At the end of the day, it all comes down to how much you know.
Then it's a matter of how much you help someone else understand your knowledge.
Because education is generally the most powerful tool when paired with the right amount of execution.
If It's all backed up by the perfect set of supporting skills, it's almost guaranteed you'll have a gigantic advantage.
Joe Brunsman, Vice President of Chesapeake Professional Liability Brokers, talks about the thousands of hours he's put in to always have an answer.
Joey Giangola: Joe Brunsman, how are you doing today, sir?
Joe Brunsman: Doing well, Joey, how you been?
Joey Giangola: I'm doing all right. I'm doing all right, Joe. I have to know this before we start, and I want to take this on a couple different directions, but I want to know this first, is there an irrational fear that you had growing up that just made absolutely no sense? Maybe you have one now, but no matter how much you told yourself, it's still freaks you out every time you thought about it.
Joe Brunsman: Yeah, I would say when I was a kid, I hated getting shots, to the point where there was a doctor on each limb that had to hold me down when I was a kid, just to give me a shot. Funny enough, actually, so sitting there, I was probably somewhere around 10 or so, probably younger than that. I was watching a mosquito, actually, it landed on my hand. I was living in Oklahoma at the time. I saw like the little proboscis go into my skin and I was like, oh, that's just like getting a shot. I was like, what's the big deal? Then ever since then, thank God, I got over that irrational fear, because I spent 12 years in the Navy and went all over the world. Man, di I get shots, just never ending shots everywhere. It was terrible. But yeah, that was my fear.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, you pretty much presented it and solved it all in one fowl swoop there, Joe. That's pretty impressive. I didn't expect that to happen. For me, mine was a much more grandiose. When I learned about an ice age in school, I'm like, oh, that sounds terrible. I would hate for that to happen. I was just like, man, what would happen if we actually had an ice age? I don't want that to happen. I was just constantly paranoid. It's one of those things, like it's not going to happen, I mean, theoretically it could, I don't know. Whatever Joe, moving on to, I guess let's say, more close to home irrational fears that we're dealing with. What are you seeing in the industry that, in the day-to-day conversations you're having with your clients, is there something that keeps coming up in terms of the things that they might be unfounded in terms of their concerns with buying insurance or buying the right amount of insurance? What does that look like for you?
Joe Brunsman: Man, I don't know if it's really a fear. I don't think they necessarily know enough to be fearful of insurance, per se. I think they have maybe a broad misunderstanding of really what insurance is capable of, what it's not incapable of, and really maybe just people in the industry as a whole and what it is that we can know or not know. So, at least in my little, small niche corner of the world, I hopefully like to think that I actually surprise people with just the depth and breadth of my knowledge on the very specific things that I do. I think people enjoy that.
But yeah, as far as cyber insurance goes, it's just so new. It's not a legal term. It's not technically really an insurance term, as you know, it's just this idea we have of, something goes wrong with the computer and insurance makes everything better again. So, really, I'd say it's not so much on solving fears for people, it's more so, I would say, that I am educating them to the utmost of my ability, given the limits of knowledge I have, to make sure that they're adequately prepared and educated for really what to do before a breach, what to do after a breach, just in terms of say, cyber insurance.
Joey Giangola: Yeah. You talked about the depth of that knowledge, and depending on people's experience dealing with agents, is there something that you find, where it really pushes them over the edge? Like, oh man, this guy really knows his stuff. Is there a point of the conversation when you start breaking things down to a certain level, that you've found that really builds that trust level to where they need to do business with you?
Joe Brunsman: Generally, people come to me, we don't really do marketing. Pretty much everything we get is just inbound leads. So, generally, people just come to me, which is really a nice problem to have in the insurance industry. I really built a lot of that upon just doing all the hard work on the front end, where I've got something like 12 to 14 published articles in various magazines across the country. I've talked to trade groups all over before COVID destroyed the world. I've written and published, well, three books, I'm a contributor on a fourth book that's coming out here soon, put out YouTube videos. So, generally, I think by the time people come to me, they know they already have a problem. They're looking for the solution. Then during the course of that conversation, I try to just educate them along the way.
A lot of that is really trying to explain to them, because of my background is in IT, and my master's in cybersecurity law, I'm really trying to explain to them, hey, here's a few things that you could be doing. It's not really going to lower the premium in a material manner, per se, but it's going to keep your business a lot safer. Then, hey, let's start looking at maybe some of these regulatory requirements you could be having as well. I'd say maybe, to a certain degree, that builds some trust there, because I'm always trying to add extra value to what I'm doing, because at the end of the day, these are real people with real businesses. They got to put food on the table for a lot of families. So, I don't really treat it like a policy. I treat it more as a conversation with other human beings to try and keep them out of trouble.
