From the Front Lines: Homeowners

HO_FTFL_SchaafErin Schaaf

COO
Rogers & Gray Insurance
South Dennis, Massachusetts

How did you get started at your agency?

I’ve been at Rogers & Gray almost two years. Previously, I was at a regional carrier that regularly does business with this agency. I loved my carrier role and had been there more than 17 years when Rogers & Gray posted the COO role. I had worked in an independent agency over 20 years prior and always thought I would go back to the agency side of the industry at some point. I was offered the job and loved it from the beginning.

Why homeowners?

The homeowners insurance market on Cape Cod and in surrounding coastal communities has been tumultuous for several years. When carriers left the Cape, the Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association (MPIUA), also known as the FAIR Plan, became one of the largest coastal home writers in the state. There were 55,000 properties insured by the MPIUA on Cape Cod alone, and these consumers faced more difficulty obtaining insurance and had fewer options than other non-coastal consumers, which created a market need for alternatives. Thanks to a connection from within the agency to reinsurers in the London markets, we were able to start a coastal homeowners insurance program, backed by Spinnaker Insurance Company and reinsured by London.

Our agency’s roots are on Cape Cod, and our homeowners books of business, including our book with the MPIUA, have historically resulted in very good loss ratios. By filing coverages and rates very similar to the MPIUA, we were able to make the administrative filing process slightly easier, offer better coverage at the same or better pricing, and provide an admitted product through a company rated A- by A.M. Best.

Biggest homeowners changes?

There have been tremendous changes in technology and access to data. Thanks to technological improvements, customers can inspect their own homes and report claims with their mobile phones, and underwriters can view neighborhoods and individual properties from their desktops.

Also, the availability of data from aggregators and other sources has drastically increased the sophistication with which carriers can rate and underwrite. Agents and customers benefit from data prefill, which makes the process easier and enables agents to spend more time understanding our customers’ needs.

Biggest homeowners challenges?

As an independent agent that writes homeowners insurance in coastal areas, one of the biggest challenges we face is the introduction of wind/hail, named storm and hurricane deductibles. They’re difficult for customers to understand, especially at claim time, and provide a challenge for agents during insurance-to-value discussions. Customers hear so many “values” as they conduct their personal business, such as real estate value, assessed value and more, so when an insurance agent begins to discuss replacement cost of the home and insurance to value, it can be very confusing.

Future of homeowners?

Cybercrime, green homes, smart homes and revisions to building codes are just a few new challenges facing our customers. Homeowners insurance will continue to be the best method of mitigating risk on consumers’ largest assets because of its relatively low cost per thousand dollars of insured value. From time to time, new “bells and whistles” coverages are introduced, but our customers cannot be expected to be aware of all the risks, nor all the options—which means agents need to double down on the client experience and connect with customers, educate them, protect them and make it easier to get things done.

Homeowners advice for a fellow agent?

Invest the time to conduct thorough due diligence and financial analysis when choosing carriers. There are a lot of non-admitted and non-rated companies in the market. It is important to you and your customers to choose financially stable, reputable carriers so you can have the confidence that you are doing the right thing in placing coverage with the best possible option.

Favorite homeowners success story?

One customer was renting a cottage on Cape Cod and was advised that he should have a tenants policy. He agreed and purchased the policy. Unfortunately, the cottage suffered a serious fire loss a few months later. He thanked his client manager for the advice and was able to replace everything.

We find the most satisfaction when we can deliver on our promise to be there for our customers in their time of need. It’s unfortunate when our clients have losses, but that is our time to shine. Whether we show up to a fire scene with a hug, some coffee and a laptop to report the loss, or drive out to a home that a tree has fallen on to help the client button up the hole until repairs can be made, claim time is when our actions demonstrate our true value to our customers.

Will Jones is IA assistant editor.