A Broker’s-Eye View of Underwriting: 5 Ways to Improve the Broker Experience

November 29, 2023

Underwriting new and renewal business can often be a painful experience for brokers, agents, and underwriters alike – but it doesn’t have to be. We look at 5 ways underwriters can improve the process to better serve their producers. To get a broker’s take on the most frustrating aspects of underwriting today, we invited Jeff Jamison, ARM, President, Wichita Market at IMA, Inc., a retail insurance broker ranked among the top 20 brokers in the US, to tell it like it is, and play what he calls ‘Broker BS Bingo.’

Why are there so many follow up requests for additional information? You're the only one asking these questions...

What do you need to write this account?

This account is a great opportunity. How can we make it happen? I know they've had some losses, but can you help me out here?

I needed this yesterday (quote, endorsement, renewal policy, you name it).

As an underwriter, you’re undoubtedly all too familiar with these questions and comments from your agents and brokers, most likely on repeat. The underwriting process can be fraught with challenges and frustrations on all sides, particularly on new business opportunities. When a producer is working on a prospect of their own, emotions can run high, at times making you want to beat your head against the wall. Just remember, it’s often taken months or even years to get the opportunity to quote an account. And not only does the producer want to win, he or she also wants to avoid aggravating the insured.

Renewals, especially in a hardening market, can bring their own set of hurdles. Accounts may face non-renewal or significant rate increases, while producers might encounter competition on an account. Each of these scenarios raises the stakes and potential frustration level for both underwriters and agents/brokers. In the interest of strengthening the relationship between underwriters and agents/brokers, let’s explore the top five things that get agents and brokers blood boiling during the underwriting process.

1. The One-Line Declination

‘Declined, outside of appetite.’ This one sentence is the bane of agents/brokers existence. Yes, sometimes they are just looking to block the market, but more often this is not the case. Always remember that agents and brokers put tremendous effort into assembling commercial lines submissions, especially for complex accounts. Receiving a one-sentence declination after investing significant time and resources is immensely annoying (and very inefficient). Offering a more comprehensive explanation can help agents understand the decision and better communicate the decision to the insured. Better yet, have a conversation with them, especially if they are a valuable partner. Finally, if you’re going to decline a submission, do it quickly so the broker can adjust their strategy as needed. It’s always better to peel the Band-Aid off quickly!

“What is the F@#$ing appetite? Maybe you haven’t invested in defining the appetite, or it keeps changing. Watch out if a broker can demonstrate that the risk is in appetite, and then you are faced with finding some small reason to decline it. This will diminish trust."

– Jeff Jamison, President, IMA, Inc.

2. Radio Silence

When agents and brokers do not receive an acknowledgement of receipt and/or updates on their submission, they feel as if their efforts vanished into a black hole. Rather than a stone wall of silence, a simple receipt confirmation (not an automated kickback) and clear communication on next steps can significantly enhance the broker/agent experience and help them manage insured expectations.

3. Endless Requests for Information

Brokers and agents often face multiple rounds of document requests during the underwriting process, leading to delays and significant back and forth. Multiply this by the number of carriers quoting the same account, and you can appreciate what a heavy lift this might be. It can also be incredibly difficult for agents/brokers to obtain the requested information as they are reliant on the insured and often lack access to robust in-house data sources.

“To a broker, this seems like you’re looking for a reason to pass on the opportunity – problematic if the broker has explained the operations, and then responded to all the information requests. You better offer terms if you want future submissions!”

– Jeff Jamison

4. The Waiting Game

‘Have we received the quote from ABC Insurer yet?’ Account managers are receiving this question from producers on the daily. Lengthy quoting timelines create significant uncertainty for agents and brokers as key functions such as comparing quotes, requesting revisions, creating the insurance proposal, and presenting to the insured are all impacted by quote delays. It can even jeopardize a renewal or new business opportunity - not just for you but also for the broker! Meeting the quote need-by data is critical. Providing regular updates about pending items and quote status can alleviate frustration and allows the broker to provide a better experience to the insured.

“In this market, brokers get nothing until the bitter end. Remember that we need underlying terms to build out the entire program. Don’t hold us up. Finally, ‘last look’ means you want us to help you, not the other way around. When do we get our ‘favors’ in return?”

– Jeff Jamison

5. Moving the Goal Post

While changes in underwriting appetite, pricing, terms and conditions, and subjectivities can happen, these changes can at times wreak havoc on the broker’s relationship with their insured. This is especially true for pricing. If an indication has been provided by the underwriter and subsequently shared with the insured, any significant rate change from there will undoubtedly create a fire drill.

“Where is the integrity? Often the pricing in question is immaterial to the insurer’s overall underwriting strategy. When we misquote, we are held to the terms and pricing in the quote. How often is the request to change the terms offset with commission contributions?”

– Jeff Jamison

So How Can Underwriters Better Support Their Agents and Brokers?

