Commercial underwriting offers a versatile career path with plenty of opportunities for those who want to specialise and also those who intend to remain diversified in their role, but how do you know which route is best for you?
The type of underwriting roles you consider could be determined by how far along your career path you are. Those starting out as Commercial Underwriters are more likely to write risk across a range of lines, including property, casualty and motor insurance under packaged insurance products.
As Underwriters progress up the career ladder, they may start to look at specialising in one type of insurance in order to achieve promotions.
Gerry Donnachie, Head of Underwriting, Commercial, Direct and Partnerships at AXA Insurance, said: “Over the last 10 years there has been a tendency at a lower level to go for packaged experience. A lot of insurers have been looking for Underwriters to have all these elements.
“As you become more senior and progress throughout your career, specialisms do help you get more technical underwriting positions.”
Although Donnachie recommends specialising to get promoted, he sees the merits in diversified underwriting. He believes diversified Underwriters get varied experience and the majority of the SME insurance business is packaged products.
“There is such a high volume written as combined insurance - covering property, public liability, employer liability. The vast majority of SMEs can look at combined packages”, he said.
“When you have got a wider corporate premium, say of above £50,000, you will need a higher degree of specialist underwriting.”
When looking for specialist Underwriters, Donnachie does not just take people from insurance companies, stating that people who are surveyors often make good Underwriters as they, for example, know how a metalworker works and the risks attached to the business.
“A good knowledge of trades is something we look for and industry specific knowledge”, he said.
RSA Group Head of Underwriting Director Graham Heale said large insurance companies offer people opportunities to progress without specialising as they are more likely to offer general underwriting manager roles.
He has noticed a trend for graduates holding back from specialising in order to “keep their options open”.
Heale said generalist Underwriters should have “75% of the knowledge level of a specialist” but that it was key for them “to know what they do not know… and ask for advice”.
If an Underwriter was looking to move into a technical role or into the London market, Heale recommended going down the specialist route.
Being good with numbers is an obvious key skill for Underwriters but Heale noted that “good detective skills” were also important.
“You are underwriting risks sometimes based on relatively little information and you have to conjure up a picture of the risk by piecing together information from a number of sources”, he said.
Personal skills are also paramount as Underwriters deal with a number of different departments internally and have to build close, trusting relationships with Brokers.
“Interpersonal skills are crucial; the Broker and the Underwriter should really trust each other”, said Heale.