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Property Perspectives


Teaming up to insure growing business in a changing environment

By Jay Smelser – South Central, Regional Leader – South Central

In today’s insurance industry, we all have an interesting story about how we got here. XL Catlin’s Jay Smelser, Regional Underwriting Leader- South Central, North America Property, in Dallas is no exception.

Jay followed two passions in college -- music and sports. His passion for music took him, on scholarship, to earning first chair bassoonist in the Wheaton College (IL) Symphony orchestra. Today, he keeps up with his music skills by playing keyboard in church and in a local band, as well as through his oldest son who’s assumed some of his dad’s passion for music, not for the bassoon but for the trombone. Then, at the same time, Jay’s passion for sports earned him a spot as a running back for his college’s football team. While he’s hung up his football cleats, Jay’s youngest son inherited some of Dad’s competitive nature, not for the gridiron, but rather competitive gymnastics, which keeps Jay vicariously involved in competitive sports.

For Jay, it’s this experience – playing football and bassoon -- that taught him the value of teamwork. And Jay is very much a team player. That’s what he says has really helped him excel in his insurance career, especially in providing solutions that help his clients protect their commercial properties in one of the fastest growing regions in the country. He explains why.

How does your orchestra and football experience play into your current responsibilities?

Smelser: You can’t play a symphony by yourself. You can’t win a football game by yourself. And you can’t effectively protect a business’ property by yourself either. Given the complexity of some risks and the constant state of change we see in business today, it needs a team approach, with our brokers and clients as much a part of our team as my risk engineering, claims, distribution, and Global Services colleagues. Our clients’ input is essential in our game plan – which is finding the right commercial property insurance solutions.

What also keeps everything interesting is XL Catlin’s broad, and global, product portfolio. That means I am often part of a team helping clients address either property or multiline risks wherever in the world our clients do business.

Everyone knows that football is big in Texas. But tell us something we don’t know about Texas and your region?

Smelser:  According to the US government Census Bureau, Texas is the nation’s fastest growing state. And, according to those statistics, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area, home to XL Catlin’s South Central regional office, is the fastest growing area in the country.

The Texas economy is the second largest in the United States. In recent years, Texas has seen many economic wins, with major corporations moving or expanding their footprint here.

While Texas is well-known for its oil and gas production, other industry sectors such as information technology, manufacturing and biomedicine are important sources of job growth. I think many might be surprised to find that Texas ranks 2nd among the 50 states in net tech employment. There are more than 37,000 tech businesses in Texas. In fact, the tech workforce here accounts for about 7.2 percent of our total workforce. The tech sector is big business here, contributing about $136.9 billion, almost 9 percent of the overall state economy.

For me, this means there are plenty of opportunities to underwrite diverse property risks across diverse industries right here in my backyard. 



From flooding to tornadoes to hailstorms, Texas sees its share of natural catastrophes regularly but this year, Hurricane Harvey packed a powerful punch. Has this changed how you look at clients’ risks?


Smelser: After this natural catastrophe season, businesses in the region are taking a good look at their property risks and how they might be changing. If they are not, they should be. Harvey was a reminder that nothing - - including flood plains – stay the same, they change for various reasons. For one, a lot of development in the region has changed flood patterns.  Many flood maps are out of date with data going back to 1994. Communities rely heavily on these maps to guide their decisions about land use and development. If flood maps are inaccurate, minimum floor elevations may not be applied as they should, potentially leaving new construction more vulnerable to floods. Outdated information about an area’s flood risk exposures can make us susceptible to greater losses if we don’t look at the risks carefully and with new information and tools available.

There’s considerable discussion in the region about zoning changes and we have to help our clients understand the changes and its potential impact on their property and also their insurance coverage.

How do you help clients deal with these changes or make adjustments to their property insurance programs?

Smelser: For one, an active Nat Cat season often raises questions among many clients. They find themselves asking how their coverage would respond if they were faced with a similar situation. We work hard to help them understand the scope of their insurance coverage, before something happens. Certainty is the most important thing to a client when something happens. They want to be certain that their insurance coverage will afford them the protection that they thought it would all along.  

Besides fluctuating flood plains, what other changes do you see ahead for your brokers and clients?

Smelser: Technology is a growing industry in Texas because every business everywhere is using more of it. And that affects their property coverages too. There are still a lot of gray areas about what cyber risks may be covered by property policies or where clients have gaps in their coverage. Technology risks, and insurance coverages, are still emerging and we as insurers have to help our brokers and clients understand them. And we are working hard to develop creative products and solutions to help meet their needs.

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Jay has worn many hats in his 25-plus-years in the commercial property industry – as an underwriter and a broker, both here in the US and in Bermuda. For brokers and risk managers interested in enlisting Jay’s diverse skills to address complex commercial property risks, contact him at or +1 972- 383-7154. (He doesn’t mind chatting about music or football either!)

To learn more about XL Catlin’s personalized approach to commercial property insurance, GO HERE.

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AXA XL is the P&C and specialty risk division of AXA.