With all the attention paid to soaring rates for health and product liability insurance, among others, little notice has been given to a much more welcome trend: Rates for most types of business insurance are actually falling -- sometimes sharply.
"In today's market there are no rules," says Bruce Fowke, a vice-president of the Boston-based insurance brokerage firm Johnson & Higgins. "There's just too much insurance chasing too few clients." Fowke says companies without extraordinary risks -- particularly those with premiums exceeding $50,000 -- "would not be unrealistic" to demand premiums on property and casualty policies as much as 40% less than what they paid four years ago.
The increased competition in the insurance market is a result of several factors.Given today's high interest rates, insurance companies are anxious to take in more money on premiums, so they can invest it until they have to pay claims. Moreover, the insurance subsidiaries of big companies are writing more policies for businesses unrelated to their parent firms in order to qualify for favorable tax treatment.
The big insurance companies don't deny rates are falling. James Jergensen, a senior vice-president of Allendale Mutual Insurance Co., a leading property insurer in Johnston, R.I., says pricing in the market has decreased by about 20% over the last three years.
"If the original premium was under $25,000 or $50,000, it declines less in percentage terms," notes Gerald M. Kirke, chairman of Kirke-Van Orsdel Inc., a Des Moines, Iowa, insurance broker, which ranked eighth on INC.'s Private 100 last year.
Many brokers have been slow to inform their clients of the bargains available in today's market. The reason is simple. If they arrange insurance at lower rates, their own commissions are less. Nevertheless, some companies have been successful in obtaining less costly policies. Allied Construction Services Inc., a $35-million-a-year contractor in Des Moines, for instance, says it was able to slash premiums on property and casualty policies by 60%.