How the role of the underwriter has been forced to adapt during lockdown

Underwriter-working-from-home

Authored by CII Content Manager James Moorhouse

Underwriting is traditionally a very collaborative role, whether it’s discussing with a broker the particular details of covering a risk or how much an insurer is willing to contribute. Traditionally these conversations are face to face, however the rise of insurtech platforms have allowed partnerships to develop digitally. Bearing these things in mind, how much of a difference does remote working have on this particular job role?

Benefits of remote working

Those who welcome remote working cite reasons such as losing the commute, having more control over the structure of their day or being able to focus better away from the distractions in the office as some of the positives of remote working. The ability to concentrate and focus on tasks has been one of the consistent pieces of praise. Despite the sudden disruption and need to adapt, productivity has generally not seen a sharp decline.

Colleagues are still able to keep in touch on the telephone, as well as using video conference software, meaning that collaboration and discussion is only a button away. The reach is also wider as there is no longer a requirement to be physically present, therefore business can be placed anywhere an any time.

Disadvantages of working from home

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have enough space or equipment to be able to work from home effectively though. Some may be living in noisy houseshares, or lack office furniture such as a desk or proper chair. Jugging childcare and caring responsibilities may also present extra challenges when everyone is all under the same roof at the same time.

There have also been complaints about the relentless back-to-back meetings, which can be seen as long and disruptive. While it is possible to keep in touch, conversations tend to be booked in the calendar now rather than happening organically.

Mistakes also happen in isolation when no one else is around to observe or notice. Processes can be difficult to maintain if there isn’t anyone nearby to quickly refer to or glance over.

Challenges for underwriters

While many roles have been able to adapt to home working arrangements, where does that leave underwriters? To perform effective risk assessments, it is necessary to survey businesses and properties. While information can be obtained and shared digitally, physical inspections will still need to take place where appropriate. While some claims handlers use drone technology to perform triage assessments, this can’t entirely replace the physical risk review process.  

Data is only relevant if updated regularly and accurately. More business has been electronically placed because of COVID-19, meaning that the reliability of data is now more important than ever. Policy wordings are also coming under greater scrutiny, meaning that greater clarification regarding the scope of cover, as well as genuine comprehensive cover, is in higher demand. While this may drive up the cost of insurance for some, customer engagement shows that people are willing to pay more for a product that provides effective protection.

Return to the office

The sudden shift to remote working, which has seen a remarkable ability to adjust quickly, raises the question about what an office is actually for. If people can work effectively from their homes, why do they need to come back? Commuting will be difficult if social distancing needs to be maintained on public transport. Plus similar measures will need to be applied within offices themselves. The thought of returning to an office that will still isolate people from each other, removing communal and social areas, is not a prospect that is particularly appealing.

Lloyd’s of London have already announced plans to create a virtual underwriting room after they closed the underwriting floor earlier this year. As the use of electronic systems has increased, the Future at Lloyd’s program has been quick to recognise this and react accordingly. While it is likely the underwriting floor will eventually return, the opportunities to place businesses without having to be physically present in London are finally opening up to more people.  

Career development

While not returning to the office in a traditional manner might work for those already established in their roles, what does this mean for new starters or those seeking career development? It can be intimidating starting a new role, especially if you are in isolation. Being able to react, share ideas, ask questions and build relationships are central to learning.

Networking will also be very different remotely. The physical social element to work will be missed as an effective way to bounce ideas or learn directly from observing a more senior colleague. While social media makes it easy to connect to people, not all connections will be as authentic as ones made in person.

A role for the future

Returning to ‘normal’ no longer seems like an option that is either realistic or desirable. Now that the insurance sector has demonstrated the ability to adapt to lockdown restrictions, more working options are now available.

As the lockdown is an unprecedented event, everyone has been presented with a unique opportunity to create a working pattern that suits them. Those that were originally excluded because of a commuting distance or childcare may now be able to seek new opportunities, now that distance and time are no longer deciding factors.

Insurtech will undoubtedly see rapid innovation to suit the changing demands of the current world. More underwriters will be able to collaborate adapt their skillsets to become more data focused. Having more time to research and become specialised is also another opportunity that might not have been as freely available before. Adapting working hours to collaborate with underwriters from other countries may also open up other opportunities too.

The insurance sector has proved it can adapt and will hopefully allow more options in ways of working going forward. Underwriters may choose to stay at home or only come into the office a few days a week. Whatever the choice, greater flexibility will surely be one of the requirements for the workforce of tomorrow.

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