is the continuing impact of climate change, which has made a big difference in the availability and cost of insurance, as the frequency of extreme weather events rises.
“As urbanization continues to happen, especially in western Canada, with two large cities in Calgary and Edmonton, bad things tend to hit significant areas. Insurance companies are trying to navigate how to provide a high level of coverage and mitigate the increase in costs.”
Another big change has been the recent huge consolidation in the brokerage industry, with an influx of capital to larger brokerage corporations helping them make big moves in the industry, which has come with both positive and negative impacts.
“Some of the larger players are buying up a lot of the smaller Mom-and-Pop brokerages. In generations past, some of these brokerages would be handed down to future generations or sold to other individuals. We’re finding a lot of customers don’t want to be caught up in that mix, so as a medium-sized brokerage we’re finding some real advantages in that.”
A resurgent Alberta
As a referral-based marketing business, the future goals for Sproule Insurance hinge on making more connections with referral sources such as like-minded and complimentary businesses such as real estate agents, car dealerships, and lawyers.
“We also want to bring to market more specialized services for our clients, and create a situation where we’re providing specialized products for a number of people. In terms of growth and expansion, we’re definitely Alberta-based, there’s lots of room to grow in this province, but long term hopefully there’s the opportunity to work outside the province.”
The future for the area itself in Alberta, and Calgary in particular, looks equally bright, after years of the province being known primarily for oil and gas, and struggling to expand into other sectors.
“It’s really exciting to see our mojo coming back. We moved our office to downtown Calgary just before covid hit, and we started to see some excitement happen, with other types of businesses coming downtown to repopulate. We’re seeing finance, IT, green energy and these kinds of things. Alberta is up and coming again.”
With its straightforward insurance products, advice and prices, Sproule Insurance is providing the insurance advice that Albertans need. Find out more about Sproule Insurance Inc. by visiting www.sprouleinsurance.com.