The Importance of Your Company’s Website for Getting Business Insurance

The web presence of a business dramatically affects the business insurance options available for that business.  Much of the insurance buying landscape for businesses is shifting to the online/e-commerce environment. This often offers businesses faster service, better prices and the opportunity to get quoted by more carriers. Many of these transactions are conducted exclusively over the phone and by email.   An agent seeing a business face to face is becoming less and less common. Thus, underwriters are increasingly relying on a company’s website to assess whether they want to insure a company or pass on the opportunity.

For some industries, such as contractors, many insurance carriers will require evidence of a business online before they will quote that business (even if a formal website is not be required).  This gives the insurance carriers more confidence they know what business they are insuring. A good web presence helps businesses obtain better business insurance by getting quotes from more carriers.

Websites are generally used as a marketing tool for businesses. They often are over-expansive in the services they list they will offer.  That is good for marketing, but can make it more difficult for businesses to get insured.   Insurance company underwriters often rely on information contained on a website more than any other resource available. Thus, they will often decline quotes if services are offered which are ineligible for coverage. The rub is that often the businesses don’t really offer all of the services listed on their websites. Many times websites are created by a vendor the business owner contracted with, and their only goal was to make the website the strongest it could be from a marketing perspective. Additionally, the business owners may not always monitor their website on an on-going basis or update the website for changes in business operations.

However, when it comes to getting insurance, it is important that your company’s web presence most accurately reflects your business operations. Editing your company’s website is one way to accomplish this task. Sometimes, it is possible to explain why websites advertise services which are not really offered. However, sometimes it is not. Furthermore, sometimes carriers might price insurance more conservatively due to their potential doubt of the company’s operations based on an inaccurate website. An accurate website puts a good foot forward with insurance carriers.

There are many persuasive reasons to have an accurate and current website. Ease in obtaining business insurance (and potentially better priced business insurance at that) is another reason to add to that list.

Lets talk about Landscaping!!

When I first started doing workers compensation insurance, I had the privilege of writing a lot of landscaping types of risk. I have never been a landscaper, so it was difficult to understand all the aspects of landscaping insurance. For example, are you just mowing yards, are you trimming bushes, are you cleaning the yards, are you replanting the grass or flowers, are you doing edge work? Who knew there would be so much that goes into just one risk?

Landscaping insurance liability questions at myinsurancequestion.com

So, while you ponder on the type of landscaping you do, let me tell you there are plenty of carriers that love writing landscaping insurance.  Except tree trimming and that does not classify as landscaping!! So moving on, I find it very interesting that all the types of work my clients have been doing and the challenges I had to write them. So let me walk you through the process of how this is done.

First, we need to talk about exactly what you do. Never be scared to tell an agent what you actually do on a daily basis. If you cut grass, say that. If you trim trees, tell them! I can’t stress how important it is that you tell the agent exactly what you do. The agent and underwriter will do research on your company and we will scroll through every picture and question whether or not you are doing something… so tell us everything!! It is beyond stressful for the client (i.e. you) to have to wait for a carrier to quote your work comp landscaping insurance policy and at the very last minute tell you they found some issues with what you say you do. Especially if you didn’t tell them that you did something. If you have a website that says you do tree trimming, we will know. If your Facebook page has pictures of you climbing ladders to hang plants, we will see them. So tell us exactly what you do. We understand you might have been declined by a lot of other agents, but we are trained to write tough/difficult risks, or we can tell you who to call exactly. We won’t waste your time and we don’t want to waste ours.

Secondly, after you have told us exactly what you do, we will discuss the payroll and employee count. No agent has your actual monthly payroll reporting in front of us, so we need you to be honest. If you pay one of your landscapers $10,000.00 a year, tell us! Honesty is the best policy. If you are starting out as a new company, we will help you figure that out.

