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Having recently attended a number of carrier events during which the structure of market contacts, departments and the underwriting process were once again reimagined as new and novel in a “back to the future” style conversion, I was struck more by what was missing than what had been added: fundamentals.

It isn’t time to overthink the process but to simplify it. Rather than going back to the future, we need to get back to basics.

Specialization of interest and industry are often touted as providing benefits to insurance buyers. For example, unique risk and underwriting characteristics for construction companies are not shared with pharmaceutical companies. For companies operating in both spaces, understanding the difference is critical to successful risk management. It is in this area, specialization, where we must pause and consider common core issues. I maintain specialization often misses the point of the process. And the point of the process, from a broker’s perspective, is to provide value to the insured. When an organization is deficient, or perhaps simply marginal in technical and organizational fundamentals, specialization is just a different way to fail the insured and ultimately the provider—perhaps even faster than usual.

When a lack of fundamental expertise in insurance is hidden beneath the cloak of specialization, it is only a matter of time before business trends south. If the fundamentals are strong, on the other hand, specialization is a powerful “force multiplier” for an agency or carrier.

What are the fundamentals?

I define some of them below in an incomplete list:

  • Responsiveness—Answering the phone and responding to emails in a timely manner are good places to start, even if you are responding to simply say that you still don’t know.
  • Time Management—No client has enjoyed getting a proposal delivered the day before an effective date. Would you? Effective, positive change and decision-making don’t take place in an instant. Your clients deserve better.
  • Empathy—Understanding “why” is as vital to the process as anything else. By understanding the business needs and the “bigger picture” behind the selection of coverage and limits, brokers and carriers can work together to better manage and transfer risk for insureds.
  • Situational Awareness—Don’t script yourself into situational paralysis. Understanding state of mind and the reason behind coverages and limits is critical to the process. Are decisions being made following a once-in-a-century storm? Are they in response to a recent court ruling? No amount of specialization will ever replace the need to take account of situational context. Reading an article on a breach of privacy or a hack done to others may foster a decision to buy cyber coverage more than an actual event or an organization’s real vulnerabilities or weakness.
  • Business Mind—Are you selling insurance or solving a problem? Is it about you or your client? Is it about the big picture without the benefit of the details? What have you missed? What happens if? Answering these questions and preparing for what you can’t see is better than a fancy Ph.D. in a particular industry. I had a professor (a Ph.D.) who offered the observation that Ph.D. stood for “piled higher and deeper.” No one wins when you can’t develop a solution or solve a problem, no matter how smart you think you are.

Our industry needs to focus on fundamentals. In our sports-rich culture, the following analogy fits as an effective summary: Do you want someone on your team who has simply memorized the entire playbook, or do you want someone who also understands and executes the fundamentals of running, blocking, tackling, throwing, catching and kicking? Teams operating at a high level of proficiency in the fundamentals will win far more often more than fail.