From the April 2011 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Breaking Trail

Fireman’s Fund is taking its first steps along a new road. Will customers—and other insurers—follow?

What if your client’s property/casualty insurer became a partner of sorts, offering the usual advice about risk mitigation and loss prevention—but then went beyond that, providing information about ways to help the bottom line and make points with the public? What if the insurer then partnered with companies that could provide goods and services your client’s business would need to adopt those suggestions? What if that strategy dovetailed perfectly with your client’s goals for his business?

That might be the case if Fireman’s Fund’s new initiative catches on. Known for its green insurance products on both the homeowner’s and business side, the company has gone one step further down the green path. It has launched an area on its website where policyholders and the general public can go to learn more, not just about greening their buildings and businesses, but about Fireman’s Fund’s partner businesses that can help them achieve their goals.

Planting the Seeds
Steve Bushnell, senior director of emerging industries at Fireman’s Fund, concedes that this is “something an insurance company doesn’t usually do.” But the company, which “has had a green insurance product since 2006,” wanted to do more. Says Bushnell, “We already insured LEED-certified buildings, and offered coverage that allowed our insureds to upgrade to green if they sustained a loss [and rebuilt]. It’s been a very successful policy for us. We began looking at this, and asked, ‘Can we begin to give our insureds guidance on how to become green or maintain their green status without having a loss?’ It would be,” he concludes, “to their and our advantage.” And Green Risk Advisor was born.

What’s really different about Green Risk Advisor, as the new page is known—it debuted in November 2010 in its new incarnation; it had been behind a firewall and known as iCustomer—is that it not only offers green information, but suggests partners to help a visitor’s business go green, whether that business resides in its own building or in a landlord’s building. Say your client is looking for a way to cut utility usage and bills in a climate that requires extremes of air conditioning or heat to keep the place bearable, or maybe wants to cut water output to save resources. Green Risk Advisor offers “partners,” vendors of products and services that do just that.

Ground Rules
“We wouldn’t push [our partners] to our policyholders,” says Bushnell, explaining that information resides on the site about the company’s partners. Visitors to the site can contact the sales department to learn more. He adds that Fireman’s Fund does not offer a rebate or commissions to its partners, either, if those partners make their own clients aware of the company’s green insurance.

However, policyholders can talk to “our loss control people about what all of our vendors do, and what advantages they can bring to our insureds.”  Our agents can also do this, and point to vendors and say, ‘These are people you might want to contact to make your buildings greener, or to keep your LEED-certified building green.’”

Bushnell explains that privacy is a concern, and the company does not want to overstep its bounds in promoting its partners to its policyholders. “We only recommend and promote within a limited range,” he says, adding that the company had internal conversations to set ground rules for vendor promotion.

While the undertaking is a “different kind of relationship” from what the company has had in the past, Bushnell calls it a win-win situation. Policyholders who use the vendor services improve their green profile, in business and in buildings; risk is reduced for both policyholders and Fireman’s Fund; the environment gains; and the vendors gain a wider network in which to deploy their energy-efficient strategies and products. Not to mention brownie points with a public that is becoming increasingly concerned about climate change and other environmental issues.

Still, will people use it? Bushnell thinks so, and points to all the green policies that came out in the wake of Fireman’s Fund’s products. “In 2008,” he points out, “our competitors launched products suspiciously like ours,” and the company sent its attorneys out to make them cease and desist. By March 2010, he adds, “nearly every major insurance company had a green product. Most looked very much like ours, although they didn’t use the exact same language.”
Bushnell points out that some companies have started doing green consulting through their loss control staff. He says that he doesn’t know how often it’s done, or whether it’s as extensive as what Fireman’s Fund is doing, but apparently the company continues to lead the way.

Mother Earth would be proud.    

Marlene Y. Satter can be reached at msatter@sbmedia.com.

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