Thirdly, this is the best part, we quote your landscaping business. Believe it or not there are a lot of carriers that are competing to write landscapers. You need work comp for a reason, so let us find the best price for you. I get how stressful it is to try to find coverage in your area… but let me take that stress away. I can shop dozens of carriers and I can get you the best coverage for the lowest price.

In the past three months I’ve spoken with 19 landscaping companies. Seven of those companies have become my clients.  I’ve used four different carriers to place those policies. That shows how much our insurance carriers are willing to compete against each other for landscaping insurance. Landscaping has so many aspects to it that it is a fun risk to write. Also companies are competing for the general liability and business owners insurance too.

Shopping Assigned Risk and State Funded Workers’ Compensation Insurance

I very much enjoy phone calls from clients that say “I am shopping my state fund policy”. Many times, I can help the client on the other end of the phone. That is always a great feeling. Sometimes I can not help and neither can any other agent out there. I would like to discuss some of the many factors that go into writing a work comp policy.

Many business owners are under the impression they can switch after they spend a year or so in the assigned risk or state fund. These business owners think they can automatically get out and go to a voluntary or select carrier. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

When determining if a business qualifies, we will start with what type of business you have. If you have a green or go class code chances are better. Restaurant, retail and even some artisan contractors are great classes of business to pull out of the various fund policies.

Next we need to know how long you have been in business. Sometimes it just takes a year or two of prior coverage to move carriers. Next comes the loss history of your business. We will need to know things like if your business has had any large claims in the last 3-5 years or does your business have a bigger issue like a frequency problem?  A lot of little claims are sometimes less desirable to a carrier than just one large loss. That being said restaurants tend to have more of a frequency issue. A lot of small claims like cuts and slips and falls. If you have enough of those even though they are small it could land you in the state fund.  However putting a formal safety program in place goes a long way for frequency issues.

A big misunderstanding that I often have to explain is when a client asks, “I have been in the pool for what seems like forever. I have never had a claim. Why can’t you move me to a select carrier who will offer better rates.” Well if you are a class like 9014 (janitorial/commercial cleaning) who only has 2 very part time employees and you only have $7000 in annual payroll then I will not be able to help you get out of the fund. There is not enough payroll and or premium for select carriers to offer a policy. There are carriers that will consider lower payroll but it is very difficult with any type of contractor classes.

The other more difficult topic is the “model” business owner with 3-5 years of prior coverage and favorable losses. They also have a less favorable class code, but with enough payroll to generate a policy premium of $7-8k annually. Many clients and even myself would think that should be an easy move, but more and more I am seeing $10k minimum premiums for yellow class codes. These are usually heavy construction class codes. Our agency has success with some of these accounts with one of our new carriers. All hope is not lost for those business owners who think they are doomed for life to the assigned risk pool.

When I finish up with these types of phone calls, the client on the other end of the phone usually feels better about their policy. It may be a policy they have to have for now, but at least they know why. The majority of business owners I talk to are very thankful when I take the time to discuss their policy, even if I can not help them. Many just want to know why the only option is a state fund policy. When I let them know that option is just for a certain time period they know what they have to look forward to after a couple of years in the assigned risk.

 

 

 

OH NO! AUDITS!?!

This past week I went to a training seminar on workers’ compensation insurance. I showed up to this event expecting to learn about claims,  class codes, and all the new products coming out. When I got to the seminar I first sat down at the table I was assigned to. While I introduced myself to all the other insurance agents, I asked them, “What do you expect to learn this week?” To my surprise, everyone wanted to learn about audits. Everyone wanted to learn about things like how an audit works, who does the audit and why do we need to do them? I really was shocked that so many agents didn’t know much about an audit.

What is an audit?:

Workers’ compensation policies are issued with estimated payroll figures for the policy period. An audit is completed at the end of the policy period in order to determine the final policy premium. It can be completed either by phone, mail, or physical visit.

