Be My Valentine

By Cathy Thurber

Valentine’s Day is coming up next week – are you ready?  Have you bought something for your significant other?  I don’t know about you, but I usually wait until the last minute to do anything.  While I think Valentine’s Day is a lovely holiday – one to remind your other half (or even your kids!) how much you love them – it’s never up at the top of my list.  Probably because I’m still in a Christmas money coma at that point.  However, if I had the time and money to do what I wanted for Valentine’s Day, I would more than likely have a wonderful card and a gift for my hubby.  It doesn’t even have to be something huge and expensive….I mean, the man would probably be ecstatic over a package of good beef jerky for crying out loud. And then we’d have an entire night to ourselves to do whatever we wanted, even if it’s just lounge around in our pj’s and watch a movie.

What are you planning to do?  If you haven’t made up your mind yet, here’s what advises are the top four gift ideas for this Valentine’s Day:

  1. Heartfelt and Homemade – Nearly 40% of those polled plan on thinking outside the box this year and will be making their own gifts, or will look for something that has sentimental value for their significant Other.  What about a photo gift? Or breakfast in bed?
  2. Classic – It’s no surprise their poll found that 28% of people plan to purchase classic gifts like flowers and chocolate.  There are tons of places offering discounts on roses and flowers right now.  I would LOVE flowers and a box of Malley’s chocolate-covered strawberries.  Hint, hint.
  3. Extravagant – The poll found that 23% want to make a big impression on their Valentine and plan on purchasing something extravagant like jewelry or a trip.  I have a “mother’s ring”….I keep thinking about creating a “father’s ring” for my husband.  I think if it’s done right, he would love it.
  4. Gadgets – Electronic devices like iPads came in at the bottom of the poll with 12% of the vote.  While these kinds of things aren’t the most romantic gifts, they can often be useful ones.  I know my hubby would love a Garmin.  Otherwise, that’s about it gadget-wise.  In all honesty, I’m sometimes surprised he can work his iPhone.  Sorry, honey.

Don’t forget to tell your other half how much you love them every day.  It’s important.  And Valentine’s Day is an extra moment we can show them- even if it’s just something small – how much they mean to us. Let the gift-giving begin!

Oh no, what do I do?

By Ken Kukral

As the market hardens, there will be issues that you will have to address.  More and more accounts will see price increases, change in terms and conditions and non-renewals.  Your clients will be alarmed if you have not prepared them for the forthcoming changes.  So what should I do?

1.     First communicate that the market is in a state of flux and that price increases are on the horizon if not already at the front door.  Let them know roughly what to expect and let them know how you think they should be handled.  Certain lines such as property and workers compensation are seeing more increases than casualty and umbrella lines of coverage.

2.     Let them know how carriers need to react to the pricing changes.  Depending on what state and what line of coverage the carrier may need to send specific notice by a specific time prior to the renewal in order to raise the price.  In looking at a recent report I see notification requirements as low as NO NOTICE all the way up to a 90 day notice.  In the absence of this notice, the carrier may be limited to the amount of rate increase they can get.  (some states allow for the extension of the expiring policy at the “old rates” in order to comply with this notice requirement and some do not!)  So when new business comes to your door looking for coverage, please make sure they were given proper notification so you know if you can buy them some time.

3.     Many states also have requirements for the type of notice and the timing of the notice for non-renewals.  Look first at the policy provisions regarding non-renewals and then research your state insurance code for the specific state requirements.  Carriers that figure out a week or two out that they want to non-renew an account still need to follow the rules.

4.     Keep in mind that in many states, excess and surplus lines policies do not have to give non-renewal notices or significant increase in premium notices.  They are exempt from these regulations.  If their policy has specific provisions they have to follow them, but in the absence of them they can do what they want.  Check this out when writing a policy in the E&S market.

5.     Start your renewals further out.  Communicate with the carriers and clients on what is going on so that both them will have their expectations met.  Many carrier will say something like we want to get roughly a 10% price increase on this account or on your whole book of business so let your clients know they will have a reasonable price increase in their future.

6.     Discuss other ways to reduce premiums such as higher deductibles, packaging policies or reducing specific coverage (such as physical damage on a 15 year old vehicle).  This will help soften the blow.

