Finding Online Resources for Underwriting Information
By Melissa Stream, Underwriting Consultant
Google is a search engine and it’s also a verb. Besides the application, using the internet’s resources and websites can be a valuable tool for underwriting. Not everything on the internet is 100% accurate, but much of it is reliable and can be a great supplement to a standard application.
Here are two scenarios of using the internet for underwriting:
Scenario No. 1
The underwriter receives a new application for a Homeowner policy. The named insured is listed as a married couple and the house is a recent purchase. The agent has requested Incidental Business Pursuits optional coverage because Mrs. Insured makes jewelry and occasionally sells it to friends.
The underwriter can start with a Google search of the location on the application. The address might result in real estate information about the house, including exterior and interior photos, details like square footage and the year built and information about any recent updates. It’s not a replacement for an inspection, but it’s good information to supplement the application.
If the house isn’t a new purchase, the underwriter could search online records, which might yield additional information about the property.
A Google search for Mrs. Insured may also result in a Facebook page for pictures of her jewelry or a website where she sells her jewelry. You may be able to verify how long she’s had her business and if she has a history of good reviews. You may also find out if she sells her jewelry outside of the home at stores or special events, which would necessitate more exposure than what Incidental Business Pursuits can cover.
Scenario No. 2
The underwriter receives a new application for a Businessowners policy. The named insured is a beautician with 20 years of experience. She opened her shop about five years ago and the application lists one other beautician. A Google search of the insured may reveal a business website and a Facebook page. From those, you may see the full list of services that she offers. If she offers tanning services, remember those are an ineligible class.
Many businesses have an established website but use Facebook to give more updated information such as business hours, announcements of sales or specials, plus business photos and videos. A search on Yelp.com can show reviews by clients.
A search of the address may show photos of the location via Google Street View. This could give you visible details about the shop’s location to other businesses, the condition of the building and whether the building is owned or rented by the applicant. This information can supplement or provide more information than the application.
When looking at photos on Google, know that some may be older than others. On the bottom right of the larger image you should see “image capture” and the month and year. If it’s several years old, it may be better to have an inspection to capture a more current photo.
Don’t forget other social media sites when researching a business: Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are all used in different ways to promote a business and their products or services.
A note about public records websites: Insurance companies and underwriters should be cautious about refusing, canceling or denying insurance coverage to a risk solely on the basis of past criminal record, and “moral” character, among other factors. Attention is particularly necessary when reviewing an individual who has been charged but has not been convicted of the allegations. Charges cannot be used as a reason to refuse, cancel or deny insurance coverage. The use of public records can be a beneficial source of underwriting information but must be used carefully during the underwriting process.
Think of the big picture when underwriting, beyond just the application, because information from the internet can be useful when gathering information to make an underwriting decision. A list of helpful websites can be downloaded here.
Please contact the mutual assistance team if you have additional questions.