Time To Rethink Surety Bond Underwriting

Traditional surety bond underwriting does not allow for any losses. In other words, applicants are only suppose to be approved for a bond if the underwriter believes there will be no claims. This differs from insurance underwriting, as a loss is expected and is built into the premium. Higher risk applicants are usually declined or asked to post 100% collateral with the bond. The surety bond market is starting to see some change in how bonds are underwritten. However, these forward thinking sureties are in the minority and are difficult for the average principal to find.

As stated above, according to traditional surety underwriting bonds are suppose to be written as a service fee, not insurance. Therefore, there are not suppose to be any claims expected, as it is not built into the premium. Unfortunately, the suretyship guidelines are not reality and losses do occur, even the most conservative bonding companies.

Surety bonds have been around for quite some time and we know that losses are inevitable no matter how good the underwriting is. If losses are inevitable, then why not change the underwriting philosophy? If a principal is considered to be a higher risk, then a higher premium rate should be applied. This thinking goes against traditional surety underwriting as losses would then be built into the premium.

I can’t say that approving surety bonds to high risk clients at a higher rate is a new idea. In fact, we have been working with bonding companies that have successfully written high risk surety bonds for years. The rates are roughly 10-15 times higher for commercial bonds, but are usually still the best alternative for most that fall under the program. I can honestly say that we have seen little claims under the high risk programs. Definitely no where near 5-15 times as many as a standard market. Therefore, the sureties writing these programs are making out quite well for themselves. The few bonding companies have a monopoly on higher risk applicants, as there few sureties willing to take the risk of new surety guidelines, especially after the fall of the soft market.

Sureties writing higher risk contract bonds are even more rare. Bond approvals for five year contracts are unheard of these days, for most. Fortunately, there are some contract bonding companies willing to break the mold of traditional suretyship and take larger risks than the ridiculous expectation of a 0% loss. Similar to the high risk commercial bonds, higher risk contracts (ie long contracts) will see increased rates. Surprisingly, the sureties willing to write the higher risk contract bonds do not have losses greater than their peers. The average loss ratio of our out of the box thinking contract bonding companies is 14.35%, lower than many conservative sureties. Once again, they have a monopoly on the market, as very few are willing to write these “hazardous” bonds.

Often, our agency is contacted by surety underwriters that want our business. They are well aware that we are a high volume agency that has a diverse range of accounts and they want a piece of the pie. We rarely get appointed with new sureties, as most offer the same as their competition. If they are going to try to increase their book of business they will have to think outside of conventional underwriting and rate guidelines. Why would we set our clients up with a surety that is the same as every other market out there? What they need to do is find market segments that are not overwhelmed with other sureties offering identical programs. Contact us if you are an open minded underwriter looking to expand your book of business. We have set up numerous programs that have been successful for quite some time. The programs are successful because unlike the higher risk bonds approved in the soft market of the past, they are approved with higher premium rates, which offset the cost of claims.

It is time that the surety industry wakes up and realizes that a 0% loss is not obtainable. Stop underwriting in the same fashion simply because it is the way business has been done for years. Forward thinking sureties are capitalizing an entire market segment; it is time the high risk segments become diverse with more bonding companies.