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Underwriting Salesmanship: Mindset Matters!

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As a group, insurance underwriters can be characterized as “literal” thinkers. That defining characteristic makes them good at what they do, but it can also seriously limit their success.

Most underwriters are focused on risk assessment and looking for safe opportunities that carry very little risk. They are charged with supporting profitable business and most tend to rely heavily on traditional forms of data to determine risk. All too often, case analysis is distilled to the following default reasoning: “The numbers are what they are.”

The best underwriters, however, understand that the benefits of taking a risk are not outweighed by the risk of failure. Further, they recognize the importance of integrating non-traditional – or “soft” – information into the mix. Successful underwriters recognize that a sales-oriented mindset is required if they are to fulfill their roles as underwriters and support their organization’s sales goals. Adopting a sales-oriented mindset and integrating the following practices will both increase sales and solidify your organization’s reputation for providing exceptional service.

Do Your Homework

Obviously the goal is to quote profitable business, but all too often good cases are improperly quoted (or overlooked entirely) for lack of a comprehensive understanding of the case. Information is king. The more information you can provide, the better prepared the sales rep will be to make the case to support your quote. The information might include a comparison of plan designs and rates as well as a comprehensive review of experience history, “lives” growth and changes in management. Each of the aforementioned categories represents an opportunity for non-traditional analysis and creative problem-solving. If you are serious about increasing sales, you must go beyond just the numbers.

Underwriters who conduct their own research are at a distinct advantage. Those who view researching the case as their personal responsibility are much more likely to capture information that will not be uncovered by underwriters who simply rely on the information that is presented to them. This is particularly important as it pertains to uncovering the factors driving the quote.

A thorough underwriter may learn, for example, that while cost was represented as a primary reason behind a piece of business going out to quote, it may be less important to match or reduce the rate than it is to include a non-standard plan provision.

Successful underwriters also recognize that relying exclusively on electronic information and communication is a mistake. Electronic information and communication is often “toneless.” It is typically very one-dimensional and fails to reveal the shading of a case. Pick up the phone! If information is not provided, ask for it. If it’s not given, get it.

Strive to Be Consultative

There are myriad reasons a case goes out to bid and the primary reason is not always obvious. A good underwriter will work to uncover this information. Is the case coming to market because the policyholder’s new HR manager is eager to establish a reputation as a cost-conscious team member? Has the policyholder experienced problems with the claims shop? Or perhaps it’s a case of a loyal sales rep simply needing “a win.” With every quoting opportunity, a story is being told. Listen to the nuances of the story. Embrace opportunities to speak with sales reps and brokers and be open to new information.

It is not uncommon for quote scripts to lack specific plan design and administration information. Some digging may reveal, for example, that the agent is not the broker of record. A savvy underwriter will see this as a hint that the policyholder is not necessarily unhappy, but the broker is working to make inroads with the policyholder. How the underwriter chooses to leverage this information will depend upon the other facts revealed in the research process, but the underwriter has uncovered a key piece of information and is now better positioned to assume the role of informed strategic partner.

Set Expectations

The most successful underwriter-sales rep relationships can be described as a partnership. Never be afraid to ask, “What will it take to sell this business?” Whether working within a long-standing relationship or quoting with a sales rep for the first time, establish yourself as a motivated partner.

Take ownership of the case and remain cognizant of the all-too-common pitfalls in the process. Many an underwriter has received a call from a sales rep suggesting the underwriter not waste time on a particular case for one reason or another. Make it your business to determine if YOU believe the case has been properly assessed.

For example, an inexperienced or harried sales rep may be discouraged because of a high loss ratio on an integrated product. An experienced, knowledgeable and motivated underwriter will recognize this as an opportunity to analyze the case in a manner that may yield a different view. Splitting out the melded experience of a paired offering is likely to uncover the true challenges within the offering and provides guidance on where the underwriter can or cannot be flexible.

Push the rep when you see what appears to be a good opportunity and don’t settle for unresponsiveness. In the case of an incomplete RFP, for example, determine what is missing and communicate that information to the sales rep.

Be proactive and establish a timeline for appropriate follow up. Did the case sell? If so, what was the predominant factor that tipped the business in your favor? If it did not sell, insist upon finding out why it didn’t sell – and don’t accept benign responses. Your time and effort matters and the sales rep owes you an explanation. It is only through an honest post mortem that the underwriter and sales rep will learn how to improve processes and achieve better results going forward.

Adapt Your Style

Every case is unique, and every sales rep is unique. It is up to you to identify the sales rep’s preferred style for communication and adapt accordingly.

If you find that a sales rep phones you for information, don’t return the call with an email. Mirror the style. If a sales rep’s style can be described as “cut and dry,” work to be equally direct in your communications.

Avoid the temptation to provide more information than the sales rep is likely to absorb and apply (or appreciate).

That said, make every effort to provide sales reps with information that will make them look good to the broker. Consider providing a rate basis comparison report or developing a spreadsheet comparing the in-force plan against the proposed plan, for example. Sales reps will quickly come to rely upon and gravitate toward underwriters who are thorough and treat them with professionalism and respect.

Drive Results and Celebrate Success

Successful underwriters understand they need to do more than simply quote. They recognize it is their responsibility to drive results. Establish your own sales goals and keep track of your success. Keep your own “hot list.” Identify cases that are likely to have a high success rate and work them! As cases are sold, continue to fill the pipeline. With each successful quote, be certain to take the time to publicize the news in an open forum; it will energize the organization. Reiterate the importance of a sales-oriented mindset and review the strategies and tactics that worked as well as those that did not.

Kevin G. Tierney is vice president, underwriting for Disability RMS, Westbrook, Maine, a provider of disability reinsurance products and services.


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