How to prepare for an Audit:

Assemble all financial documents that you have accumulated throughout the year. You should really start at the beginning of each policy year. Things that will be helpful/needed: payroll books, 941s, SUTAs, 1099s, checkbook (which is best if you have a separate checkbook for personal and business), general ledger, or tax records and lastly all Certificates of Insurance. It is very important to know that all grossed wages are used, for example wages for all payroll, commissions, bonuses and lodging allowance.

Who does the audit?:

Typically it is the actual carrier that will do the audit. Your agent will be able to assist you, but it will be the carrier that will proceed with the actual audit. There are times where the carrier can use a third party as the auditors.

When do audits take place?:

Audits typically take place at the end of the policy year. Your agent can request a quarterly, monthly or semi-annual audit for your company. The reason they might suggest that you do one mid-term, is to check on your payroll. It is always best to get the most accurate payroll, but sometimes we might have to actually estimate what an employee will make in a year. When we estimate the payroll, it is always nice to check to see if you are close or going over the estimated payroll. It is a lot easier to adjust payroll during the policy term, than to do it after. It is also a lot nicer to not have to pay any additional premium at the end of the term.

I understand that audits can be stressful and just a pain in the butt, but they are necessary. But if you are prepared for the audit, then you will be okay. The auditor isn’t after you or after your business. They just want to make sure you are paying the correct premium. They also want to make sure that you are classified correctly. So don’t think that audits have to be the end of the world, just breathe and relax. With this advise you will be all set for the audit. You can always call your insurance agent and they will gladly assist you with any additional information you might need.

Umbrella Insurance

Umbrella Insurance is a type of liability coverage you may have seen before. It may have been a part of your contract requirements or as an additional coverage option on your policy. Umbrella Insurance is a source of protection that sits over the limits of any of your qualifying underlying policies. These could be policies like general liability, commercial auto liability, and employers liability. Umbrella insurance policies can also protect from exclusions and gaps that exist in your primary liability insurance. The covered causes of loss that are not normally included in primary policies are subject to a self-insured retention (SIR). This is the responsibility of the insured to pay. An SIR in the amount of $10,000 is the most common. The coverage of an umbrella policy is triggered when the limits of the underlying insurance have been exhausted. The umbrella liability policy has a critical requirement. You must maintain the policies listed in the schedule of underlying insurance. They must be kept in force, without alteration of terms and conditions, during the term of the umbrella liability policy.

Umbrella Insurance

Now that you have the basic understanding of what an umbrella policy is, lets look at why it can be important. The area I am going to focus on is in regards to lawsuits. Lawsuits seem to be more common place than they were 20 years ago. They could be from a slip and fall, or giving out a wrong phone number resulting in a large number of calls to another business. Lets look at an example:

A repairman arrives at your location to fix the phones, computers, system, HVAC, etc. It is a rainy day outside. He makes a few trips in and out of the building. On one of the trips he slips and falls in a hallway. The repairman claims that he had no warning about water in the hallway. From the fall he has a back injury along with a broken arm and neck stiffness. The injury requires a few surgeries to help the ailing back and it is determined he will always have an issue. This issue will affect his ability to work and his way of life. The repairman files a lawsuit against your company for not having the hallway marked notifying of the wet conditions. The case goes all the way to trial and a jury rewards the individual $1.5 million. The problem with that amount of money is your general liability policy has a $1 million per occurrence max on it. This leaves you exposed for the remaining $500,000.00. Thankfully your business had an umbrella policy that will then provide coverage over the excess amount. This will take care of the $500,000.00 difference. If your business had NOT had an umbrella policy then your business would have been on the hook for the $500,000.00.

The cost of adding an umbrella policy to your coverage is generally not that expensive. Hopefully you will never end up needing it, but over the course of time insurance claims happen. Whether you have been in business for 1 year or 75 years an incident will eventually occur. It is important to always consider how well your business is protected and make sure there are not any holes in your insurance coverage. If you have not thought about adding umbrella insurance, now may be the time to sit down with your agent to discuss the benefits it could provide your business.  In order to make an informed decision you need to think about if your business might ever be in a situation where you may need additional coverage on top of your existing liability coverage.  If you do need additional coverage then a Commercial Umbrella Policy might be right for you.