The underwriting process, while far from perfect, is well-positioned for innovation. Often to a broker, all underwriters sound the same. But don’t fret, there are numerous actions you can take that will both minimize agents’ pain points and foster stronger, more productive partnerships.

1. Be Responsive

It may sound simple, but many frustrations can be alleviated through better communication. Be proactive in providing updates on the quote status starting with confirming receipt of the submission and a timeline for review. Also, promptly responding to inquiries demonstrates your commitment to collaboration and enhances the overall agent/broker experience. Modern underwriting platforms allow in-line communication as part of the core underwriting experience, significantly streamlining the back and forth between underwriters and brokers/agents.

“It’s amazing how simple this industry can be: Call back, try hard to win my business, and do what you say you are going to do. You’ll be my go-to forever if you can just do that!” 

– Jeff Jamison, President, IMA, Inc.

2. Leverage Data Insights

Make the most of the data and analytics tools at your disposal. The ability to leverage data and dynamic risk selection insights can transform the underwriting process in a multitude of ways. For starters they help you make more informed underwriting decisions while also increasing internal efficiencies. They can also provide a more streamlined experience for agents and insureds by minimizing repeated requests for additional information.

“Brokers want to feel they are negotiating with a person, and are not at the mercy of data analytics or predictive modeling – even if that is ultimately the case. Use the data as your own underwriting aptitude.”

– Jeff Jamison

3. Streamline Risk Selection

It’s a well-known fact that underwriters often receive far more submissions than they can realistically work on. Being able to quickly qualify a new business opportunity and prioritize the best accounts to work on can pay dividends in helping you set priorities and allocate resources efficiently, with the end goal of forging productive underwriter/broker partnerships that lead to winning new deals and growing the portfolio.

“As brokers, we do have our favorite underwriters that we win with. Ever wonder why you are always runner up? Brokers want to broker and make deals. Find ways to give and take that make sense, and then when you win, that broker will come back and bring his/her friends.”

– Jeff Jamison  

4. Simplify Submission/Information Intake

One of the key ways you can enhance the underwriting experience is by simplifying the submission and information intake process. By clearly outlining the required information and automating data ingestion, you can minimize the need for repeated follow up requests between you, the broker/agent, and the policyholder. This, in turn, can free up more of your day to focus on high-level tasks like negotiating and nurturing valuable relationships with agents and brokers.

5. Always Keep the Customer Experience Front and Center

Carriers have two customers – the agent/broker and the policyholder. When underwriting an account, it’s natural to focus on the agent and obtaining the required info. However, don’t overlook the policyholder experience. Streamlining the quoting process doesn’t just improve the experience of the agent or broker. It also minimizes friction points with the insured or prospect.

Summing Up

All of this illustrates how insurance remains a relationship business at its core. Insurers must empower their underwriters and teams with technology solutions that help them strengthen their agent/broker partnerships. 

Virtually all the frictions between underwriters and brokers/agents can be alleviated using a modern underwriting platform. Underwriters, despite being the linchpins of profitable growth for insurers and MGAs, have been underserved by technology and tooling. They are often hampered by slow and inefficient internal processes and manual workflows that haven’t kept pace with the evolving role and needs of underwriters.

“When underwriters are weighed down with manual tasks, it rubs off on how they interact with their brokers and impacts their ability to build relationships.”

– Jeff Jamison

It’s not that underwriters don’t WANT to do better with their broker relationships, they just don't necessarily have the right tools.

“Underwriters today are looking for modern technology and tooling that helps them to be more productive and meet their goals,” said Steve Mills, President, E&S at Ledgebrook, an insurtech MGA focussing on the Excess and Surplus (E&S) market. 

By leveraging the capabilities of a modern underwriting workflow solution (RiskOps, anyone?) including the ability to integrate real-time data, prioritize opportunities in the work queue based on appetite, guidelines, and winnability, and empower underwriters and teams with dynamic risk selection and portfolio insights, carriers can dramatically improve the broker experience. 

Ledgebrook implemented the RiskOps underwriting platform to deliver a faster, more consistent underwriting and quoting experience for its wholesale brokers.

“From day one, Federato has enabled us to operationalize our unique strategies in a way that empowers our underwriting team to make better and more consistent risk selection decisions based on our distinctive approach to appetite and winnability at speed and scale, turning around quotes for our brokers faster than our competition,” said Gage Caligaris, Ledgebrook’s founder and CEO.

Ready to Learn More about RiskOps?

See for yourself how our RiskOps solution can benefit your underwriting organization. To schedule a 30-minute live demo and discussion, fill out the demo request form here.

Broker BS Bingo

Courtesy of our friend and broking leader Jeff Jamison of IMA

Lost in Translation: Here’s what brokers actually hear when underwriters say a few all-too-common catchphrases, and vice versa.


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