Wrestling tough property risks
Kyle Burnett has a knack for wrestling. Not only is Kyle a past New York State high school wrestling champion (142 lb. class), he’s AXA XL’s underwriting leader for surplus property insurance in North America. That means he wrestles with some challenging, hard-to-place property risks every day. The strategic thinking and tenacity that Kyle may have started to develop on the wrestling mat continues to serve him, and his brokers and clients, well. See why.
How did you decide that an insurance career was for you?
Burnett: Admittedly, I avoided an insurance career for a bit. I come from a rather large insurance family. Nearly a dozen relatives are spread all over the industry. Insurance discussion is a regular occurrence at family get-togethers. That prompted me to do something different. So, nights and weekends, while still in college, I worked as a chef. I really enjoyed it for a while. While working at the 21 Club in New York, I was even sent to Qatar to cook for a princess’ wedding. But restaurant work is tough work, long hours. Insurance did not seem like a bad option in comparison. After graduating from the Farmingdale State College with a business administration degree, I took a job in the mail room at WKFC and worked my way up to being an underwriter. I fell in love with what I did and here I am. I joined XL Catlin in 2016 from Everest National Insurance Co., where I was executive underwriting director.
What do you find most rewarding about the Excess & Surplus (E&S) market?
The E&S market is rewarding because it’s all about problem solving and finding creative solutions. If a business comes into the E&S space it’s because it has a difficult to place risk. I like the challenge of coming up with something that works for my company, my broker & most of all, our client. As we provide coverage on non-admitted paper, we have greater rate and form flexibility. This allows for creative insurance solutions. Typically, new and emerging risks – everything from cyber to drones to autonomous technologies – turn first to the excess and surplus market for coverage first as the standard market tries to get its head around them. That means we often see some risks before our standard lines colleagues. We’re often on the cutting edge of risk management. That’s an exciting place to be.
Why do businesses turn to the E&S market to meet their property insurance needs?
A common misconception is that E&S insurers only handle distressed or unprofitable risks. That is not always the case. A difficult-to-place risk is not necessarily a bad risk; it just may be a little harder to assess and price. The E&S market provides an important function in placing unique, emerging or and hard-to-place risks that do not fit underwriting, filing or ratings guidelines for standard insurance companies. In this way, excess and surplus lines play a vital, complementary role to the standard lines market.
How does the E&S market prepare itself for handling these tougher risks for clients?
Underwriting talent has a big influence. Our success hangs on the ability of our underwriters’ high level of expertise, deep understanding of the industries we serve and; of course, the strong working relationships with our appointed brokers. There is no box that all E&S risks fit into. Instead, it’s the ability of underwriters to evaluate each risk on its own merits and think in a collaborative and creative manner to arrive at a viable, strong insurance option for our clients.
The E&S market provides an important function in placing unique, emerging or and hard-to-place risks that do not fit underwriting, filing or ratings guidelines for standard insurance companies."
Given the importance of underwriting talent in the E&S market, and the overall talent shortage that the industry is facing, what do you think has to be done?
Things are moving at such a fast pace trying to keep up with the competition, sometimes we struggle to get people the training they need to become experts in their fields. We need to promote the big picture and a longer view of the business versus just their day to day requirements.
For businesses with difficult-to-place risks, the E&S market may be a market of last resort, but for so many others, it is a market with extensive expertise and the resourcefulness to take an innovative approach in managing the most difficult risks. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? Part of what makes my job exciting is we never know what kind of underwriting opportunity is going to cross our desks next. Underwriting in the E&S market offers a ton of opportunity for those looking for a challenging and rewarding career – I’ll talk all day about it to someone who is willing to listen.
How are you mentoring others interested in an underwriting career?
I’m fortunate to be part of the North America Property team where my property underwriting and property risk engineering colleagues have centuries of experience – collectively that is! I learn from them every day. As a team, we continuously gain knowledge & insights from new accounts, new events and new people. And we are always looking at ways to share that knowledge amongst ourselves and with our global colleagues.
Finding ways to improve our clients’ experience often starts with internal learning. I’m working with our global team to help underwriting colleagues learn even more from losses. Collaborating with underwriting leadership, claims and risk engineering colleagues, we’re creating loss lessons based on major events; along with guidelines, checklists and other tools to help our underwriting colleagues strengthen their assessments. If it prevents even one loss – for us and our clients – this effort will be a big success.
What’s the best part of being in the E&S market right now?
New technologies. Shifting business models. Wild weather. So many things influence how property risks are addressed right now. Having the right insurance and access to risk management expertise can help a business prosper. No matter how difficult their risk profile or how challenging their operating environment, E&S carriers like us are working hard to address them. With the right expertise, attentive underwriting and a tendency toward delivering innovative coverage, we are very confident that we can help businesses successfully manage their new, emerging and tough risks, protect their property assets and operate successfully. That’s the best part and that’s our overall goal – to help our clients succeed!
About the author
Want to enlist Kyle’s underwriting skills to wrestle hard-to-place property risks. You can pin him down at firstname.lastname@example.org .