Underwriting Agencies Council (UAC) Chairman Heath Amber says product and service innovation has been key to growth in the sector and will remain vital as challenging market conditions make it difficult for some communities and individuals to acquire the cover they require.
Agencies and brokers are seeking alternative capacity more than ever to ensure customers continue to have access to insurance, with many property risks in Australia under pressure to find capacity that delivers appropriate cover, he says.
“It’s a huge concern that capacity is stretched in some parts of Australia,” he tells insuranceNEWS.com.au. “Hence the need for UAC members to keep innovating and developing alternative markets.”
Austplacements CEO Mr Amber was elected UAC chairman earlier this month, returning to a role he previously held from 2013-15.
Mr Amber says agencies have always been nimble and clever in meeting changing customer needs, UAC members have a unique relationship with brokers and capacity providers, are constantly developing new, more efficient ways of doing business and have excelled at ownership of customer service.
“The agencies business model strives to cut through layers of inefficiencies. Brokers demand a clear focus on customer outcomes and customers deserve that.”
Mr Amber says the style of UAC member has evolved since he was last chairman. A broader, more sophisticated range of products is offered, and new and intuitive technologies are connecting brokers, agencies and capacity.
There has been some consolidation and the launch of high-profile agencies that have seen remarkable growth, he says, while the sector has emerged from a capacity squeeze in 2018 when some Lloyd’s markets disappeared in a performance-focussed program known as the Decile 10 initiative.
The pursuit of profitable business and underwriting profitability continues to be paramount, he says.
Mr Amber takes over as chairman from Lion Underwriting MD Kurt Nilsen, who led the organisation during the COVID-19 disruptions. UAC has come out the other end of the pandemic “stronger fitter and ready to grow”, he says.
The council is in the process of recruiting an inaugural CEO following the retirement of William Legge, who had served as GM since 2011, and UAC is set to release a strategic plan that will build on its expansion.
UAC now has more than 130 agency company members with a combined gross written premium pool approaching $10 billion, up from $8-9 billion last year, with demand for specialist underwriters surging in the past few years as risks have become more complex and niche, and rates have hardened.
Mr Amber says, rather than having targets for gross written premium or market share, UAC is focussed on supporting agencies in their quest for good business and success.
“The challenges for agencies are ongoing access to product innovation, capacity and technologies fast enough to meet the growing demands of the market,” he says. “However, therein lies opportunity as well.”