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Are you getting the most out of digital?





Are you getting the most out of digital?

We talked to brokers to find out how they’re keeping pace with what customers expect from an online experience

Danielle Kubes on July 18, 2018


Jennifer Pugsley used to bang down doors to get business when she was brokering deals in commercial oil, gas and trucking.


She would get into her car, turn the key and drive the long expanse of highway and rural roads out to the dusty industrial areas of Alberta, where she would then show up unannounced at potential clients’ buildings.

That worked well for a few decades. Until it didn’t.

She says her bosses finally asked themselves, “How can we leverage digital? Because people are just slamming the door in our face or not picking up the phone.”

That conversation happened more than a decade ago, but it’s a question brokers are still asking themselves today.

Traditional brokerages are facing these challenges because sourcing and converting online leads is still largely a new frontier—the rules change every year and everyone is figuring it out as they go along.

“A lot of brokers don’t even have the infrastructure to handle the leads that they want.”

So Canadian Insurance Top Broker decided we wanted to help. We spoke with experts and brokers who have successfully gone digital to uncover advice and tips to help other brokers upgrade their online presence, improve their SEO and stay relevant in 2018.

Pugsley figured it out by accident—her genius-ofa- nerd brother had founded an e-commerce site in Toronto that was doing well, and she was intrigued.

Long story short, she went back to school for digital marketing and joined him. Their company evolved into Goose Digital, a marketing automation agency that brings on bricks-and-mortar insurance brokerages and holds their hands while helping them build an omni-channel framework.

‘Omni-channel’ simply means that a business services clients the way the client wants—whether that’s a faceto- face meeting, on Facebook, or through a website, to name a few options. And any broker in it for the long term is going to have to evolve to provide those services.

The average storefront brokerage can finish a quote in 40 minutes. But Matt Alston’s online brokerage, for example, can complete a quote in as little as a quarter of that time.

Alston knew he wanted to stay in the small town where he grew up in Alberta, near the Montana border. But with a population of only 2,500 people, and being a two-and-a-half hour drive to Calgary, there wasn’t exactly a bustling local economy. Still, he was determined to provide the same warm, wholesome and community-minded environment that he grew up with for his four children.

An online business was the answer. He teamed up with a partner who owned a traditional insurance brokerage, and in 2012 they opened Surex Direct, an entirely virtual brokerage.

“Online insurance didn’t put a ceiling on how big we could get, and we could compete with all the brokers in Toronto and Calgary and Vancouver, but do it on our terms,” Alston says.

Since 2012, they’ve managed to grow the business by 8,000%, without ever seeing a client face-to-face.

of desktop search traffic came from Google in 2017.

Source: NetMarketShare

of small businesses in the United States did not have a website in 2016.

Source: Clutch

That incredible growth proves there’s leads to be had and money to made in the still-fresh world of digital brokerages.

But there’s a major caveat—unless you’re able to commit wholeheartedly, don’t do it.

That’s because a physical brokerage is a completely different business than digital—you can’t simply pop a database up online, create a website, hire an intern to do your Twitter and expect to capture clients.

If only.

If you do plan to take your business entirely online, you must be prepared to spend a mint, along with all your time, on strategies, staff and preparation. Anything less is a waste of resources.

“It’s a viable business, but so is making parts for nuclear manufacturing. You can do it if you understand what you’re doing, and you could also lose your shirt if you don’t,” says Adam Mitchell, who’s grown his brokerage, Mitchell and Whale, from two brokers to 45 in just eight years. The Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario awarded them the Innovator of the Year in 2017, and made them finalists for Brokerage of the Year the same year.

Mitchel has put considerable effort into growing digitally and focusing on long-term growth—as opposed to shortcuts that get him through to the next quarter— and understands that going online won’t matter unless you ensure your processes are running smoothly first.

Handling online leads

“A lot of brokers don’t even have the infrastructure to handle the leads that they want,” Pugsley says. “They’re not even servicing their existing book the way that they could be. Have you considered opening your hours until 8:00 p.m., like Sonnet does?”

A $20,000 website, Pugsley says, is not going to solve a broker’s problems—not if they don’t know their business inside, out and under.

“Do you know your cost per acquisition? Do you know your cost per lead? Your cost per quote? Do you know how many leads are coming in? Do you know how many leads are getting closed? And why not? Do you have a good handle of your retention rate?”

Even if she dropped 100 qualified leads into a brokerage’s lap, Pugsley says, most would not be able to keep up. The brokerages that are able to handle the number of leads generated online have a thoughtout funnel system. Some offices, for example, have a whole sales team that is watching screens scattered all over the office. As soon as a lead comes in, it goes onscreen and hits the marketing automation platform, and the team has immediate response-time goals.

“It’s a viable business, but so is making parts for nuclear manufacturing. You can do it if you understand what you’re doing, and you could also lose your shirt if you don’t.”

There’s no sense spending money on trying to attract online leads unless your office and team is 100% primed to handle them in the swift—yet personal— way that everyone, from millennials to boomers, now expects.

If all this sounds too overwhelming, it should. Capturing online leads is not for the timorous.

