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.”
Pathogens, Allergens and Globalization – Oh My!
In 2014, a particular brand of cumin was used by dozens of food manufacturers to produce everything from spice mixes, hummus and bread crumbs to seasoned beef, poultry and pork products.
Yet, unbeknownst to these manufacturers, a potentially deadly contaminant was lurking…
What followed was the largest allergy-related recall since the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act became law in 2006. Retailers pulled 600,000 pounds of meat off the market, as well as hundreds of other products. As of May 2015, reports of peanut contaminated cumin were still being posted by FDA.
Food manufacturing executives have long known that a product contamination event is a looming risk to their business. While pathogens remain a threat, the dramatic increase in food allergen recalls coupled with distant, global supply chains creates an even more unpredictable and perilous exposure.
Recently peanut, an allergen in cumin, has joined the increasing list of unlikely contaminants, taking its place among a growing list that includes melamine, mineral oil, Sudan red and others.
“I have seen bacterial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant.”
— Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG
“An event such as the cumin contamination has a domino effect in the supply chain,” said Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG, which was the first company to provide contaminated product coverage almost 30 years ago. “With an ingredient like the cumin being used in hundreds of products, the third party damages add up quickly and may bankrupt the supplier. This leaves manufacturers with no ability to recoup their losses.”
“The result is that a single contaminated ingredient may cause damage on a global scale,” added Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG company.
Quality and food safety professionals are able to drive product safety in their own manufacturing operations utilizing processes like kill steps and foreign material detection. But such measures are ineffective against an unexpected contaminant. “Food and beverage manufacturers are constantly challenged to anticipate and foresee unlikely sources of potential contamination leading to product recall,” said Alexandru. “They understandably have more control over their own manufacturing environment but can’t always predict a distant supply chain failure.”
And while companies of various sizes are impacted by a contamination, small to medium size manufacturers are at particular risk. With less of a capital cushion, many of these companies could be forced out of business.
Historically, manufacturing executives were hindered in their risk mitigation efforts by a perceived inability to quantify the exposure. After all, one can’t manage what one can’t measure. But AIG has developed a new approach to calculate the monetary exposure for the individual analysis of the three major elements of a product contamination event: product recall and replacement, restoring a safe manufacturing environment and loss of market. With this more precise cost calculation in hand, risk managers and brokers can pursue more successful risk mitigation and management strategies.
Product Recall and Replacement
Whether the contamination is a microorganism or an allergen, the immediate steps are always the same. The affected products are identified, recalled and destroyed. New product has to be manufactured and shipped to fill the void created by the recall.
The recall and replacement element can be estimated using company data or models, such as NOVI. Most companies can estimate the maximum amount of product available in the stream of commerce at any point in time. NOVI, a free online tool provided by AIG, estimates the recall exposures associated with a contamination event.
Restore a Safe Manufacturing Environment
Once the recall is underway, concurrent resources are focused on removing the contamination from the manufacturing process, and restarting production.
“Unfortunately, this phase often results in shell-shocked managers,” said Nevin. “Most contingency planning focuses on the costs associated with the recall but fail to adequately plan for cleanup and downtime.”
“The losses associated with this phase can be similar to a fire or other property loss that causes the operation to shut down. The consequential financial loss is the same whether the plant is shut down due to a fire or a pathogen contamination.” added Alexandru. “And then you have to factor in the clean-up costs.”
Locating the source of pathogen contamination can make disinfecting a plant after a contamination event more difficult. A single microorganism living in a pipe or in a crevice can create an ongoing contamination.
“I have seen microbial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant,” observed Alexandru.
Handling an allergen contamination can be more straightforward because it may be restricted to a single batch. That is, unless there is ingredient used across multiple batches and products that contains an unknown allergen, like peanut residual in cumin.
Supply chain investigation and testing associated with identifying a cross-contaminated ingredient is complicated, costly and time consuming. Again, the supplier can be rendered bankrupt leaving them unable to provide financial reimbursement to client manufacturers.
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet. Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
— Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance, an AIG company
Loss of Market
While the manufacturer is focused on recall and cleanup, the world of commerce continues without them. Customers shift to new suppliers or brands, often resulting in permanent damage to the manufacturer’s market share.
For manufacturers providing private label products to large retailers or grocers, the loss of a single client can be catastrophic.
“Often the customer will deem continuing the relationship as too risky and will switch to another supplier, or redistribute the business to existing suppliers” said Alexandru. “The manufacturer simply cannot find a replacement client; after all, there are a limited number of national retailers.”
On the consumer front, buyers may decide to switch brands based on the negative publicity or simply shift allegiance to another product. Given the competitiveness of the food business, it’s very difficult and costly to get consumers to come back.
“It’s a sad fact that by the time a manufacturer completes a recall, cleans up the plant and gets the product back on the shelf, some people may be hesitant to buy it.” said Nevin.
A complicating factor not always planned for by small and mid-sized companies, is publicity.
The recent incident surrounding a serious ice cream contamination forced both regulatory agencies and the manufacturer to be aggressive in remedial actions. The details of this incident and other contamination events were swiftly and highly publicized. This can be as damaging as the contamination itself and may exacerbate any or all of the three elements discussed above.
Estimating the Financial Risk May Save Your Company
“In our experience, most companies retain product contamination losses within their own balance sheet.” Nevin said. “But in reality, they rarely do a thorough evaluation of the financial risk and sometimes the company simply cannot absorb the financial consequences of a contamination. Potential for loss is much greater when factoring in all three components of a contamination event.”
This brief video provides a concise overview of the three elements of the product contamination event and the NOVI tool and benefits:
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet,” he said. “Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
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.