Strategic Management for Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers: Positive Change for Sustained Excellence

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Soft Market or Soft Economy

Let's talk about what's keeping you up at night.

"MarketScout: P&C Rates Rise for Second Straight Month in December"
"Marsh: The Two Speed Insurance Market"
"Moody's: Measured Rate Increases to Continue, but No Hard Market"
"Berkley: Market is Hardening; Good Companies Can Seize Opportunities"
"Best: 2012 Insurer Market a Mixed Bag"

Is the soft market finally turning? 

If you've been watching the industry press for the last couple of months, you may be optimistically confused.  Most sources seem to see signs of price increases, but the extent of the shift and the timing are uncertain, at best. Selected classes and lines of business look better than others. So when you ask, "Is the soft market finally going to give way to a hard market?" the answer is going to be, "It depends."

But, so what? What will that mean for your customer? What will it mean for your business?

Regardless of how the market shifts – hard or soft – your success depends on the effectiveness of your sales organization, your skill, your expertise, your value-add, your competitive advantage. And if your competitive advantage isn’t clear, a market shift won’t help you attract more customers and retain the ones you have.

Competition is the new normal. If you’ve successfully grown your business over the last few years then you’ve had to sell through the soft market, around the soft market, in spite of the soft market.

Regardless of how high prices go, for your customer, it's still about finding the best protection for the best price. Since the consumer has learned so well to shop for the lowest price, you’ll work hard to try to keep the cost down in order to retain the business.  And if the cost of insurance goes up faster than the state of the economy, the trade-off for the insurance buyer may be coverage.

When the insurance company describes their pricing structure and willingness to underwrite in terms of "fear and greed," as in the Berkley article, it's easy to see why the typical insurance buyer doesn't understand why his price soars or drops regardless of whether there have been claims or not.

You have to understand where the market is. You have to be able to offer cost-effective insurance coverage to protect your customers from financial loss. And you have to be able to bring appropriate customers for the carriers you represent. You can’t control the insurance market any more than you can control the economy.

So what if the market is getting harder? Will you be sleeping better because of it, or in spite of it?