7.     Weed out your own book of business and eliminate unprofitable accounts.  If your loss ratio improves with carriers, they will be less likely to push for more increases.  You may find that “problem” accounts are taking too much of your time and are hurting your overall loss ratio.

8.     Review terms and conditions on renewal quotes to confirm that the coverage has not been weakened or reduced.  Clients will always say “I didn’t know about that change” after a loss.  Discuss any reductions in coverage and make sure you document your files.

9.     Be ready for “classification” or book of business non-renewals.  If a carrier is experiencing a poor loss ratio for a certain type of business such as habitational business, start searching for a new market long before they start sending out the non-renewals.  By doing this, you will be doing the best job for your client.

10.    Keep your ears and eyes open.  This is not time to stick your head in the sand and pretend it is not happening.  Your clients count on you to be informed and keep them informed.  It is when they are surprised that they will then look to find a new agent.

We are already seeing a lot more accounts that have been non-renewed.  It takes a little more effort to place those accounts but it is worth it.  Step up your game by reviewing loss runs and detailing out when, where and why the claim happened and why it shouldn’t reoccur in the future.  Add more narratives to your submissions and make sure the underwriters “get the rest of the story” so your accounts can be seen in the best light possible.

There will always be insurance “cycles” and how you deal with them will allow you to grow in both a hard and a soft market.


By Cathy Thurber

 In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about all the things I am thankful for.  Big things.  Little things.  It almost starts sounding like a song in my head after a while (these are a few of my favorite things….).  I encourage everyone to reflect on what brings joy and peace to your life every day.  Here’s what I am thankful for:

     – My family (of course).  I have the best husband and kids. Not to mention everyone else.

     – My friends, who put up with me.  Some of them are my family AND my friends, so they have double duty.  Lucky them!

     -My dog.  He’s always excited to see me and wags his tail with love.  I always tell my kids that the dog is my favorite child.

     -A car that is still able to drive me to work, even though it’s getting old.

     -My job.  There are still so many people out there that don’t have a job – either they can’t get one or they’ve stopped trying.  Either way, I’m thankful I have one where I work with some really great people.

     -Family that has passed away in the last few years.  Each of them made an impact on my life in one way or another and I can’t be thankful enough that I knew them.

     -The life I have led be it exhilarating, painful, joyful, or mundane at times.  Everything happens for a reason.

     -Those in the military that protect and serve.  They are the true heroes.

     -The changing seasons.  I’m lucky enough to live in an area where I get to see each season change.  I can smell Spring coming, Summer’s heat, the bite of Autumn in the air, and when snow may be coming during Winter.  Not everyone gets to do this.

     -Pizza, hot and fresh out of them oven.  I mean, really, is there anything better?  Well, maybe ice cream.  That’s kind of a toss-up.

     -Laughing children, hugs and kisses, a good book, a great pair of shoes, knowing that I’m loved no matter what, time by myself, and sarcasm.  How could I live without those?

What are you thankful for?


By Ken Kukral

It can never be said enough, but thank you for the business over the past year!  In a time when many things are taken for granted, we like to reach out and thank you for doing business with us.  We hope that with Thanksgiving being this week you have been blessed over the past year and are thankful for all you have.

There are many little things that I am thankful for in this business, but most of all I am thankful for the following:

1.  I am thankful for the narratives you include with your submissions.  They “tell the rest of the story” and help me get a full view of the account.  Since most of the time we do not actually “see the risk”, we are reliant on your descriptions and information to put all the pieces together.

2.  I am thankful for when you tell us what you need.  This includes when you need the quote by, suggested pricing and specific terms and conditions you need in order to write the account.

3.  I am thankful for loss runs.  It takes a little extra effort to get them but helps build the confidence of the underwriters we deal with that the account has had a good track record and helps to show the account in a more favorable light.  I am also thankful for when losses are explained.  The more we can tell the story of the risk, why the loss happened or won’t happen again in the future or how the loss was truly outside the insured’s control have helped us immeasurably to convince the underwriter on the quality of the risk.

4.  I am thankful when you lay out your expectations upfront so we can meet or exceed those expectations.  We can’t always meet them but we can tell you at the start of the transaction so that you can adjust or move on.

