An interview with Andrew Wibberley, Head of Underwriting

An interview with Andrew Wibberley, Head of Underwriting

Previously the Head of Underwriting for the UK and Ireland at Swiss Re, Andrew has an excellent technical background in underwriting at both insurers and reinsurers. Andrew chaired the 2014 Association of British Insurers Statement of Best Practice on Critical Illness and presently he is working with The Government and regulatory bodies as the Technical Lead on the Access to Insurance Working Group.

How did you get into underwriting?

One of the best things about being an underwriter is that no-one really sets out to do it. I read Law at University, learning specifically about Donoghue v Stevenson and the like but more usefully that I didn’t want to pursue a career in law. On that basis, I joined a large reinsurer on a graduate programme and worked in various departments. I enjoyed underwriting the most because I learnt something new every day. Being naturally inquisitive I enjoyed the investigative nature of underwriting and it also meant I didn’t have to do actuarial exams throughout my twenties.

How has your role as an underwriter evolved?

I think the changes in the profession mean that I am destined to always be a young underwriter. There has been significant automation in mass market underwriting with the introduction and development of underwriting engines allowing three in four people to be accepted without medical evidence or referral to an underwriter. I was at the forefront of this 10 years ago when bringing a new proposition to the UK market with AIG and developing these rules and responding and improving them is now an essential part of the role.

The experience I have developed in understanding risk enables me to be more creative in both accepting risk, contributing to product design and influencing others. These roles are increasingly important around that soundly automated base.

What is the biggest change you have seen in the industry?

It’s tempting to say that I’ve only been working in insurance for 19 years, so I’m still waiting for real change. In reality, technology has opened up opportunities to deal with new clients much more efficiently. The initial changes were largely cosmetic and transferred things from paper to a computer screen, but in recent years there is meaningfully more interactivity through the process to reduce the time an adviser and client need to spend applying for insurance and waiting for a decision. In the larger cases that John Lamb Insurance Broking specialise in, where we are dealing with large sums insured and with clients who have complicated medical histories and high-risk lifestyles, there has been less systemic change, which is one of the reasons why it remains important that these are closely handled and managed by highly skilled people rather than falling into standard systems and processes.

The focus on claims statistics and belatedly an overdue focus on some of the stories behind these is also critical. For too long we have felt sorry for ourselves when the media run a story that an insurer has not paid a claim. I am a pragmatist and understand this is how the press works (and that we should be really worried if “insurer pays claim” becomes a story!). We need to be producing a relentless set of numbers and stories to back up the reality that we can be trusted to be there when you need us.

How do you see the life insurance market evolving over the next 12 months?

There is a steady flow of new entrants into the market, all of whom are offering reasonably similar propositions. The reality for our clients is that the detailed nuance of policy design, approach to trusts, and underwriting guidelines on travel and residency is where our attention will continue to be focused. We will do what we can to influence this both for individuals but also on a more systematic basis when insurers discuss with us their future plans.

How do you meet the needs of your clients?

At John Lamb Insurance Broking we work hard to ensure that the process between the individual who needs insurance and the person who is making the decision is as smoothly managed as possible. This means managing and influencing the process at both ends to ensure that there are no surprises along the way and ultimately that fair terms are offered. This will involve speaking with the client or insurer to understand and explain things directly and where appropriate exploring different options for the insurance product, the insurer and the underwriting approach.

What are the main concerns that your clients have?

Many of our clients have time pressures and it can be hard for them to prioritise organising life insurance in their busy lives. This is increased if the process is not well managed, or multiple requests for financial or medical evidence are made. Therefore ensuring that wherever possible there is a single request for evidence or medical appointment is vital. Life insurance is not something anyone enthusiastically purchases so we make sure that we fit around the client rather than requiring them to jump through hoops for us.

What's the best thing about underwriting?

I tell my five year old that when I go to work I help people when they’re poorly. I like to think that by doing my best to improve how people buy life insurance I make sure that happens more often in the future. This could be simply by using my knowledge to ensure that cover is arranged for someone who may not otherwise have got it. In other situations, it can be helping develop products or processes that will appeal to and protect many more clients and their families in the future.