Since the recent spate of insurer mergers and acquisitions, the spotlight has been on underwriting profitability and increasing returns for shareholders.
When the market consisted of eight or nine key players, it was difficult for insurers to assess whether a particular broker had a profitable book of business overall.
If their own experience was poor, it could have just been bad luck and competitors were reluctant to share their own figures to build a complete picture. A broker who had consistently produced losses could move his business around the market without anyone spotting that his portfolio of business was of poor quality or underrated.
It could be said it was insurers' duty to set premiums and terms to make a profit and the brokers' role was only to submit accurate details of the risks. Any underwriting losses were therefore insurers' problem.
Times have changed. The mergers have shown that in the main, if one insurer has an unprofitable book it is probably mirrored by other carriers. The size of the accounts with one insurer are now often so large that one-off losses do not distort the figures so much. The statistical base is bigger and insurers are judging brokers' performance primarily on the profitability of their book rather than other factors.
A broker with poor loss ratios now has nowhere to hide and is likely to face real difficulty trading in a hardening market. The current market conditions change underwriting optimists to pessimists with few underwriters taking a “Micawber like approach hoping for something to turn up to improve results. A poor book of business can only be changed by drastic action.
Profit shares are also an important part of a broker's bottom line and need to be maintained if a broker is to create surpluses to invest in the business in the future.
The result is that to protect their own interests, their bottom line and their future, the accountability for insurance companies' profits from their own book of business lies totally with brokers. If they abrogate this responsibility, they put their business at risk. So it is important that everyone involved in the business understands this switch of accountabilities.
Too often, a good insurer in the broker's eyes, is one who quotes low premiums and gives them everything they want. A good quote is one which undercuts the market substantially and enables a broker to secure or retain a case.
The fact is that anyone who is substantially lower than the market will lose money and will have trouble later.
In every case study over the last 20 to 30 years, an insurer who shows substantial growth against the market trend, follows this by underwriting losses and then needs to take corrective action. Brokers need to be aware of the aggressive insurers of the day.
So what are the drivers for underwriting profit – and what are the profit destroyers? From an insurer's point of view, the characteristics of the broker play a crucial part.
An in-depth analysis of a broker's business on all the above points will provide a good guide to an insurer to whether a broker is likely to produce long-term sustainable profits for them.
The value destroyers tend to be:
In addition, those brokers who have poor relationships, are not insurance experts in their field, re-broke everything, place every risk they can at the lowest price, are not interested in risk management, have no specialisms, or are motor biased are likely to produce long-term losses.
Brokers need to take insurer profitability very seriously, protect their underwriters, act responsibly and maximise premiums whenever possible.
This approach in some way is to overcome the current inadequacies of insurers who perhaps lack the in-depth underwriting knowledge they had in the past but also to ensure their own long term future.
Insurers' profits should be a prime objective for every broker.