Joey Giangola: Yeah. I couldn't be a bigger fan of what you said and how you deliver that education. What was the moment that you said, I should make some videos on YouTube, I should write some articles, I should it'll put a book out? Was there a moment where it said, I need to apply this to insurance? I'm assuming that you probably got some strange looks if you've ever said that out loud to other people.
Joe Brunsman: Yeah, it's a combination of a few things. One is, I tend to be more autodidactic. I've been through a whole lot of schooling and hated every second of it, with a few exceptions. I just don't like school. Primarily, when I want to learn something, if I'm that immensely interested in it, I'm going to learn it to the ends of the earth. I'm going to figure out everything I can, hit it from every single angle. Then one of the mechanisms I use to solidify that knowledge in my head, is actually writing or publishing to some degree.
So, originally, that had marginal utility, at least the written word. Part of that's coming out of the military where we have an instruction for everything. If you want to know how to lace your boots, there's literally a Naval instruction for that, all the way up to, if you want to launch a Tomahawk, you could literally follow the instruction book, even if you're not qualified on that thing at all. You could make it happen.
So, coming into the insurance industry, I was flustered at the beginning, because I was like, this is everything I was taught not to do in the military. You don't rely on tribal knowledge, you don't just shoot from the hip, you don't just fake it till you make it. It's, you'll learn it until you earn it. It's pretty much how that system operates. So, I started off, actually, my first book, which is back there, it really started off as my own training manual, where I was like, okay, here are the assumptions that I have, and being an engineer at heart, can I actually prove or disprove those assumptions? It started as my own training manual and then it just kept going. A few hundred pages later, I was like, man, I should really publish this.
Yeah, and the YouTube videos, literally, I never actually expected anybody to subscribe to my channel. I never thought that people were going to search me out after finding it. That was just pure dumb luck, quite frankly. So, I'd love to sit here and be like, oh, it's part of this master plan I had. No, no, no, no, no, it was, clients kept asking me the same questions over and over again, and so I was like, yeah, I can answer those questions. I'm the source, I've done all the research. I can generally quote whatever the source was that I got that piece of material from. But instead of relying on my own knowledge, I was like, well I should just make a video about this, because it's way more time efficient. That way, I can literally just sit down, hit that answer from every possible perspective, and then send that out to clients, so that way, I'm not relying on me not being tired, or lacking sufficient caffeine, missing a key element somewhere. Then it just strangely exploded from there, actually.
Joey Giangola: Yeah. I'd be curious if you could, because those conversations, I would imagine, are a lot different than the ones you've probably had when you maybe first got in the business when you were going out and knocking on doors, theoretically or picking up the phone. What's the biggest difference that you notice in the people that you were talking to, and their attitude towards you, and just how receptive they were to being properly educated, and you having the runway to tell them what's really important?
Joe Brunsman: I think it's been night and day. If we're just cold calling people, reaching out, contacting somebody, even a referral, to a certain degree, unless it's from a really trusted, close source, it's like you're showing up and you are a problem to them to begin with. Whereas, generally, when you have all this information out there, people come to you with problems. It switches the dynamic there. So, that's actually been quite nice, because I know obviously the insurance industry can be a very difficult, soul crushing occupation to a large degree. I also think it builds a lot of trust because people have just seen my face for hours, in some instances. They've literally gone through every article I've written, they've watched every video I've made, and I think it just builds up trust there.
They know that if I'm going to tell them something, I probably have a very good reason for doing that. I'm not just going to put out some nonsense and a video that the entire world can see forever. You really got to put the hard work in, try and disprove everything you're saying, until you just realize it's a fact. Then you move forward from there. So, it's really nice to have people come to you. There's already that element of trust built in, they're coming to solve a problem that you potentially have a solution for.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, and I'm curious, how long did it take before you were able to make that transition over to when there was enough people taking that process and coming to you? Because I think a lot of people will start that journey, but they'll give up maybe too soon. How long and how dedicated did you have to be, or committed to it, to actually seek it through?
Joe Brunsman: Well, there's really two answers to that. Really, what I think people discount, is I'm like a five-year overnight success, to a certain degree. What people see, is me sitting in my office till 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM for years on end, six, seven days a week, just researching, analyzing, synthesizing, trying to find all this information, put it together in a coherent fashion, case law changes, precedent changes. Then I got to rework all of that. So, it was like thousands and thousands of hours built into the point where I could write an article, I could make a video, and move forward from there.
Then, really, I think once I started making some of those videos, I'd say it was a pretty quick turnaround where people started contacting me, but people have to factor in, you got to learn it until you earn it. Really, it's all that background that nobody really ever sees or thinks about. It's just thousands of hours of being very alone in a very dark room, just searching West law or Lexis Nexus, or various legal blogs, articles, reading through case law, a 100 page court opinions, trying to figure out what's going on.
