Raising the Experience Bar
Commercial insurance has recently faced several major challenges. Economic distress has made it difficult to profit off of investments, thereby necessitating profitable underwriting to drive returns. In addition to soft rates, exposure bases (i.e., U.S. GDP) are flat, if not effectively down, and interest rates are at historic lows.
As a result of these and other pressures, the overall commercial lines market has shrunk since 2007 — from $241 billion in 2007 to $222 billion in 2012 — and has been recovering very slowly over the last five years. Difficult economic conditions and saturation of a highly fragmented market has increased competition, leading commercial carriers to improve their value proposition by offering a better customer experience for both the end insured and producers.
Commercial carriers have every incentive to invest in improving the customer experience.
In contrast with personal lines (e.g., private passenger auto insurance, for which most carriers struggle to promote a superior customer experience and divert consumers’ attention from price), ease of doing business and other value-added services — even as basic as advice — greatly influence placement.
From the lower end of small commercial to the largest commercial accounts, producer experience and, by extension, the experience of the insured has increasingly become a critical factor in a carrier’s ability to acquire and retain clients. An underwriter’s product expertise and local market knowledge often takes precedence over price.
In the meantime, shifts in customer expectations, access to information and diversifying needs are creating networks of increasingly self-directed, self-organizing and self-aware groups. This has broad implications for the design, manufacture, marketing, pricing and servicing of commercial insurance.
Small and medium enterprises increasingly interact and transact through a variety of channels. PwC’s recent Future of Insurance research shows that 49 percent of SMEs now use the Internet to supplement or replace agents and brokers in their search for commercial insurance.
As a result, investments in technology, customer data and analytics across the spectrum of carriers — from small to large commercial — are raising service expectations. Based on their business and operating models, carriers need to judiciously select and prioritize on which business and technical capabilities they should focus.
For instance, a niche market positioning that targets only a very narrow customer segment may require specific capabilities that are relevant to only that segment, such as specialized risk control services for medical facilities.
The distribution model also should greatly influence the types of customer experience-related capabilities in which to invest. For example, middle market carriers with numerous local offices will have to expend more effort, such as on guidelines and training, to promote a consistent customer experience.
Also, different sources of distribution will value different kinds of experience. While national brokers tend to be more transactional in nature and favor speed of processing and decision-making, small regional producers typically value coverage advice and are not as concerned about ease of doing business.
Regardless of a carrier’s business model, technology has been a consistent source of differentiation and an enabler of a superior customer experience, driving efficiencies throughout every stage of the sales funnel and customer life cycle.
New Customer Acquisition
The ability to collect and analyze customer data is the foundation of superior marketing capabilities. Better understanding of buyer behavior, demand for specific products or coverage, and pricing trends help carriers identify the most profitable market segments and growth opportunities.
Agents and brokers are increasingly leveraging new technologies such as social media to increase brand presence, generate leads and engage customers online. Underwriters at leading commercial carriers and MGUs likewise should promote their expertise in a given industry segment and/or line of business through “likes,” posts, retweets, blogs and articles on social media platforms.
Multiple social media outlets can help brand and disseminate thought leadership to engage both current and prospective producers.
Another key component of superior customer experience and producer productivity is ensuring that producers clearly understand a carrier’s risk appetite so they do not spend time on submissions that are likely to be rejected. This is an issue for many commercial carriers that struggle to effectively communicate their underwriting appetite, both internally and externally.
In fact, independent technology companies have emerged to address this problem by offering a new category of services to agents and brokers. For instance, there is now a search engine that gives agents and brokers a sense of insurance companies’ risk appetites, thereby allowing them to quickly find the right insurer for a particular risk.
This results in an improved quote ratio from carriers and provides more options to the prospective insured. It also saves time for everybody concerned.
The process of shopping and purchasing commercial insurance is still relatively complex. Future of Insurance research noted that nearly all non-insured small business owners cited the complexity of the process as one key reason for not getting coverage.
