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Head of the Central US Zone, AXA XL

As his team prepares for a second year of virtual RIMS conference, Todd Sutherland discusses the state of the market in the Central US Zone and the exciting challenges and opportunities in a post-pandemic world.

 

What's the state of the market in your zone?

A lot of the time when asked about the state of the market, the natural inclination is to focus on the rate environment, but I think there’s much more to the discussion. I would describe the state of the market as one of “balance”. We are in a market cycle where there is generally adequate capital and appetite for risk to meet buyers’ needs- but what’s different about the current cycle (outside of the rate dynamic) is that brokers, clients, and insurance companies are more incentivized than ever to focus on relationships and differentiation in the industry. Brokers are really pushing to differentiate themselves in areas including data capabilities, relationships with insurance companies, and creativity. Clients are seeking to differentiate themselves through thoughtful investment in their risk management programs and demonstrating those efforts to build and strengthen relationships with key existing and potential insurance companies. As an insurance company, we are really focused on working with our existing and potential clients to understand their exposures, strengthen our relationships and offer a broader array of products to help offset some of the volatility that comes with some of the more challenging insurance coverage these days. At the end of the day, when we can get to a point where clients’ needs are understood and met- and we are getting an appropriate rate and program structure for the risk- then I think it’s a good outcome. It’s no secret that in many lines of business, we are securing rate increases to get to that point of appropriate rate and program structure- but if we’ve honored our commitment to our clients by providing a tailored outcome, all parties walk away from the table satisfied.

 

What are the key industries of focus in your zone?

I’m sure it won’t be surprising to hear that we work with a lot of clients in manufacturing, food & beverage, healthcare, retail and real estate in the US Central Zone- based simply on the fact that the economy in this geography has heavy participation in those spaces. With that in mind, that we have teams of underwriters with significant expertise in those industries and have a broad appetite for risk in those industries across our product portfolio. We also have a significant construction focused business here in the zone and operate a multiline, market leading construction unit with expert underwriters located in the zone. I’d also note that in our primary casualty portfolio, we have a significant focus on the staffing industry with a team of underwriters that focus specifically on that space in the Central Zone.

 

What are clients and brokers looking for from us?

Although individual motivations may vary, I believe clients and brokers are seeking a partner with a customer first mentality. They want to know that we value the relationship, evaluate every client on their own merits, and listen to them and seek to put forth creative solutions to solve problems. Market cycles come and go, but these themes seem to endure regardless of where we are in the cycle.

 

How are we uniquely positioned to help these industries/clients?

We certainly have a broad appetite for risk across the industries in our zone and an array of risk management services and products to offer to clients, but the most important thing we have to offer to our clients is our people. We are fortunate to have a deep bench of incredibly talented underwriters, engineers, service team members, and claims professionals located physically in the zone. This local approach allows for a deeper relationship, better communication, and quicker decision making- allowing us to put our best foot forward for each client. Our operating model is designed to put our colleagues in position to deliver great, local service to our clients, while benefiting from the global strength of the organization. You can visit our US Appetite Guide to learn more about our products.

 

What are some of the themes you expect to emerge from your discussions with brokers and clients at virtual RIMS?

It’s probably an understatement, but it’s been a difficult year for everyone with the various challenges created by the pandemic. With that in mind, I think (hope!) we’ll start to hear more about clients navigating a post-pandemic operating environment in the not too distant future, and the thoughts/concerns associated with the impending shift. Also, whenever we talk to clients, we’re always interested hearing about their specific challenges and concerns so we can work together to come up with potential solutions. We’ll certainly have many conversations about some of the more challenging lines of business in the current market such as D&O, Excess Casualty and Property, but with clients’ desires for more creative solutions we’ll look forward to discussions on Captive utilization, weather related parametric solutions and other evolving risks and solutions.

 

How are your expectations for the event different this year given it's virtual for the second time?

When we conducted RIMS meetings with clients virtually last year, we did our best to adapt, but it was new to everyone and a little unnatural. After more than 13 months, we are much more comfortable with the virtual format and better at using the technology to make these interactions more meaningful and productive. So, while we’d all much prefer to be having these conversations in person at a live event, I expect we’ll have some valuable interactions this year benefiting from the immediate access to technology- allowing us to build relationships and identify opportunities to expand and enhance partnerships with existing and potential clients.

 

Todd Sutherland is the Head of the Central US Zone for AXA XL. He can be reached at todd.sutherland@axaxl.com. To learn more about our US Insurance operations, check out our latest insights from US Country Manager Matt O’Malley and Head of the West US Zone Mike Soper. Visit https://axaxl.com/rims2021 for additional information.


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