If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, what planets are underwriters and insurance agents from?

It turns out that it’s not only the sexes that have differing worldviews that sometimes lead to failures in communication. According to a survey conducted by Gail Strauss of MCM Research and reported in the March 26, 2013, edition of PropertyCasualty360, insurance agents and underwriters at the carriers with which they place business can have a disconnect. And it isn’t necessarily due to the fact that underwriters are predominately female (59% of the group) whereas agents are predominately male (58% of the group).

It turns out that underwriters are also slightly younger than the agents who feed them new business. Roughly 85 percent of underwriters are below age 55, while 61 percent of agents are in that age group.

How do these demographic differences affect what underwriters and agents do in their daily business? To work together and build trusting relationships, people in different organizations and in related but distinct professions need to understand not only the metrics of each other’s success but also the pressures that exist in their jobs and the things each can do to ingratiate or alienate the other. Where significant age differences exist, the preferred method of communicating can be a challenge, let alone communicating clearly.

For example:

  • Both groups were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statements: “Most requests for proposals are straightforward and fairly well-defined.” Only 25 percent of the underwriters agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, compared with 75 percent of the agents. (Easy to tell which group writes the RFPs.)
  • “An underwriter’s work is finished at the end of a 9-to-5 workday.” Or, which group works harder? The two professions also have different views of each other’s work habits. Sixty-eight percent of the agents agreed or strongly agreed that this is so. Only 45 percent of the underwriters thought that their own work was completed in an eight-hour workday.

Some conclusions can be reached from the study results. For example, underwriters and agents need to understand with whom they’re working. This is particularly so in an era when close, long-standing working relationships are supplanted by less-personal electronic communications.

Ms. Strauss concludes from some of the comments made by responders to the survey: “Underwriters like agents who know what a good risk looks like.” In other words, while underwriters obviously need to exercise their own judgment concerning the risks presented, they prefer agents who understand the difference between submitting a good proposal and “passing the trash.” One comment from the survey is that underwriters do not want agents to “chase needless No’s.” If the agent already knows that a rejection is highly likely from a particular carrier, submitting a proposal to the underwriters at that carrier only adds to the underwriters’ workload, without helping to build a relationship or increasing the applicant’s chances of being accepted.

Underwriters’ responses to the survey indicate that they want strong relationships with agents, but expect the relationship to be a two-way street – the agent must support the underwriter’s goals if he or she expects to be supported in future placements.

How many professional liability claims could be avoided through better communication? I’d like to hear your thoughts on that question. Please post your comment, and upon review we’ll share it with other readers.  Thanks.