Early in December, Trident Underwriting and Trident Marine Insurance rebranded to become a single, standalone underwriting agency: Coast Insurance. The new entity will continue to specialise in marine insurance but place renewed focus on other areas including unoccupied premises, barber shops and hairdressers and funeral parlours.
Stephanie Muller (pictured), Coast’s general manager of underwriting, said the unoccupied premises space in particular has shown considerable upward momentum.
“Since we’ve launched one of our most popular niche offerings is unoccupied buildings,” she said. “So we’re completely inundated at the moment with requests to cover unoccupied buildings.”
Muller said this continues an uptick in demand that has lasted eight or nine months.
“I think a lot of people held on to premises in the first 12 months of COVID while they reassessed what they were going to do, what was necessary and how long this would go on for,” she noted.
During that time, she said, businesses were either rethinking what kind of office space they needed, downgrading and going for smaller spaces or moving out of places that they recently tenanted.
“So some of these buildings are unoccupied and your mainstream insurer won’t cover the building once it’s unoccupied for a certain amount of time but we can cover it if it’s unoccupied,” she explained.
She said there can be other issues with mainstream insurers.
“Once it gets a tenant in there we don’t come off risk once it gets occupied,” she said. “So the broker and the client can have that seamless transition depending on whether there’s somebody in there or not.”
Muller said, depending on the building and who is checking on it, their insurance offering generally covers fire, lightning, earthquake and aircraft as the base cover, but more perils and covers can be added.
Vacant land coverage is another offering in a line of insurance that seems to be growing.
“I think one big driver of our business in that area now is if you buy a block of land before you’re ready to build on it, there is quite a wait time now,” she said.
She said that’s because of all the construction and home renovations projects going on. Building industry figures show that Australia is currently experiencing a construction boom. As a result, the high demand for building materials means it can be slow getting them to a new site.
“So your land could be vacant for a longer time than you would anticipate and a lot of the councils will require you to have liability cover,” she said.
In August, the Housing Industry Association (HIA) reported that homes that once took seven to nine-months to build can now take 12 months or more.
As for Coast, Muller said the rebranded underwriting business consists of three subdivisions.
“So we’ve got the mums and dads, the boat owners,” she said. “Then we’ve got the businesses who service that industry, so boat dealerships, and yacht clubs and boat yards. Then the third part is our non-marine division and that’s a wide range of businesses including niche areas like funeral parlours, barber shops and unoccupied premises.”
With regards to barbers and hairdressers, Muller said they might appear like straightforward businesses with pretty standard commercial insurance needs – “but the types of services that you can get in these places are really evolving and changing,” she said.
She noted there are now many different beauty processes on offer, apart from just a haircut. There’s also the ongoing renaissance of the men’s barber shop, for example.
Muller said barbers “seem to be popping up everywhere,” like coffee shops.
“Generally speaking, more guys also seem to be getting haircuts in barbers more often and there it’s often possible to have a coffee or an alcoholic drink and you can be really pampered,” she said. “So times have changed in that space and there’s a lot more activity.”
She said as an underwriter it’s important to understand these changes and make sure clients have coverage for the range of services they can now offer.
A 2021 survey by the Australian Hairdressing Council (AHC) found that while about half of hairdressers and barbers have reported being financially stressed during the pandemic, very few permanently closed and only 20% laid off staff.
In July, lifestyle magazine T Australia reported that even during the pandemic, new barber shops have been opening, including in closed down Flight Centres.