Plus, I think I had an advantage coming from a technical background. I'm a former IT, that was my enlisted job in the Navy. Then when I went to the Naval Academy, I got a bachelor's degree in robotics. So, that really helps on the technical side. Then I also ended up getting a master's in cybersecurity law from the University of Maryland School of Law, King Carey School of Law. So, it's probably tens of thousands of hours, then 20 minutes on a video.
Joey Giangola: I don't know if I want to be the first person to tell you this, or I am the first person to tell you this, but you might be a little overqualified to sell insurance, but that's just my professional opinion. Was there ever a doubt that you were going to sell or focus on anything other than cyber? I would have to imagine that not, but at that point, if there was, I'd be curious to know what that is. But then also, how much of an advantage does that background play into your credibility for people to speak the language to them and to talk to them in a way that agents that don't, like you said, have learned it and to earn it, sort of thing, have against you?
Joe Brunsman: I would push back a little bit to say that I'm overqualified, because I think, like everybody else in the insurance industry, you always have that idea in your head of like, okay, what do I not know? I'm at the point where I know what I know. I generally know what I don't know, because there's no answer that I can find to that question. Then I'm always concerned about what it is I don't know that I don't know. So, I never think to myself that I am qualified in any step of the imagination. There's always something more to learn. There's always another question to try and solve. Especially, even in the cyber world, there's constantly some legislator who, he's got a law degree, probably doesn't even run his own Twitter account, couldn't figure it out if he had to, he's writing new laws that are going up. I got to research that I've got clients calling me saying, okay, what do you know about this? What do you think the fallout is going to be? Who should I talk to about this?
So, I think it's just constantly searching for the truth. Then doing my best that I see to try and educate people on that. As far as, I think the second question was what advantage does that give me? I think initially, it does give me an advantage, just from the outset when I'm talking to a client and they're like, oh, this guy's got a technical background, this is a technical thing. So, it gives me an initial advantage, but then I could always throw that advantage away if I don't know what I'm talking about, or I just say something blatantly untrue, that's provably false. All of that advantage I have would just go so out the window. So, I don't have anything that somebody else couldn't have if they just put in the work for it.
Then your third question was really detailing around cyber insurance. I know it's a hot topic in the industry, but really, it's just been a passion project for me for five, six years at this point. There was really no money in it to begin with, nobody really cared about it. Businesses just had this security by obscurity mindset, where they're like, oh, I'm a small engineering firm in Ohio, or I'm a small accounting firm in Virginia, who is going to come after me?
For years, it was me just pouring my heart and soul into this thing because I just personally found it interesting, and nobody really cared about it. To a certain degrees, it's just dumb luck. It's right place, right time, right background, right interest, that got me into that. But even today, we also do professional liability, some employment practices, all the professional line stuff. By design, we don't do homeowners, business owners policies, worker's comp, auto, any of that stuff, because frankly, I'm just not smart enough. I can't add value there. I know enough to be dangerous, but if something's ridiculous, I can help somebody, but I can only be so good at so many things. So, we just narrow it down to that. Does that answer your question?
Joey Giangola: It certainly does. I'm curious, if you had to take all of the stuff that we talked about, if you had to take one thing and only go forward with that, whether it's maybe your background, extensive knowledge, research, the way you communicate, if there's one thing that, a tool in your tool belt, if you will, of the way that you go about your insurance life, what's the one thing that you are not leaving behind?
Joe Brunsman: One thing I'm not leaving behind, so is the question, no matter what happens moving forward, this is the one thing I'm going to carry with me?
Joey Giangola: Right.
Joe Brunsman: Probably that incessant need for additional knowledge, probably mixed with some irrational fear of insecurity that I don't yet know everything I should know. That's probably the thing I'd move forward, because I think I see a lot of people that, in every industry, they become very successful and then they just stop learning, and they rest on their laurels. I think it lasts for a while, I think people can do that to varying degrees of success. But then inevitably, somebody else comes up who did the hard work, that has that insecurity where they're just constantly learning, and evolving, and moving, and potentially failing as well. I've had plenty of failures along the way. I don't want anybody to think otherwise if they're listening or watching to this. It's not like everything I touch is gold. That's not true. But I'd always just urge people, just keep learning, you got to start somewhere. I literally wrote books starting from nothing. I had no practical bridge to insurance knowledge. It was just, you start with a question, you figure it out.
Joey Giangola: All right, Joe, I got three more questions for you. The first one, similar to what we just talked about, but maybe a little deeper off topic, what's one thing that you hope you never forget?
