Let's Talk: Science and Art in Underwriting
How did you get into insurance? Was it something you always saw yourself doing?
Greaves: Similar to many of my insurance peers, I did not plan to become an insurance professional. It’s embarrassing to admit now, but I initially thought the industry was limited to home and auto insurance. I never once considered large corporations needed to procure insurance. I was pursuing a degree in Biochemistry with the goal of becoming a pharmacist when I decided to take a gap year. During this period, I secured a job at a well-known multinational insurer in Bermuda, and that broadened my understanding of insurance. I found a whole world of opportunities in the space and, to my surprise, saw that I could even apply my strong aptitude in math and chemistry to insurance underwriting. After obtaining a scholarship to The College of Insurance in New York (now known as the St. John’s University School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science), I resumed undergraduate studies, and received a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree, majoring in Insurance. I was fortunate to obtain full-time employment back in Bermuda whilst also pursuing my Professional Designation in Insurance. I’ve had the opportunity to work with several established insurance companies on the island as well as several start-ups. I’ve been in the industry over 25 years, and it all started for me inadvertently, really.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I have and continue to enjoy my career in insurance. There are numerous reasons for this, but I’d say the top three reasons are: 1) my colleagues and the culture of our organization. At AXA XL we have wonderful people at all levels. People who genuinely care about their colleagues and the broader organization. We are all committed, not just to our own individual success but to the broader corporate mission, so we rally together through ups and down, roll up our sleeves and we get the job done. There’s not a lot of motivational discussions that need to be had. Everyone is on the same page. 2) Continuous learning. My job is always full of twist, turns and learning opportunities. The learning spans the gamut. It can be a new regulatory requirement or more interesting to me, learning about the operations/activities of a new client or tracking an emerging risk. It’s never dull. 3) Meeting people. My job has allowed me to meet some fascinating people both within our organization and outside. Relationships are important in this business, so establishing rapport and trust with all stakeholders has been a priority for me. In terms of clients, I get to meet fascinating people and have conversations that aren’t always just about business. One of my most memorable client interactions was with a Risk Manager who was also an NFL referee.
How has your background in science helped you as an underwriter?
My background in science has proven to be very advantageous in underwriting and also helping to shape underwriting directives in certain risk classes. Many of AXA XL clients have science at the core of their business operations, for example, pharmaceutical, chemical and energy companies. I do believe that my understanding of science principles has helped me to better understand the risk concerns and challenges of our clients, but also to make prudent underwriting decisions. Our insureds are experts in their fields, so they want to know that the person sitting across from them truly understands their risk. Being able to speak their jargon promotes the relationship building aspects of the job. As a result, underwriting discussions with a client are not interrogations — they’re conversations.
What trends are you seeing in excess casualty risks?
We are definitely seeing increased frequency of events resulting in casualty loss activity across the industry. Losses span the spectrum — cyber breaches, climate change/wildfires, mass shootings, sexual harassment in the workplace, opioid litigation, automobile accidents, food product contamination and recalls, derailments, explosions/fires, product failures, medical malpractice. What’s concerning is the increased frequency of “severity” of casualty loss activity. Jury awards in auto liability, for example, used to be contained within the primary or lead layers of a client’s program. Now the first $50 million has become a working layer and we’ve seen jury verdicts over $100 million.
Across the board, we are seeing an increase in mega awards which incorporate punitive damages. This is accompanied by higher defense costs. Mega awards can be attributed to a general deterioration in the litigation environment in the US, sympathetic juries and changing jury demographics, social media and technology advancements in general and more sophisticated litigation strategies of the plaintiff’s bar.
What challenges do you see in the future?
I believe the Excess Casualty market has reached an inflexion point in terms of the loss activity highlighted above as compared to depressed premium levels due to a prolonged soft market. We see this playing out as markets strengthen reserves, restrict their writings and/or consolidate, and in extreme cases have exited the line. Carriers will need to see continued rate improvement in order to maintain stable capacity and scope of cover to which insureds are accustomed.
Another challenge for insurers will be their ability to stay abreast of and create solutions in a timely fashion for emerging risks of clients. Some carriers may view emerging risks as negative, but emerging risks can create opportunities for an insurer that is willing to take them on. At AXA XL we look to understand, assess/evaluate, quantify and then manage emerging risks accordingly. From XL’s inception in 1986, having been formed as a direct result of the lack of available excess casualty coverage in the marketplace, we have partnered with our clients to solve their most complicated risk challenges.
Carla Greaves was appointed CUO, Excess Casualty in June 2018. She is responsible for implementing and enforcing rules, guidelines and underwriting standards for the Business Unit and provides underwriting guidance to underwriting teams in Bermuda, Dublin and throughout North America. Before joining the company years ago, she held various senior management positions at international insurance organizations in Bermuda. She is based in Bermuda and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.