Construction Conundrum

A variety of tools on wood.

This summer has been a collection of home improvement jobs at our household, between painting and building a deck. The painting is something I’ve handled before, multiple times, but building a large deck was something new. We have never tackled any structure of this magnitude before, but were pretty sure of ourselves and our capabilities. Well, I should say my husband was sure of himself, because he had friends who had an “idea” of how to do it. I mostly stood on the sidelines at the beginning and “supervised” until I was put to work. The construction, of course, did not go anywhere near as we planned it. Here are a few tidbits I have learned while attempting our first deck:

1. Big, strong guys are a necessity. Digging 3-foot holes, encountering multiple tree roots, hauling huge, heavy 20-foot boards – this isn’t for the weak or for just one person to handle. Make sure you’re nice to your friends early on so they’ll show up when you call! Thank God for our family and friends who came to help – we couldn’t have done it without them.

2. If it’s an outside project, it will rain every day you are able to work on it. Granted, I wasn’t sure if we were living in Cleveland, Ohio or Seattle, Washington for most of this summer, but every day we were able to work on the deck it started raining the second we stepped outside. Of course, it was sunny and dry on the days we couldn’t get to it.

3. Math skills are a definite must. I wish I had paid more attention in geometry now. Angles, angles, angles. That’s what woodwork seems to be about. I can hear my high school geometry teacher saying, “I told you so.”

4. There will be multiple trips to Home Depot. Daily. I’m pretty sure some of those trips weren’t even necessary…they were just to talk me in to buying more items for the deck. And who knew you would need a million deck screws?

5. Measure twice, cut once. Actually, it was more like measure 4 times, cut once. We measured the area it needed to go twice and then measured the board twice. That was after cutting a few boards too short and wasting valuable wood. Of course, it could have also been because I wasn’t paying attention when he told me the number. I’m not confessing to anything, though. Back to Home Depot we go!

6. Assume you will annoy at least one of your neighbors. Or, they will annoy you. It’s going to happen. You’re either using your hammer too early in the morning, your circular saw when their child is napping, or they don’t want their “natural” view blocked. And it doesn’t matter if you got along before the building started….somebody is going to be peeved about something.

7. Everything takes way longer than expected. That deck that was supposed to be completed by the end of June? Yeah, it’s about 70% done. I’m pretty sure there’s no end in sight at this point.

8. So, you say it’s only going to cost a couple thousand dollars….try again! You may want to add another thousand. Or two. All those extra trips to Home Depot really add up. Especially those deck screws.

Now we are waiting on an additional delivery of more decking stuff to arrive. I’m pretty sure we’ll have to go back to Home Depot for more wood and deck screws. Always deck screws. Can you tell I have an issue with those dang screws? Wish us luck to get this done…soon!

cathyCathy Thurber has over 10 years’ experience in the insurance industry and likes to think she’s learned a few things along the way, one of which being to not take herself too seriously.  She would love to say she has as many cool expertise’s as her fellow blogger, Ken Kukral, but she’s just not as old as him.  Cathy is a voracious reader and a total word nerd.  Most importantly, she’s been married to her favorite person for almost twenty years and has two kids that she actually likes.  However, the dog is her favorite child and she’s been wheedling for a cat for years.  Perhaps this is the lucky year?

“Standing out in a Crowd”… what does that mean in the Insurance Business?

One happy smiling egg amongst sad angry and envious crowd of eggs isolated on white background

With the prospect of Google getting into the insurance business, I am forced to stand back and take another look at our ever changing insurance business.  Google has changed how we do business, seek out information and helped to increase the speed of transactions.  If our business doesn’t change (like so many others have) then we may get “left in the dust”.

If we act like we are all the same and our business gets “commoditized”, then Google has great prospects in our business.  If they can change how people shop and buy insurance then we may get left behind.  Most of the internet activity on insurance has been to “shop” for insurance, but the number of actual sales is lagging.  If Google can get over that hump, then they are on to something.

So if we want to succeed, then what do we need to do in order to differentiate ourselves?  How will we increase the “value” to our customers and make them realize this is not just a “price” transaction?

Let’s first look at the business model online insurance agents are using and see what “advantages” they have:

  • Speed – Many online agents have rating engines that help potential customers get an immediate online quote. So when they get their auto insurance bill and the rate just went up, they can go online and get a competing price quote immediately.
  • Lower price? Not having gone online myself to get a quote, I am being told that the pricing can be less since they take out most of the agent commission and the ultimate cost of the sale (acquisition cost) goes down.
  • Multiple Options – It is easy with automation to give multiple options so people can pick and choose what they want.
  • Efficiency of transaction – They can get a quote, bind, have the policy issued and pay for it all right there online. They can come to their computer, and 30 minutes later have a policy in hand and ID cards ready.

