Knowledge Center

Knowledge Center Items Podcast Episode 51

How Much of an Advantage Does Your Authenticity Get You?

Published on

There's a lot of value in people knowing you're not perfect.

Because they aren't either and it's good to have something in common.

There's also a ton of value in the relationship you have with your clients.

The only trick that's left is to find out how consistently authentic you can be with them?

Shawn Moynihan, U.S. Head of Editorial for Insiders Engage, talks about the type of transparency he's seen go a long way.

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Full Episode Transcript

Joey Giangola: Mr. Shawn Moynihan, how you doing today sir?

Shawn Moynihan: I'm doing great, Joey. How about you?

Joey Giangola: Shawn, I'm doing all right. I have to know this before we really jump into it. Is there one word that you go out of your way to never use in any way, shape or form, whether it be written or spoken?

Shawn Moynihan: Yes. And it doesn't have much to do with journalism, but it's the word playdate.

Joey Giangola: Fair enough. Is that because it sounds less serious than it should or what's the context? Why does it bother you?

Shawn Moynihan: That's a word that always irks me because it puts adult structure around something that should just be spontaneous and fun for kids to say like, "Oh, we're having a playdate tomorrow." My son is 11 and thankfully that's a word that's no longer part of the vernacular, but it's one of those things that it brings too much structure and too much adultism around it that should be just kids playing with other kids or kids hanging out with other kids.

Joey Giangola: Shawn, I think maybe a thousand words sort of think piece on the origins of playdate might be an order. I'm sure it exists probably somewhere on the internet, but I mean, it's a phrase that you didn't hear too often, at least I know was not even used when I was growing up. So it had to kind of at least kicked in at some time in the last 15, 20 years, I would imagine. For me Shawn, if I had to pick a word, it's definitely pet peeve, which is strange because it's a word that sort of describes that, but I think it sounds dirtier than it needs to and I really not sure why people need to say it. It's just, I feel like we can say it bothers me and I think we can move on with our lives.

Shawn Moynihan: Totally.

Joey Giangola: Let's move on to a little something serious, Shawn. In terms of the day job, I mean, what are you seeing across the industry? I mean, again, you like to communicate with the folks around the industry. How do you think the evolving landscape of the words we're using in the industry, how we communicate with each other, what is that looking like for you and how do you think it has changed again over the last 10, 15 years maybe?

Shawn Moynihan: Well, I mean, if we could start with saying how it's looked at over the past year, it's been really interesting to see how every week everybody working from home and everybody existing in a virtual environment through interviews and Zoom calls and everything has really leveled the playing field a lot with top executives I find that I speak with because it's far more humanizing than your typical speak to somebody in a conference room or a boardroom type of interview environment. Whereas if it's something like this, it's a lot more personal and a lot more intimate and you've got the dogs barking or the doorbell ringing, things like that, that are completely beyond your control. And I find that most of the executives that I speak with are a bit more loose and a bit more honest and not that they were dishonest before, but a lot more relaxed and more natural perhaps than they would have been previously.

I could tell you though, one thing that always comes up that's happened... I've seen the landscape change in the past, I'd say yeah seven to 10 years is that now almost every interview I do regardless of the level of executive that I'm speaking with, everybody wants questions in advance now. It was never like that before. I mean, I did this for years and years and years and hardly ever would anybody want questions upfront, but now that's become a prerequisite.

Joey Giangola: Well, it's very interesting. There's a lot of ways I kind of want to go there, Shawn. I mean, unless you do the hostage video like in front of a blank wall sort of thing, I mean, even just like the little things that you pick up in the background, it's hard to hide. It gives you a little taste of who you're dealing with. I mean, so one, what do you think that relaxation has done for again, the insights to the industry in terms of how people are able to sort of view these executives and then two, you said people are looking for preparation. One that's bad news for me in terms of how I usually do things, but what do you think it is about them wanting to be prepared on a level that they maybe never were before? Maybe is it that sense of comfort that they're trying to compensate for potentially?

Shawn Moynihan: The reason why they want questions upfront is twofold. One because assistance and directors of communications want to do a better job and sort of justify their existence a bit more, and I don't mean that in a bad way and sort of add value perhaps is probably a better way to say it, add value to what they do by prepping their subject as much as humanly possible beforehand and the reason for that is because I think there's a lot more scrutiny now and the margin for error is so small. There was a time decades ago where some of the top guys at Lloyd's could rattle off a sarcastic answer at an interview and it had no traction. It didn't get seen further than the print publication, but then you bring the internet into everything and then everything is amplified, so good and bad.

