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Industry firms urged to take long-term view on evolving markets

The long view

SAN DIEGO — Insurance industry firms should be consistent in how they operate, regardless of what is happening in the market, advises an excess and surplus lines executive.

This is “really about your long-term view. It’s not about market conditions,” said Bryan Sanders, president of U.S. insurance for Richmond, Virginia-based Markel Corp., during Tuesday’s Wholesale & Specialty Insurance Association’s Annual Marketplace in San Diego.

The executive session was sponsored by WSIA’s U40 group of insurance professionals under the age of 40 who are employed by WSIA member firms.

“You have a culture, and you follow that culture,” he said. “The market conditions are always going to change and fluctuate.”

Michele M. McCoy, product owner-digital solutions at Scottsdale, Arizona-based Ategrity Specialty Insurance Co., said she follows advice that she keep a journal as to when things did and did not go according to plan. “I think that was really valuable,” she said.

“Don’t beat around the bush,” said Chris Peterson, president of Shawnee, Kansas-based Chris-Leef General Agency Inc. He said in his career as a manager, he has tried to be politically correct, and to “make sure everyone’s OK.”

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to be brutally honest, and sometimes that hurts,” but it is sometimes the only time you can take corrective action, he said.

In response to a question on how to keep engaged on the job, Mr. Peterson said, “It’s definitely not easy for us.”

“At the end of the day, you’re trying to work hard and to be successful. If you’re sitting at your desk and twirling your thumbs, that’s a different story,” he said.

Another issue discussed by the panel was retiring baby boomers. Ms. McCoy said her firm is encouraging potential retirees to consider alternative work schedules and working from home. “That seems to be helping quite a bit,” she said.

Discussing formal mentorships, Mr. Peterson said, “We don’t do a formal program, but we do things like holding daily meetings or meet as an underwriting team.”

Mr. Sanders said, “We have a formal program” under which an employee may have a manager that operates separately from an employee’s mentor, and that mentor may be based in a different product line, but sometimes you can go to that person and talk “about some of the challenges you might be having.”

Also discussed was incorporating employees following an acquisition. Mr. Sander said it is a matter of having a culture people want to be a part of, “and if you don’t have that, then people will leave.”

Mr. Sanders said he hears a lot of conversations about people being proud of their culture. “We all have them, but it’s difficult to sit down” and announce what your culture is going to be. “It takes on the personalities” of the people involved, he said.

Also discussed was at what point does seeking additional metrics get in the way of doing business.

“As soon as someone asks, ‘Why do you need all that information?’ you have a problem,” said Ms. McCoy. It is important to figure out the data you would like to have and how you are using it. Do not ask for it if you do not really need it, she said. It must be meaningful to the business, otherwise, “that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Discussing the dramatic increase in spending on technology, Jacque Schaendorf, president and CEO of Insurance House Inc., a Marietta, Georgia-based managing general agent, said, “It’s super transformative,” but “it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Insurtech is “absolutely coming like a freight train,” said Ms. Schaendorf, a former WSIA president.

“At Ategrity, we don’t think of it as overhead” but as critical to doing business, said Ms. McCoy. “Our objective is to make that process in our organization as frictionless as possible,” she said.

“It really takes away a lot of the administrative work,” said Ms. Schaendorf.

The session was moderated by Liam J. Hutelmyer, chief operating officer for transportation with AmWINS Transportation Underwriters Inc. in Burlington, North Carolina.


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