Those sound like pretty good advantages and could make it tough to compete, so we should just give up, right?   Not so fast.  Let’s look at how we can combat these advantage and determine what advantages independent agents have:

Three of the four advantages above are also available for agents.  We can quickly get a quote with just a few pieces of information, so as long as we respond quickly, there is no real advantage from a speed standpoint.  Multiple options?  Sure we can show multiple options, but having too many options can be confusing.  We can ask a few questions up front and come to a few options that fit what they are looking for.  Much like going to a restaurant and looking over a six page menu and having difficulty deciding what to order. Wouldn’t you rather have a one or two page menu that gives you enough options and allows you to make a quicker decisions.  We can also do efficient transactions.  The technology is there and we can do very much the same thing that the online agents can do, so this advantage can be downplayed.

What about our advantages?

  • Knowledge and skill – Do customers know what they want? Know what they need?  Asking a few questions and help guiding them is worth its weight in gold.  Very few customers have an extensive knowledge of insurance and are “flying blind” when they approach internet based transactions.  The confidence you can instill when helping them to determine the coverage and terms they need will be seen as a strong advantage on the agent’s part.  One size does not fit all and they need to be consulted on what they might need or want.
  • A better claim experience – Although agents have been “removed” from many claim transactions with their carriers, they can help guide a client through the process. Helping to understand what to expect, timing and getting satisfaction can make all the difference between a happy or unhappy client.  Preparing them prior to claim (letting them know the steps they will need to take and what they are responsible for) and answering their questions will keep them coming back.  Knowing they are being “taken care of” and are not just being “processed” will build loyalty and satisfaction.  This is especially true on a large loss.  There will be “twists and turns” along the way and how you deal with them will be the difference between having a long term client or not.  Things such as working with their accountant on a business income loss will help to speed up the process and get their claim paid faster.
  • Personal touch – Here is where we can make all the difference. A thank you for their business can go a long way.  Helping them to control losses or managing risk can pay dividends and help make them be better risk.  Helping them know the gaps in their coverage and if or how those gaps can be covered or managed will help them to not be surprised when a loss does happen.  Discussing what to expect next such as a “reservation of rights letter”, which in and of itself can seem like there is nothing that is covered by their policy.  Also “just being there” when something does happen will help give them reassurance at a difficult time.
  • Ability to help them find solutions to their risk problems. – One of the disadvantages of online agents is that they are looking for things to fit nicely “inside the box”. So they become “box underwriting” companies and if it fits, great, if not, go somewhere else.  We can help by working with clients who do not fit squarely into the underwriting box.  It doesn’t make them a bad client, just different.  How we deal with them and how we help them solve their insurance problem will build significant loyalty and satisfaction.  As I said before, one size does not fit all and we can’t treat clients like that.

So, obviously, we need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.  Not be like every other agent.  Provide a higher perceived value than other agents or online agents.  So how?

  1. Know your product, know your client. Spending the time to learn about your insurance products and how they can be properly tailored to each client will give you a distinct advantage.  Knowing as much as you can about that client will help you to properly protect their assets and meet their needs.
  2. Market in a different manner and build your “brand” – If you want to be distinct, you need to be unique. Doing the “same old thing” will get you the same old results.  Don’t be afraid to fail.  Be consistent though in order to build your brand.  A great brand will pay off in the long run.
  3. If you build a specialty, become an “expert” in that area. If you choose to specialize in hospitality risks, learn everything you can about that business so you can speak their language.  You will also be able to see how their industry is changing and help them to deal with and insure their operation better.
  4. Build a team behind you. When clients have multiple points of contact with your agency, they are building relationships with your whole agency.  The more they feel they have the team of XYZ Insurance Agency behind them, the more they value their coverage and agent.
  5. Continuous improvement. Look to improve every area of your operation over time so you find new ways to stand out and be “above the crowd”.

