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People as decision-makers; technology as an enabler

Ralph LaSpina, EVP, Chief Marketing & Underwriting Officer, FCCI Insurance Group

Ralph LaSpina, EVP, Chief Marketing & Underwriting Officer, FCCI Insurance Group

There are very good reasons that attention is being placed on technology and digital solutions in the underwriting field; however, it is still imperative to keep the human factor at the forefront. Underwriting excellence depends on an approach that blends the use of innovative digital solutions and technology with empowered people, diverse thought, strategic planning and relationship building.  

Access to data, digital solutions and technology improve underwriting decision quality and efficiency. Data tools and analytics help underwriting teams extract, filter and summarize complex and detailed information, which help to make informed decisions efficiently. Understanding and quantifying risks quickly, allow underwriters time to focus their attention and efforts on making smarter decisions and building relationships. When data is used in the development of critical underwriting information, it is less burdensome on our agents and their insured customers. Underwriting is highly subjective and complex; and although data and technology solutions can greatly supplement human judgment, they will never replace it.   

Success relies on an environment that empowers and develops people. Underwriters thrive in an environment that promotes empowerment. Leaders must focus on creating a space where innovation and creativity are encouraged. The key is setting a clear direction with aggressive yet manageable goals, providing consistent and meaningful feedback and, most importantly, developing the confidence of the underwriter to be a decision maker. Leadership and the individual development of our underwriters are the most important things we do. Time should never be a constraint on this number one priority. Success happens when leaders promote autonomy, invest in ongoing development, and pave the path for good decision making. Technology is a critical tool along this path.

Innovation, problem-solving and excellence flourish in a culture that values listening, trusting and capitalizing on diverse experience and thought. Underwriting success is about asking the right questions, believing in and supporting the collective skills of group decision making. The group’s collective skills are greater than that of any one individual. Leaders should not simply provide their answers, but rather light the way for people to come up with answers based on what they know about their marketplace. Ask questions to allow individuals to become more confident, so they can build their own strategies. As a team, engage in collective problem-solving, initiative, innovation, creativity and common purpose.

Foundational principles are created by building relationships and maintaining solid partnerships. Agents can be the best frontline underwriters. They are familiar with potential policyholders’ management, commitment, work ethic and integrity. Data and analytics cannot replace relationships and trust. The best relationships are based on an understanding of goodwill and a reliance on our agency partners for their experience, insights and valuable feedback. It is the solid and mutually beneficial relationships that make success possible and allow for exceptional customer experience. Agent partners know they can count on a dedicated group of teammates who are willing to go the extra mile to ask questions, listen with empathy, anticipate needs and offer effective solutions.  

In the commercial middlemarket space, data in and of itself is not an answer; and not a solution. Data must be transformed into information by empowered individuals, harnessing their knowledge and experience. The most powerful combination of strategies provides confidence to leaders and individuals in their ability to create solutions, while providing them with critical data to inform their potential paths to success. Even today, underwriting excellence depends on an approach that emphasizes people, culture, strategy and relationships above digital solutions.   

About the author

Ralph LaSpina, AAI, is EVP, chief marketing & underwriting officer, for FCCI Insurance Group. He is responsible for all regional operations, corporate underwriting, premium audit, product management, underwriting operations, surety, risk control, marketing and communications. His focus is to enhance FCCI’s agency partnerships, underwriting profitability, and to implement best practices to drive efficiencies across the field organization. Ralph is an accomplished insurance executive with extensive experience.

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