Q: Last year, the record-breaking attendance you had at NAPSLO’s annual conference in San Diego seemed to set the tone that business was gathering steam again, and the sentiment among those with whom we spoke seemed to be that “This is a good time to be in Excess & Surplus lines.” How would you characterize the overall mood this year? What are you seeing and hearing, and how would you characterize the state of the industry from your own perspective?
All of the numbers are up: Attendance here has again increased this year; A.M. Best’s report is out, indicating continued growth in surplus lines premium; we see continued strength in surplus lines ratings … things are on the rise. We see continued growth in 2014 surplus lines premiums, and the stats reported by stamping offices has also been very favorable. I also continue to see the optimism, hear the positive comments about the industry—and it’s still a very good business to be in.
Q: It would seem that one of the greatest challenges for the wholesale/surplus lines industry today is to effectively communicate to the retail community as well as the buyer the value the wholesale broker brings to the transaction. How do you accomplish that, both as an organization and at the broker level?
At the organizational level, we’ve reinvigorated our wholesale value messaging campaign. Last year we changed our logo and we introduced a new tag line when describing what our members do, “Where complex risk meets innovative solutions.”
We’re leveraging all that in editorial stories, in our print advertising and our online advertising to emphasize that these are expert brokers. Expert underwriters. They innovate and create new products. They are skilled at creating highly tailored solutions to some of the most non-standard insurance risks. They sell specialty solutions. It’s different than the standard, off-the-shelf form-approved policy. The people here [at the conference] are coming up with innovative solutions to unique needs. High risks, high-capacity needs—they’re the ones who are solving those problems.
So that’s what we’re doing organizationally, and the good news for our brokers from us is, they can carry that message forward when they’re talking with their retailers. Our message is strong, and something our brokers can leverage in telling their story to their clients.
Q: Another consideration is the abundant amount of capacity that exists in the industry, and some suggest that capital could conceivably be put to work at a level that satisfies the owners of that capital without marginalizing the business that is currently available. I’m curious as to your thoughts on that.
You’ve got some people who are concerned with capacity, and many who aren’t. More capital means more opportunity, more opportunity to innovate and create new product, and it certainly doesn’t seem to impact our members’ ability to operate successfully. It’s an exciting thing, not a concerning thing.
Q: NAPSLO’s Next Generation initiative is, for my money, the bleeding edge in attracting and cultivating young talent in a way that other organizations would envy. How does the E&S industry differ in that respect, in attracting young people to sell insurance solutions that aren’t of the standard ilk?
That’s the exciting part of it. Telling the story of the insurance industry to students by people who have been in this business for years, what opportunities came to light for them, explaining to them how they got into it and sharing with them the exciting things they get to do, it lights them up. It’s something [young people] become very interested in doing. The challenging part is just getting our members into the classroom and coordinating that. The easy part is, once students get a chance to hear the stories, they’re calling and they want to know more. That’s the exciting part for us.