Ease of doing business is a key part of a superior customer experience and falls on the strategic agenda of most commercial line carriers, which are:
• Investing in streamlining and automating the underwriting process;
• Actively finding ways to simplify the data collection process by eliminating non-critical questions from their applications;
• Avoiding redundant information capture (i.e., re-keying); and
• Pre-populating submissions through third-party data services.
Beyond the initial step of capturing customer and coverage information, workflow management solutions enable better up-front triage and orchestration of account clearing, rating and quoting activities.
In an increasingly large number of small commercial segments, complete systematization of product rules and automation of underwriting decisions enable straight through processing — a commercial carriers’ ultimate goal as they strive to reduce quote turnaround times.
Some commercial carriers may choose to implement tiered service models to facilitate a superior customer experience for their most valuable producers.
Customer Relationship Management
Once a deal closes, carriers continue to look for ways to improve the producer and policyholder experience. Some carriers increasingly handle several policy administration transactions (e.g., endorsements, bill payments) on behalf of producers.
Policy administration service provision is increasingly taking place online. Even for large, multinational accounts, carriers have rolled out and continue to invest in self-service platforms that allow brokers and customers to focus on risk management, loss control and other value-added activities instead of premium payment tracking, loss reconciliation and other administrative activities.
Many carriers also have started to effectively utilize mobile computing (e.g., smartphones, tablets) to empower agents, claim adjusters, risk inspectors and customers by providing them on-demand access to both existing and new information and services.
In addition, data analytics are playing an increasingly important role, and can enable innovative value-added services, some of which may be disruptive enough to be successfully monetized and re-position a carrier’s business and/or operating model.
For instance, sensor technology has already started to transform the crop insurance business by reducing the need for traditional insurance coverage (i.e., insuring farmers against the loss of a crop or reduced yield from a crop), thereby enabling carriers to focus instead on preventive loss control services.
Sensors embedded in a field can measure the level of moisture in real time, which can then help determine the necessary level of irrigation and drive optimal watering. Several manufacturers have equipped their machinery to communicate with sensors and help farmers determine when a field is ready for harvesting.
Sensor technology also can provide real-time feedback on large scale disasters. Photos facilitate estimating damage, and mapping tools allow carriers to dynamically and automatically assign adjusters, contact customers and estimate Cat losses.
Sensor data provides carriers with real-time information on what has been damaged — Has the boiler broken? Is the basement flooded? Is there smoke damage? Is there mildew, rot or termites? Likewise, sensors can trigger customer alerts when there is minor — not just major — damage.
This presents the opportunity to stave off greater subsequent damage, as well as create pre-populated claims forms and even fulfill a claim before a customer knows the extent of damage.
Innovation has raised the bar for the customer experience and service expectations in the commercial lines sector. Commercial carriers must continue to invest in technology and find ways to harness customer data to remain competitive in the short-term.
Coping with Cancellations
Airlines typically can offset revenue losses for cancellations due to bad weather either by saving on fuel and salary costs or rerouting passengers on other flights, but this year’s revenue losses from the worst winter storm season in years might be too much for traditional measures.
At least one broker said the time may be right for airlines to consider crafting custom insurance programs to account for such devastating seasons.
For a good part of the country, including many parts of the Southeast, snow and ice storms have wreaked havoc on flight cancellations, with a mid-February storm being the worst of all. On Feb. 13, a snowstorm from Virginia to Maine caused airlines to scrub 7,561 U.S. flights, more than the 7,400 cancelled flights due to Hurricane Sandy, according to MasFlight, industry data tracker based in Bethesda, Md.
Roughly 100,000 flights have been canceled since Dec. 1, MasFlight said.
Just United, alone, the world’s second-largest airline, reported that it had cancelled 22,500 flights in January and February, 2014, according to Bloomberg. The airline’s completed regional flights was 87.1 percent, which was “an extraordinarily low level,” and almost 9 percentage points below its mainline operations, it reported.
And another potentially heavy snowfall was forecast for last weekend, from California to New England.
The sheer amount of cancellations this winter are likely straining airlines’ bottom lines, said Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group for major U.S. airline companies.
