Insurance Underwriting refers to the process of assessing risk and deciding whether an application should be approved or rejected or if any specific terms and conditions should be placed on the policy.
The role of an underwriter is primarily related to risk assessment. An underwriter must evaluate whether an application is likely to be profitable in the long term for the company. Most insurance companies will have a set range of criteria which must be considered in the underwriting process. There will normally be a pro-forma set of requirements that must be ticked off but in certain circumstance the underwriter will have to use their discretion to ensure that a policy is not too risky.
There will likely be a variety of relevant factors depending upon the type of insurance. For example, if someone was looking to take out health or critical illness insurance the underwriter might request details of any
- ongoing medical conditions
- previous claims
- history of heart disease or other medical conditions within the immediate family
- lifestyle risks e.g. excessive drinking, smoking or dangerous hobbies
The underwriter in the above circumstances might also insist upon a medical examination or other health checks.
Factors like the above can pose a significant risk to an insurance company and if an underwriter perceives the risk as too great they may recommend that the company either rejects the application completely or offers a loaded or excluded policy. A loaded policy refers to a policy where the premiums are higher than standard. Exclusions refer to specific client provisions which may prevent the client from undertaking a specific activity or require them to follow a certain programme e.g. join a gym.
Most underwriters will specialise in a single field.
Starting salaries will normally be between £18,000 and £25,000 although the area you work in will affect this. With experience, salaries are likely to increase and it may be possible to move into supervisory or management positions. Salaries for these roles are likely to be around £25,000 to £50,000 depending upon experience, industry and the size of the team.
The insurance industry is dominated by large financial companies, insurers and re-insurance businesses in Europe and the UK. Most of these firms will look to take people on as either a graduate or straight from school and will normally offer a comprehensive health and benefits package and pension scheme.
As an underwriter you are responsible for assessing risk and maintaining profitability. You will be expected to:
- Evaluate application forms and other corresponding evidence
- Gather further information including liaising with other professionals such as doctors or lawyers
- Make quantitative and qualitative judgements on the risks of a particular policy
- Make recommendations as to whether a policy is reasonable and, if not, whether the policy should be accepted with an increased premium or whether certain elements of an application present too high a risk and should therefore be excluded
- Calculate premiums
- Make recommendations on whether the risk should be re-insured
- Visit brokers, doctors and intermediaries to discuss products and assessment criteria
- Negotiate terms with policyholders
- Help to draft policies and advise lawyers of appropriate exclusion clauses
- Keep meticulous records of individual policies and conditions
You will need to have 5 grade A-C GCSEs and 2 A-levels or a recognised HND qualification as a minimum. The majority of larger firms will offer underwriting positions to graduates. There are no specific degree subjects required but degrees in business related subjects such as business studies or economics may be beneficial.
There is a wide variety of different courses available for those working in the insurance industry or looking to move into it. The Chartered Insurance Institute (“CII”) offers a wide range of generalist courses. These courses take a hierarchical framework as follows (lowest to highest):
Award in Insurance – An introductory-level study programme, the Foundation Insurance Test, developing fundamental knowledge on key topics.
Certificate in Insurance – This is the ‘core’ level qualification, suitable for those entering the industry and seeking to gain
essential basic knowledge of the market, key disciplines and products.
Diploma in Insurance – This qualification recognises ‘technical’ development achieved by those with a growing understanding of the industry.
Advanced Diploma in Insurance – This is the ‘professional’ qualification awarded to experienced and expert market practitioners.
Fellowship in Insurance – This requires the completion of a personalised, structured, advanced professional development programme.
The qualifications work on a cumulative credit system with individual modules covering both the fundamental and specialist areas. Other qualifications from different bodies e.g. the LLMIT can be used towards CII qualifications and it is worth researching the market to find out what areas interest you.
The CII also has an underwriting faculty specialising in technical information and advice for practising and fledgling underwriters.
