From the Front Lines: Personal Marine

Marine_FTFL

Brian DeSousa

President
Bay Agency Insurance Group
Rumson, New Jersey

How did you get started at your agency?

Boating is my passion, and I tied that into selling marine insurance at the agency. When I joined in 1991, I was selling home and auto and figured that if I was going to be in the industry for 30-plus years, I had to be passionate about it. That’s how I got into the marine insurance business. In 1996, we started off a different division called Bay Marine Insurance to specifically target that niche market.

Why personal marine?

I knew a lot of people in the marine marketplace—yacht owners, marina owners, boat owners. Our location also plays a part. We’re licensed in 26 states, so we do business for the entire Eastern Seaboard, Gulf Coast and Great Lakes areas. We haven’t just stuck to the Jersey Shore—we’ve branched out. 

Biggest personal marine changes?

It’s sort of like the tides—it ebbs and flows. There are always companies that are either entering or exiting the marketplace. Sometimes they try to burn their way into the market with discounted rates, but it normally comes back to bite them. These companies are all writing in catastrophe-prone areas at substantially discounted rates, and then one of these events hits them with claims, and all of a sudden they’re exiting the marketplace because they’re not profitable.

Greatest personal marine challenges?

Pricier technology on boats is increasing partial losses considerably. We insure boats for anywhere from $1,500 up to $15 million, and the electronic navigation systems alone could be worth $500,000. If you have a lightning strike, that’s all at stake. But the problem is that marine insurance rates have been stagnant. I’d say the marine insurance marketplace is probably less profitable today than ever.

Also, the boating industry is suffering because it’s not attracting younger buyers. Overall, the younger generation has not really hopped on board.

Future of personal marine?

I think we’ll continue to see carriers exit and we’ll continue to see rate increases, because catastrophe events have always driven the way we do business in our world. As technology continues to improve, you may see a shift in how companies do business, whether it’s technology for predicting storms or more successfully pricing out a risk.

Also, the industry has developed shared ownership programs—whether it’s a boating club or shared ownership where you own a certain number of hours—and very few carriers insure these types of programs. In the future, I think the carriers really have to find a way to write these programs profitably.

Advice for a fellow personal marine agent?

Know your products, know your markets and, most important, know your clients.

Will Jones is IA assistant editor.