And what happens there is then if you're the leader of a multi-billion dollar company or organization, then the onus is on you to try to be as perfect as humanly possible with every response all the time. And you could tell who's had that kind of training just by watching interview answers. You watch somebody in a video interview or I could tell when I'm speaking with somebody, some executives are super scripted. They know what they want to say beforehand and other people are gloriously off the cuff. Each has its own value. I mean, I've yet to do... It's amazing. I have been covering this industry now for almost 10 years and I've yet to have a bad interview where it was just all one word answers because I had those in my previous thing. In my newspaper days, I was the entertainment writer at Staten Island Advance. That was my first gig and there... I could tell you those stories, there were one or two there that are pretty entertaining, but nowadays, everybody just wants to really just come out as polished as possible and in a way that they hadn't previously I think.

Joey Giangola: What do you think that does for the trickle down effect of information? Because we all kind of want to feel like we know these people in some ways, right? I mean, what benefit do we have from the industry standpoint of you the people that are on the front lines, the agents kind of doing the bidding of these larger companies? What do you think the downfall is of that sort of separation and do you see any benefit to the folks that maybe are a little more off the cuff than others?

Shawn Moynihan: I do because what it provides... And that's a great question. And I think what it provides there is a sense of transparency from the top that you need, I think. I mean, personally in leading an organization, the boots on the ground need to know that you're not perfect and you're not always going to have the perfect answer to everything, but that you're going to be sincere in the way you lead the organization. And I think being a little more off the cuff speaks to knowing your craft and being prepared.

Joey Giangola: Right. Because that transparency, it comes with a price and like you said, being able to be transparent in the right ways because like you said, we are walking a tight rope nowadays with what we say online, but being able to do it responsibly, I guess. And I think kind of where I want to go with that is in terms of those leaders and the things that you sort of learn from them across your time, is there anything that sort of stands out in terms of what has surprised you most in terms of these guys that are leading such a large organizations that might be beneficial to, again, the agents on the ground sort of looking to get an insight and to kind of run their agencies better?

Shawn Moynihan: In the time I've been covering this industry, I'm always amazed by the fact that the bigger the executive, the nicer the person in almost all cases. The higher up the chain you go, usually the kinder and nicer the person is, which has always impressed me with very, very little exception. One of the first interviews I did covering this industry was sitting down with the then chairman of Lloyd's at REMS and it was literally like maybe the second interview I ever did covering the industry. And you can't bluff your way through... and you shouldn't ever bluff your way through an interview. And I was transparent about the fact, "Oh, I'm a career journalist. I just started covering this industry." And he was amazing and we sat and talked me through it and gave me a great little out of the box education on how the industry works. So it's moments like that where you realize that most successful people in this business are the ones who do right by others.

Joey Giangola:                   And that's been definitely my experience as well too. It is maybe surprising, but maybe also uplifting in some way, shape or form, restores some sense of hope in humanity. I guess, from that lesson that you learned from the chair of Lloyd's to now, what has changed of your sort of view of the industry, your sort of interest level in it and sort of how you fit in and where you feel excited about where it's going?

Shawn Moynihan: It's interesting. I might be one of the only people whoever uses the word fun and insurance journalism in the same sentence, but in my experience, if you really enjoy the creative process and the craft of journalism, anything is fun to cover if you're really enjoying yourself and enjoying the work. What I'm currently excited about is we've made the shift where Your Money made the decision to Sunset Reactions, where I was most recently editor in chief and now I'm on insider engage, which is a lot more feature oriented and forward-looking than the insurance insider, even though we're in the same family where the insider is more long form journalism. It's profiles. It's the type of content that is most germane to, and most interesting to executives, to C-suite people.

So that is exciting to me because it's taking what I feel I do best as a storyteller and pushing that to 11, and being able to take that skill set and apply it to that kind of storytelling where you're not just talking about the industry because there's always going to be that piece too. It's balancing that with the humanity of the subject. When you've got both of those things happening at the same time, you're able to shed some light on this human being that's leading this organization and the work itself, what they're doing to successfully lead their organization. If you're able to marry those two, then you really have something special. And I feel like that's what we're bringing to the table.