Safety Programs and Meetings

The importance of a Safety Programs and Meetings

Safety programs and meetings may seem like a time consuming task and they may seem like they do not make much of a difference until you have had a claim. Even the best run operations will eventually have some sort of work related injury occur. Whether it is a law firm who has a legal assistant injured in an auto accident or a construction worker who has a back strain occur on the job, something will generally happen the longer you are in business.

All carriers ask if you have a written safety program.  This DOES come into play when agents are generating your quote and analyzing your business. For instance, if your business has a written safety program and conducts weekly safety meetings on a variety of topics than an underwriter might understand if you are having a year where a couple injuries occur. If you do not have these policies in place, your business may end up having a claims total higher than your premium paid. This may cause your current carrier to cancel you for claims.  All of a sudden you can’t find an insurance carrier to cover your business.

I have had many clients in this exact situation.  If your business has a safety program in place, what we have been able to do is make a case to the carrier on your behalf by using examples of your safety program and meetings conducted. We do this so when the carrier reviews your business they will take into account all of the right things you are doing and chalk up the recent stretch of losses to more of an outlier than an actual reflection of the way you run your business. On the flip side if you are not having regular safety meetings or do not have a written safety program than it is much harder to convince an underwriter that these losses are a fluke. With no examples to give them on why they will not happen again most underwriters and carriers will decline to offer a quote. This is because on paper it looks like there are no supporting arguments showing there is a plan in place to minimize the exposure in the future.

Now that we have established the importance of safety programs and meetings and programs, lets look at an outline that can be used. Meetings don’t have to be long.  They can be quite quick and effective if you are prepared.

1. PLAN your meeting in advance by looking at topics you have encountered in your years of running the business, industry related issues, or ideas from your workforce.

2. Help your workforce see or understand what you are talking about through pictures and videos. Not everyone learns or is engaged the same way. Pictures and videos will allow you to show specific examples of the point you are hoping to make.

3. Tell your employees how to apply the information you have presented and see if they have any questions, thoughts or concerns.

4. Attendance should be required and not optional.

5. Document attendance so if it ever comes up you can show you are constantly training your employees on safety.

This is a simple guideline you can follow that will keep your team focused for the 10-30 minutes it may take to conduct safety meeting. Meetings don’t need to be long or cumbersome but they should be to the point and deliver your message in an efficient, effective manner.

What is the Walsh Test and why does it matter?

The W.A.L.S.H. Test is an acronym to determine which state has jurisdiction for a Workers Compensation Claim when more than one state is involved in the incident. This is most relevant for businesses who operate across state lines. This applies whenever an injury occurs in a state away from a company’s primary headquarter, and is a way the courts use to determine how workers’ compensation coverage will apply.

Walsh is an acronym judges use to determine jurisdiction for a workers’ compensation claim. The acronym stands for:

  • Worked
  • Accident
  • Lived
  • Salaried
  • Hired

The weight of each part of the jurisdiction depends on the position of the term in the acronym W.A.L.S.HWorked carries the most importance and Hired has the least importance when considering jurisdiction. The higher on the list the higher the relevance in relation to jurisdiction.

This comes in to play when a city, like Kansas City, MO for example, has businesses frequently operating in more than one state. More complicated instances occur with trucking companies or in the airline industry. One hypothetical example might be where a truck driver lives in Iowa. The truck driver gets hired by XYZ Trucking Company just across the border in Minnesota. XYZ Trucking Company is headquartered in California, which is where the truck driver is salaried. The truck driver gets in to a wreck in Georgia.

  • Worked –           Many states
  • Accident –          Georgia
  • Lived –                Iowa
  • Salaried –           California
  • Hired –                Minnesota

In this instance Georgia would probably have Jurisdiction. This is because the truck driver works in many different states, so W would lose relevance. Where the Accident took place is next on the Walsh Test. The fact that the truck driver Lived in Iowa has less relevance to this case.  So does the fact they were Salaried in California or were Hired in Minnesota.

