Risk and rewards

Hayley Colraine, member of the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) and recent recruit, tells Hannah Langworth how her career is going so far

Can you describe your career path to date?

I went to the University of Warwick and did a BSc in International Business, graduating in July 2010. During my final year, I applied for graduate schemes and got offered a place on the corporate management scheme at global insurance company Allianz, which I'm on now. The scheme involves rotating around different roles across the company over a two to three year period.

As part of the scheme, I'm studying for the CII's Advanced Diploma in Insurance qualification, which I'm hoping to complete by this time next year. Most modules are assessed through coursework and a final exam, and we have tutorials and materials from the CII to help us prepare.

What made you decide that you wanted to work in this sector?

It was my dad who first got me interested - he works in insurance. I did some work experience in the sector, including a summer placement at another big insurance company; these encouraged me to apply for graduate schemes in this area.

I applied for some schemes in banking, and even a couple in the retail industry, but I knew insurance was my top preference. I appreciated the stability of the profession - the financial crisis opened my eyes to the volatility of the banking world.

What part of the sector are you working in now?

I've just started a rotation in property and casualty underwriting, which involves providing insurance policies against property damage and other kinds of financial loss for a price. Underwriting is essentially how insurance companies make their money.

There are typically two types of underwriter at an insurance company. One type deals with new business. Brokers contact them on behalf of their clients for insurance quotes. The underwriters then look through the materials provided by the broker, refer to various mathematical tools, and also factor in their relationship with the broker and their general judgement to come up with a quote. There will be further negotiations with the broker before a final price is agreed.

The other type of underwriter looks at existing business, dealing with situations where an insured party wants to change their policy, or where a policy has come up for renewal.

What does the work of an underwriter in your team involve day-to-day?

I am currently in the existing business team, where the workload is a bit more fixed than in some of the other departments. Every month a set number of renewals comes up, which are divided among the team. Over the month before the renewal, you contact the brokers responsible for your policies and find out whether or not the clients want to renew their coverage.

If a client wants to renew their policy, the underwriter will be thinking strategically while arranging to do so. They might try to increase the premium a little because of market conditions. Or, if the broker has slashed the commission they charge in an attempt to retain a client, the underwriter might consider cutting their premium too to help the broker out, especially if they have a good relationship with them.

However, the client might want "go to market", that is, get their broker to get quotes from other insurers, and the broker themselves might be "under attack" from another broker negotiating with their client, who might even have taken some quotes from other underwriters. In these cases it's important for the underwriter and the broker to work together quickly so that neither of them lose that client's business.

We also deal with queries and requested changes to policies. For example, someone might not have received their policy documents, or they might have changed their name or the name of their business, or sometimes the insured assets change, for example, a property business owner might change the properties they hold in their portfolio.

What do you enjoy about your role?

I like the fact that underwriting's very technical, and that a lot of judgement goes into it. I also like the communication and relationship-building with brokers that's part of the role. And there's been a vast amount of variety in the work I've seen so far.

It's been wonderful to move around the different departments on my graduate scheme because often when you come out of university you don't know exactly what you want to do. I always thought that the project work involved in insurance claims would be my route and I didn't think I'd be suited to a technical role, but I'm really enjoying underwriting. And even if, in the end, you don't think a particular area that you try is for you, you'll still have built up useful experience and made a lot of contacts - I can think of a couple of people from other departments I've worked in who I could call to help me if I had questions on their area.

Are you a member of the CII, and have you taken advantage of their programme of events?

Yes, I am a member of the CII. I'm going to the Guildford CII's quiz in a couple of weeks! The CII runs lots of evening talks and seminars, which are a good way of keeping your professional knowledge up to date. These are also a good way to network.

What advice would you give to students interested in a career like yours?

Do any relevant work experience you can get as there's so much emphasis now on having done so. If it's not 100 per cent relevant to insurance, it doesn't matter - just try to draw out what might be transferable, such as project management skills.

When you're applying for jobs, the website of the company you're applying to will have a wealth of knowledge. Beyond that, the CII website and their Discover Risk website are useful. Reading the Insurance Times, and the Financial Times will help you familiarise yourself with what's going on in the profession.