Joe Brunsman: One thing I hope I never forget. Man, probably where I came from. I grew up fairly poor, not really from the best family. Now I do well, I have an amazing family, I've had dumb luck in my life, I've also made a lot of my own luck. So, probably never forgetting where I came from and just understanding that the insurance industry, it's rough. There's always something going on in this world, but life's not that bad, all things considered. I've been to some really terrible parts of the world. I've been to parts of the world where people, they've never even owned a chair. There's that poor. Sometimes it's helpful to think back on that and go, oh, well, maybe I didn't land this $100,000 premium or whatever it is, but that shouldn't ruin my day because I have a roof over my head, my kids are happy, my wife is happy. Life is good business is generally good. I've got great clients, like 99% of them I'd go out and I drink a beer with because they're just good people. So yeah, that's something I hope I never forget.
Joey Giangola: All right, Joe. Now, on the other side of that, I'm not even sure what we're going to get here, but based on everything that you've expressed so far, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?
Joe Brunsman: Oh, I don't even know if I could narrow it down to one thing, frankly. I have a constantly running list on my computer of questions that I'm trying to solve. There's, oh man, that list is probably like a hundred questions long at this point. Oh, yet to learn, oh my God, there's so much. There's life skills, there's business skills, there's insurance knowledge, there's the legal side of it. Man, some of it is just the case law hasn't been put out there yet, it hasn't been litigated, so I don't know. Frankly, neither does anybody else. So, that'd be really hard to narrow down to one thing, but-
Joey Giangola: Let me make it easier for you, Joe, what's one question on your list then?
Joe Brunsman: Oh, so here's a great question. Okay, so if you look inside of an insurance policy, there's coverage for regulatory fines and penalties. Many different types of policies have that. The caveat there is, we're insurable by law. That's really the key phrase. So, if I take that into say, a cyber insurance perspective, and I'm saying, okay, well I know about 201 CMR 17 in Massachusetts, I know about New York Shield Act. I know about CCPA, I know about 23 NYCR 500, blah, blah, blah. That's great knowledge to have, I can talk to clients generally about what those particular cybersecurity requirements could be. What are the compliance considerations? What happens after a breach? What you're supposed to be doing before a breach?
What I can't figure out yet is, in which states are those fines and penalties insurable by law? Because I think it depends on, one, under what statutes or regulatory regimes those regulators bring claims. That can vary. Some of it just, it hasn't even been tested yet. So, I think there's a few laws out there where, looking at the prevailing law of that particular state, or maybe there's some constitutional questions, where I'm like, it's really questionable if they could even get a regulatory fine or penalty under these particular statutes, because I think there's a lot of very rational objections to the state regulator doing that.
But that is one question that has just haunted me for years trying to figure that out. I've tried to talk to every super brilliant person that I can get ahold of, people far smarter than me that work in this field. As far as I can tell, there's just not an answer yet. Even GDPR, which is kind of a boogeyman here in the United States, but that's a whole different topic.
Are GDPR fines and penalties insurable? It looks like it just depends. That's not an answer I like to have, being an engineer at heart. I want, yes, no, black and white, binary answers, and it just drives me nuts. That is one thing I do not yet know, and I'll keep trying to figure it out, but I think it's going to be probably decades till I can get a decent answer on that one.
Joey Giangola: Yeah. Sorry, Joe. I don't think the answer is coming anytime soon in this conversation. So, I apologize for the disappointment. Last question to you, sir. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts, maybe it's the answer to this question, in what way would you change, reshape, and alter insurance, really in any way, shape or form that you want? What's it doing, where's it going, and what's your thing?
Joe Brunsman: If I could change insurance. Oh, interesting question. I would say, man, there's a lot of things I'd probably change. I don't even know if I'd trust myself to change those though, because I don't think I'm necessarily smart enough to think about what the potential implications would be. But I think maybe one off the top of my head is, I'd probably say it's the insurance agency owners out there or the brokerage owners. I think a lot of the damage that the insurance industry has done, and I think a lot of the reason that people don't trust insurance guys, so last I checked, it was, we are a less trusted than used car salesman, but I believe we beat out congressmen. So, we'll take that as a win.
I think a lot of that is because it's just a really hard industry. It takes a lot of time to train people. Last statistic I saw, I think the average insurance guy lasts than like two years right before they move on. So, I'd just tell the agency owners out there, my fellow owners, just understand that when you hire someone, don't forget how tough it was when you started out. It's easy now that we're sitting on a book of business, and we have renewals, and we have people that trust us, and we communicate with them. It's easy to forget what it was like at the very beginning.
So, if I had to wave a magic wand, it would be for all the agency owners out there, the brokers out there, never forget that you're training your replacement eventually. Yes, it takes extra time, it could take years until that person is really at a point where they could say, outproduce you, but I think the end goal for every owner is, you shouldn't be the top producer in your business. Your success really shows with the knowledge, and the care, and the success of the people that are working for you.
Joey Giangola:This has been fantastic. I'm leaving right there, sir.
Joe Brunsman: Good deal.
Joey Giangola: We're-