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July / August 2012  Volume 23, Number 4        

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Understanding Surplus Lines

When model Heidi Klum insured her legs for $2.2 million and guitarist Jeff Beck insured each of his fingers for $1 million, you can bet a standard insurer didn’t cover those risks. These celebrities turned to the surplus lines market. Although your organization probably won’t need to insure body parts, you might need the services of the surplus lines market.

Most organizations can meet the majority of their insurance needs in the “standard” insurance market, which consists of “admitted” companies that are licensed to do business in specific states. The state insurance department regulates their coverages and rates. Surplus lines carriers differ in that they are “non-admitted,” and they cover risks that admitted companies are unwilling to write.

Although surplus lines insurers are “non-admitted,” that does not mean they lack regulation. Each surplus lines insurer must be admitted (licensed) in one of the 50 states and must meet that state’s financial solvency requirements. The state of domicile becomes that insurer’s regulator.

Surplus lines companies are able to offer special coverages because they are largely free of rate and form restrictions that make it difficult for standard companies to write the risk. Their flexibility allows them to design policies that meet unique customer needs.

Flexibility from the Exotic to the Everyday

In addition to insuring a model’s body parts, surplus lines insurers also handle a broad range of more common business risks. NAPSLO, the National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices, Ltd., cites these examples of the types of risk commonly insured by excess and surplus lines insurers:

  • A developer re-building homes and businesses in hurricane-prone areas

  • A sports celebrity who wants to insure his or her legs or hands

  • A school district building a new high school

  • A nonprofit that seeks to provide food, medical care and education in Third World countries

  • A research lab working on a promising, yet unproven new drug

  • A law firm specializing in intellectual property work

Accessing Specialty Markets

Surplus lines companies sell their products through special brokers — called surplus lines brokers or wholesalers — and through managing general agents (MGAs). MGAs (which can be individuals or business entities) hold “appointments” from insurance companies, which give them the authority to solicit insurance applications from agents and negotiate coverage. MGAs generally specialize in particular types of risks and know which insurers are most likely to accept your risk.

The end customer has no direct access to those agents or to the non-admitted market. The good news is you do not need access. When we learn that you have an unusual risk, we discuss it with you and then contact the appropriate wholesaler or MGA to obtain the coverage you need.

Regardless of your special risk exposures, the process of finding the right coverage is largely invisible to you. We place the coverage and you receive a policy, just as you do with your standard property/casualty insurance.

Talk to Us

Sometimes a small change in your business strategy creates a need to access the surplus lines market. For instance, if a contractor installs kitchen cabinets in rental apartment buildings, he probably buys liability coverage in the standard market. However, if he takes a similar job for condominiums, he will probably need surplus lines liability coverage. Why? Because his potential liability is greater. If there were a construction defect, the contractor could be sued by each condo owner, rather than just one building owner.

If your business activity has changed, give us a quick call, and we’ll let you know if we need to make any adjustments in your insurance program. 

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In this issue:

This Just In...

Managing the Contingent Workforce

Understanding Surplus Lines

Property Valuation: How to Get It Right

Professional Appraisal Services Can Save Money



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