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Keeping ahead of competition
April 17, 2018
Competition. It’s everywhere – big business and small business, local and global. And if you’re not keeping up, you’ll face serious business challenges. When it comes to construction insurance, keeping ahead of the competition has been central to XL Catlin’s North America Construction team.
With nearly four decades of experience, Gary Kaplan, President, North America Construction, has learned a thing or two about competition and customers. From his early days as a risk engineer on job sites, to senior management roles, and onto launching XL Catlin’s Construction unit in 2010, keeping his eyes wide open to what competitors are doing in the marketplace and listening to customer needs has been paramount. It’s all built into his team’s Leadership, Planning and Execution business model, which sets priorities based on what matters the most.
According to Gary, it’s about being nimble, adaptable and willing to have the honest conversations about what you’re doing right and where you’re missing the mark. At the end of the day, you can’t afford to ignore a changing competitor landscape and evolving customers’ needs. If you do, there’s an even bigger price to pay – you’re left behind. Here’s why.
How does your organization handle ongoing competition?
All colleagues in our North America Construction team have a role to play with keeping ahead of competition. We are very big on competitive analysis. No matter if you’re an underwriter, a risk engineer or a claims team member, everyone is empowered and expected to learn, share and contribute to ongoing competitive intelligence. We ask colleagues to share what they learn as part of our monthly team virtual calls. Plus, we aggregate anecdotal insights with data-driven research.
As part of our annual strategy development process, we develop and map competitor profiles to see where we stand. This means taking a deep dive – looking at what competitors are doing in the marketplace, comparing them to what we’re doing, and then highlighting the results through a traditional SWOT analysis. With the SWOT, we can also test our value proposition. This is where the real honest look in the mirror comes in. For us, there’s no sugar-coating allowed with competitive analysis. We need to own our strengths as well as own our weaknesses. The difference is that we also own the plan to address our weaknesses.
This sounds like a rigorous process. What’s involved? How is your approach different?
For us, when we say a ‘deep dive’, we mean it. We look at our competitors from multiple angles and dig into the details on organizational structure, talent, book size, strategy, value proposition, products/services offered and other anecdotal evidence. We gather this insight from press/news feeds, meetings and routine conversations. Also, we meet as a team to collectively discuss what we know about a competitor and document it. This means summarizing key metrics and comparing them against how we’re doing. We highlight where our numbers are better or worse than the competition (using green, yellow and red). This makes it easier to visually see differences. For example, right now, we have work underway in comparing our policy forms to those of the competition. Each of our Profit Center Heads is doing a side by side analysis of coverages to look for areas to improve and to address coverage gaps. This helps to bring contract certainty to our customers. We pull all of this information into easy-to-understand charts, and update it at least annually, usually right before our annual Construction Strategy meeting in May.
One way our approach is different is that it’s an ‘all-team’ approach. As I mentioned, everyone is empowered and expected to contribute. We’re a flat organization and we embrace an open communication culture. It’s like that phrase, ‘if you see something, say something’ – meaning if one of our colleagues sees/hears something that’s important about our competitors, they’re expected to not only share it, but also explain its relevance. What does this mean to us, to our customers and/or to the industry as a whole?
How does competitive analysis benefit your brokers and customers?
We’ve built ongoing competitive analysis into a well-oiled machine for our team. It’s not a ‘one-and-done’. Instead, we’re constantly looking externally to learn where we stack up. This competitive analysis discipline combined with our Voice of the Customer business model, keeps us customer focused in all aspects of our business – underwriting, risk engineering and claims. We’re constantly listening and learning, and because we’re a flat organization, we can adapt quickly to respond to what brokers and clients expect from us.
Can you share some specific examples?
As part of our recent SWOT and strategy update, we expanded our analysis to include broker needs and geographic reach. We had those honest conversations about our gaps in the market. One thing we realized was that we needed to expand and keep up with the growth in markets where are customers were growing – specifically West and New England. As an agile team, we could respond quickly. For West Region, we’ve expanded our talent with hiring Chuck Marmolejo, Executive Underwriter, and relocated Dan McCarthy, Senior Underwriter, to our San Francisco office. Likewise, for the Greater New England/Boston Region, we recognized the importance of having local underwriting experts to serve our clients. Again, we’ve realigned resources and have created a dedicated team to support this region, with Mike Simone, Underwriting Manager, leading the effort, and splitting his time between Boston and New York.
Another example is how we’ve adapted our product portfolio. We heard countless times from our customers about the need for a General Liability-only policy for wrap-ups. Large contractors and select owners wanted a product that delivered more flexibility and cost savings. In response to this need, we launched a new General Liability (GL) only wrap-up product – called GL Only Plus – which delivers the flexibility and cost savings that customers were asking for.
What’s next in the construction competitive landscape? Where do you see technology playing a role?
Today, companies are keenly aware that keeping up with competition is imperative to their survival. But competition can come from new, non-traditional players. We’re seeing this everywhere – in the insurance industry, in the construction industry and beyond. Technology firms are disrupting traditional business models and in many cases changing the way that work is done. This presents opportunities as well as challenges.
At XL Catlin, we’re embracing change by building the right partnerships. For example, through XL Innovate, we’ve invested in Pillar Technologies. Pillar deploys industrial-grade sensors across construction sites to address high-value risks during and after construction by actively monitoring key environmental factors. These sensors help to boost safety and reduce losses. We’ve piloted the Pillar technology with some of our clients, and the feedback has been very positive. We also recently completed a 90-day pilot with four contractors and Weather Analytics, a company focused on forecasting and analyzing weather data with cutting edge technology and pinpoint accuracy. This project allowed us to partner with our customers on something innovative, and also identify new ways to think about how weather factors into the planning of a project and the results from a weather event. Looking ahead, I see the role of technology only growing in the construction space. I’m a competitive person, so this is just one more area that we’ll look to keep ahead of.
Have a question for Gary?
With his insurance career spanning nearly four decades, Gary Kaplan has learned a lot about competition and he’s passionate about it. He’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-212-915-6646.