Half the battle is just realizing you need to stand out, then the next step is how to make it happen.  Keep looking around you when you do business with other firms as to WHY you deal with them.  What makes them different?  A recent example is what got me thinking, when I had to have some body work done on my car.  Figured it was just an average transaction that would come and go and be forgotten a couple weeks from now.  Wrong.  What they did do it detail my car to a point that the interior of my car looks like it just came off the showroom floor.  Every time I have stepped into my car since I got it back, I have smiled.  I even feel a little guilty I haven’t taken the time to go on and do an online review and praise them for their service.  A raving fan now?  Think I would ever consider taking my care elsewhere if I needed body work done again?  Not a chance…  Find a way to make that happen for your agency.

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.  800-937-3497 ext 2079

What is surplus lines insurance?


Simple answer, it is the non-standard or specialty lines section of the insurance business.  “Standard carriers” need to file their rates and forms with state insurance departments and have them approved.  Surplus lines carriers operate outside that restriction and can tailor their policies to fit the needs of a particular risk.  It is this freedom of rate and form that allow these specialty insurance carriers to provide innovated risk solutions or provide coverage to risks that be deemed “uninsurable”.

The surplus lines insurance industry also provides solutions to new and emerging exposures that may be deemed to new or too risky for standard lines carriers.  Many new coverages start in the surplus lines arena and eventually work their way to the standard carriers as they become more familiar and comfortable with the coverage and exposures.  Some examples of this would be employment practices liability and cyber liability.

Standard carriers are regulated at the state level and pay state premium taxes based on where the premium is written.  Surplus lines carriers are exempt from premium taxes and surplus lines brokers collect state surplus lines taxes in order for states to make this revenue back.  Surplus lines carriers are exempt from state guaranty funds also.  Surplus lines carriers are regulated in their home state and not by all insurance departments.

Ken KukralOn behalf of IEC University, Ken Kukral breaks down all things insurance. Stay tuned for more!

I’m Bored!

By Cathy Thurber

Well, it’s that time of year again: Summer.

Can I get an Amen?

I’m so thankful that warmer weather and longer, sunny days are here.  However, it’s also another time of year at our house, perhaps at yours, too: the “I’m-bored-there’s-nothing-to-do” whine-fest from my children.  Well, one has a job now, so she doesn’t whine quite as much.  There’s just not as much time left to blow off in a day when you have to work.

Oh, we’ll be ok for possibly the month of June.  Now that’s school’s out they will ride their bike or drive their car to see friends for a week or so.  Then they go away to camp for a week.  But once July is here? Watch out! It will be a litany of how bored they are, there’s nothing to do, all of their friends are on vacation (why aren’t we on vacation??), and my personal favorite:  it’s too hot to go outside and play.  What?  My mother kicked me out of the house after 10am in the morning and didn’t want to see me until late in the afternoon.  I was just expected to stop home and get a quick lunch and something to drink somewhere in there.

Last year, much to my children’s dismay, I hung up a sign at the beginning of summer that went a little like this:

You say you’re bored?  Well, before you tell Mom and Dad how bored you are, you must have done all of the following:

B uild something.  A fort, a Lego house, something crafty, the next “big thing” (as long as it’s legal).

O utside….it exists.  Stare at clouds, dig holes, climb trees, do cartwheels…but do it for 40 minutes.

R ead a book for 20 minutes.

E xercise.  Run laps around the house, take a bike ride or a walk, stay inside and do pushups. 30 minutes!

D id you see the chore list?  More importantly, did you do your chores on the chore list?

Of course, my children are teenagers, so I don’t have to cater to them as much as when they were little.  But these are good activities for kids of any age.  I’ve also heard of parents putting ideas on slips of paper and then sticking those in a jar.  Whenever they phrase “I’m bored” comes out of a child’s mouth they pick out a slip and do what’s on it, be it a chore or something creative or fun. I try to make sure it has nothing to do with screens (TV, Xbox, i-phone, etc.) this way it engages their mind more.  So, the next time your child tells you they’re bored….point to the list or give them a slip of paper.   It’s quite handy.

cathyCathy Thurber has over 10 years’ experience in the insurance industry and likes to think she’s learned a few things along the way, one of which being to not take herself too seriously.  She would love to say she has as many cool expertise’s as her fellow blogger, Ken Kukral, but she’s just not as old as him.  Cathy is a voracious reader and a total word nerd.  Most importantly, she’s been married to her favorite person for almost twenty years and has two kids that she actually likes.  However, the dog is her favorite child and she’s been wheedling for a cat for years.  Perhaps this is the lucky year?

What Makes a Good Underwriter?

By Ken Kukral


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.  800-937-3497 ext 2079

Questions to ask prospective clients

Are there questions we should be asking prospective clients that we aren’t that would help us to better understand what they want?

