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7 rules of attraction: follow these simple steps to capture more agents' business.

Insurance companies enjoyed a remarkably profitable year in 2004. In fact, U.S. property/casualty writers made an underwriting profit for the first time since 1978, according to the A.M. Best Co. The market is softening quickly though, faster than most insurance company executives are willing to admit. The question is: How do we maintain market share and growth without cutting prices to the bone?

An important strategy lies amidst the many items that the recent investigations and insurers have missed: Accounts very often are placed with the company the customer service representative, account manager or producer likes best rather than the company offering the best compensation. Usually, the company liked best has little to do with commissions or contingencies. It is the company easiest to do business with. It is the company with the best service and the best products.

The company that is easiest to do business with could be the most successful insurance company. In fact, two or three of the companies considered to be very successful are, indeed, very easy to do business with and follow the model below closely.

1 DO NOT CHANGE UNDERWRITERS ALL THE TIME. Companies may have underwriting rules, but those rules vary from underwriter to underwriter according to the underwriter's interpretation. This makes doing business with a merry-go-round of underwriters very difficult. Some companies rotate their underwriting staff so they don't get too close to their agents and begin taking chances they shouldn't take. That problem can easily be addressed with better underwriting audits. Agencies need consistency from their companies.

2 AGENTS NEED UNDERWRITER AVAILABILITY UNTIL AT LEAST 5 P.M. THE AGENCY'S TIME. Because so many insurance companies are located on the East Coast, this is especially true for agencies located in the Midwest and on the West Coast. An agency's clients cannot operate their businesses nor lives around an insurance company's East Coast hours. The lack of underwriter availability is a big problem. It inhibits agencies from providing good service, it reduces agency productivity, it creates significant frustration and it increases agency errors and omissions exposures. This is just one reason regional carriers often are favored over national companies. Their underwriters usually work in or near the same time zone as their agencies.

3 REASONABLE RESPONSE TIMES ARE KEY TO GOOD SERVICE. An agent is almost always going to place business with companies that respond quickly.

4 PROVIDE CONSISTENCY WITHOUT RIGIDITY. Agents prefer company underwriters who live in the real world. This is normally not a problem for field underwriters, but it can be a huge problem for companies using home office underwriters. For example, a particular home office refused to believe a Dodge Ram Charger was a virtually indestructible, four-wheel-drive truck. Even with a picture, the home office insisted this vehicle was really a Dodge Charger like the "General Lee" on the old Dukes of Hazzard TV show. Agencies do not usually give underwriters too many second chances on quality business, and then a cycle begins. The agency starts submitting less than stellar business to these companies, and the companies get more and more cynical about those agents.

5 UNDERWRITERS NEED AUTHORITY TO SAY YES. Why employ underwriters who have no authority to do their job? It wastes the agency's and the company's time and money. Underwriters good enough to have authority cost money, but what is saved by employing ones who cannot say yes? It takes that underwriter's time plus his or her boss's time because they both have to review everything. The company also experiences additional losses because agents will go to those companies that employ underwriters who can say yes.

6 CREATIVE THINKING: UNDERWRITERS SHOULD BE MORE THAN COMPUTERS. Otherwise, companies could save money by writing complex software and do away with underwriters completely. Such software is obviously already used to some extent, but so far, at best, it is only used effectively on cookie-cutter business.

If a company has human underwriters, it makes sense to use their valuable thinking skills beyond cookie-cutter accounts. Creative thinking about how to write an account is appreciated by agencies and creates loyalty because too few companies practice it. Agents who represent companies that have underwriters who can think creatively have a distinct competitive advantage. Create a competitive advantage for your agencies and watch your premiums soar.

7 AGENCIES PRIZE INSURANCE COMPANIES THAT COME THROUGH ON PROMISES. Agents prize companies that set goals with their agencies and then maintain the same goals throughout the year. If you are a company employee planning to reunderwrite your book beginning next quarter, do not set big growth goals with your agencies this quarter. If you do, you'll throw all your credibility down the toilet. Companies need to stay the course.

Can you imagine the frustration many agents experience when companies announce their desire to grow with an agency, then decline everything the agency submits? Sometimes this happens because the underwriter has different goals than the marketing rep. (Which is only a "minor" problem when the two key company people have totally different and opposing goals.)

Companies that agencies trust, are easy to do business with, and are consistent have a very key competitive advantage. These ideas are inexpensive to implement, and several cost nothing. None of them requires great technology, if any technology. A few companies already have enacted these simple ideas, and these same companies seem to usually outperform their peers. Most haven't and are less successful. You can choose which results you want to achieve.

Key Points

* Agents want a consistent working relationship with underwriters.

* National insurers should make sure their underwriters are available until 5 p.m. across all U.S. time zones.

* Agents' decisions on where to place accounts are often based on an insurer's service and product line, rather than on compensation.

Contributor Chris Burand is president of Burand & Associates LLC, an insurance agency consulting firm.
COPYRIGHT 2005 A.M. Best Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Agent/Broker: Underwriting
Author:Burand, Chris
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Previous Article:Degrees of separation: what ties permit one company to claim benefits under a policy issued to another company?
Next Article:Real people, real time: Best's Review survey shows insurance agents want quick answers from live underwriters, rather than more technology.

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