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Building Up Boston and Beyond

Constructive Conversations: Building Up Boston and Beyond

By Michael Simone, Underwriting Manager

Boston is booming. According to the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the Greater Boston area has seen a 3.5% unemployment rate -- below the US average. As the largest city in the New England region, Boston’s growth has been fueled by several industries – including high-tech, healthcare, construction and manufacturing.

Boston’s booming business activity is part of a regional trend.  Over the last five years, the New England region grew at an annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1%. It’s clear that the construction sector has played a large role in this growth. In fact, the region’s construction industry value accounted for 3.8% of the total US GDP value in 2017. At the state level, Massachusetts accounted for the largest construction value followed by Connecticut and New Hampshire. And these construction values have continued to rise – reaching USD 38.3 billion in 2017 from USD 36.7 billion in 2016.

To keep up with the region’s growth, XL Catlin’s North America Construction team recognized the importance of having local underwriting experts to serve brokers and clients, and realigned resources to create a dedicated team to support New England.

Mike Simone, Underwriting Manager, is leading this effort and splits his time between Boston and New York.  For Mike, insurance is a ‘family business’. Having started in the industry while attending St. John’s University, Mike has seen a lot of change over the last 20+ years. While many things change, many things stay the same – like building relationships and earning trust. This is the heart of what Mike does day-in and day-out with brokers and clients.  Here he shares his perspective on the Greater Boston construction boom, and how he and his XL Catlin colleagues are well positioned to support their clients in taking advantage of it.

 

How did you get into the insurance industry?

For me, insurance has always been a family business. Many of my immediate family members either held or still currently hold various executive positions within the industry. I decided right out of high school that a career in insurance was the path I wanted to pursue. I began by working part-time at The Brownstone Agency, while attending college full time.   After graduating from St. John’s University, I started working for Reliance National Insurance Company in an underwriting capacity. I learned the technical aspects of the job, but also the relationship side of the business. It all comes down to people. I learned early on that cultivating and forging new relationships doesn’t happen overnight – it takes time to create a bond, but more importantly it takes even longer to build trust. More than 20 years later, I still believe that building relationships remains the most important part of our business.

What’s changed over the years?

We have seen so many things change, from consolidation within the industry, to globalization and the rise of technology.  The industry is constantly evolving and it is more imperative than ever that we stay focused on the current and future needs of our customers.  In the construction industry, change is everywhere. Let’s look at how our customers are building new projects – we’re now seeing the usage of drones, BIM and artificial intelligence.  If customers are not embracing change and technology, they can quickly become irrelevant.  This means that we, in the underwriting community, need to stay abreast of all the new techniques used by our customers so we can address potential unforeseen exposures.  Our customers rely on us, and honesty, it is incumbent upon us to deliver results, and keep up with the coverage they need. 

What do you mean by keeping up with construction coverage?

The legal landscape in which our customers work is consistently changing.  The judiciary varies state by state, and many of our customers are large multi-national companies.  They need to know that we are staying on top of recent verdicts so that they do not have any uncovered liability exposures that can potentially expose their balance sheets.  From Faulty Workmanship to Vicarious Liability, our contractors run the gamut of different types of exposure.  We work to review this holistically but also on a state by state level.  Based on this review, we partner with our claims experts  to educate our customers about potential pitfalls in the venues which they work. We then take these findings to tailor the coverage for mitigating each customer’s exposures.

What are some of the big opportunities and challenges you’re seeing in the region?

Clients are facing the same challenges that are impacting the entire construction industry across North America. Among those challenges are the aging workforce and a limited quality workforce pool to draw upon. We have seen an interesting dynamic today in that younger people are not going into the trades like they used to. It seems to me that construction is quickly becoming an overlooked career option because it comes across as unskilled, when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Construction is a high-growth industry sector filled with many diverse job opportunities.  It is important part of our economy. It’s critical that this trend reverses itself soon, as it will lead to an even greater labor shortage.  Another challenge is the opioid epidemic.  Opioid abuse has been a national crisis for years, but it has hit the construction sector even harder due to the increased risks from work-related injuries that can occur on a job site.

 

 

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Our customers rely on us, and honesty, it is incumbent upon us to deliver results, and keep up with the coverage they need."

 

Despite these industry challenges, the five-year outlook is very strong for the New England Region. For 2018-2022, residential and non-residential construction value is expected to increase by 3.8% year over year to reach USD 46.5 billion in 2022. There are several upcoming commercial construction projects that represent significant opportunities. For example, the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation approved a $205-million project to replace a timeworn steel-truss bridge along Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. Also, Massachusetts Convention Center Authority approved a contract with Populous for a $2.2 million study for expansion option. In looking at Connecticut, three offshore wind developers have submitted bids as the state becomes the latest to look to that renewable power source in the energy-constrained New England corridor.

How does the New England Construction team help clients address these opportunities and challenges?  What’s different about your approach?

Opportunities continue to grow for this region. According to research released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston , construction job gains in New England outpaced the national average in 2017. This means our team needs to be ready to assist and address our customers with all their coverages. 

From Primary Casualty, to Excess to Professional/Pollution, Subcontractor Default and Builder Risk, our team is ready to help . First and foremost, we listen. It’s the basic and most fundamental part of how we build strong relationships and trust. By listening closely, we can tailor solutions based on what the customer needs. For our team, it’s not an ‘off the shelf’ approach. We look for ways to accommodate what the client needs not only for today, but for tomorrow and beyond.

Our multi-line approach allows clients to have a singular insurer across their entire construction risk portfolio and creates continuity of coverage. This also allows us to be incredibly responsive. If there should be a catastrophic event, our clients can rely on the contract certainty that XL Catlin will be there for them.   For us, it is about working together to get things resolved as quickly and safely as possible. Our team isn’t just underwriters – it’s also claims, risk engineering, and operations -- and we’re all aligned within the same organization. This allows us to be nimble and deliver the exceptional service that clients expect.   

 

More about Mike Simone

A 20+ year construction insurance industry veteran, Mike was born to build relationships – from New York  to Boston and beyond. He thrives on developing partnerships with brokers and clients and is excited about the opportunities for the New England region.   Interested in enlisting Mike’s help for addressing your construction risks? Please contact him at Michael.simone@xlcatlin.com or + 617-478-4223.


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