Are there questions we are afraid to ask prospective clients?

Are there questions we should be asking that would help us to “qualify” prospective accounts?

I have a feeling that the answer to all three of the above questions is yes.  In fact I KNOW the answer is YES!  I do a post mortem on accounts I lost, didn’t write or spent significant time on and wondered if there were questions I should have asked that would have helped me to do a better job.  Questions such as:

  • What kind of premium or rate are you expecting or the insured is expecting? While they may not know, many times they do.  I have saved a lot of time and effort by just relaying minimum premiums for certain classes of business and found out they were expecting something significantly less.  That way the agent is able to move on to the next account and not spin their wheels that they aren’t going to write.
  • Why do you want to fire your current agent? Using a word like FIRE puts a touch of reality to the situation and many times the client will tell you what is important to them that the other agent is not providing.  If they say “they aren’t sure they want to fire their current agent”, then you have your work cut out for you.  Most likely they are just price shopping and you will have to work to differentiate yourself if you are going to have a chance to write account.
  • When do you need the quote by? Simple question, but I am surprise on how few it is asked.  It is essential if you want a clue as to what your prospective client is expecting.  Isn’t selling all about meeting or exceeding expectations?  If we don’t know the clients expectations, how do we have a chance to meet them?
  • What kind of premium are you currently paying? How many times have you worked an account, didn’t write it and found out the premiums they were currently paying after the fact?   If you knew up front you might have decided to not waste your time since they already had a great deal!  If they won’t tell you, that is a signal they are price shopping.  Do they think if you know what they are currently paying you will come in just barely under it?
  • If they don’t currently have coverage, why are they looking for it now? I know a number of carriers that don’t like accounts that do NOT have current coverage.  They found when they did “look backs” on the accounts that experienced losses, that the loss ratio for accounts that did not have coverage directly before them, experienced more losses.  I think the answer to this question, tells a lot about the potential client.  If they cancelled previously for non-pay, is this potential client going to be a payment nightmare or more susceptible to losses?  Are they only looking for coverage now since someone else is requiring it?  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but is important to know.
  • If they move coverage to different carriers over the last few years, why? They are most likely driven by price, don’t have any loyalty and don’t understand the true “cost” of switching carrier often.
  • Do we ask about their website? I can’t tell you how many times I do some internet research on a prospective account and the agent is unaware of what I found.  Many underwriters do the same thing and I hate to be “caught with my pants down” and unaware of what the insured’s website says or what is available on the internet about them.
  • How did you hear about us or come to call us? Did someone suggest us to you?  This give you some information on where your business is coming from and what is working.  If they were sent to you by another client, it lets you know who you should thank!
  • What is your biggest concern or what keeps you up at night about your insurance program? Again, it helps you to better know your client and find out what their “hot buttons” are.  Besides, if you don’t ask questions like this, how will you ever know?
  • Tell me about how you got started…. People love to talk about themselves and tell “their story”.  Knowing more about their “passion” and what makes them successful will help you to protect that commercial client.
  • What is their tolerance to risk? You will most likely get a confused look when you ask this question.  Ultimately you are there to properly protect their assets and they need to know more about what risk those assets take.  This is an opportune moment to help educate your potential client and help them understand what you are looking to do.

Finally…. Ask the prospective client if there are any questions you haven’t asked that they think you should?  This lets you know where you stand and how close you are to being on the same page.  Another expectation assessment moment.  If you are having to extract information and they are not very forthcoming, it will be hard for you to do your best job for them.  If it is a “need to know” type of environment, you have not built the trust element enough and are in for a bumpy road ahead and a reduced chance to write the account.

Keep in mind, you are there to learn about the account and portray them in the best possible light to the carrier to get them the best terms, most appropriate coverage and meet or exceed their expectations.  So ask away!

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.  800-937-3497 ext 2079

5 Things that Drive Me Crazy


You know what drives me crazy?  Mondays.  Mondays make me crazy.  I always feel like the weekend was never long enough.  I was ruminating on this during my drive in to work this morning while I was in the fast lane behind somebody going the speed limit.  Yes – you’ve got it – something else that drives me crazy!!  So as I was pondering these two things that absolutely get under my skin I began to prepare a list in my head.  I figured I would be oh-so-kind and share my top five with all of you.  Because I bet they annoy you, too!

