Executive Insights 2024: Leaders in Surety

Experts in surety reveal their industry insights.
April 23, 2024

Can regular communications with surety providers help construction firms access larger bonding capacity and more favorable terms?

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Scott Elliott

Assistant Vice President

Philadelphia Insurance Companies

It is often said that effective communication is the key to a good relationship and that nobody likes surprises. Both of those statements are true when it comes to a contractor’s relationship with their surety agent and surety underwriting company.

Most contractors are accustomed to having an annual meeting with their surety, usually after their fiscal year-end financial statement has been issued. More frequent communication often improves the relationship with the surety and in turn, improves the contractor’s capacity and underwriting terms.

Communication should also occur during the year if there are changes to the contractor’s business plan due to either internal or external factors. Some common issues that should be discussed are changes in size, type or scope of work being pursued; growth in the backlog or work program; changes in ownership and/or continuity plans; changes in key personnel; and changes to their banking relationship or other creditor relationships. Macroeconomic issues such as a recession or banking industry problems may also warrant some communication with the surety.

Sureties can be a good source of information and guidance with many of the issues noted above. The most successful surety relationships are those where the surety is treated as a business partner and not simply a creditor or vendor.

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Brock Masterson

Chief Operating Officer - Surety Division

Crum & Forster

Constructive relationships between a contractor, a surety company and their surety agent often require care and consideration comparable to that which is required to maintain a healthy marriage. When this process is effectively managed, these relationships can last decades.

The construction economy is fickle and cyclical based on many factors outside of a contractor’s control. Inflation, high interest rates and labor and supply-chain constraints have impacted both the profitability of ongoing construction projects in recent years and the timing of new work.

To extend credit, a surety needs a clear and real-time understanding of a contractor’s financial condition, operating strategy and capabilities to execute that strategy in the face of an uncertain market.

Contractors often are faced with a challenging job or a tremendous opportunity on a new project that falls outside the scope of their standard surety program. It is imperative that companies share these opportunities or challenges with their surety in a timely manner to ensure that the necessary surety capacity remains available to meet their needs.

Sureties understand the cyclicality of the construction market and will work with their customers to manage through growth opportunities as well as short-term difficulties. However, when negative news is not proactively shared with the surety, it may impact the trust and confidence needed to support a contractor in challenging times. Proactive, open and honest dialogue among all parties is essential to instill the trust and confidence that is crucial when managing a volatile industry such as construction.

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Aaron J. Jamison

Regional Vice President

Nationwide Surety

In contract surety, character counts. Character, along with capacity and capital, are at the very heart of our underwriting mindset and help guide our risk selection. One important way to gauge character is through regular interaction and communication with our contractor clients, which in turn helps to build trusting relationships that are mutually beneficial.

As surety, we often interact with our contractor clients; to aid in securing their account, pursuit of a large or complex project, or if the contractor is experiencing a financial hardship or ownership transition. We always seek opportunities to add value in these discussions and support our broker and contractor clients.

It's well worth the effort to cultivate a strong relationship among the surety, agency partner and contractor client. That’s because when we know and trust one another, it becomes easier to collaborate together on projects, large and small, and agree on terms that are in the best interest of all parties subject to underwriting guidelines.

At Nationwide, we believe in offering the right partners the right solutions for the right risks. When we pair our highly rated surety products with the specialized underwriting expertise our contractor clients deserve and expect, we’re setting the stage for a partnership where the needs of everyone involved—along with mutual trust and character—are at the forefront.

I’m proud to be part of a surety team that puts a premium on communication and trust. As I meet with our agency partners and our contractor clients, whether it’s face-to-face or virtually, I know it’s going a long way to create meaningful relationships that are here for the long haul.

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Jay Quillinan

Senior Vice President, Director, Construction Surety


A strong relationship between a contractor and its surety can greatly enhance the value of a surety program and facilitate access to greater surety capacity with more beneficial terms and conditions. Regular communication with our contract surety partners is foundational to our underwriting platform. The current average tenure of our construction surety customer relationships is approximately 23 years, and we typically meet with our customers at least once per year. While the review and analysis of our customers’ financial statements and results are critical to our underwriting process, relationships are also a significant component.

Frequent and meaningful interaction allows us to better understand our customers’ business needs and objectives. It also provides us with greater insight into the organizational depth, systems and controls of our clients, which enhances our understanding of their risk evaluation processes. As a surety provider, we strive to anticipate and comprehend our clients’ needs so that we can provide expertise, solutions and stable and dependable surety capacity to enhance their business. Ultimately, a strong relationship predicated on trust and regular, open communication can help construction firms access increased surety capacity with more beneficial terms and conditions.

How has obtaining a surety bond changed with digital transformation?

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David Hewett

Chief Underwriting Officer

Merchants Bonding Company

Digital transformation across the bonding process has resulted in improvements for applicants, agents and underwriters. What used to be a completely manual and time-consuming process is now faster, easier and more secure due to digital solutions.

Digital platforms, like Merchants Bonding Company’s online bonding solutions the Hub and the Hub Express, use web-based technology to provide a range of e-services. From real-time document delivery to online payments, e-services are basically instantaneous which contributes to overall time-savings.

Automation is another powerful digital solution being used to target processes or specific steps, like document generation, approvals and declinations, and data entry. Automation of tasks frees up time that individuals can invest in more valuable endeavors.

Digital tools can enhance the underwriting process by enabling surety companies to assess risk more accurately and efficiently. Advanced data analytics and algorithms can help underwriters evaluate applicants' financial health and creditworthiness quickly, leading to faster decision-making and improved risk management. Sureties can also utilize the tools to provide insights to contractors on job results and benchmark information.

Other digital tools, like online portals and mobile apps, allow stakeholders to work when and where they want; to track the status of bond applications in real-time; and receive instant notifications. The result is more seamless communication, increased accessibility and transparency.

By leveraging technology, the bonding process has become more efficient, transparent and user-friendly, ultimately benefiting applicants, agents and surety companies alike.

a headshot of Sforzo for Surety2000

Joseph M. Sforzo



The landscape of obtaining surety bonds has been dramatically reshaped by the emergence of digital technologies. Traditionally, acquiring a surety bond was laden with challenges, involving tedious paper-based applications, manual verification procedures and prolonged approval timelines. However, the advent of digital transformation has sparked a profound revolution in this realm, rendering the process notably streamlined, efficient and accessible.

Foremost among the transformative shifts is the digitization of application procedures. Today, individuals and enterprises can seamlessly apply for surety bonds online, eliminating the need for cumbersome physical paperwork and expediting submission and processing timelines. Through user-friendly online portals, applicants gain effortless access to comprehensive information regarding diverse bond types, prerequisites and rates, empowering them to make well-informed decisions.

Furthermore, the adoption of electronic surety bonds has catalyzed the expeditious approval and issuance of bonds. Automated underwriting systems and electronic verification processes enable bond issuers to swiftly evaluate applications, culminating in accelerated approvals and issuance. Such enhanced efficiency yields mutual benefits for both applicants and bond issuers, fostering quicker turnaround times and augmenting overall customer satisfaction.

In essence, digital transformation has revolutionized the landscape of obtaining surety bonds, rendering it more convenient, transparent and efficient. Through harnessing digital technologies, individuals and businesses alike can navigate the bond acquisition journey with unparalleled ease, thereby ensuring compliance and safeguarding interests across diverse industries and endeavors.

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