5.  I am thankful for the inquiries.  A quick e-mail or call to go over the account will allow us to let you know what we can do so you can best place an account you have on your desk.

6.  I am thankful for when we get “last look” on an account.  We appreciate the confidence you have in our abilities to help place an account for you and it allows us to “sharpen our pencil” to the best of our abilities.

7.  I am thankful that nearly all of you have adapted to accept policies in electronic formats.  This has allowed us to save thousands of trees and operate more efficiently.

8.  I am thankful when you tell us what additional insured you want on an account (see prior blog entry).  This allows us to help do the best job for your client and helps to reduce E&O exposures.

9.  I am thankful for your understanding when “things don’t go as planned”.  We try every day to be perfect, but being human we are not perfect.  We do make mistakes and we look to resolve any problems or situations in the best manner possible for all involved.

10.  Finally, I am thankful for all of you being great to deal with. In my nearly 28 years in the insurance business, I have never looked back and wondered if I should have picked a different industry to work in.  There are so many great people in this business that it has been a pleasure to work in.

I pray that you have a great and safe Thanksgiving and that you enjoy the time with family and friend.

What do you want to hear about?

By Ken Kukral

International Excess has been producing blog articles for some time and we have tried to find topics that are of interest to you.  I hope you have enjoyed them and find them informative and worthwhile reading.

In looking for topics, I try to find insurance topics that are of interest based on my experiences on a day to day basis.  I try to learn something every day and I like to share those “lessons” with you.  Being a “coverage guy” (a dying breed) I find a wide variety of areas to be of interest and I seek to learn as much as I can, so you can come to me with your questions, complex accounts or general coverage issues so that you can provide answers and solutions to your clients.  I am here to serve you and be a resource for you.

That all being said, I can continue to come up with topics that I THINK will be of interest to you.  Or I can ask you what topics you want to hear about.  What coverage areas bewilder you?  What do you want to know more about?  Are you having ethical dilemmas in your day to day insurance dealings?  Are there topics you want my opinion on?  Do you need a solution to a coverage problem?  Are there those “unanswered insurance questions” you have in the back of your mind that you would like to have answered?

This is your chance to ask away….

When I came into this business in February of 1986 (yes I am old) I worked with an underwriter who was getting ready to retire.  The day I started he put in his notice that he was going to work 2 more months full time and 6 weeks part time and then be gone, never to be heard from again.  Yikes, what was I going to do?  It was obvious that he had a lot of insurance knowledge in his mind and it was my job to extract it.  So what did I do?  Ask a million questions of course!  Everyday,  I asked both technical questions and philosophical so I could understand the “big picture” and how all the small parts fit together to make up the big picture.  He was more than willing to answer questions and impart his knowledge.  There were a few areas I had “mental blocks” in and I remember asking the same question nearly a dozen times until it finally sunk in.  I had to swallow my pride just ask the same question over and over until I “got it”.

To this day, I still ask a lot of questions.  I am the “coverage guy” at the office and I am the one everyone comes to for answers. I love going to CIC Graduate Seminars since they get into many topics I want to learn more about.  Being the type of person who does not want to go into a situation lacking the knowledge to intelligently discuss the topic or problem I have a need to be prepared and come off as knowing what I am talking about.  I do find out on a daily basis how “little” I know and how expansive the technical areas of insurance are.  I am not afraid to get involved in new coverage areas and quickly try to get up to speed.

With new entries or younger individuals in the insurance business I encourage them to ask as many questions as they can.  I get worried when they stop asking questions since I know how much it takes to get to the point where you have a significant amount of knowledge in this business.  Many of the “coverage guys” I know in this business or either retired or are on the verge of retiring.

So let me know what you want to hear about, what you want to learn and I will see what I can do to provide blog articles that interest you and help to expand your insurance and coverage knowledge.


Blogmeister Ken

Sandy is no friend of mine

By Cathy Thurber

I had a friend named Sandy when I was growing up.  She was short and sweet, always ready for something fun to do.  Now, it seems, the next time I think about Sandy the only image that will come to  mind is Hurricane Sandy and the damage she has caused.  Hurricane Sandy is definitely not short, nowhere near sweet, and is ready to bring destruction instead of fun.  Personally, I don’t like this Sandy.  Not at all.

