The agent you select for your surety bonds has a tremendous impact on your ability to get a project bond approved. Bond producers are key partners in getting that first bond written as well as in growing your business over time as you go after larger projects.
It’s important to choose an agent who can meet your needs and is willing to work with you to build a long-term relationship. What do you look for in a good agent? Here are a few things I’ve noted previously in a Construction Executive article:
- An agent who understands your business, your goals and your plans for the future.
- An agent who asks a lot of probing questions.
- An agent who gives you their undivided attention and really listens to your story.
- An agent who will respectfully challenge scenarios relative to both your business operations and the surety bonding process.
- An agent who has access to multiple surety companies to choose the company and the underwriter that best fits your surety needs.
- A bond producer demonstrating the above traits will be most effective in presenting your business to a surety underwriter and assisting you in qualifying for the best possible bonding outcome.
A relationship built to last
As time goes on, you may bid on larger, more complex projects and need to increase your bonding capacity. Contractors and their agents should periodically review their bond accounts to ensure they are mutually benefitting from and growing their relationship. From the contractor’s perspective, here are some questions to keep in mind in furthering this essential business arrangement:
- Is your agent delivering on their promises? Are they providing the services you expected? Are they presenting your business to the underwriter in the best possible light? Are they a strong advocate for you?
- Is your agent responsive? Are they available when you need them? Are they willing to go the extra mile to make sure everything is in order for your bid and you’ll be able to meet the deadline, despite last-minute changes?
- Does your agent stay informed about your business? Are they aware of key personnel or ownership changes in your company, new acquisitions and business opportunities, or financial decisions that could impact your ability to get a bond? Have they scheduled a meeting between you and the underwriter to review your operations and discuss your work in progress? Familiarization with your business can make a big difference when an underwriter is deciding whether to expand your bond program.
- Does your agent work with you to prepare for a large bond request? Sureties require project specific information for large bid requests. In addition, the surety will want to understand what resources and personnel will be available as well as the impact to your cash flow when a large project begins. Has your agent discussed how to put your best foot forward by providing the information the surety will require to support a large bid request? If you have provided the information and the surety doesn’t initially support the request, is your agent willing to go to bat for you to get the surety to reconsider?
- Does your agent have a core group of surety markets they work with to be able to have your account backed up? Should your fortunes change and/or your primary surety decides not to provide further surety support, does your agent have a Plan B?
- Is your agent willing to have difficult conversations? Does your agent take the time to explain in detail why you didn’t qualify for a particular bond? Why your financials may be a problem? Or why your company may not have the experience to take on a larger project? More importantly, do they suggest ways to correct these issues?
- Is your agent a strategic partner? Does your agent help you review contracts and bids to make sure they’re in your best interest? Do they understand your business goals, and are they able to provide insight and support to help you reach those goals?
What makes a good agent-contractor relationship? In the end, it’s a combination of trust, respect, effective two-way communication, creative problem-solving and being open to new ideas. If you find an agent who can bring these qualities to the table, chances are you’re going to do well.
Since 1999, Mike Sanders, bond manager, has overseen the underwriting and operations of the Milwaukee Contract Branch office. From 1992 until 1999, Mike held responsibilities in another of our large branch offices, working with both contract surety and commercial bond business. Mike launched his surety career with Aetna Casualty and Surety Company, where he handled the marketing and underwriting of all lines of bond business. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Drake University and has an Associate in Fidelity and Surety Bonding (AFSB) designation.