FIVE WAYS TO PROVIDE UNDERWRITERS WITH GREAT SERVICE
Tips for staying out of the “do not process” pile
Agents routinely expect a lot
from their underwriters. … There are also things that underwriters hope agents will do to help them … .
By Paul Martin, CPCU
Businesses must provide exceptional customer service to keep clients coming back. But for agencies and agents, meeting customer needs looks a little different. We know that selling insurance is a two-way sale, particularly in commercial lines. Not only does the agent need to sell to the customer or business, but they also need to sell the account to the underwriter—often to several underwriters.
So, what can an agent mistakenly overlook when working with underwriters? This column will help you understand how good the service is that you are providing your commercial underwriters.
Expectations are high. Agents routinely expect a lot from their underwriters. They want a prompt response to their submissions, they expect favorable pricing to help secure the business, and they want assistance in getting the account written the way it should be with needed coverage and endorsements. All these help the agent make the sale for the company.
But expectations go both ways. There are things that underwriters hope agents will do to help them fulfill their role and meet the needs of the agent and agency. For example, I once heard an insurance company executive discuss in a public setting that his company organized commercial submissions in their underwriting department into three piles.
One pile held submissions from agencies that gave them what they needed to underwrite the account. These submissions were from agencies with good hit ratios, with whom they had good relationships, and who were growing with his company. The second pile had submissions from agencies that were showing promise. He mentioned that working the second pile was harder and took longer than those from the first pile. The third pile had submissions they didn’t process. According to the executive, those submissions in the third pile were from agencies that showed little respect for his underwriters and were guilty of several types of slights. Agents should never fall into the third pile. So how can you stay out of there?
Five ways to get submissions processed
Let’s consider five kinds of service that an agency can provide to company underwriters that can land their submissions in the first pile.
1. Provide complete submissions. For an underwriter to consider an account, they need enough information to evaluate the business and their risks thoroughly—particularly if the underwriter has never seen the account before. Consider what they need:
- completed applications
- recent loss runs for the coverage parts submitted
- background information on the business—its operations, products, and safety and loss control efforts
- helpful photos and videos
With complete submissions, the agent acts as the eyes and ears of the company. They are also signaling that the relationship between the agent and the account is close enough that they were able to gather the information in advance to be taken seriously. (If your agency staffer needs to learn how to complete specific commercial applications, check out the Bootcamp Series at www.scic.com/programs/insurance-bootcamp-series/.)
2. Provide background and context for your competitive situation. Underwriters are like agents in many ways. They don’t like “practice” quoting. They don’t want to waste time working up a submission when the chance of winning the business is low to non-existent. Let the underwriters know where you, the agency, and the company stand. Help them understand what it takes for the agency and the customer to select their company for presentation and purchase.
Give the underwriter insight into your angle by considering these four questions:
- Do you control the account, or are other agents involved?
- What is the relationship like between the agent and the account decision-maker?
- What company is the incumbent on each line of insurance?
- Are they quoting a renewal or getting off the account?
This kind of inside information can give the underwriter a competitive spirit to win the business, or provide the agent with a disappointing, but timesaving “no thanks.”
3. Be transparent about the account’s risks and exposures. The insurance industry rests upon a foundation of honesty and good faith. Courts even have famously declared that the insurance policy is a “contract of utmost good faith.” In that spirit, being honest and transparent about the real exposures of any account is a service that agents should always provide. Obscuring important facts or hiding serious risks never works and agents doing this are found out eventually. Careers can be ruined by a reputation of deceitful behavior. Agents known for providing honest and upfront information build a reputation of respect in the underwriting community that can be rewarding in many ways—the most important being trust. And a trusting relationship with an insurance company is what builds a long, successful career as an agent.
4. Give underwriters time to evaluate the account. Agents do little to help themselves when they send last-minute submissions and expect the underwriter to respond immediately. This often signals to the underwriter that the agent isn’t doing the work required to write the account properly. This could also be a sign that the agent doesn’t have enough of a relationship with the customer to prepare a submission in advance. Late submissions may also send a message that the customer is desperate and perhapsin a pinch to secure their insurance because something fell through. That said, emergencies do arise. Sometimes the customer surprises the agent. If there is a legitimate reason for a last-minute submission, have a sensible excuse ready.
5. Don’t send submissions to block the market. Sending submissions to underwriters to simply keep other agents the company may represent from getting access to that company is a disservice agents should avoid. Underwriters figure out over time who uses blocking tactics, such as getting applications in surprisingly early to claim that they were “first in.” This tells underwriters that the agent isn’t serious about giving them business but instead is protecting other carriers the agent intends to place the business with. While there are many ways carriers may combat this practice, eventually the offending agents are found out and their reputations take a hit. Underwriters subject to habitual blocking may decide to not honor submissions from those agents. If they do, this can result in serious tensions between the carrier’s marketing department and the agency, creating the need for some honest and serious discussions about their long-term relationship.
Just like any other business relation-ship, the service provided to insurance companies by the agents and agencies is critical to mutual long-term success. If agents remember these five practices when submitting accounts to underwriters, they begin to build a rapport and reputation of trust and fair dealing.
Paul Martin is director of academic content at The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research headquartered in Austin, Texas. Paul works to develop, maintain, and deliver quality educational programs for the organization. Paul has over three decades in the insurance and risk management industry.