Networking key to tapping the vast potential of the nautical market
It’s been said that boaters make the most loyal clients, that they will readily refer their friends to professionals they trust. If you want to be the broker or agent who secures insurance coverage for your nautical customers, there’s reason to get to know producers at the Burns & Wilcox Marine Center of Excellence.
Helming the Marine Center of Excellence is Pat Brandner, a lifetime boater and recognized marine insurance expert. “I’ve known Pat Brandner for years and he is very experienced. We look forward to a great partnership with Pat and Burns & Wilcox, serving all of their specialty watercraft needs,” says Doug Semler, vice president of the marine and aviation division at Old United Casualty.
“We have extensive marine products for Burns & Wilcox to offer their brokers and agents,” he adds.
Tom Conroy, managing director of the Marine Division at Markel American, echoes Semler’s sentiments. “Pat has exceptional expertise,” Conroy says. “He is a great producer and a terrific partner. Every marine risk is unique, and it is really important that the underwriters know the various risks and what coverages are needed.”
Securing specialty markets and having marine underwriter expertise is key to running a successful watercraft division, Brandner explains. “We have access to multiple markets with the ability to handle a wide variety of boats in the geographic areas that are important to agents and their customers. We can place all types of risks, from high performance boats, yachts, older boats, high-value vessels, sailboats, coastal mooring, and those that navigate outside the United States.”
A straightforward placement process also saves valuable time, notes Bill Gatewood, Burns & Wilcox director of personal insurance. “We make it easy for our brokers and agents. We have a detailed quote sheet they can use to assess the watercraft. We also have a single toll-free number and email address where they can contact us from all over the country to get quotes and assistance. Our agents expressed a need for these products and we responded.”
The Size Factor
The Marine Center of Excellence is a new addition to Burns & Wilcox, and it targets boats that are 26 feet or larger. The bulk of its placements are for inland lake boats in the 26- to 50-foot range, and coastal water boats in the 35- to 55-foot range.
“Smaller boats can be bound on a homeowners’ policy, but larger boats with high horse power, aging vessels, or vessels used for extended journeys, need specialty insurance,” Brandner explains. “For example, we insured a 24-foot ski boat with a 380-horsepower engine. Some less experienced marine carriers might think that boat is a high-speed boat. It isn’t. The higher horsepower is needed to pull up water skiers. We know that, so we knew where to place that risk.” A boat owner’s nautical experience, or lack thereof, most often causes premiums to rise, he adds. To evaluate vessels, underwriters require marine surveys similar to those used in home appraisals. The rest usually comes down to the boater’s experience level. “The rule of thumb is boaters can usually move up 10 feet with each boat, without any concern. For example, moving from a 35-foot cruiser to a 45-foot cruiser doesn’t present any cause for alarm. However, going from 35 feet to 65 feet will waive a red flag to the markets.”
For boaters with larger watercraft, the professional captain’s experience also will be assessed. “If your client plans to make an Atlantic crossing, the producers will want to see the experience of multiple crew members,” he adds.
The Making of a Seaworthy Agent
Partnering with the Burns & Wilcox Marine Center of Excellence makes it easy for agents without watercraft experience to offer these professional services. By doing so, agents are strengthening their agency and opening new opportunities for growth. Anytime customers go outside the agency to find coverage, the agent runs the risk of losing the entire account. Therefore, it is critical that brokers and agents protect their client base by finding a partner who will work with them, not compete against them.
By working with a wholesale specialist who neither owns nor supports another retail distribution channel, brokers and agents don’t have to worry about cross-selling. They can have the ability to share in the commission revenue. Having access to a specialty watercraft expert will benefit your agency in many ways.
The most important benefit from working with experts is the ability to tap their knowledge and expertise. Marine specialists know their stuff. They live and breathe boats and all that floats. Brokers and agents unfamiliar with boats, marine policies, and nautical terminology could get themselves and their clients in real trouble. Consider the following:
- A typical recreational marine policy contains a warranty clause stating that the agent and insured certify that the boat is well maintained and “seaworthy.” Agents with a limited knowledge of boats may be uncomfortable putting their agency’s reputation on the line.
- At some point, most specialty watercraft will require a marine survey. Following an inspection of the vessel, the surveyor evaluates the overall seaworthiness of the boat and its operating systems to determine its market value. It’s a detail-heavy process; a marine survey can contain as many as 100 pages of technical information. While brokers and agents may not be inclined to read through this document and certify that the boat meets current National Fire Protection Association and U.S. Coast Guard standards, in the event of a loss, they should be equipped to knowledgeably advocate on behalf of their client to ensure they are getting a fair settlement, because a marine specialist will be inspecting the boat and adjusting the loss. That’s where experts at the Marine Center of Excellence can help.
“Qualified marine wholesale specialists will provide all of this and more,” says Brandner. “They will help agents understand the exposures that face their clients and advise them on the right options and solutions. They also should provide agents with the right questions to ask their customers so they can professionally and efficiently get coverage written. In short, the right partner will make brokers and agents look good in front of their customer.”
Working with a watercraft partner also can quickly benefit an agency’s bottom line. Given a choice, most consumers prefer to deal with a single agent for all their insurance needs, Gatewood explains. With a “wholesale only” partner, brokers and agents have the added benefit of generating revenue directly from this new line of business.
Industry studies have proven that customer retention increases with the numbers of polices agents have with that customer. Increased client retention improves an agency’s productivity, efficiency, and revenue.
With a solid recreational watercraft solution in place, brokers and agents also gain the ability to market a marine product line directly to their clients. They may find that they have a significant number of boat owners in the agency management system.
Like most enthusiasts in a particular sport or hobby, boaters frequently talk amongst themselves. Writing recreational watercraft products can position an agency to tap this potentially very fruitful network.
Boaters also tend to spend a considerable amount of time and money on their vessels. With a limited number of insurance options available to them, this group appreciates insurance professionals who understand watercraft and have the proper markets and products to protect their investments.
With nearly 13 million registered pleasure watercraft in the U.S., it’s a market whose size alone makes it worth investigating.