Building relationships – striking a balance between traditional and digital communication

In the push to generate and develop business, the simple things can often be overlooked. From my time (15+ years) working in the London Market, I learned the value of doing business face-to-face. Despite rapidly emerging communication technologies, doing business face-to-face, wherever possible, continues to be something I prioritise and value today. 

Communicating risk

In the risk and (re)insurance business, we are not, for the most part, trading commodities. We are establishing a support network based on perceived probabilities, scenarios, points of view, multiple possible outcomes and potentially unknown occurrences (amongst other risk factors). We must get to know the people with whom we are working, how they operate and how they run their business. This builds confidence that risks are being managed as well as can reasonably be expected.

A significant proportion of the business transacted in the London Market is done face-to-face. I often thought – like every new generation – that there must be a more efficient way to do business. However, we are dealing with risk and unknown factors, so building trust through relationships is essential.

A digital age

Whilst we have seen – and continue to see – communication technology developing at a rapid pace, do we really want to replace direct relationships with electronic and virtual trading? There is a place and need for new technologies to be adopted to improve efficiencies and evolve our business, but not at the risk of abandoning face-to-face relationships. In a number of cultural environments, business just won’t happen unless you make the effort to visit and spend time with people. I continue to be regularly reminded of this given the majority of my business is throughout the Asia-Pacific region, where building personal relationships is given a high priority.

We live in a social media environment in which virtual conversations can take place with strangers and instant responses are expected. I use social media to support my business and it has an important role to play if used thoughtfully. However, in the social media age we can fall into the trap of making rushed, ill-informed statements all with the aim of getting our message out as quickly as possible. This can result in not thinking carefully about the business in hand and our relationships.

E-mails are a great benefit to helping us to communicate. There can be a tendency, though, to hide behind e-mails. We can often think that we have communicated and engaged with someone else because we have sent an e-mail. How often can the situation arise when someone says, ‘I’ve sent an e-mail but I haven’t heard back’? We’ve sent the e-mail and ticked the box. There’s really no excuse for not talking to someone. With the technology we have available – such as FaceTime, Skype and video conferencing – we can easily make personal contact.

A lesson from the London Market

The London Market has taught me to think about how I communicate and the importance of making personal contact, either face-to-face or over the phone (or using available technology). In the London Market, you can’t hide behind e-mails because the market practice is such that business often cannot be done unless you personally talk to or meet with someone. This promotes an environment in which you need to be able to communicate clearly, demonstrate that you fully understand the matter in question and build relationships based on trust.

It is always important to consider how communication technologies can improve and enhance our business. You may say that people like myself – who have been in the business for quite a while – can be resistant to change. Disruptive innovations – such as social media and algorithm-based technology – can be unsettling for some of us because they can be contrary to traditional methods and the thought process that ‘we’ve always done it this way’. But such innovations will continue to happen and many of them can bring huge benefits to the way we do business, if we use them thoughtfully.

The opportunity for us is to find a balance between what experience has taught us and what emerging communication technologies can do for us. If we neglect the importance of building relationships based on trust and spending time talking to and meeting people, we risk letting communication technology dictate how business is done. This will affect our knowledge levels, ability to develop solutions and communication skills. Ultimately, future innovation will suffer. For me, the London Market finds the balance and teaches us to do the simple (but not always easy) things well.

Author: Gabriel Manoughian