The Alaskan market is incredibly unique, and insurers need to stay savvy to facilitate business year-round.
Jessica Barker, vice president and general manager at M.J. Hall & Company of Alaska Inc., spoke to Insurance Business about how the Alaskan market is a “different beast” and how insurers and agents need to stay nimble when assessing the full risk profile of their clients as seasonality changes greatly impact coverage.
“We see a lot of traction in the energy and environmental space as mining for gold and coal is an important part of the Alaskan economy,” she said. “We also have to pay attention to the fishing industry which has taken a toll as of late.”
“More people in Alaska have a pilot’s license than a driver’s license, so we focus on aviation insurance rather than auto or commercial transportation,” she continued. “There are trucking operations but most fly goods across the state because many cities don’t have roads to support larger vehicles.”
Additionally, insurers face ongoing challenges when it comes to insurance awareness among clients, according to Barker. The Alaskan population does not always view insurance as a necessity, often assessing risks for themselves before deciding to purchase a policy.
“We’re trying to educate more people about the fact that we’re interested in providing protection more than anything else,” she added.
Barker noted that education is increasingly important for clients in construction, and oil and gas as there are many unforeseen perils that can be catastrophic to their business operations.
“Sometimes there’s four hours of daylight, so there are higher rates for products like workers’ comp,” Barker noted. “The pandemic and supply chain disruptions were big issues for these clients, but they have shifted their focus to generate some money.”
With prolonged darkness in the winter and extreme daylight in the summer, understanding what peak seasons are is vital for insurance agents so they can best prepare clients, such as contractors, when reevaluating their coverage needs during off-seasons.
There are also changes in industries such as hospitality and transportation, in support of the state’s bid to host the 2040 winter Olympics
“Hotels and motels are being built with the notion that afterwards they can be converted to assisted living homes. They’re thinking ahead of the game,” said Barker. “Agents can only grow as much as the new business that is being made, but thankfully there has been a huge influx when it comes to construction and residential construction.”
In Alaska, there are few MGAs, so the industry culture leans towards friendly competition because everyone deals with the same carriers. The population in Alaska in growing despite being locked in between the ocean and mountains, and agents are working to cast their insurance net as wide as they can.
“A lot of the admitted markets have pulled out,” said Barker. “We’re now seeing a big increase in surplus lines to allow agents engage with higher class risks.”