Going digital

Here are some basic strategies for the brokerage that wants to present a polished online presence to encourage and assure new clients, but isn’t prepared to create a cyber infrastructure.

First, get rid of your GeoCities website (remember those?). At the very least, says Pugsley, your website needs to look clean and be optimized for mobile. Alston recommends hiring a recent grad as a developer.

Secondly, do some digital housekeeping. That means bringing your Yellow Pages marketing up to date and setting up a Google business account with local keywords.

Third, if you do plan on creating a blog or social media content, hire a marketing coordinator.

“[Some brokers are] like, ‘Sally in the corner can do it,’” Pugsley says about how most businesses react when she tells them she needs a single point of contact when rolling out a website. “Sally has a full-time job, actually, and Sally doesn’t know how to write—she’s not a copywriter. If you’re asking Sally to do the Twitter just to keep the lights on, and you don’t really care about the ROI of Twitter, then don’t ask Sally in six months where our tweets are getting us.”

Sadly, digital has a reputation for being easy, and that any young person naturally knows how to do it. That’s incorrect.

The truth is, social media rarely has a direct ROI. Instead, it has rather the same effect as when auto dealerships wash their cars. Does it help actually sell the vehicles? Sometimes, maybe, not really—but it definitely adds to the whole transaction.

So don’t take social media too seriously or post too many facts about the insurance industry. Instead, use it to showcase your brokerage’s personality, and maybe try what Mitchell does. Social media strategy for him is the equivalent of “cats chasing lasers,” he says. “It’s informative, yet irreverent and fun. We almost avoid the insurance side of it.”

“Online insurance didn’t put a ceiling on how big we could get, and we could compete with all the brokers in Toronto and Calgary and Vancouver, but do it on our terms.”

The biggest benefit of social media is its instant communication possibilities. If customers are confident in a fast reply (we’re talking minutes) and are impressed by your content, they’re likely to DM (that’s direct message) you on Twitter and Facebook to ask for a quote.

Fourth, stop treating Google like a game. The days of stuffing keywords for SEO are over. We don’t want to get too deep into the SEO specifics, like meta tags, headlines or link-backs because they really don’t matter unless you’re planning to go wholly virtual, and Google will probably change its algorithm as soon as you’ve mastered it anyway. Suffice it to say that SEO will come naturally—and be there to stay—when you’re writing high-quality content that people want to read and share.

Look at the articles that you read on a daily basis. Are they just jargon? Or do they actually provide service? Do they make you think? If yes, strive to produce that kind of content.

And finally, don’t spend a cent or do anything unless you have a strategy. Don’t just start creating Facebook Ads, for example, unless you’ve figure out what you’re aiming for and how you’re going to measure results. (And let your brand-new marketing coordinator, the one with extensive experience in creating ad campaigns, handle it.)

“When you principally lead with strategy,” Pugsley says, “the tactic becomes much more successful.”

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the June/July edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine


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U.S. Charges Chinese Tech Giant Huawei, Top Executive





WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is filing charges against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

A 13-count indictment was unsealed Monday in New York charging Huawei, two of its affiliates and a top executive at the company.

The charges include bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

A separate case filed in Washington state charges Huawei with stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.

Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1. Prosecutors allege she committed fraud by misleading American banks about Huawei’s business deals in Iran.

Prosecutors charge Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Huawei is the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies.

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24 Million Mortgage And Bank Loan Documents Leaked Online





A trove of more than 24 million financial and banking documents, representing tens of thousands of loans and mortgages from some of the biggest banks in the U.S., has been found online after a server security lapse.

The server, running an Elasticsearch database, had more than a decade’s worth of data, containing loan and mortgage agreements, repayment schedules and other highly sensitive financial and tax documents that reveal an intimate insight into a person’s financial life.

But it wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone to access and read the massive cache of documents.

It’s believed that the database was only exposed for two weeks — but long enough for independent security researcher Bob Diachenko to find the data. At first glance, it wasn’t immediately known who owned the data. After we inquired with several banks whose customers information was found on the server, the database was shut down on January 15.

With help from TechCrunch, the leak was traced back to Ascension, a data and analytics company for the financial industry, based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company provides data analysis and portfolio valuations. Among its services, the Ascension converts paper documents and handwritten notes into computer-readable files — known as OCR.

It’s that bank of converted documents that was exposed, Diachenko said in his own write-up.

Sandy Campbell, general counsel at Ascension’s parent company, Rocktop Partners, which owns more than 46,000 loans worth $4.4 billion, confirmed the security incident to TechCrunch, but said its systems were unaffected.

“On January 15, this vendor learned of a server configuration error that may have led to exposure of some mortgage-related documents,” he said in a statement. “The vendor immediately shut down the server in question, and we are working with third-party forensics experts to investigate the situation. We are also in regular contact with law enforcement investigators and technology partners as this investigation proceeds.”

An unspecified portion of the loans were shared with the contractor for analysis, the statement added, but couldn’t immediately confirm how many loan documents were exposed.

TechCrunch has learned that the vendor is New York-based company OpticsML. Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful. Its website is offline and its phone number was disconnected from service.

