Sweet Music

Sweet Music

A hard-to-place case in the Big Easy ends happily, thanks to an agent’s extra effort

Despite a population approaching 350,000, New Orleans can feel like a small town. That’s why Michelle Onebene Carrion, senior personal insurance underwriter at the Burns & Wilcox New Orleans office, found it especially gratifying to place a challenging risk for a popular musician with strong ties to the city’s music scene. As a seasoned insurance professional, she also realized how important the placement would be to the California retail agent who handles the musician’s properties around the world.

Three factors made the musician’s $1 million-plus home a difficult placement: the owner himself, the home’s location, and its age. Many insurers simply will not provide coverage to high-profile people because they tend to be popular targets for lawsuits. The tabloid notoriety of musicians further complicates matters. Despite this individual’s good insurance history, his success and profession were working against him.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, insurers also have shied away from insuring property in New Orleans. The musician’s house is in the city’s French Quarter, within five miles of the Gulf of Mexico, making it coastal property. The age of the home — it was built in 1880 —and its hard-to-replace plaster walls, Cypress floors, millwork doors and wrought iron gates also were working against it.

Still, expectations were high. The retail agent had placed all the musician’s other properties, plus the properties of his well-known daughter, through the Burns & Wilcox Los Angeles office, and the agent wanted the broker to handle the Louisiana property to cement the relationship. Timing was critical because the New Orleans policy expired in a week and the existing broker had not found a market. Carrion immediately sent out the required “Broker of Record” letter that gives the current broker five days to place the account. Then she got to work behind the scenes on the agent’s behalf. Drawing on her 16 years of experience and her strong relationships in the non-admitted market, Carrion immediately knew which market would be most receptive. She tried a variety of options and “made the risk writeable” for the carrier.

“There was a lot of back-and-forth communication, and I rewrote it in all kinds of ways to make it fit,” Carrion recounts. Finally, she increased the allperil deduction to $25,000 instead of $2,500 and the wind deductible to 2% instead of a flat or 1% deductible. That hit the right note for everyone.