A Young Insurance Professional’s Perspective of the Hard Market

Picture of Gilberto Ramirez | IMA Financial

Gilberto Ramirez | IMA Financial

Gil began his career in insurance while attending Appalachian State University, where he majored in Risk Management & Insurance. Upon graduation, he joined ECM Solutions in Charlotte, NC, as an associate. There, he learned the fundamentals of insurance by servicing ECM’s current clients.
A year ago, ECM became part of IMA Financial, the second-largest privately-owned insurance brokerage in the country. Gil then transitioned into a new role as Vice President of the Business Risk Division. In this role, he focuses on helping clients in the technology sector, including AI, blockchain, and crypto companies. Gil enjoys working with clients in these innovative fields, where he encounters unique challenges and opportunities every day.

Navigating a hard market can be challenging for even the most seasoned insurance professionals. The landscape is marked by tighter underwriting standards, higher premiums, and reduced capacity, making it a daunting environment. But what is it like for a young professional who has yet to weather such a storm?  

The Risk & Insurance Academy sat down with Gilberto Ramirez, Vice President with IMA Financial, to explore the unique perspectives of emerging talent in the insurance industry as they navigate the hard market and share advice with his peers who are also encountering this turbulent phase for the first time.

Can you share any strategies or tips that have helped you succeed in a hard market environment?

The insurance industry has always been relationship-focused. Whether you are an insurance broker or an underwriter, leveraging the experiences of those around you who have weathered different insurance cycles is vital in not only surviving the hard insurance market but also developing skills you can use in the future. As an insurance broker, tapping into the knowledge of the underwriters that I work with has been the most significant aid as a young agent in the industry. Networking and learning from experienced peers provide valuable insights and strategies for navigating a hard market, fostering professional growth.

What key challenges do young professionals face when navigating a hard insurance market?

I think the biggest hurdle in a hardening market is the lack of experience. The famous phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” hits home in this situation because you clearly have not gone through a difficult marketplace. Initially, you will not understand why carriers are declining your submissions or lowering their limits (capacity) on certain risks, and you have to either find a new insurer or start stacking limits. The volatility and unpredictability of a hard market can make it difficult for new agents to build trust with clients and establish a reliable book of business.

How can young professionals build strong relationships with clients and carriers during tough market conditions?

With carriers, demonstrating reliability and knowledge of their risk appetite is important. Checking in with the underwriters and asking what their recent wins were will give you a grasp of their current appetite. With clients, setting clear expectations months before their renewal will help deliver the blow of an unexpected rise in premium due to hardening conditions. At the end of the day, our clients need to have this insurance in place to stay on a job site or keep their vendors happy. Having the difficult conversation with our client 120 days out from a renewal and letting them know to expect a heavy increase will allow time for a marketing effort to back up the fact that the insurance is expensive no matter if we move you to a different carrier. Sitting our clients down and showing them the marketing efforts and consistent premiums will give them peace of mind, knowing that we did our best to find the best insurance program for them, but ultimately, due to the hard insurance market, the premiums will be more expensive than usual.

What role do continuous learning and professional development play in thriving in a hard market?

Continuous learning and professional development are key to getting through a hard market. Being able to spot industry trends and guide our clients through advanced risk management techniques is only learned through experience and professional development. I think that the key here is embracing that we are young, and that we do not have the experience, but that we have the hunger to learn from people who have been in the industry for longer than us. Bridging that gap is only possible by being humble about our experience and embracing the teachings of others.

Can you provide an example of a difficult situation you encountered in a hard market and how you overcame it?

My niche market focuses heavily on technology companies.  While “technology” is a broad term, I focus on Blockchain, Web3, Fintech, and Crypto companies. In FinTech, it is certainly a hard market in the sense that carriers will label the FinTech companies as financial institutions.  Many standard carriers will not want to offer terms. I navigated the hard market by getting my client on a call with the underwriter.  My client shared about the securities and protocols that are in place and demonstrated how my client was licensing their technology to the banks.  My client was not a financial institution but simply selling their software to banks. Once the underwriter knew this, they were all for it and provided competitive premiums.

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