Previously we talked about the importance of Underwriting Flexibility to P&C insurance agents, especially for agents who write Commercial Lines. Agents place more of their best business with carriers that they perceive to be flexible in their underwriting.
If you want your agents to view you as flexible, as opposed to fickle, you also need to be perceived as “stable” in your decision making.
Agents want to place their best business with carriers they believe will enable them to renew the business over the long term. Here is a representative comment from an agent about how much they value stability.
“Market stability is one of the key factors in making the decision to place an account with a carrier. Knowing that they are not going to take unjustified rate increases or pull out of a market space can ensure that we don’t have to re-write/remarket that business in 3 years.”
WHY IS STABILITY SO IMPORTANT?
When agents must move their business to new carriers, it is disruptive to their client relationship.
Asking their client to change carriers can open a door for their competitors. Changing carriers requires extra work for both the agent and their client. The client may think that since they are being forced to go through this extra work, they may as well consider other agents or online carriers during the process.
Also, from the agent’s perspective, time spent remarketing accounts takes away from servicing other customers and from seeking new clients. As they say, time is money.
Overall, relationships with carriers that often change their underwriting appetite can be less profitable for an agent than those with more stable appetites.
IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION REGARDING STABILITY OF APPETITE
When we talk about the importance of carriers being stable in their underwriting decision making, we are not suggesting that carriers never change their selection standards, rates, or terms. The risks being insured, and the cost of those risks, are ever changing. This means that carriers must evolve their selection and pricing decisions.
It is the frequency and magnitude of changes made by a carrier that affect whether agents view that carrier as stable. For this reason, carriers that thoughtfully and deliberately set their underwriting appetite and have trusted relationships with their agents are more stable than carriers that often make big, sweeping changes in their underwriting. “Stable” carriers do not have to change direction as often, and when they do need to make a change, there is more support from their agents.
MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE
We operate in a fast-paced world, and there is tremendous pressure to rush our decisions and take immediate action. However, rushing increases the chance we will make uninformed decisions that we must later retract.
A key mentor of mine often told me to “measure twice and cut once” when making impactful decisions. In other words, think through the situation thoroughly before acting. I almost always regretted it when I did not heed his advice.
Take the time to question your initial assumptions. Challenge yourself to look for biases in your thought process. Seek input from others. Those who think differently or come from other disciplines can bring valuable insights.
One of the most productive business relationships I ever had was with a coworker who analyzed situations totally differently than I did. We would first analyze a situation independently and lay out our reasoning. Then we would get together and share our thoughts. We found that when we both came to a similar conclusion about what action to take, we were much more likely to be successful.
We can move with purpose and urgency without making hasty decisions. One way is by having a clear idea in advance about what we want, and why we want it.
I once worked with an agent who started with an average-sized agency in a small city and developed it into a multi-state empire. He accomplished this in large part by making successful acquisitions. His secret to making great acquisitions was moving on the right opportunities more quickly than others. He could do this because he was thoughtful in advance. He knew what he wanted before the opportunity presented itself.
These are just a couple of the many ways you can increase the chances that your decisions will successfully stand the test of time. Then you will need to take fewer corrective actions that negatively impact your agents and policyholders.
TRUSTED RELATIONSHIPS HELP WHEN CHANGE IS NECESSARY
No matter how thoughtful and deliberate you are, you will still occasionally miss the mark and need to change your direction. When this happens, it helps if your agents trust and respect you.
Here is a comment we received from an agent who describes how having close, trusting relationships impacts their perception of a carrier’s stability.
“Establish strong relationships between agents and empowered underwriters. Provide consistency and stability. Stability in the underwriter position allows us to form a trusting relationship and partner with the company to grow the book.”
If your agents know that you typically show good judgement and that you consider the impact of your decisions on them, they will be more patient when you occasionally must make changes.
KEY TAKE AWAY
Carriers that are very thoughtful about their underwriting appetite and have their agents’ trust are going to be perceived as being more flexible and stable. These carriers will attract more business from their agents.