  1. Slow drivers in the fast lane. I know, I know.  I already mentioned that above.  But, come on, people!  If you are not going 10 miles over the speed limit then you SHOULD NOT be driving in the passing lane.  Why?  Because you are not passing anybody!  They are all passing you.  And they’re not telling you you’re number one, either.
  2. Stepping on Legos. Could anything hurt any more than this?  Oh, the agonizing pain!  Especially since it is usually so small you never see the darn thing and the surprise on top of the pain just takes the cake.  It’s become the perfect curse to put on someone:  I hope you step on a Lego.  Beware how you use this.  It’s a diabolical curse that could come back on you.
  3. Incorrect spelling in a published document. Now, don’t get me wrong: spelling mistakes in general annoy me.  But when the mistakes are in a published document?  Dude!  Have you ever heard of this thing they call spell-check?!? It’s this fancy new tool you’ve been able to use for, oh, the past few decades.  Not to mention a second reading is always good to do.  Ya know…so the grammar/spelling police don’t have seizures when they read your work of art.
  4.  That’s right.  I’m not even breaking this down to a specific part of Walmart like employees or service.  It’s simply:  Walmart.  I hate that place.  I don’t know how I keep ending up back there.  And the Walmart by where I live?  HORRIBLE.  My attitude can go from perfectly pleasant to mostly malevolent within 10 steps.  Horrible customer service, long lines (because only two are open), self-check outs that don’t work, rude employees, oh, the list goes on and on.
  5. Automated answering systems for your utility provider. This includes calling your television or wireless provider.  Good God – can I just talk to a human?  Pretty please?  I’m tired of pushing twenty buttons to get to a real person.  It’s exhausting having to repeat yourself when the robot on the other end doesn’t understand you.  And to make matters worse, by the time you get to an actual person they ask you some of the same questions just to verify they have the right person!  Thanks for wasting my time twice!

I know there are numerous other things that annoy me.  These are just the few I picked today, probably resulting from things that happened on my too-short weekend.  Because it’s Monday already. And yes, spell-check, I know that previous sentence was a fragment.

cathyCathy Thurber has over 10 years’ experience in the insurance industry and likes to think she’s learned a few things along the way, one of which being to not take herself too seriously.  She would love to say she has as many cool expertise’s as her fellow blogger, Ken Kukral, but she’s just not as old as him.  Cathy is a voracious reader and a total word nerd.  Most importantly, she’s been married to her favorite person for almost twenty years and has two kids that she actually likes.  However, the dog is her favorite child and she’s been wheedling for a cat for years.  Perhaps this is the lucky year?

Little tricks of the trade in the surplus lines business

Group of Business People Meeting

Over my 29 years, I have learned a few things and I would like to share some of those items with you.  Take them or leave them, they may help you out too.

  • Take a little time to learn about the prospective account. I have worked on many accounts where the “story changed” two or three times before getting down to what the account really did.  It is tough when a rush item is sent in, then going back and forth with the underwriter after the “story changed” when we asked more questions.  This causes the underwriters ears to “perk up” and they feel they need to dig deeper in order to have a comfort level.
  • Sometimes coverage is available on admitted paper. Do not assume just because you are going to s surplus lines broker that they will always use non-admitted paper.
  • Find out what endorsements you will need up front. This includes waiver of subrogation, primary and non-contributory wording, additional insureds, blanket additional insureds, stop gap liability, Employee Benefit Liability and per project aggregates.  It is easier to ask for these items up front and get them included in the pricing, rather than ask for them later.  Sometimes carriers cannot offer these and if they are required, we can move on to another carrier and not waste time.  Keep in mind also that most carriers in the E&S business charge EXTRA for these endorsements.
  • Read through the terms and conditions and ask for specimen copies of endorsements if you believe the endorsement/exclusion may be an issue. That way you can inform your client where their coverage starts and ends.  There are times exclusions can be “bought back”, so it can’t hurt to ask.
  • Different carriers use different premium basis. For contractors, some rate based on payroll and other base premium on receipts.  Some other base them on the number of owners and number of employees.  So make sure you include ALL of the potential premium basis when sending in a submission.  Keep in mind to break out owner payroll, clerical and sales payroll from the rest of the payroll.  A number of classifications exclude this payroll and that can help bring the premium down.  If fact, you may even want to do a three year look back on their payroll and see if they have been over charged.  I know of one such account that when we did this, we were able to get the insured $200,000 in return premiums!  Think they were happy?
  • One more note on payrolls. If your insured is doing a hazardous operation, such as say demolition, it would behoove you to break out the payroll by classification.  So for a demolition contractor, how much payroll actually goes to the demolition classification?  Should part of the payroll go to trucking (trucking the debris away), some to backfilling or grading of land (filling in the basement), some to debris removal… etc… you get the idea.  That way the proper amount goes to the highest rated classification.
  • Certain classes of risk require supplemental applications. Contractors require a contractor’s supplemental application.  Restaurants, bars and taverns require a hospitality supplemental application.  Apartments require a habitational supplemental application.  Find a comprehensive one you can use and be consistent.
  • If you can, try to determine the proper ISO classification. This alleviates the chance the underwriter will use the wrong one.  Many E&S carriers have manuals that break out the specific ISO classification and make it within binding authority (for the MGA), submit or prohibited.  So if they pick the wrong classification, the risk may be declined.
  • Just because you are “going E&S” doesn’t mean that you can ask for the endorsements or coverage you believe the clients need. You may get a quote with more restrictive coverage, but at least you asked for more expansive coverage.  Many markets can add expanded GL or property endorsements or some of the “fringe” coverages you need.
  • Websites – Nearly ALL underwriters will check out a risks website, so you might as well too. That way you can explain any disparities between the application and the website upfront.
  • If you know prospective pricing, let us know. We can quickly tell you if the expectations are unrealistic and save both of us a lot of time.
  • Narratives are appreciated. They become “rare” anymore and a submission with a good narrative actually stands out from the crowd.
  • We like to know what happened to the account… Many times we get in a rush submission, pull out all the stops.. send out a quote.. and never hear anything again…. We like to know what happened to a risk if we didn’t write it so we can find out what we did wrong or if our markets are not competitive.

