By Jeff Canfield, SVP, Head of E&S Casualty at Argo Group
This article was originally published March 8, 2019 in Insurance Thought Leadership.
Newcomers to the insurance industry face no shortage of challenges. If you’re a broker embarking on a career in insurance, you need to learn a variety of skills and navigate an ever-changing landscape. Among the most critical skills you need to develop early on is the ability to forge relationships with underwriters and put forth robust insurance applications and supplementals. Knowing how to communicate effectively with underwriters and providing them with quality submissions will be pivotal to your career.
On an average day, a typical excess & surplus lines (E&S) underwriter may review 16 to 20 submissions, so getting yours to the top of the pile is critical. Underwriters consider three important factors when prioritizing the submissions in their pile: (1) if the submission is complete and detailed, (2) if it fits their appetite and (3) if it’s from a broker who is known and trusted. So, how do you get yours to the top of the pile? Here is my three-step guide:
Step 1: Start with trust
As with any other successful relationship, trust is essential. Underwriters will always prioritize a submission written by a broker they trust. The first steps in building these relationships are often awkward, but getting over that uneasiness is critical. Pick up the phone and get to know the underwriters you work with. Try to find common interests to bond over, such as sports, music or cars. You don’t need to be best friends with underwriters, but you do need to reveal your personality to them, rather than keep the relationship merely transactional.
You also can build trust by showing an underwriter you understand his or her company and its appetite. Being prepared goes a long way for underwriters who work on tight timelines and have busy schedules. Learn what underwriters seek before submitting, patiently answer any questions they have and be respectful of their schedules. When you’re able to demonstrate that you understand their unique appetites, you’re making their lives easier and helping to build trust.
Building trust is the most important step because everyone, unfortunately, carries some hidden bias, intentionally or not, that goes into the decision-making. If an underwriter receives two submissions of equal quality that both fall within his or her appetite, the one from a known and trusted broker will likely get preference. Even submissions on the fringe of an underwriter’s appetite are more likely to be considered when coming from a trustworthy source. The human factor will always play a role in the decision-making, so, if you establish trust, the hidden bias will favor you.
Step 2: Write an effective submission
While building trust is a critical first step, it won’t mean anything if you can’t craft submissions that grab underwriters’ attention and save them time. With so many submissions to handle each day, underwriters will always favor those that include as much information as possible, provide specifics, anticipate questions and include summaries. A good broker knows the specific information and answers that underwriters seek and provides those. It’s best to provide as much information as possible about operations, losses and exposures. It’s okay if you don’t have every specific detail, but make sure that what you provide is as accurate as possible. Be transparent, and let the underwriter know you’re working to obtain more information. Also, be prepared to take no for an answer. It’s okay to ask for a justification, but being agreeable and understanding will help you next time.
At the end of the day, underwriters are looking for submissions that save them time. By putting forth a submission that includes summaries, provides specifics and anticipates questions, a broker significantly enhances his or her chances of getting the submission to the top of the pile.
Step 3: Communicate effectively
Knowing how to communicate properly after putting forth a submission is the third most important step you must learn. One easy way to differentiate yourself among other brokers is to include a cover letter. This is a great way to kick off your communication around a submission, because it provides underwriters with a concise summary of what to expect, thus helping them understand the information that follows and saving them time. (Notice a pattern here?) Your cover letter also gives you an opportunity to call out specific items you know the underwriter will be concerned about, immediately showcasing your value. Just a simple email up-front with a summary will do.
It’s also very helpful to promptly follow up by phone – not email – with underwriters to provide an overview of your submission after you’ve sent it. Of course, you don’t want to be annoying, but staying persistent is key. After all, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
Embrace the future
Taking these three steps skillfully and consistently will set you up for success in your career as an insurance broker. Remember, however, that they are just the basics. As our industry changes at a rapid pace, the brokers who understand and embrace future trends are the brokers who will thrive. Underwriters want to work with brokers who keep pace with change. So my last bit of advice to brokers is to become an expert in one of these trends – whether it’s IoT, automation, hydroponics or clean energy. If you gain a reputation as a forward thinker, you will stand out now and in the future.