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August 31, 2020

What Would Your Underwriters Say?

Summary:

There is a way to win the war on underwriting talent, optimize productivity and succeed against today’s competitors as well as tomorrow’s.

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You believe your culture is pretty darn good, and your systems, while not perfect, are improving … but what would your underwriters say?

Underwriting professionals are acknowledged to be the company’s most valuable assets, which you tell them all the time. But the war for talent is real in this business, especially considering that the pool isn’t nearly as deep as we’d all like it to be. The demographics indicate retirements over the next five to 10 years will significantly drain that pool. So, the real issues we need to face are how our actions support, empower and engage those underwriting assets. Or don’t.  

A 2019 Gallup survey found that only one in five U.S. employees strongly agreed with the statement “My opinions seem to count at work,” and fewer than one in 10 with the statement, “I take risks at my job that could lead to new products or solutions.”

The reality of our business is that change is constant. That manifests to your underwriting teams as new risk appetites, profit improvement strategies, predictive modeling tools, RQI systems, semi-automated processes, cross-sell initiatives, broker assignments and organizational re-structures, and the list goes on from there. The layering of each of these changes has impact on your underwriters, from adding a few minutes to their usual day to dramatically influencing jobs and roles. Achieving implementation success for change is a tall order. It requires the change to be delivered by the business in context with its “why,” include comprehensive communication and instruction and have consistent follow-through. Oh, and no pressure, but the new tool or system or approach must be glitch-free and work immediately upon deployment! 

All of these elements are just the first step in the change process – making sure your underwriters are ready, willing and able to adopt the next change. If this sounds like your organization, consider yourself ahead of the curve. If your organization doesn’t have each of those elements nailed, beware! There is likely a significant amount of change fatigue affecting your staff’s engagement barring your desired changes from fully taking hold. Either way, don’t get too comfortable. The next question to ask yourself is this: Will your underwriters be able to innovate and create future change? That’s the leapfrogging effect necessary for sustainable transformation.  

We have found that employees at all levels are tired of all the change without feeling a dramatic improvement. Underwriting departments and their business partners are siloed and consistently threading the needle and balancing priorities of growth and profitability while trying to build and maintain relationships with agents, brokers and customers. The ability to differentiate and sell their products, brands and performance in an increasingly crowded landscape is difficult for the best salespeople, and next to impossible for the technician and analyst. Distributors require quicker turnarounds than ever before. And semi-automated technology and complex processes make that difficult to deliver. Add to that the annual performance metrics that are set to drive specific and increasing outcomes.

See also: Key Advantage in Property Underwriting 

Most companies have been making layered and incremental shifts to their underwriting organizations, but they are still based on a very traditional paradigm. We posit that there is a way to win the war on talent, engage your existing team effectively to optimize productivity and relationship-based sales, and innovate for the future so that you’re poised for success against today’s competitors as well as tomorrow’s. 

The secret for success is not dependent on which firm can invest the most in new technology. It is about who will turn that paradigm on its head and invest intentionally in culture, letting business lead the strategy and thus fueling innovative ideas and exponential success across all metrics. Momentum cannot stop on digital transformation and process improvement. But to leapfrog ahead of the competition and capitalize on your vision for 2030, you must start with culture.

To download a free copy of the leadership report (A Recipe for Commercial Lines Underwriting Transformation), please take our brief survey about the current state of commercial lines underwriting. 

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About the Author

Megan Bock Zarnoch is an insurance executive and culture creator. She helps companies grow market share, reduce expense and attract and retain top talent.

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