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How to Sell RV Insurance: Ditch the Auto Mindset

In order to effectively serve your current RV clients and continue to expand your RV insurance book, you need to understand the unique coverage needs of a residence on wheels.
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The biggest mistake most agents make when selling RV insurance? Treating it like auto insurance.

In order to effectively service your current RV clients and continue to expand your RV insurance book, it’s important to understand the unique coverage needs of a residence on wheels.

“Many agents are looking to do these things not necessarily as their primary business but as an accommodation for other lines that they’re doing,” says Randy Sellhorn, senior product manager at Foremost Insurance Group. “They treat motor homes and travel trailers like they were any other motor vehicle.”

Apples vs. Oranges

In reality, while an RV does face regulatory constraints as a licensed vehicle, “for the most part, it’s a secondary residence,” Sellhorn says. “This has a habitational risk. Using it that way is a far greater exposure to the insured than driving it on the road, because it doesn’t spend a lot of its time on the road.”

“They are unique and they have different coverage needs from private passenger auto,” agrees Heather Rowe, Safeco recreational vehicle product director. “You don’t typically go camping without an RV full of gear, and when you add everything together it can be worth thousands of dollars.”

Sellhorn notes that many RV owners use their vehicles to store and transport fishing, golfing and firearm equipment or as “toy haulers” for ATVs, kayaks or motorcycles. “People purchased the RV and travel trailer and motor home for a reason, and generally those are reasons of passion and pursuit,” he says. “Where does the coverage for my stuff come from and under what loophole or exclusion does that fall in my homeowners when I take that stuff off my premises?”

For these reasons, Shawn Los, vice president of specialty transportation at National Interstate Insurance Company, says an RV may require unique coverages that a regular auto does not, such as personal property in storage while the client is on the road; custom-tailored coverages for awnings, vacation liability, full-timers and more; or scheduled valuable items all under one policy with a single deductible and carrier. “Without a specialty RV policy and no homeowners policy as a backstop, customers could be left with inadequate coverage,” he explains.

Other unique coverage requirements might include liability when the RV is parked and used as a residence or emergency assistance and roadside needs, Rowe points out. “They’re big vehicles—you can’t just pull them out with a regular tow truck, and people are oftentimes far away from home,” she says. “Those types of nuances and the needs of these customers need to be understood in order to fill those gaps.”

The Agent’s Role

That’s where the expertise of an agent comes in. “Agents tend to miss RVs completely, often because of that monocular focus on auto and home,” says Jeff Bair, head of merchandising and business development, independent agent operations at Foremost Insurance Group, who notes that Foremost is currently promoting a campaign called “put the hitch in your pitch” in order to encourage agents to ask their customers one question: Is there a hitch on that vehicle?

As vehicles like crossover SUVs continue to rise in popularity, the likelihood that your auto clients’ cars are capable of towing a trailer increases. “When there’s a hitch, it’s not only a great opportunity for cross-selling, it’s also an amazing opportunity to avoid E&O exposure and increase retention in the household,” Bair points out.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports 5% year-to-date growth in RV shipments, according to Charlotte Elek, RV product manager at Progressive Insurance. In particular, that growth includes total towables (+5% YTD) and class C motorhomes (+12.7% YTD), she says.

“With the growth in total towables, agents can focus their efforts on cross-sell opportunities,” Elek points out. “For example, if a customer has a truck or SUV, ask them if and what they tow. It may be an RV.”

Rowe adds that RV owners are more likely to have a home, plenty of cars and toys and a need for an umbrella. “They tend to be really great customers and retain and perform really well,” she says. “Make sure you’re maximizing that potential when talking to them.”

And Sellhorn encourages agents to “add some ketchup to the cross-sell”: According to the RVIA, approximately 12% of the vehicle-owning households in the U.S. have a travel trailer, motor home, pickup camper, fifth wheel or folding camping trailer.

“If I have 100 vehicle-owning households in my agency—and any self-respecting independent agency would have far more than 100 vehicle-owning households—I ought to have at least 12 RV policies,” Sellhorn says. “The easiest, lowest-cost sale they’re going make this year is to find those 12 people that have an RV in the household, because no agency that I’ve asked that question can come up with more than three or four in 100, and most of them are below that. They’re missing out on customers they already have.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.