Commercial insurance firms face a turbulent, highly-competitive market. But according to PwC’s Insurance Performance Measure a sustainable underwriting advantage clearly leads to outperformance. Top property and casualty (P&C) insurers have pulled away from the pack by strategically diversifying their underwriting portfolio and fueling cross-functional collaboration while keeping an eye on expenses.
When it comes to success in the commercial insurance space, the path is clear. Smart and focused underwriting separates top firms from the pack, according to our analysis using the Insurance Performance Measure, or IPM.
We analyzed the top 100 commercial lines P&C insurers in the US using PwC’s IPM, which gauges an insurer’s operating performance while accounting for the volatility of its results. We divided the insurers into three groups based on how they performed over the five years from 2013 to through 2017:
The IPM Leaders stand out by letting underwriting focus their business decisions, from pricing and policy terms to risk selection and identifying optimal reserve levels. In order to maximize their success, firms should put data analytics, automation, and artificial intelligence at the core of their decision-making process.
Companies outperform the market over the long term by sustaining superior underwriting profits through hard and soft markets. Some have managed to keep this underwriting advantage for as long as 20 years. But success is due to more than just underwriting. We found that the IPM Leaders successfully used a combination of techniques to boost their bottom line:
But, above-average expense management and superior investment returns haven’t been the key drivers for industry leaders, according to our analysis. Expense management matters, but not for its own sake. In fact, across-the-board cost cutting can backfire if it doesn’t coincide with sharpening an underwriting advantage. There are specific actions that firms can take to gain an edge in this competitive marketplace, and the first place to look is underwriting policies.
Leading firms target where to grow their business segments through a focused review of their capabilities. They seek diversification and optimize the balance between volatility and expected return. They also know how to effectively use capital, weighing the volatility and returns of individual business units and their relationship to the overall portfolio.
Leaders identify and seize on the most promising growth opportunities. They avoid unforeseen risk exposures/concentrations by aligning all functions toward improving underwriting insights. Strong underwriting provides the biggest competitive advantage, and we expect it will remain the key to outperformance in the years to come.
Although commercial insurance companies face sizable obstacles, their best path forward is clear. Establishing an underwriting advantage—both for day-to-day activities and as part of broad strategic portfolio management—is increasingly vital for outperformance.
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Partner, PwC US
Director, Insurance Advisory, PwC US
Managing Director, PwC US