“The airline industry’s fixed costs are high, therefore the majority of operating costs will still be incurred by airlines, even for canceled flights,” Connell wrote in an email. “If a flight is canceled due to weather, the only significant cost that the airline avoids is fuel; otherwise, it must still pay ownership costs for aircraft and ground equipment, maintenance costs and overhead and most crew costs. Extended storms and other sources of irregular operations are clear reminders of the industry’s operational and financial vulnerability to factors outside its control.”
Bob Mann, an independent airline analyst and consultant who is principal of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y., said that two-thirds of costs — fuel and labor — are short-term variable costs, but that fixed charges are “unfortunately incurred.” Airlines just typically absorb those costs.
“I am not aware of any airline that has considered taking out business interruption insurance for weather-related disruptions; it is simply a part of the business,” Mann said.
Chuck Cederroth, managing director at Aon Risk Solutions’ aviation practice, said carriers would probably not want to insure airlines against cancellations because airlines have control over whether a flight will be canceled, particularly if they don’t want to risk being fined up to $27,500 for each passenger by the Federal Aviation Administration when passengers are stuck on a tarmac for hours.
“How could an insurance product work when the insured is the one who controls the trigger?” Cederroth asked. “I think it would be a product that insurance companies would probably have a hard time providing.”
But Brad Meinhardt, U.S. aviation practice leader, for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said now may be the best time for airlines — and insurance carriers — to think about crafting a specialized insurance program to cover fluke years like this one.
“I would be stunned if this subject hasn’t made its way up into the C-suites of major and mid-sized airlines,” Meinhardt said. “When these events happen, people tend to look over their shoulder and ask if there is a solution for such events.”
Airlines often hedge losses from unknown variables such as varying fuel costs or interest rate fluctuations using derivatives, but those tools may not be enough for severe winters such as this year’s, he said. While products like business interruption insurance may not be used for airlines, they could look at weather-related insurance products that have very specific triggers.
For example, airlines could designate a period of time for such a “tough winter policy,” say from the period of November to March, in which they can manage cancellations due to 10 days of heavy snowfall, Meinhardt said. That amount could be designated their retention in such a policy, and anything in excess of the designated snowfall days could be a defined benefit that a carrier could pay if the policy is triggered. Possibly, the trigger would be inches of snowfall. “Custom solutions are the idea,” he said.
“Airlines are not likely buying any of these types of products now, but I think there’s probably some thinking along those lines right now as many might have to take losses as write-downs on their quarterly earnings and hope this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “There probably needs to be one airline making a trailblazing action on an insurance or derivative product — something that gets people talking about how to hedge against those losses in the future.”
Handling Heavy Equipment Risk with Expertise
What happens to a construction project when a crane gets damaged?
Everything comes to a halt. Cranes are critical tools on the job site, and such heavy equipment is not quickly or easily replaceable. If one goes out of commission, it imperils the project’s timeline and potentially its budget.
Crane values can range from less than $1 million to more than $10 million. Insuring them is challenging not just because of their value, but because of the risks associated with transporting them to the job site.
“Cranes travel on a flatbed truck, and anything can happen on the road, so the exposure is very broad. This complicates coverage for cranes and other pieces of heavy equipment,” said Rich Clarke, Assistant Vice President, Marine Heavy Equipment, Lexington Insurance, a member of AIG.
On the jobsite, operator error is the most common cause of a loss. While employee training is the best way to minimize the risk, all the training in the world can’t prevent every accident.
“Simple mistakes like forgetting to put the outrigger down or setting the load capacity incorrectly can lead to a lot of damage,” Clarke said.
Crane losses can easily top $1 million in physical damage alone, not including the costs of lost business income.
“Many insurers are not comfortable covering a single piece of equipment valued over $1 million,” Clarke said.
A large and complex risk requires a sophisticated claims approach. Lexington Insurance, backed by the resources and capabilities of AIG, has the underwriting and claims expertise to handle such large claims.
