What Makes a Good Underwriter?

By Ken Kukral

checklist

A recent article in National Underwriter got me thinking:  (read the full article here)

They boiled the qualities of a successful underwriter down to 4 things, but I think they left a couple things out.  The four things they found in a successful underwriters were:

  1. Maintain underwriting discipline
  2. Think outside the box
  3. Strive for a human connection
  4. Set yourself apart

Let’s discuss these and go a bit further.

Maintaining underwriting discipline.  Does this mean that the underwriter is consistent?  They look at a risk fairly and treat the risk the same for all agents?  They don’t write business they have any business writing (soft market expansion of classes).  To me this means the underwriter shows a long term consistent approach to looking at accounts.  The underwriter gives each risk a fair shake and you know they have given it a fair shot and priced it reasonably if they can write it.  No surprises.

I think this also means “looking for a way to write an account”.  Having an open mind and learning enough about the account to determine if it meets the underwriting guidelines for the carrier.  Over the years I have encountered many an underwriter who from the outset, is looking for a way to decline the account.  All gray area is taken in a negative connotation and unless ALL the stars line up, they will never quote the account.  All you want is for them to give it a shot.

Think outside the box.  In my thirty years in the business, this is one of the hardest things to master.  Many underwriters have become “box underwriters” and unless it fits the box, they decline it.  The “exception” underwriter is a dying breed and many underwriters are in fear of “coloring outside the lines”.  Just because a risk is unusual, one of a kind or “not like the others”, doesn’t make it a bad risk.  Some of my toughest “sells” to an underwriter has been accounts, they literally couldn’t have a loss, but the underwriter wouldn’t quote the account.  Coming up with a proper classification is an “art form” and not everything “fits the box”.

This can truly mean, looking for every possible angle to write an account.  Staying in the fight and duking it out till all your questions are answered and you have a comfort level with the account.   Especially if it is not a large account and will take some “work” to get the account done.  Not every coverage is readily available and might take some creative underwriting to come up with a solution.

A couple of examples of thinking outside the box:

  • We were able to come up with a solution for a large account where if they invoked their disaster plan and the hurricane veered off and there was not direct physical loss, they would have lost $1,300,000. So we were able to negotiate with a carrier for false trigger of disaster plan coverage.
  • We were approached by an agent whose client was a plaintiff’s law firm. They had evidence and documents stored in a warehouse, awaiting trial and were looking to insure for the expected settlement or award judgement that would be “compromised” if that evidence was destroyed by a direct physical loss.  Due to the “valuation” issue, we were not able to secure this coverage, but were able to find a carrier who would insured for the amount of expenses already expended on the case that would not be able to be recouped.

Bottom line, a good excess and surplus lines broker, who has been in the business for many years, has a wealth of knowledge and can many times find “solutions” to clients risk problems, by thinking outside the box.

Strive for human connection.  Trust is earned with an underwriter and the human connection cannot be under estimated.  So many times, submissions are e-mailed in without any phone conversation (or even a narrative).  Running an account past an underwriter can pay excellent dividends.  You find out what information they want, what the chances of placing the account and what the “hot points” are in dealing with the underwriter.  By having a preliminary discussion with the underwriter you can approach a potential client and get them on the same page with the underwriter from the beginning.  This will help a client feel like they are both working towards the same end and are not on either side of the fence.  This reduces a chance for us, versus them type of scenario.

How many times have you seen where after a face to face meeting, a dinner or an agency visit with the underwriter, you all of sudden start writing more business with that carrier?  A chance occurrence?  I think not.  It is a matter of building the relationship with the underwriter, finding common ground and a human connection.  It takes time and is a building process that pays long term results.

Set yourself apart.  Stand out in the crowd.  Don’t be a faceless drone.  Be the one they want to call first.  So this might entail taking more calls, sending periodic updates on where things stand or JUST GETTING THE JOB DONE.  While just getting the job done may not seem like something that sets you apart, it is.  As an underwriter, you want to be the “go to” underwriter.  The one they call first when they get a new piece of business.  The one who gets the “last shot” on an account.

This might mean staying late to get them a quote, knowing their cell number so you can get a hold of them at a moment’s notice or finding out up front what their client expects so you both don’t spin your wheels if you can’t meet the timing or pricing expectation.

So what did they leave out?

Qualifying accounts – Every underwriter can’t quote and write every account that comes in the door.  So asking a few questions up front, possibly putting out a rough indication or even declining an account if you know you can’t be competitive.  Respecting both your time and their time can be critical and will be important in the long term.  Who wouldn’t like to quote fewer accounts, but write more of them and have a higher hit ratio?

Just being responsive.  There is nothing better than a quick response.  Even if it is, hey, I received your submission and will look it over, looks like something we can do.  You would be surprised how many times, the first quote in gets the order.  Also remember a “quick no” is also good.  Allows the agent to go on to another carrier who can help them out.  This type of quick response can leave you in the number one position so you get first shot at that agent’s business.

Anything I missed?  Any other characteristics of your favorite underwriter?   Would love to hear your thought!

Ken KukralKenneth Kukral, CIC – VP of Special Risks – That means, call me if you need help on placing a unique, difficult, large or more complex risk. Kennethkukral@intlxs.com  800-937-3497 ext 2079

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