Let’s Talk: Inland Marine insurance keeps tech and other companies moving forward
Technology changes quickly, and so do the firms that create game-changing technologies. Constant change is one of the reasons why technology firms are a big part of AXA XL’s Inland Marine Insurance client base in the Western US, according to Russell Crooks, AXA XL’s Vice President and National Inland Marine Insurance Director. But that isn’t the only industry sector turning to Russell and his team for inland marine coverage. Here he explains more.
Why do technology firms need inland marine insurance?
Crooks: Like any other growing sector of the economy, technology firms are on the move. They are hiring new employees, expanding their workspaces and increasing their geographic footprint. They are selling their goods to businesses and consumers all over the world.
Therefore, inland marine insurance coverages address their two top concerns. First is rather obvious. They turn to inland marine coverages to insure high-tech equipment, computers and other products they manufacture or distribute while in transit to the consumer.
Secondly, tech companies are moving, building, or shifting their offices to attract top talent and get closer to their customers. Tech firms are a big source of construction activity in this region. New building construction, renovation and installation are key coverages in their insurance program. For instance, we are seeing a growing need for our construction products in Las Vegas, where the online gaming industry continues to expand.
What’s driving the business opportunities in your region?
Economic growth in the Western US has been driven by technology for the last 30 years or more. And it’s not letting up. AXA XL’s San Francisco office is growing rapidly due to our ability to service the insurance and risk management needs of the tech sector.
Despite being an expensive place to live and work, San Francisco, and the surrounding Silicon Valley, is still a major hot spot for tech firms. According to one real estate brokerage, CBRE, San Francisco-headquartered companies like Salesforce and Uber have been snapping up office space. Tech firms made up more than 60 percent of all leasing activity in San Francisco in 2018. That’s the highest percentage in four years. Tech firms are also expanding into other parts of our Western region, including Los Angeles and Seattle. These businesses need a carrier with inland marine insurance expertise: AXA XL.
Certainly, technology is not your only customer sector. What other industries do your serve?
Many industries buy inland marine insurance, for which there are over 50 different coverage forms.
Construction is our leading industry. The technology sector fuels this, but other industries do as well. We provide Contractor's Equipment Insurance (in fact a brand new product is presently being filed) and Builders Risk Insurance (including installation and renovation) and round this out with Property coverage.
In California, we serve the agriculture sector by providing Motor Truck Cargo insurance to farming operations that also have trucking operations hauling the commodities of others.
We also sell Motor Truck Cargo coverage to the trucking industry. The port of Oakland and other west coast ports are major entryways for imports coming into this country. Someone has to haul these goods to all parts of the US.
Our Logistics Services Coverage Solutions product is market-leading. The great thing about our form is it follows the goods – while in motion and at a location – during various links in the supply chain. This flexibility will be important to more and more clients going forward. The transportation and warehousing industries are evolving. Because so many consumers are buying products online, companies need to get their goods to market faster. Instead of a large warehouse in a single location, many are turning to smaller warehouses in many locations, which provide different services (frequently outsourced) to achieve quicker delivery times.
These companies are evolving into logistics providers, necessitating different insurance protection. Our solution provides a logistics company with tailored inland marine insurance for virtually any commodity, helping address risks associated with order processing, packaging, consolidation, inventory control, transportation, warehousing and data management.
" [Clients] want to partner with a carrier that has made a long-term commitment to the inland marine insurance sector.
Comprehensive insurance coverage is important. What else do clients look for in an inland marine carrier? What’s important to them?
A carrier with a strong balance sheet is critical. Certainty of paper – meaning that the insurance carrier has the capacity to meet its financial obligations – puts brokers and clients’ minds at ease.
They also want to partner with a carrier that has made a long-term commitment to the inland marine insurance sector. There has been a lot of upheaval in our line of insurance, which is a $13 billion-dollar industry. Despite having generally good returns over time, the experience is not universal amongst our competitors. Inland marine risks can be difficult to underwrite.
It’s an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, our customers want an insurance company that is competitive tactically. One the other hand, they want a company that is disciplined strategically when it comes to selecting risk. The carrier must continue to provide state-of-the-art products and services… and win when quoting against the competition. But they also must meet their obligations by paying claims and servicing their accounts.
AXA XL started our inland marine operation in 2011. We expanded West in 2016 so that our underwriters could be closer to the brokers and clients we serve. I joined in 2017 to lead the team. Our book of business has grown and continues to grow year over year. Our brokers and clients see that as a clear sign of our long-term commitment to the market.
Did you expect to be here? Did you always dream of becoming an inland marine underwriter?
I did, at least by the time that I was in college. Unlike many of my colleagues who took other routes to get to the insurance industry, I headed in this direction before graduating. I studied insurance and finance at Sacramento State University. Many carriers had regional offices in the Sacramento area. I saw that as a good sign that I could land an insurance job after graduating (and I did).
I zeroed in on the marine sector, thanks to one of my professors. He suggested that I consider marine underwriting because each risk is unique, require a different underwriting solution, terms and conditions. It’s more hands-on, not underwriting in a box. I took his wise guidance and have no regrets.