Salaried and Hired are typically lowest on the totem pole because they have the least to do with the accident itself. The fact that a truck driver is Salaried in California and was Hired in Minnesota does not have much to do with a workers’ compensation claim regarding an Accident in Georgia.

Where the employee Worked and where the Accident took place have the highest relevance. This is because where the worker does business most of the time and where the accident took place have the most to do with this specific occurrence.

The one situation where the W.A.L.S.H. does not take effect is in monopolistic states. These states are North Dakota, Ohio, Washington and Wyoming. These monopolistic states require an employer to obtain workers compensation insurance from a compulsory state fund or qualify as a self-insurer.  It is critically important to let your agent know everything your business is doing and especially where. This can allow your agent to provide the correct coverage to protect your business when an occurrence takes place in one of these monopolistic states.

So the W.A.L.S.H. Test is a tool judges use to determine jurisdiction in Workers’ Compensation Claims.  It is relevant to businesses who operate across state lines. Where your employees do their work can make all the difference in your company being liable for a Workers Compensation Claim — and to determine if your policy will cover the claim. Talk long and honestly with your agent about where and how you do business, and make sure that you have a state listed in section 3A of your workers compensation policy if you have an employee that might get injured in another state.

Janitorial Business, Liability Needs.

One of the first accounts I ever quoted was for a janitorial cleaning company. This company really stuck out to me. The client called me bright and early one morning looking for a workers compensation quote. It was a commercial cleaning company and when I started the quoting process, I realized there was much more to this risk than I actually thought. I noticed commercial janitorial cleaning was actually a very popular risk to insure, but sadly not many people know how to do it. It is not a difficult risk to write, but some might find all the questions to be rather nerve racking. So allow me to help you out!

If you are thinking about getting workers compensation for your own janitorial cleaning company, you need to first ask yourself these fundamental questions.

1) Will you be doing residential or commercial janitorial cleaning?
* There is a huge difference between commercial cleaning and residential. Commercial consist of any legal business, office, or sometimes contracted apartment cleaning (if the resident has moved out and you are cleaning it for the next resident.) Residential cleaning is basically any home that is occupied by residents.

2) What will you be cleaning?
* It is very important to tell your insurance agent exactly what you will be doing. For example: We will need to know if you are leaning window or gutters.  If so, we will need to know how you get to the gutters. What will be the maximum height you will go to, to do the cleaning? If you are moving furniture around.

3) How many employees will be on location?
* Since workers compensation is based off the employees’ payroll, it will be beneficial to tell your agent how many employees you will have at each location.

4) What chemicals will you be using?
* If you are using any type of harsh chemicals to clean with, then you should explain to the agent what the chemicals are and how you will be handling them.

5) What will be the travel exposure between job locations?
* This is a very important question. Your agent will need to know the estimated miles between job locations.

6) What safety program do you have in place?
* This is something you should always have no matter the job. It is critical you have a safety program in place.

These are some of the questions I always ask my clients. It is very critical to know exactly what the janitorial company does.

Now like all other workers compensation quotes, the agent will need to know employee count and payroll for each employee. If you have employees doing jobs other than janitorial cleaning, then you need to explain what those employees will be doing. After you have answered all those questions, then you will be ready to get started on the workers compensation quote.

Now I also want to share a piece of knowledge I learned while quoting janitorial companies. If you are seeking General Liability for your business, then here is a good piece of information that you want to ask your agent. A lot of janitorial businesses are trusted with a key to get into the building. Now if you have a lot of contracts with different locations, then you probably have several keys. Here is the gem I told you about, you need to ask your agent for ‘Lost Key Coverage.” Lost Key Coverage will be an endorsement added to your general liability policy that will pay to replace all the keys you have lost or were stolen. Having the locks replaced for 25 different businesses is very expensive. So if I were you, I would make sure that my general liability policy has lost key coverage or something very similar to it.

