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Constructive Conversations: Bringing excellence to the Excess market
November 01, 2018
The $10 trillion global construction industry continues to grow. Leading contractors are taking on new projects that are pushing the limits – from record-breaking skyscrapers to massive infrastructure projects. This has led to an increased demand for excess casualty construction coverage. In this highly competitive market, Ed Totten, SVP, North America Construction’s Excess Casualty team, has always kept his focus on building partnerships with clients. Starting from his early days in a local State Farm office to his current role in leading the Excess Construction team, Ed has put relationship building and earning the customer’s trust at the heart of what his team does. “Customers expect us to go above and beyond – bringing excellence at every interaction – claims, underwriting and risk engineering, and that’s what we do,” says Ed. Here’s how he makes it happen.
How did you make the transition from a local State Farm office to the big world of Excess Casualty Construction?
Totten: After graduating from Ramapo College, NJ, I started working at a local State Farm office focused on auto and general liability. I learned a lot – especially how relationships mean everything. After several years, I helped to start up AIG’s small business lines unit in Berkley Heights, NJ, and then moved into a team leader role for Excess Construction. In 2004, I took my experience to Zurich, first as a Senior Underwriter for General Excess, and then three years later starting their Excess Construction team. Then in 2010, I was offered the phenomenal opportunity to join AXA XL’s North America Construction team – with the specific focus on building out a new Excess Casualty team. Back then, the thought of a dedicated Excess Construction team was somewhat foreign to the industry. Prior to AXA XL, some companies attempted a “behind the scenes” version of a dedicated construction team; however, silos within those organizations got in the way. We started this team to change all of that.
What are some major changes you’ve seen over the last 10 years?
In looking back, the industry faced some serious challenges back in 2008-2010 with the recession. Some insurance carriers had grown by throwing out large capacity, and then in 2008, it caught up with them. There was a price to be paid, and they felt it in their financial stability. Some retrenched in their Primary Casualty lines, and then in the Excess space. Another change has been with the perception of Umbrella Coverage. In today’s market, Umbrella insurance can be viewed as more of a commodity than coverage that all contractors need to be successful. Many times, relationships, stability, expertise and innovative thinking are overlooked for price. Not many people think the worst case scenario will ever happen to them. But over the years, this has changed. As the scope and scale of construction projects has pushed new boundaries and set new records, this has brought new kinds of risks. Think about today’s massive airport expansion projects and the overhauling of aging infrastructure. These projects can range from $500 million to $2 billion in contract value – they’re not the typical projects we saw 10 - 15 years ago. As a result, many contractors have learned that having a dedicated team in place to help manage these risks and a team who’s with you to navigate difficult moments is critical to the success of their firm – and that’s what we provide. Our dedicated team and comprehensive excess coverage can serve as the last line of defense for a company when the ‘unthinkable’ happens.
Tell us more about this dedicated team model. What’s different about it? What drives success?
Relationship building from day one has been the backbone of our team’s success. We take time to understand the needs of our clients, and in many cases, write higher excess layers in order to get to know our clients. On many occasions as the relationships developed across multiple lines within Construction, our team was afforded the opportunity to drop down to a lead position. This in turn has led to even more meaningful, long-term relationship with these clients.
Also, we don’t shy away from complex risks. Instead, we look for ways to figure out solutions through our team of experts. Our customers expect us to bring excellence at every interaction with us – risk engineering, underwriting and claims. And that’s what we do. We’ve partnered with customers on heavy industrial projects, like pipelines and massive infrastructure projects, and we bring everyone to the table. Our risk engineers are onsite doing inspections, completing surveys and having the critical, open and honest conversations around hazardous risks. All of this has helped to fuel our success. To date, our Excess Construction clients have been with us for an average of 6 years – which is pretty unique in this highly competitive market.
How has this helped your growth in the industry?
The US construction industry represents a massive market – 4.3% of our national GDP. Our customer-focused approach has continued to fuel our growth. By listening and by being highly responsive, we’ve built our excellent market reputation. It’s all about earning trust. Everyone knows that insurance is a people business, so when our people pick up phone and go above and beyond in the situations that matter most, our customers know that they can trust us. Behind our relationship building is the stability and expertise of the team. On average, our underwriters have over 20 years of underwriting experience – with over 10 years of Excess Construction specific experience. This stability and expertise forms the bond between our team and our clients. Within the Construction industry, it’s understood that quick turnaround is key. With a stable team in place that has a strong understanding of this industry, we’re able to make most decisions in the field. Effectively, 90% of all requests are handled without referral.
Fast forward to today, and AXA XL’s Excess Construction team has become one of the top Excess Construction markets for large contracting risks. We expect to hit close to $100 Million in annual Gross Written Premium by the end of 2019. This is a tremendous accomplishment for this team and a testament to our strong relationships.
Some people think that Excess Construction coverage is a commodity product. What’s different about AXA XL Excess Construction?
There are several things that make us different. First, we deliver a larger value, as part of the multi-line North America Construction unit. Working closely with other underwriting lines lets us fully understand the “full picture” of the customer’s construction risks. Through our integrated construction team model, we can serve as their one stop solution for all their construction insurance needs. But what really sets us apart is our service. Simply put, we do what we say and deliver on our promises. We have a culture of being transparent which deepens the relationships with our clients – especially during a claim. By being open and honest, we can deliver a smoother resolution to a claim when one happens. This has helped us maintain our strong renewable base, while continuing to add new business both in the practice and project specific space. Also, when you look closely at policies, we include a crisis management benefit that’s standard. It provides access to PR and legal firms, which helps clients to quickly respond and get ahead of a tough situation. In today’s hyper-connected media world, no one wants their company to be part of a ‘breaking news headline story’, and this standard benefit helps them respond quickly.
For more than twenty years, Ed Totten has built partnerships throughout the industry by earning his clients’ trust. You can reach him at email@example.com.