5 Ways Carriers Can Build Strong Relationships with Their Brokers
The relationship between insurance carriers and brokers is one of the most essential partnerships in the entire industry.
Carriers and the underwriters they employ craft policies and take on risk for insureds, while brokers help their clients find the right insurance policies and carriers for their needs.
“The independent agent and broker is really the backbone of the industry. They’re the primary distribution channel for commercial property casualty insurance,” said Bob Pottle, chief strategic operations officer, Philadelphia Insurance Companies.
For carriers, building a strong relationship with brokers has never been more important, as an uptick in mergers and acquisitions amongst brokerages has led to consolidation within the industry, putting more pressure on insurers to deliver top-notch service.
“Many of the agencies that we’ve done business with for a long time have been acquired by national brokers,” Pottle said.
“Our top 20 producers actually account for 35% of our total premium now — which is a staggering amount to many of us that have been around here a long time — and our top 10 producers account for 25% of our total premium.”
All this industry consolidation means that standing out amongst the crowd and building strong broker relationships is a must for insurance carriers to remain competitive. Here are five strategies carriers can use to develop long-lasting relationships with insurance brokers.
1) Look Beyond Competitive Pricing to Add Value
One thing that stands above everything else when it comes to forging a strong relationship with insurance brokers is that carriers need to add value that goes beyond offering competitive insurance prices.
Today, when insureds are comparing carriers, they’re not simply looking for a carrier that will provide the coverages they need but one that will also serve as a risk management partner. Brokers are attuned to that desire.
“One thing we know about agents and brokers is they’re going to do business with the carriers that add the most value,” Pottle said.
“It has to be about more than just offering a competitive price or competitive terms. It needs to be about adding value — helping the broker and helping the client.”
One way carriers can add value as a risk management partner is by helping insureds understand their exposures and offering solutions for how to mitigate them.
For Philadelphia Insurance Companies, this has encompassed everything from helping nonprofit clients understand their sexual abuse and molestation exposures to implementing a GPS program that tracks driver behavior in real-time, allowing commercial auto customers to correct unsafe driving habits before they cause a loss.
“One of the biggest things carriers can do to add value from a risk management standpoint is to provide tangible ways for the client to be more insurable and to help them mitigate losses,” Pottle said.
2) Follow Through on Commitments
In addition to offering services that help insureds prevent losses, carriers can build strong relationships with brokers by making sure that they follow through on their commitments and are communicative in the event something changes.
“If you say you’re going to do something, you have to follow through,” Pottle said. “If you’re not going to be able to do it, you say, ‘I’m not going to be able to meet the commitment, and then you set a new expectation.”
On the underwriting side, this can be as simple as responding promptly to a submission or giving a broker a heads up that a challenging renewal is coming so that they have time to prepare. Pottle said communicating clearly and often is one of the best ways to maintain relationships and attract more business in the future.
“Agents and brokers have a tendency to gravitate towards partners that are responsive and are easy to do business with,” Pottle said. “The better you treat them and the stronger the relationship is, the more opportunities you get.”
3) Invest in Relationship-Enhancing Technologies
Implementing technologies is one way that carriers can stay on top of their commitments and impress brokers and their clients. Self-service technologies that allow insureds to easily get a quote or submit claims are highly valued amongst policyholders and their brokers.
While unique technological tools can help carriers stand out, Pottle stressed the importance of making sure that any technologies carriers use strengthen the interpersonal relationship between carriers and brokers.
Without a strong relationship foundation, shiny new technologies will not mean much.
“Any investments we make in technology are meant to enhance a relationship; not to replace it,” Pottle said.
“We don’t ever want technology to replace what we view as the most important benefit, the best thing that we have to offer, which is the personal relationships our underwriting, marketing, account management, claims and risk management teams have with our agents, brokers and policyholders.”
Implementing relationship-enabling technologies has been key during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which efforts to contain the virus put a pause on in-person meetings.
Fortunately, video conferencing platforms like the ubiquitous Zoom have allowed brokers and carriers to continue meeting through the pandemic. Virtual meetings have proven advantageous for brokers and carriers, because they allow all parties to pull in people from offices in different cities and even states.
“I could pull in an underwriter from Philadelphia, I could pull in a loss control person from Chicago, I could pull in a claims person from California — all in one meeting, instantaneously — and the broker could do the same thing and bring people from different offices,” Pottle said.
Though COVID-19 has been a hurdle, Pottle said the pandemic has actually helped make meetings between carriers and brokers more productive. He expects that even when the pandemic is over, video-conferencing technologies will still be used during in-person meetings to loop in people who are unable to be physically present.
“It’s helped us up our game,” Pottle said. “The nature of virtual has made it so that each meeting needs to have more focus, stay more on point; they need a very tight agenda, and we need to be respectful of everybody’s time.”
4) Don’t Overlook the Role of Company Culture
Another area carriers can turn to when trying to build strong relationships with brokers is company culture. Agencies want to work with carriers that share their values, and making their values known can help carriers lay the foundation for years of strong working relationships to come.
“The vast majority of our agency partners believe in a lot of the same things that we do,” Pottle said.
One way that Pottle sees carriers making their values known is through use of social media sites like LinkedIn, where companies and their employees often share about giving back to their communities.
“I see it all the time when I’m on LinkedIn. It’s giving back to the community, being a good company, that is the hallmark of our company, and it’s ingrained in our culture. Our employees embrace it. They love it, they enjoy it, they promote it,” Pottle said.
“And I notice the same thing about our agency partners,” Pottle said.
5) Know What Sets You Apart
From his perspective at Philadelphia Insurance Companies, Pottle believes there are key things that set a carrier apart: having risk management programs in place to help insureds, strong coverages and coverage enhancements, claims expertise and strong customer service.
Highlighting different coverages and areas of underwriting expertise is one way carriers can showcase their abilities, especially if it’s easy for brokers to reach out to individual underwriters.
“We have about 120 industry niches that we’re focused in, and our underwriting team tends to be niche focused or product focused,” Pottle said.
“One of the ways that we make it easier for the broker to access us is through our account management team. When a submission comes in, the account management team directs it to the right underwriter, acting as the go-between for the broker and the underwriter.”
At the end of the day, a strong relationship between carriers and brokers will only benefit insureds, who will be able to draw on expertise from both of their partnerships.
“Take advantage of everything that the carrier has to offer,” Pottle said. “I think the insureds are missing the boat if they’re not taking advantage of all the things that we or their broker partner provide.” &