How to Build Strong Relationships with Carriers and Underwriters
Underwriters receive a flood of requests from agents every day. If you want them to prioritize your agency’s accounts, you need to give them a good reason to do so. That can be accomplished by building a strong personal relationship. Carriers/underwriters are more willing to support an agency that they have a solid connection with.
According to Agency Nation, both agents and carriers list their relationship with each other as one of the top three drivers of their success.
Considering the roles of agents and underwriters, this stat is not surprising. Agents and underwriters are working toward the same end — the underwriter wants to bring in steady business for their carrier, and the agent wants the underwriter to quickly deliver quotes to satisfy and generate more clients. But building a strong, mutual relationship is often difficult.
Agencies tend to neglect their carriers or act like they’re only necessary during renewals or when onboarding new accounts. The carrier then becomes frustrated with the agent who has unrealistic expectations of the underwriter and expects a fast turnaround time.
The truth is that the carrier/underwriter relationship requires just as much nurturing as the client relationship. When agents and carriers/underwriters understand each other’s goals and communicate often, several positive things happen:
- Agents have a competitive advantage over direct insurers and other agencies.
- Agents have an opportunity to negotiate better quotes from carriers.
- Agents can develop more personalized packages for clients.
Agencies need carriers in their corner to better serve their clients. This can only be accomplished through quality relationships. Strong agent and carrier/underwriter relationships require establishing personal connections, prequalifying accounts, and understanding your carrier’s underwriting appetites.
1. Establish personal connections.
An underwriter is more likely to work with your agency and negotiate better quotes if they truly believe that you care about their success. You, as the agent, need to take time to develop an authentic relationship with your underwriter and understand their goals, both personally and professionally.
According to Basilios Manousogiannakis, Client Relations Manager at EMPLOYERS, “The strongest [agent and carrier/underwriter] relationships I had were the ones where we not only cared about each other’s professional success but also cared about each other’s personal lives. What’s even more exciting for agents and carriers today, technology is evolving at such a rapid pace (AI, data/analytics, API, etc) that it’s fostering and enabling these relationships to be even more productive in what’s become a digitally demanding industry.”
Strong relationships take time to build, but there are ways to start off on the right foot:
Connect via different channels.
Communicate with your underwriter through emails, phone calls, and social media. Find out what drives them on a personal level. For example, add your underwriter on LinkedIn to follow their interests and activities. Ask about their family, or congratulate them on a company success during a phone call. Keep it professional, but treat your underwriter as you would a client — with respect and appreciation.
Schedule regular times to meet.
Regularly touching base helps build trust and rapport between you and the underwriter. In addition to annual and quarterly meetings, find a time that works for both of you to meet, and make it a recurring appointment (e.g., a 30-minute call every other Friday and adjust as needed). Use the time to align your expectations and goals and discuss opportunity submissions. Also schedule informal meetings or events for agents and underwriters to connect on a personal level, such as an annual breakfast.
Invest in the right tools.
Take advantage of technologies that automate manual tasks, such as Indio. Automated reminders to clients, data entry, and digitized smart forms provide more time to prioritize the relationship with your underwriter. Audit your current processes, and find areas that don’t require a human touch.
Don’t overstep the underwriter.
If you work long enough with the same underwriter, chances are you are going to have disagreements. Tread carefully. Trust is quickly fractured if you go behind the back of your underwriter to air a grievance to their manager before ever discussing the issue with the underwriter. Talk with your underwriter first about disagreements to find common ground.
Establish a relationship ladder.
A common problem for developing relationships is the high turnover rate at the underwriting desk. To avoid losing the strong relationship you’ve built, connect with at least three underwriters just in case one of them leaves. On a higher level, don’t spread yourself thin over too many carriers. Choose three to five. Create personal connections with all of them, but invest in the two most profitable carriers for your agency.
Authentic relationships not only serve to build mutual respect between agents and carriers/underwriters but also improve communication. As you and the underwriter better understand each other, you can offer more personalized service to the insured. The client ultimately benefits.
