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Training Hour: 4 Tips for Building Your Equine Book

The equine market may finally be leveling out, which is good news for agents who are hoping to sell more equine in 2018. Here are four ways to make it happen.
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A few years ago, major equine insurance carriers were forced to rebuild the market from the ground up in order to deal with mounting major medical losses.

The result: A major medical landscape that’s completely transformed.

“They reevaluated their rates, and they reevaluated their coverage,” says Tara Trout, director, farm and equine and private client specialist at AHT Insurance. “Everybody was adjusting everything—we were like, ‘Slow down.’ We had to relearn everything.”

Keep an eye on and upcoming editions of the Markets Pulse e-newsletter to learn more about all the ways major medical insurance is not what it used to be. In the meantime, the other result is a positive one: The equine market may finally be leveling out.

“Overall, the market is healthy,” Trout says. “Everyone has sorted themselves out with a few tweaks. They’ve found their niche for better or for worse, and they’re focusing on their underwriting. I predict stability this year.”

That’s good news for agents who are hoping to sell more equine in 2018. If that’s your goal, here are four ways to make it happen.

1) Find your niche within the niche. Trout observes most equine carriers honing in on specific areas of the market, whether it’s sport horses, thoroughbreds, dressage, quarter horses or something else.

“Every type of coverage has a strength for a different discipline,” Trout explains. “I think underwriters are really starting to focus on that and stay away from the areas where they just don’t have as deep an expertise.”

And as an agent, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to follow suit. “Once you understand your underwriters’ strengths, you can focus on which path you want to go in your own relationships,” Trout says. “It’s very, very difficult to reach out to a discipline that you don’t know very well. If your background is hunter jumper, I would stay in that lane rather than trying to get into the quarter horse world. They’re very different, and they have different needs.”

2) Pay attention to how your client uses their horses. On a similar note, “the more you understand what your client needs, the more you can work on the best possible solutions with your underwriter,” Trout suggests.

Consider a leasing situation, for example. “You really have to think about the horse, who’s the first named insured and who’s the bill payer,” Trout points out. “Perhaps the leasee is the bill payer, and when they return the horse, technically they don’t have the ability to cancel the policy because they’re not the first named insured. Who’s paying the bill? Who’s getting the claims check? Who has the right to make changes to the policy?”

These are all questions you need to be asking, Trout says: “Is your client owner of five or six horses from various backgrounds? Are they a trainer who works with 50 owners in their barn, all with multiple needs? Are they someone who owns 30 horses but can’t afford to insure all of them, so the only thing they’re worried about is property insurance for the barn? You really need to understand what your clients are doing and communicate that to your underwriter.”

3) Partner with tech-savvy carriers. That last part is easier than ever before, thanks to a variety of technological improvements on the carrier side. Mike Foy, president of Foy Insurance headquartered in Exeter, New Hampshire, remembers when purchasing a horse required waiting on the pre-purchase vet exam to arrive via fax or snail mail.

“Today, you sometimes have portable scanners, or you just take a picture of it with your phone and forward it along instantly,” Foy says. “Technology has made the process of writing policies and communicating with the parties involved much easier.”

“I’m able to actually get answers from underwriters on the weekend,” agrees Jade Stanbrook, broker, Foy Insurance – Equine Division. “I tend to do things after hours, and that’s part of your competitive edge as a broker—being available at any hour. Having email, text and all that stuff now is helpful, because you have your paper trail.”

Trout sees most equine insurers embracing technology that eases processing policies, issuing endorsements and automatic payments of insureds—which not only gives them “more room to focus on underwriting,” she says, but also makes the insurance process more convenient for clients.

“These carriers are coming out with apps you can download for an immediate claims portal report, so wherever you are you can report the claim immediately, real time on your phone,” Trout says. “You can see the status of the claim, you can upload vet documents, invoices, reports—all those things that can be done from a smartphone. It’s pretty amazing.”

In the years ahead, better technology is the biggest change Trout sees coming for equine. “You’re only going to see more and more advancements with technology,” Trout predicts. “All the equine carriers are going to be offering those smartphone apps and online issuing of policies. Everything’s going to be a little bit more streamlined.”

4) Focus on the relationship. Stanbrook attributes her flourishing equine book to her solid relationships with trainers, who help funnel referrals her way. But she cautions that in general, horse people can be “a breed of their own.”

“Sometimes they’re a little finnicky, a little more challenging than the person you talk to about car insurance,” Stanbrook says. “Word of mouth is very important—you have to try very, very hard to not aggravate those people who are making a big difference in your book.”

But if you know horses, Stanbrook says, “that’s a huge strength. Knowing your product and being able to level with somebody and provide that understanding—I’ve had horrible things happen to horses in my care, so I understand how valuable the insurance can be.”

“It really boils down to not what you insure but who you insure,” Trout agrees. “Your client doesn’t know what they don’t know. They won’t know what questions to ask. It’s your job to help guide them.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.