Joey Giangola: Yeah. It's definitely like that that you aren't traditionally seeing. And so I guess that was kind of one thing I wanted to touch upon a little bit was the idea that with companies having more and more ability and power and reach to sort of tell their own story with insurance, with most things being slow to sort of pick up that torch, how do you see that sort of transition sort of dance transpiring within the traditional media per se? What does that relationship look like to where they can feed off of each other, help one another sort of again, communicate? I guess maybe ultimately, what do you see the best sort of blend of communication for the industry be it first party, third party, moving forward?

Shawn Moynihan: Well, I would say that it's absolutely true that organizations are looking to control the narrative a little more than they were previously, even more than they were five, six years ago. They're very eager to present a certain message and follow through on that and hammer that home as much as possible. But I know that, so I sort of recognize that that's how the sausage is made. So I'm fine with talking to directors of communications and saying, "Okay, well, I know that there are certain points that you want to make here. So what are they?" So that I know so that I can sort of weave that into the narrative and do it in a way that you're not a shill. You can weave that into the narrative to get to a place where everyone's happy, but you haven't sold out.

So that's the trick these days. And that's hard to do. You know what I mean? It's amazing to me years later that I hadn't realized for the longest time that being a great writer and a great reporter were two completely different skillsets. And you could be one and not be the other. What happens there is that if you're leading the charge editorially, there's a certain spirit and tone and voice of the content, of the brand that you're in charge of that has to be unified and it has to be consistent. So if you're the one whose name is at the top of the masthead, everything had better speak with one voice, I think.

Joey Giangola: Shawn, if you could give agents at home sort of your one tip to better communication, better storytelling, better unification of all those things because again, we've never been guilty of being excellent in terms of that front. What's the one thing that you think you could tell agents to really focus on to communicate better with their clients in this sort of new digital environment?

Shawn Moynihan: I'd say that outreach to clients I'd say is incredibly important, especially from the agent level. I was with National Underwriter Property and Casualty before this, so I fully get like the agent broker side of the house before I came over to cover the re-insurance side, so I'm very, very much in touch with the fact that agents are not going to ever be disintermediated simply because they have such incredibly deep value, personal value to the people, to the clients they serve. And in order to prove that value on a daily basis, it's communicating with clients and checking in with them throughout the year and not just at renewal time, checking in with them like, "What's new at your organization? What have you done lately? What have you brought on," and because then that informs your risk profile more, which I think it's a win-win for everybody and having a personal relationship with the people you serve is key I think in any industry.

I mean, that's why I've had the success that I have so far in covering this industry because people know I'm going to be straight with them and that I'm going to be authentic. And if you do that, if you practice that daily with the people you work with and the people you interview and or clients that you serve, if you're authentic every day and you're consistent, I think that speaks volumes. I think you can only benefit from regular outreach and just being transparent and just being authentic with people I think is key to being successful no matter what you do.

Joey Giangola: All right, Shawn I got three more questions for you, sir. The first one, very simply, what's one thing you hope you'd never forget?

Shawn Moynihan: Wow. Okay. I'll tell you a story. When I was in National Underwriter, we were involved with WCI, the Worker's Comp Institute. And what we would do is every year, we would help give out an award and we were part of their annual ceremony. And every year, they would invite me to come down to... they host a volunteer day at a place called Give Kids the World, which is a storybook themed village where families of a usually terminally ill child like come for a week and they go to Disney World and Sea World and Universal and everything for free for the entire week and they stay at this village and it's in Kissimmee. They stay at the village all weekend. They're treated like royalty the entire time.

And about five years ago, I had a transformative experience like volunteering one day at the village. And I met a little girl who was probably about eight or nine years old who just completely changed my perspective on everything basically. For the first year that I volunteered, I volunteered in the castle, in the Give Kids the World castle that they have on premises. And you were just greeting families as they came in because the inside the castle, the entire ceiling of the interior obviously is made up of these stars, these plastic stars that they give to every family when they arrive. And part of their stay is they come to the castle and the kid writes their name on it, and they put it in a box and this like fairy pops out. It's this fun little thing. And what they did was they... I'm a musician and they asked me to, they said, "Can you bring your guitar and play for the families?" And I thought, "That I can do. Let's do that."

