A Lost Art: The Submission Letter

Submission LetterIn the olden days, before Zoom or Microsoft TEAMS, or even before (gasp) email … when a surety agent would submit an account to a surety underwriter there was this weird thing that would be attached: a submission letter!!!! The letter would basically tell a story about the account that was being submitted, giving information about its background, who the owners were, and thoughts on their future plans and goals. This letter didn’t replace a face-to-face meeting, but it would provide context to the other information being submitted, such as financial statements, bank letters and the Contractor’s Questionnaire.

These days, in the insane hustle and bustle of instant communication, the submission letter has all but disappeared. You do still occasionally see it — like a white rhino in a nature preserve, it’s out there, but so rare as to be almost extinct. Agents these days are so busy running from one fire to the next that sitting down to write this letter seems like a waste of precious time. As a one-time agent, I took great pride in being able to craft this letter for my accounts. It was my chance to immortalize their past achievements and to talk up their capabilities in a clear and succinct manner that would not get lost in all the other information being submitted.

When underwriters see a submission letter, I guarantee they stop and take notice, probably even spill their afternoon latte in surprise. The first thing that a letter says to an underwriter is that the agent is invested in this account and actually knows them. A well-written letter will knit together all the standard information from a submission. What is really being said in the financial statements? What is really being said in the Contractor’s Questionnaire? While the financial statements and questionnaire can provide a lot of good information, they rarely give any backstory or explanation why things are the way they are. The submission letter should provide that backstory or explanation.

A submission letter will also tell a story about the account, for example, who started the company and how old it is, giving a feel for the type of experience the owners have in their niche. Were they a spinoff or a new company? Does the owner have a lot of experience or just a lot of gumption to go out on their own? What kind of projects have they worked on in the past, and what type of owners have they worked for?

The submission letter can give a lot of information about the account in a concise manner, and most importantly, it can set the tone of the underwriting process. A letter with solid background information and an honest backstory will put everything else in a positive light. Compared to an email with a couple of quick comments and 15 attachments, the submission letter will move your submission to the top of the pile, not to a folder in the underwriter’s inbox.

Tom Davis

Tom Davis is the Bond Manager of the Seattle Contract office. After 26 years as an agent specializing in construction, he now uses his experience and knowledge to help accounts navigate the surety world as an underwriter.