Like many others I stumbled upon a career in insurance. I was undecided about university and knew something about underwriting from a friend who was a trainee at the Co-Op. A Provincial job was being advertised so I decided to give it a go. I kept my options open, deferring university places for a year, but after 12 months I realised the scope of the industry and how much I liked working with the people.
I had an NUS card from my day release course with The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), so could get into all of Bristol’s student bars; and how much nicer to do that with money in your pocket!
The early years
An underwriter is the person who assesses the risk and decides on the cover that can be given, the terms that need to apply, and how much will be charged. There is much more to insurance than the motor policies everyone always thinks of. In the Casualty Department where I worked, we looked after Liabilities in the Workplace, Goods in Transit and Marine, Accident & Sickness covers – all sorts of really interesting, complicated and technical aspects.
The CII studies, along with great on-the-job training and internal courses, opened my eyes to the techniques of the underwriter, including key aspects such as law and economics (though I still felt jealous of the law graduates who had dispensation from some CII exams).
I realised that the technical aspects of underwriting provided plenty of opportunities for professional development and learning which would allow me to differentiate myself from the competition.
A developing career
Various promotions within the department were followed by a move to Maidstone, Kent to become a Development Underwriter where building relationships with intermediaries and growing an account was added to the list of skills needed.
The role involved visiting brokers and other businesses to price risks, understand the processes carried out, see the impact of previous claims and make recommendations to try and reduce the likelihood of a recurrence. As the amount of business we were writing grew, so did my small team.
Relationship building with brokers – our customers – became an increasingly dominant part of the role. Success in business is rarely achieved by working in isolation.
I look back at my years in Maidstone warmly and remember a truly great team of people who I will always count as friends; even those I see quite rarely as they have gone on to great things themselves – risk management for a global Swiss based reinsurer, broking in Suffolk, becoming a ‘name’ in the City.
A move to the City to undertake some head office underwriting jobs led me to Claims, an area that people never seem to come out of once in, and now I finally can appreciate why. There is so much variety in claims, from domestic chip pan fires to arson blazes at large industrial premises; or from injuries on the sports field to road accidents leaving people with brain injuries, as a tetraplegic, or with post-traumatic stress.
The skills required range from sourcing replacement goods, managing suppliers and contractors, assessing the nature (and future financial cost) of injuries, to simply trying to take care of the customer. Probably not one job in claims is the same as another, and now I have the great fortune to be responsible for them all as Claims Director for AXA.
During the floods of 2007 we really came in to our own. The insurance industry normally sees about £1 billion of weather related claims in a year but we saw three times this in June and July.
These are not the usual times of year for bad weather so it took everyone by surprise.
Whilst not claiming to be as instrumental as firemen, doctors or nurses in maintaining the well being of the UK population, our claims handlers got businesses back up and running, families back in their homes, and a combination of that ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ with the warm feeling you get when you do a good job and help people out in a crisis, made me genuinely proud to be working in insurance claims.
Who knows what next year will bring in terms of challenges – the variety really is part of what makes it a great job. What I can’t understand is why we still rely on people stumbling into insurance much as I did. How much better it would be if we open people’s eyes to the tremendous possibilities the industry offers.