This hurricane is a monster.  The sheer size from the images is just astounding, and how far her damage will reach is incredible.  This was definitely something that was communicated to the masses early.  Evacuation orders were sent out and I’m still astounded at the number of people that didn’t leave the low-lying areas.  However, there will always be those that want to ride out the storms.  For those of us that aren’t used to huge storms like this, there are certain things you want to remember when you’re going to make it through a disaster.  We can even use tips like these in Ohio for when our big storms roll through.

     1.     Fill up your bathtub with water.  At first I thought this was just for people to have something to drink.   Actually, the real reason is so you can flush your toilets if your water’s not working.  I can’t imagine how gross a bathroom could become if that happened.  This is definitely a must.

     2.     Flashlights and batteries. I’m pretty sure everybody realizes the importance of this. Candles will definitely work, too, but there is more of a fire hazard.

     3.         Be careful with your food.  Perishable food (from the fridge) will only last so long – probably about four hours.  Keep your freezer door shut!  If you keep opening it the cold air escapes and your food will spoil a lot faster.

     4.     Use your generator carefully.  First of all, hopefully you have a generator for backup.  But, you have to be careful – don’t use the generator inside your home, even if the windows and doors are open.  Those things emit carbon monoxide and could potentially put your life in danger.  Make sure you keep it outside your residence, about 20-30 feet away from any doors or windows.

     5.     Have some contractor garbage bags ready to go.  More than likely, you’re going to have a lot of debris to pick up.  And hey – you’re probably going to need help cleaning up that stuff.  Keep some beer on hand to entice those willing individuals.

     6.     Help others.  Be one of those people that helps clean up the debris.  Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly or anyone that has special needs.  Make sure they have shelter, food and water.  And don’t forget the pets!  Make sure those animals are safe and secure, too.

How not to speak in tongues

By Cathy Thurber

My son had to present a short book report during school last week and it was all I could do to get him out the door and on the bus the day of his presentation.  He hates to speak in front of people.  I completely get where he’s coming from because I was always horrible at giving speeches.  My throat would clench, my mouth would get dry….I sounded like a frog trying to get the first few sentences out.  Either that or I would fumble with my words and sound like I was speaking a second (and unknown) language.  And God forbid if the speech had to be over three minutes long – I’d be in panic mode!

In order to help him get through this tough moment, I researched ideas on how to overcome your fear and speak in public.  I thought I’d share a few of them.

1.     Relax!  I know, it’s easier said than done.  But, if you can just remember that you’re not perfect (and your audience doesn’t expect you to be!) then it may help you to calm down a little.  Take some deep breaths and don’t think negative thoughts.
2.     Know what you’re talking about.  In other words, know your topic.  Make sure you’ve read about your subject and written down all the important bits on your note cards.  When you’ve researched your subject matter then it will start sinking in – and then you won’t feel like you don’t know anything.  Instead, you’ll feel more confident when you’re up in front of people that may not know a thing about your theme.
3.     Practice makes perfect.  Well, at least it will make it easier to get through your speech when you’ve gone through it a few times (especially since I already said you didn’t need to be perfect!).   You can even practice giving your speech in front of a mirror so that you get used to the feeling that someone is paying attention to you.
4.     Try really hard not to say “uh” or “um” a lot.  You don’t need to fill the silence.  If you hesitate for a moment during your speech, just take another deep breath and start where you left off.  This is probably one of the toughest ones to get over.
5.     Just be yourself.  You’re not a professional speaker, so don’t try to act like one.  Besides, if you have a great personality (like I believe my son does) then just let that shine through.  He tends to be a bit of a comedian, so I told him to smile a bit and maybe ham it up when he was talking about the best part of the book.

    I know a couple of these ideas seemed to help him get through his speech.  I’m sure we’ll need to go over them again when the next oral report comes up.  At least we’re one step ahead next time!

    Continual Improvement

    By Cathy Thurber

    The renewal date for my insurance license is coming up quickly.  As much as I understand the necessity for continuing education in order for my license to renew, there are times I dread it.  It’s a pain, especially when you wait until the last minute (like I tend to do).  However, I always come out the other side of my classes knowing more and appreciative of that fact.