- Attention to detail
- Strong decision making capabilities including the ability to say “no”
- Technical knowledge of the insurance industry and specific areas e.g. health or critical illness
- A knowledge of technical terms related to your field
- An analytical mind and the ability to ascertain the truth
- The ability to make prudent business-focussed recommendations
- Good numeracy and literary skills
- A working knowledge of computers and computer programmes such as Excel and Word
- The ability to work to a deadline
- Excellent interpersonal, customer care and communication skills
- For specialist areas you may require very specific skills. Lloyds of London is one of the most significant insurers in the world and offers very specific diversification of risks to policyholders. There is the opportunity to work in specialist fields and if you do so you may require expert knowledge in specific areas such as medicine, economics or politics.
Insurance underwriters will generally work in an office and be expected to work 9-5. However, you may be expected (in some roles) to visit property or meet clients to discuss their applications and prior history.
Office conditions will normally be comfortable and your colleagues professional individuals.
While you won’t be expected to have prior experience for entry roles, relevant work experience can prove useful. Underwriting is often taken up by people with previous experience of a specific area or by people transitioning from different areas of the insurance industry. It is advisable to speak to a careers advisor or contact local businesses in your area to see if you can obtain work experience.
Banks – most major UK Banks offer insurance policies.
Insurance Companies – companies such as AVIVA will have insurance underwriters across a range of fields. Take a look at Fubra’s market leading home insurance, car insurance and travel insurance guides for a list of UK insurers.
Most major firms will have hierarchical structures and it will be possible to move into supervisory or management roles. There is a multitude of insurance careers and you will be able to specialise in client facing or back office roles. There is also a wide range of insurance sectors from home and contents to marine and aviation.
As well as sectoral moves you may also look to transfer across job role and working as an underwriter can provide a solid foundation to move into other related careers.
Also known as…
- Risk Assessor
What’s it really like?
How long have you been in this particular job / industry?
I’m a medical underwriter and have been working for a major global insurer for about five years now.
What did you do before this job?
I joined the graduate Scheme in 2004 after coming back from travelling for a year, post university.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
Medical underwriting relates to processing applications for health, critical illness, life and private medical insurance. When you start out you will likely have a vetting role and will be heavily supervised. My current role involves full authority which means I have discretion to make decisions on most applications, regardless of the amount of the policy, without referral to another party.
My day starts with checking my e-mails, faxes and any voicemails that I may have. Messages will normally be updates from other team members on applications, or details from third parties, such as doctors, providing medical records and/or details of medical examinations we have specifically requested. We have a proprietary database and applications processing system which allows you to follow an application through from when it is first submitted by the customer/broker to final application rejection. I use the database to manage my workload and ensure that any of the staff I supervise are performing their role properly. I am responsible for countersigning decisions made by other employees and so have to be sure that all the details are covered.
The rest of my day is spent in the actual underwriting process. Underwriting is a technical role and you have to ensure that you ‘tick all the boxes’ but also investigate potential risks thoroughly. We rely to a large part, and have legal covenants, on the initial application submitted by the customer. Applications cover a set of standard questions and the database flags areas such as previous medical conditions or occupational, pastime risks that need further investigation. The company has a set protocol for underwriting by which you have to evaluate an application. This may involve requesting a potential policyholder to have a medical examination or provide further details on their occupation. Once I believe that I have all the information it is my role then to make a decision on the policy. This may include an outright acceptance on standard premium conditions, front or back end loading of premiums (increasing the premium at the start or end of the policy), drafting up exclusions e.g. the policy will not cover x or y or outright rejection.
What do you like about the job?
Underwriting is a very technical role and there are lots of areas you have to investigate to ensure that you’re doing your job properly. I have the power to authorise decisions up to £1,000,000 and with this comes a huge responsibility. If you haven’t done your job properly you risk losing the company a considerable amount of money.
What do you dislike about the job?
There can be a lot of pressure, particularly from brokers, to process an application. You have to make sure you maintain your independence and focus on whether the risks of an individual application are realistic. While you can have some interesting applications pass across your desk, some people do have severe medical problems and you have to remain independent despite their ill-health.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
You need to be focused and have an analytical mind. I would recommend that you get some work experience or look to complete an internship to make sure this is a role for you. While my job is very interesting to me it is not a role for everyone.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role (i.e. career progression)?
I’m very happy in my role at present and have just been promoted. My long term aspirations are to join the senior management team.