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Constructive Conversations: Optimizing opportunities for project owners
October 08, 2018
From her early days as an environmental risk engineer to her current role as Underwriting Director within North America Construction’s Professional & Pollution team, Laura Wagner has always kept her focus on customers’ needs and standing out from competitors. And Laura knows a thing or two about competition. Over the last 8 years, she’s trained and competed in Dragon Boat Racing, qualifying for the 2017 World Championships in Kunming, China. Along with her 20 teammates, she won the gold medal in the 1000 meter mixed race. Laura’s competitive nature and team approach has served her well as she’s helped Owners manage their construction projects. According to Laura, “Solving complex construction risks for project owners means bringing all the expertise to the table – risk engineers, multi-line underwriting and claims. It’s how you build the right solution together with the customer”. Here’s how she makes it happen.
With a background in risk engineering, how did you make the transition to underwriting? How does this help you support your customers?
Wagner: Like many people, I didn’t plan on a career in insurance. I studied Mechanical Engineering at Temple University and started as a risk engineer within our Environmental team. After a few years, I was promoted into management, leading the entire risk engineering team, and then served in a Construction Practice Leader role, also within our Environmental unit. It wasn’t until 2011 when I moved into Gary’s Kaplan’s Construction unit that I became a full-fledged underwriter. I focused a lot on the Owner’s Protective coverage and have gained deep knowledge of this product. Needless to say, with 25 years in the construction industry, I’m very familiar with job sites. I understand the opportunities and the challenges because ‘I’ve been there – done that’. This insider construction knowledge allows me to develop real solutions that meet real-life construction risks.
What’s a big trend you’re seeing in the overall construction industry?
We’re seeing a lot more modular and prefabricated construction being used in projects across multiple industries – higher education, technology and healthcare. There is definitely a push for productivity gains on construction projects. Healthcare firms have also historically been leaders in Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). This creates a multiparty contract that drives partnership, and allows all parties of the contract to share the “pain along with gains” – depending on how the project progresses.
Tell us more about the healthcare industry projects. Any key trends? What does this mean for coverage?
In the healthcare sector, there is massive growth in the construction of outpatient facilities. Also, nearly 75% of healthcare construction is projected to be additions or renovations to existing facilities. Another trend is with resilient design - the ability to withstand natural disasters. Everyone knows that hospitals can’t close for bad weather, so how can you design them better? Healthcare companies are also pursuing efficient design - the use of flexible room layouts and efficiency mock-ups during the design process. As an insurer, this means that we need to adapt our coverage to customer’s changing needs, and be flexible. And that’s what we’ve done. Over the years, we’ve manuscripted Professional coverage for several IPD hospital projects. We’ve completely tailored the coverage for specific projects. Also, in coordination with our General Property team, we are now able to offer comprehensive Course of Construction coverage that can help our clients seamlessly address construction risks not typically protected under standard property coverage.
What are you seeing in overall Owner projects? Is this a growth area?
It’s not that there is growth in Owner’s projects. Instead, we’re seeing growth in having the Owners buy more insurance coverage for their projects. In the Professional Liability area, this is precipitated by several factors. First, projects are getting larger and larger. Also, over 90% of Architects and Engineers carry $2M or less in professional liability insurance coverage, or they work to significantly limit their liability on a project via contract. All of this leaves an Owner underinsured for the potential design liabilities they face on their project. We partner with Owners to make sure that they are fully protected – for the full scope of the project.
What does the North America Construction team do differently for Owners?
We’re an all-line construction shop that has written almost $3B in premium in eight years. Our focus is 100% on construction and we’ve built our rock-solid reputation by building long-term relationships. We have always provided all-line solutions for construction companies but are now taking all of our knowledge, products and expertise and using it to benefit the project Owners. I think of an Owner’s project as having a life cycle and we have insurance products for each phase, not just construction. We partner with Owners and offer insurance solutions throughout the land acquisition, design, construction and ongoing operations. Solving complex construction risks for owners means bringing all the expertise to the table – risk engineers, multi-line underwriting and claims. It’s how we build the right solution together with the customer.
In some ways, it’s similar to how I train for Dragon Boat racing. In our boat, we have 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steerer. Each person has to be individually strong; however, the key is teamwork – everyone has to paddle in time, and stay focused on the same goal. At AXA XL, our shared goal is developing the optimal solution for our valued customers, and that’s what we all work towards.
With over 25 year’s industry experience, Laura Wagner has proven herself as a trusted partner to her customers. Have a question for Laura? Reach her firstname.lastname@example.org 1 215-446-9143.
- About The Author
- Laura Wagner
- Underwriting Director, North America Construction, Professional and Pollution, AXA XL