In a phone call, Campbell confirmed that the company will inform all affected customers, and report the incident to state regulators under data breach notification laws.

From our review, it was clear that the documents pertain to loans and mortgages and other correspondence from several of the major financial and lending institutions dating as far back as 2008, if not longer, including CitiFinancial, a now-defunct lending finance arm of Citigroup, files from HSBC Life Insurance, Wells Fargo, CapitalOne and some U.S. federal departments, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some of the companies have long been defunct, after selling their mortgage divisions and assets to other companies.

Though not all files contained the highly sensitive and personal data points, we found: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and bank and checking account numbers, as well as details of loan agreements that include sensitive financial information, such as why the person is requesting the loan.

Some of the documents also note if a person has filed for bankruptcy and tax documents, including annual W-2 tax forms, which are targets for scammers to claim false refunds.

But the database stored documents in a random order, and were not easily followable or presented in an easy to read or formatted way, making it difficult to follow from one document to another, said Diachenko.

We verified the authenticity of data by checking a portion of names in the database with public records.

“These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report,” Diachenko told TechCrunch. “This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.”

Although the documents originate from these financiers, one bank — Citi, which helped to secure the data — said it had no current relationship with the company.

“Citi recently became aware that a third party, with no connection to Citi, was storing certain mortgage origination and modification documents in an unsecure online environment,” said a Citi spokesperson. “These documents contained information about current or former Citi customers, as well as customers from other financial institutions. Citi notified law enforcement, initiated a thorough forensic investigation and worked quickly to ensure the information could no longer be publicly accessed.”

Citi confirmed that “third party is a vendor to a company that had purchased the loans and we have found no evidence that Citi’s systems were compromised.”

The bank added that it’s working to identify potentially affected customers.

Dozens of other companies are affected, including smaller regional banks and larger multinationals.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson said the data was obtained by Ascension from other entities that purchased Wells Fargo mortgages. HSBC said it was investigating if any of its customers’ data, including past customers, and confirmed it had “no vendor relationship with Ascension since 2010.” When reached, CapitalOne did not comment at the time of publication. A Housing and Urban Development spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The department is currently affected by the ongoing government shutdown. If anything changes, we’ll update.

It’s the latest in a series of security lapses involving Elasticsearch databases.

A massive database leaking millions of real-time SMS text message data was found and secured last year, as well as a popular massage service and, most recently, AIESEC, the largest youth-run nonprofit for working opportunities.

Updated at 5pm ET: with comment from HSBC and additional details regarding OpticsML.

Got a tip? You can send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755–8849. You can also send PGP email with the fingerprint: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

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Brandon Truaxe, Founder of Deciem Skin Care Company, Is Dead At 40





Brandon Truaxe, the former CEO and founder of the skin care company Deciem, has died at age 40.

An executive at the company confirmed Truaxe’s death in an email to Vox, which also obtained the email sent by acting CEO Nicola Kilner to Deciem’s staff.

“I can’t believe I am typing these words. Brandon has passed away over the weekend. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to how I, and how I know many of you will be feeling,” read the email, which also indicated that the company’s “offices, warehouses, factories and stores” would all be closed Monday to “take the time to cry with sadness, smile at the good times we had, reflect on what his genius built and hug your loved ones that little harder.”

A spokesperson for the Estée Lauder Cos., a minority investor in Deciem, told HuffPost: “Brandon Truaxe was a true genius, and we are incredibly saddened by the news of his passing. As the visionary behind Deciem, he positively impacted millions of people around the world with his creativity, brilliance and innovation. This is a profound loss for us all, and our hearts are with Nicola Kilner and the entire Deciem family.”

Representatives of Deciem did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, but they did post a heartfelt message about Truaxe on their Instagram page.

“Thank you for every laugh, every learning and every moment of your genius. Whilst we can’t imagine a world without you, we promise to take care of each other and will work hard to continue your vision. May you finally be at peace. Love, (forever) your DECIEM,” they wrote.

The Toronto-based company, nicknamed “The Abnormal Beauty Company,” was called Deciem after Truaxe’s intention to launch 10 lines under the brand’s umbrella, though the brand has now exceeded that. Arguably its most famous line, The Ordinary, has gone on to achieve near-cult status for its affordable prices and ubiquity. The line is currently sold at Sephora.

As for Truaxe, he has had a multitude of highs and lows with the company. On the heels of a near-rave review in The New Yorker in early 2018, Truaxe began to appear erratic on social media and use the company’s pages to post bizarre messages and videos. By the end of the year, Estée Lauder took legal action against him, and Truaxe was ousted by a judge as CEO. Kilner has been the acting CEO ever since. Additionally, Truaxe was issued a restraining order by several executives at Estée Lauder.

While the cause of Truaxe’s death is currently unknown, a report published in Canada’s Financial Post in December 2018 indicated that he’d been previously hospitalized for mental health issues several times and had problems with drug use. 

The response on social media has been widespread, as many fans of his skin care brand mourn his death:

This article has been updated with comment from Estée Lauder Cos. and a message posted by Deciem.

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