“Cranes travel on a flatbed truck, and anything can happen on the road, so the exposure is very broad. This complicates coverage for cranes and other pieces of heavy equipment. Simple mistakes like forgetting to put the outrigger down or setting the load capacity incorrectly can lead to a lot of damage.”
— Rich Clarke, Assistant Vice President, Marine Heavy Equipment, Lexington Insurance
Flexibility in Underwriting and Claims
Treating insureds as partners in the policy-building and claims process helps to fine-tune coverage to fit the risk and gets all parties on the same page.
Internally, a close relationship between underwriting and claims teams facilitates that partnership and results in a smoother claims process for both insurer and insured.
“Our underwriters and claims examiners work together with the broker and insured to gain a better understanding of their risk and their coverage expectations before we even issue a policy,” said Michelle Sipple, Senior Vice President, Property, Lexington Insurance. “This helps us tailor our policies or claims handling to suit their needs.”
“The shared goals and commonality between underwriting and claims help us provide the most for our clients,” Clarke said.
Establishing familiarity and trust between client, claims, and underwriting helps to ensure that policy wording is clear and reflects the expectations of all parties — and that insureds know who to contact in the event of a loss.
Lexington’s claims and underwriting experts who specialize in heavy equipment will meet with a client before they buy coverage, during a claim, or any time in between. It is important for both claims and underwriting to have face time with insured so that everyone is working toward the same goals.
When there is a loss, designated adjusters stay in contact throughout the life of a claim.
Maintaining consistent communication not only meets a high standard of customer service, but also ensures speed and efficiency when a claim arises.
“We try to educate our clients from the get-go about what we will need from them after a loss, so we can initiate the claim and get the ball rolling right away,” Clarke said. “They are much more comfortable knowing who is helping them when they are trying to recover from a loss, and when it comes to heavy equipment, there’s no time to spare.”
“Our underwriters and claims examiners work together with the broker and insured to gain a better understanding of their risk and their coverage expectations before we even issue a policy. This helps us tailor our policies or claims handling to suit their needs.”
— Michelle Sipple, Senior Vice President, Property, Lexington Insurance
Leveraging Industry Expertise
When a claim occurs, independent adjusters and engineers arrive on the scene as quickly as possible to conduct physical inspections of damaged cranes, bringing years of experience and many industry relationships with them.
Lexington has three claims examiners specializing in cranes and heavy equipment. To accommodate time differences among clients’ sites, Lexington’s inland marine operations work out of two central locations on the East and West Coasts – Atlanta, Georgia and Portland, Oregon.
No matter the time zone, examiners can arrive on site quickly.
“Our clients know they need us out there immediately. They know our expertise,” Clarke said. “Our examiners are known as leaders in the industry.”
When a barge crane sustained damage while dismantling an old bridge in the San Francisco Bay that had been cracked by an earthquake, for example, “I got the call at 6 a.m. and we had experts on site by 12 p.m.,” Clarke said.
In addition to educating insureds about the claims process and maintaining open lines of communication, Lexington further facilitates the process through AIG’s IntelliRisk® services – a suite of online tools to help policyholders understand their losses and track their claim’s progress.
“Brokers and clients can log in and see status of their claim and find information on their losses and reserves,” Sipple said.
In some situations, Lexington can also come to the rescue for clients in the form of advance payments. If a crane gets damaged, an examiner can conduct a quick inspection and provide a rough estimate of what the total value of the claim might be.
Lexington can then issue 50 percent of that estimate to the insured immediately to help them get moving on repairs or find a replacement. This helps to mitigate business interruption losses, as it normally takes a few weeks to determine the full and final value of the claim and disburse payment.
Again, the skill of the examiners in projecting accurate loss costs makes this possible.
“This is done on a case-by-case basis,” Clarke said. “There’s no guarantee, but if the circumstances are right, we will always try to get that advance payment out to our insureds to ease their financial burden.”
For project managers stymied by an out-of-service crane, these services help to bring halted work back up to speed.
For more information about Lexington’s inland marine services, interested brokers should visit http://www.lexingtoninsurance.com/home.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Lexington Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.