So I rented a guitar in Florida. I brought it and I did the entire shift and didn't get to sing and play because it didn't feel right like you're too busy helping the families through this process. I had like maybe 10 minutes left in like a, whatever it is, two, three hour shift and this family came and this little girl comes like bouncing in and her family follows and she had like a port in her chest where she was receiving treatments and she'd already lost all her hair. She had on this like Frozen baseball cap with like an Elsa ponytail coming out the back. And this girl was just the living embodiment of everything that Give Kids the World gives these kids. As a parent, I can't even imagine what it's like to go through constant treatments and in and out of the hospital and everything like that on a daily basis. And she was so sweet and such a wonderful child. And I said, "I'd love to play a song for you if that's okay." And she said, "Sure." And then we sat down and I played Daydream Believer for her.

When you're going to clutch, you go with the classic right? I finished the song and she loves it and she goes, "Can I sing a song?" I was like, "Sure. Okay." And I took the guitar off and I gave it to her and she's sitting there and she takes the pick and she's like strumming open chords and she's singing a song about how I am brave, I'm a warrior and I'm going, "Oh my God, just keep it together for like another five minutes," and after that, she and her family left. I was left by myself in the castle and I just went, "Don't ever forget this moment as long as you live because you have just given this amazing, beautiful gift that like anything that life throws at you on a normal daily basis is nothing compared to what this child is going through. How dare you get upset or too wrapped up in your own stuff when there's always somebody who has a much greater challenge than you and just meets it with such grace. That will always always stick in my mind that I was just given just this incredible fresh perspective on everything in that one moment." I'm so blessed that I was able to be there and have that experience.

Joey Giangola: Well, Shawn, there's not a lot of places to go from there, but I'll go ahead and try and ask two tasteless questions now moving forward.

Shawn Moynihan: No, please. I'm sorry. I know that's super heavy, but I love telling that story because... and to be honest with you, honestly I don't know if that little girl lived or not, and honestly I don't want to know. I don't want to know because she had left such an incredible impression on me that I wish everybody could have an experience like that.

Joey Giangola: Well, Shawn, on the other side of that, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?

Shawn Moynihan: I feel like at this point in my career, I still feel like I can do a better job of delegating a little bit more to be completely transparent. I think a lot of us get so wrapped up in what we're doing that we get not precious about it, but there's sort of a tendency for a lot of us to go, "Ah, it's just easier if I do it." And I think sometimes when you do that, I think what you're really saying is, "I want to do that," or, "I feel like it will be done best if I do that," whereas sometimes you just need to let go and trust the people around you a bit more and to give them the wheel sometimes too. I think if there was one thing I could learn, it would be to give a little more control to other people once in a while.

Joey Giangola: All right Shawn, last question to you, sir. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to reshape, change, speed up, alter the course of insurance in any way, shape or form, what is that thing? What's it doing? And where's it going?

Shawn Moynihan: I would create... It's fun to think that this will actually happen in the next two decades, especially given the rate of change that we've seen even just the last couple of years in the evolution of digital solutions. I think what I would love to see is a seamless, quick, yet informative digital experience for personal and commercial insurance, where you get to check in a couple of times a year where the onus is on the consumer or on the client almost to check in a couple of times a year, or conversely as I said before, you could have outreach from the agent or the broker what have you several times a year to check in, just to make sure that outreach is still happening, that's happening with the client, but when it comes time to purchase coverage, especially... and this lends itself more to personalize the commercial lines, but a seamless, quick digital experience where you pay for the coverage that you need and don't have to pay for the coverage that you don't.

It's a very slick, speedy transaction where the consumer comes away feeling like that was a pleasure rather than a chore. Working in this industry and even covering it, it's very easy to forget that the touch points for insurance with Joe Average is they think about insurance around their health insurance, their car insurance, and maybe their homeowners and that's it. And all three of those are, if you ask most people, that's like having your wisdom teeth pulled. Having to have that interaction with your insurer is deadly like none of them want it, none of them want to have those conversations, which is why they put it off so much and also, I hate to say it, partly the reason why so many risks are under insured. So if anything, I would create a way in which people could buy insurance that's actually enjoyable and not something that they dread.

Joey Giangola: Shawn, this has been fantastic, sir. I'm going to leave it right there.

Shawn Moynihan: All right. Thanks, Joey. This has been great.

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