Subcontractor Default Insurance: Don’t Take the Fault for Their Default

If you are a general contractor for a big-budget construction project, you know you’re going to have to hire a number of subcontractors to help bring the project to completion.

So how can you be sure these subcontractors you hire can perform the work? You can’t. When hiring in the past, general contractors shifted the performance risk they assumed themselves to some guarantee form like a surety bond. Now, there is another alternative for risk transference called Subcontractor Default Insurance (SDI).

There are three main differences between a surety bond and SDI:

1.   If the contractor uses surety bonds, each subcontractor provides their individual bond resulting in the general contractor having as many bonds as subcontractors, each with its own coverage terms. With SDI, one policy contracted between the purchaser and an insurance carrier covers all subcontractors. This ensures uniformity of coverage.

2.   Under SDI if a subcontractor defaults, the general contractor and the carrier can immediately take steps to cure the default. With a surety bond, since the contract is between the subcontractor and the surety company, the surety company must investigate the situation and then determine the appropriate remedy. In essence, the surety company acts as a mediator between the general contractor and the subcontractor. This can result in delaying completion and cause possible cost overruns.

3.   A surety bond is a fixed cost. SDI is an insurance product, which utilizes deductibles and co-payments. That means the purchaser assumes a portion of the risk. If there are no defaults, there is a retrospective rating component that allows for the return of a portion of the premium amount.

When you are weighing the pros and cons of a surety bond vs. SDI, it’s important to note that one of the most significant drawbacks of SDI is that there is no prequalification service provided by the insurance carrier as there is with a surety bond company. The responsibility of determining suitability to perform the work and of managing the completion of that work rests entirely with the named insured.

The policy itself has some coverage limitations and there may also be a 15 percent administrative cost for losses charged against the initial premium under certain conditions.

Finally, you may not be able to use SDI at all for certain projects. The Miller Act states that before a contract that exceeds $100,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair of any building or public work of the United States is awarded to any person, that person shall furnish the federal government with a performance bond in an amount that the contracting officer regards as adequate for the protection of the federal government and a separate payment bond for the protection of suppliers of labor and materials.

When you are considering using SDI, it’s best to consult with your insurance carrier to determine if it is right for your particular project.

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