    My children were questioning me the other night as I was working through an online class.  “You already have a degree and a job – why do you have to keep doing this?”  And my favorite (from my 10-year old), “Does this mean I’ll be going to school FOREVER??”  That was said with so much shock and despair that I think I laughed for a good five minutes.  You see, my husband was also working on homework at the time because he has gone back to school.  What he’s doing is so much more impressive than my continuing education because he is completely changing careers.  I’m incredibly proud of him.  We’ve talked to our kids all along about how it’s important to continually improve yourself and I know they can see that with their dad.  I don’t think they truly realized that other people did it, too – even if the person isn’t switching careers.  It ended up being a good chance to talk to them about improving yourself wholly as a person.

    We were able to stress the fact that it’s not just education that’s important, but improving who you are in general.  It’s good to work at becoming a better person all around – your education, your impact on your community and the environment, and your spirituality.  How you give back to yourself and to those around you are important ideals.  Every person is a piece of the puzzle that is mankind.  How you relate to others and treat others is vital.  Your self-worth and convictions are what make you who you are (personally, my faith is the backbone of who I am).  It is so important that children grow up to realize this.  By us showing our kids that we continually try to improve ourselves in all areas, it is my hope that they will learn to be the same.

    Take the time to show the children (or people) around you that who YOU are is essential.  We may be the average, ordinary person but that doesn’t mean that we stop learning, growing, and being a significant member of our family, community and humanity in general.

    Off the Grid

    By Ken Kukral

    In today’s electronic world everyone is connected via some wireless device or via computer.  Anymore you can work from home, from Starbucks, from your car, from a foreign country or even from the office and no one is the wiser.  With most documents being electronic you can work on just about anything via the internet.

    The ability to be “connected” becomes a security blanket and you feel you are just one text, one e-mail, or one phone call away.  It is with much trepidation that I am going “off the grid” for a few days and heading to Northern Canada.  The territory where only satellite phones can reach (if you have it turned on), so I will officially be “off the grid”.  I am not sure I can remember the last time I wasn’t reachable.

    My hope is that this will be mentally freeing and I will have time to think, not think, daydream,  let my mind wander, enjoy my trip with my brother and his buddies and just live in the moment.  I am skeptical, but willing to give it my all and see what happens….

    I know I will have voicemails to return, e-mails to respond to, quotes to send out and  other matters to address…. But they will have to wait…

    Pardon me if I say “ay” for a few weeks after I get back or start to exhibit a French accent…., it will wear off soon enough.  But I hope the memories and stories will live forever.

    Over and out….  Catch you on the flip side…


    By Cathy Thurber

    Gratitude:  a feeling, emotion or attitude in acknowledgement of a benefit that one has received or will receive.

    I was watching SpongeBob with my son the other day (yes, I said SpongeBob) and he was singing about having an “attitude of gratitude.”  I thought to myself what a wonderful lesson that is for everyone to be reminded of.  How many of us forget to be grateful for the things in life that keep us going?  And not only the big things, like your family, health, friends, the job you have (even on those days you want to pull your hair out).  What about being grateful for the little things in life that just get you through that bad day – the day when you can’t find anything big to be grateful for?  Hey, I was actually grateful for a hot slice of pizza once because I was cold, hungry, and had a hard day.  That one piece of pizza made everything else fade away in that moment.  Some days, it really is the small things that matter, when that’s all you can find.

    Not only should we remember to be grateful for what we have, SpongeBob also reminds us that we should make it a habit.  A daily thing that we do for ourselves and for others.  Let those people you care about know that you are grateful to them!  It will give you a good feeling to tell them how they mean to you, and it will surely give the recipient a warm, fuzzy feeling.

    So, try to be like SpongeBob…adopt an “attitude of gratitude” in your daily life.  Be thankful for all you’ve been given and make it a habit to use it every day.  As the cute, yellow sponge sings, “I’m grateful for the life I am living, who knows how long I will have it.”  And isn’t that the truth?  That square dude hit the nail on the head with that one.  Rock on, SpongeBob.