2. Prequalify your accounts
Sixty percent of submissions to underwriters don’t get quoted. Why? Because many submissions sent by agencies aren’t qualified. Instead of having the backup from the agency, underwriters are tasked with sorting through a pile of submissions and qualifying the best opportunities.
Improve your relationship with the underwriter by saving them from extra qualification work — prequalify/preunderwrite your accounts, and then convey to the underwriter what you’ve done. Doing so proves that you value their time and business.
Unfortunately, agents and underwriters disagree about what constitutes a straightforward and well-defined account proposal:
Be clear with your submissions by following these best practices:
Ask your clients the right questions.
Source as much information as possible from the client about their risk, industry, company, etc. Also, check your client’s website to verify the information. Accuracy is crucial. Communicate the history and risk on every account you present to the underwriter.
Call the underwriter.
If you are unsure about any account information or the level of risk, ask the underwriter before you submit the account. Your underwriter has a wealth of knowledge that you can access, and it’s better to get their insights first instead of just guessing and letting them deal with an unqualified account later.
Review pipeline opportunities.
Another preliminary step that improves the quality of accounts is to cover pipeline opportunities together. Underwriters have a strong understanding of local markets, as well as valuable relationships in the industry. They also have competitive expertise in the industries you’re operating in. This knowledge can (and should) be applied to your pipeline opportunities.
Plan quarterly meetings to strategize the prospective opportunities you’d like to write. Discuss together why and how you’ll write every account. Accounts will be better qualified if you agree on the level of risk in the beginning. Pipelining also demonstrates a higher level of commitment to success for both the agent and underwriter which further strengthens the relationship.
Back up your claims with the strategies above to prove that your accounts, rather than other submissions received, are worth the underwriter’s time. As Manousogiannakis says, “The mutual goal here is to help get your submission to the top of the stack that will generate new written/renewal premiums and policies for all.”
3. Know your carrier’s underwriting appetites.
Underwriters are not pleased when agents shove accounts at them that don’t match the carrier’s level of risk. They then have wasted time reviewing the account, only to say no. Underwriting appetites should be a top discussion during meetings, especially when you’re just starting a carrier relationship.
As you increase your understanding of the carrier’s underwriting appetite, the underwriter’s trust and confidence in your agency increases. You clearly convey that you’re not wasting their time on opportunities that aren’t a good fit for their underwriting appetite.
Learning your own carrier’s underwriting appetite requires several steps.
- Focus on core carrier appetites. Because a medium-sized agency alone typically has 50 carrier appointments, it can be difficult for an agency to learn every carrier’s appetite. Instead, learn your core carriers’ appetites (the two most profitable carriers). Free solutions are available to collect appointed markets’ appetites. For example, one solution is IVANS Markets, which allows you to enter a client risk and then review results listing the appetite of commercial insurers, MGAs, and wholesalers.
Act as your carrier’s advocate.
When you know your carrier’s appetite, avoid sending accounts that don’t match the types of risks the carrier wants to write. Sending a pile of submissions that are out of appetite can quickly cause you to lose your underwriter’s trust.
Keep a submissions log.
Track the submissions to each of your carriers. Record the results of each submission. How many risks were accepted? How many were rejected? Assess the risks submitted and whether they match your carrier’s appetite. If a large number of submissions were rejected, talk with your underwriter to make sure your view on their appetite is accurate. Conversely, if a large number of submissions were approved, evaluate that carrier’s rank within the agency and if it should be elevated as a top tier partner.
When you send opportunities that are a good fit for the carrier, you increase their trust and establish respect. You also prove that you value their time and view them as a valued partner.
Developing strong relationships with carriers/underwriters has to be a conscious effort. It requires time and planning on the front end, but client satisfaction is the ultimate result on the back end. Implement the relationship tips above, and then find out your carrier’s perception of your agency — send a survey or host a social event to ask underwriters what areas your agency can improve on.
Strong, authentic relationships create a positive cycle. As you earn the trust of carriers/underwriters, you become their preferred agency and are able to get better quotes for your clients. As clients are satisfied, your agency thrives, and your carriers/underwriters are pleased with the amount of steady business that your agency provides. Your agency creates a competitive edge that is difficult for direct insurers and other agencies to match.