**There are also Janitorial Surety Bonds. These bonds will protects the insured’s clients, if one of your employees were to steal from the client. The employee must be convicted before any coverage will be applied.

Insurance Help on Vacation

A while ago, I took a phone call from a client in need of help getting Errors & Omissions (E&O or professional liability) Coverage for a large contract he was working on.  However, my client was in Italy on vacation and the coverage needed to be in place before the job started in three days. To say he was in a panic would be an understatement.  I wrote his work comp insurance and our agency handled many endorsements on his policy for him.  However, it was a different agent here within our company who wrote his Liability Policy.  But he trusted me with his insurance needs, so I presented him with the following options:

  • I could write him a new Liability Policy with E&O Coverage included.
  • I could become his Agent with the current carrier, but it would take several days.
  • I could write a stand alone E&O Policy, but it would cost a little more since the liability would not be attached.

This actually was no problem at all. I just needed an Errors and Omissions application filled out, signed and returned to me. Thanks to technology the client had all of this information back to me by the next morning. All the way from Italy.

Liability Insurance help on a beach vacation.

When I presented the first quote, which was the stand-alone E&O policy, my client was shocked at the price of the coverage. In the past he had only had a liability policy. I explained the bulk of his company’s exposure was in the Errors and Omissions Liability and he should expect to pay more for this coverage.

The second quote was with a new carrier.  It was a Business Owners Package (BOP) with E&O as an added coverage. This was also the carrier I had his Workers’ Compensation Policy with. This was a great quote and made the most sense to me. However, the client did want to wait for the quote from the carrier he currently had for his liability coverage. This is the company I had taken over as the Agent of Record (AOR). In the end both carriers had great pricing and coverage. My client chose to go with the carrier that already had written his Work Comp and offered all of the endorsements he needed for the contract he was working on.

After discussing all of the projects his company had coming up in the next year I offered him a Commercial Umbrella Policy to extend his coverages. I explained that this would help protect his company if ever a claim went beyond the limits of his policy. The client thanked me for mentioning an umbrella policy and he agreed that his business needed this coverage.

We were able to get all the documents signed, the policy bound and all of the needed certificates of insurance out to the Holder by the deadline. It all got taken care of expediently. All while my client was on vacation.

Insurance For Home Health Type Businesses – W-2 – 1099 – Leasing

The home health care industry is one of the fastest growing business types in the U.S. As the American population grows and the life expectancy becomes longer the population needing health care type services at their home continues to increase. In my experience home health companies are servicing the elderly, the mental or physically disabled and people with permanent disabilities that require constant care.

There are three types of home health agencies that can have a drastically different impact on the business insurance coverages.

  1. Business that employs all as W-2 employees
  1. Business that chooses to employ all as 1099 independent contractors
  1. Placement agency that places their employees with a third party employer

The first type is the easiest model to insure for professional liability, third party crime coverage and workers compensation coverage. Being employed on a W-2 status, these are direct employees and the ownership of the business has the right to direct, control and fire.   Insurance companies prefer this set-up.   Business owners MUST make sure their third party crime bond extends coverage to the client’s home.

The second type is the most difficult to insure. For the third party crime coverage, business owners must confirm that coverage is specifically for “independent contractors”. For the workers compensation coverage there is a specific question on the application asking about “sub-contractors” and whether they are insured or uninsured. You must answer the question “Yes, the business is using sub-contractors”. If you are covering the 1099’s under your policy the business owner must also answer “Yes, the sub-contractors are uninsured”.

The third type is different from the two above because the business owner is not purchasing a policy to cover their tax id number. For a placement agency, the business owner is “leasing” their employees to a “Leasing Company” aka “Professional Employer Organization” aka “Staffing Agency”. The staffing agency is insuring under their tax id number specifically for workers compensation. If the staffing agency requires the business owner to purchase their own professional liability and third party crime coverage, the business owner must inform their insurance company and make sure coverage is acceptable.