I hope sharing some of these “tricks of the trade” will help you out.  I would appreciate hearing about some of the things you found out in this business that have helped you along the way.

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.  800-937-3497 ext 2079

How Much Commercial Property Insurance Do I Need?

ACBI Insurance

The whole idea behind insurance is protection. When you buy property insurance for a building, the goal is to have enough coverage so that your insurance claim will put you in roughly the same economic position you were – or as close to it as possible – before disaster struck.

The Three Property Valuation Methods

From an insurance perspective, there are three basic methods for valuing and assigning coverage limits to a commercial property: fair market value (FMV), actual cash value (ACV) and replacement cost. It’s important to understand that these numbers can be very different from each other – and sometimes radically so. The three approaches are not interchangeable at all. It’s very important to understand the type of insurance coverage you own and how claim settlement figures are arrived at.

Fair Market Value

The concept of fair market value is familiar to most of us. A property’s FMV…

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Raising A Resilient Child

Kids Superhero

When you’re a parent, you constantly wonder if you’re teaching your children to be independent; to be resilient.  Have you given them enough room to grow on their own?  Are they always looking to you for the decision to be made, or do they just ask your opinion and create their own resolution?  When harder times prevail do they crumble or do they find it within themselves to bravely move forward?  So many questions and worries we parents have!

I was skimming through the internet yesterday and came across an article entitled “10 Tips to Raising Resilient Kids (From a Former Navy Seal)” by Calvin Hennick.  Since I, of course, love anything having to do with Navy Seals, I had to click on the link and have a quick read.  Taken from Eric Greiten’s new book, these tips are spot-on to me.   In short form, here they are:

  • Be a role model
  • Make yourself useful
  • Practice gratitude
  • Teach responsibility
  • Don’t help kids (too much)
  • Let kids experience consequences
  • Allow for failure
  • Encourage risk taking
  • Exercise authority
  • Love your kids

Each one of these guidelines helps to instill a sense of independence in your child.  While always letting your child know that you love and support them is imperative, setting them up to have confidence in themselves and their decision-making capability is a major plus.  This is what we, as parents, need to strive for: raising compassionate, responsible, courageous, purpose-driven, and loving adults.

Please take a more in-depth look at these tips by reading Hennick’s article:

cathyCathy Thurber has over 10 years’ experience in the insurance industry and likes to think she’s learned a few things along the way, one of which being to not take herself too seriously.  She would love to say she has as many cool expertise’s as her fellow blogger, Ken Kukral, but she’s just not as old as him.  Cathy is a voracious reader and a total word nerd.  Most importantly, she’s been married to her favorite person for almost twenty years and has two kids that she actually likes.  However, the dog is her favorite child and she’s been wheedling for a cat for years.  Perhaps this is the lucky year?