Why it’s time to cozy up to your insurer

Many fleets are seeing insurance premiums soar but to prevent that, it’s time to get to know your underwriter and to involve them in improving your weaknesses.

That was the message from Brandon Guiliani, TRIP department head, transportation, principal, Seubert & Associates. He was speaking Oct. 21 on a Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) webinar on managing fleet insurance renewals.

Too often, he said, trucking companies will choose an insurer based on price alone, with little familiarity with the company behind the coverage.

“Get to know them,” Guiliani said of your insurer. “This is a relationship business. Many times, when I sit down with clients, they have never met their underwriter. They are getting married before dating. Does that make sense? Get to know the person who’s putting numbers to paper.”

This has never been more important than it is today, he said, noting fleets are routinely seeing premiums increase 30%, 40%, even 100%. This is happening for a variety of reasons. He said insuring the trucking industry hasn’t been profitable since 2010, which has prompted many providers to exit the business.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of nuclear verdicts makes insuring truckers riskier, and new tech-laden trucks are more expensive than ever to repair.

Symbol for reducing a risk. Cubes form the word "RISK" while a hand turns a cube and changes the word "high" to low" (or vice versa).

To avoid sticker shock when it comes time to renew your policy, Guiliani said fleets should begin the renewal process early.

“You have to look at the [policy] expiration date as game day. What do you do before game day? You practice. If you don’t practice, you’re probably not going to achieve success on that game day,” he said.

That means addressing problem areas within the fleet – and being honest with your underwriter about where you can improve, and what you’re doing to improve.

“You never want an insurance underwriter to point out the negatives in your fleet,” he said. “You want to be able to work with your insurance carrier well in advance. We see so many times, 90 days out we’ll go meet with a client and they’re so far behind the 8-ball. We ask for their losses and they have to order them – they don’t even know what their losses are.”

Guiliani said insurers have many resources, access to data, and professionals available who can help fleets manage their weaknesses. Fleets must also be proactive in using any tool available to them to identify risky drivers and to be proactive when it comes to crash prevention.

“A lot of our clients have the technology, but they’re not managing it efficiently,” he said. “They have it because they were told they needed to have it.”

Insurance underwriters in this hard market will look for any reason to raise premiums, Guiliani said, so the pressure is on the motor carrier to tout their programs.

“Open up your data to your underwriter, they can work with you,” he urged. “Most fleets view insurance carriers as a necessary evil rather than partners. Get back to relationship building. Show them where your issues are – they have a lot of professionals who can help you get to the next level.”

Addressing weaknesses within your fleet will reduce claims, and in turn keep insurance premiums in check. Showing a track record of continuous improvement gives the underwriter more confidence in writing the policy, Guiliani said.

Insurers want to see a culture of safety, from the top on down. Guiliani said talking to drivers is the easiest way to gauge a carrier’s safety culture.

“You know right away from the drivers,” he said, suggesting how comfortable a driver feels turning down an unsafe load speaks volumes about the company’s safety culture.

He also noted an effective safety culture will not have barriers between departments. In some fleets, he said, the risk and safety departments operate in their own silos. Safety handles orientation, training and driver monitoring while risk manages claims and mitigates legal issues.

“All data needs to be shared from safety to risk,” he said. “If everybody is not on the same platform, if the risk guy is not talking to the safety guy, guess what – you’re going to be a statistic.”

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James Menzies is editorial director of Today's Trucking and TruckNews.com. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 24 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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