Kevin Braithwaite graduated with a BA in Business and Marketing from Leeds Metropolitan University in 2003. He now works as an underwriter with Towergate Underwriting
What do you do in your job?
I underwrite existing farm business policies and new business for the agricultural division of Towergate Underwriting. This means checking a postcode and doing all the calculations to ensure the premiums are correct. I also do the renewal reviews, working out loss ratios and working from our underwriting guide. I deal with brokers who may have portfolios of business, and I can make discounts if we need new business or to cement relationships.
The farm policy includes business interruption, personal accidents, farm buildings and contents. So I’m building a broad base of knowledge for my future career.
What was your motivation in applying?
I’ve been at Towergate for 10 months. Agriculture appealed to me because it’s a sector I know – I was brought up on a farm in the Lake District. Before joining Towergate I had a job with a family firm of commercial insurance brokers, Rigton Insurance Brokers. Here I got my first exposure to underwriting and realised it was the area of insurance I wanted to specialise in.
What did the application process involve?
I had an interview. Having the experience and degree helped, and a background in farming definitely counted in my favour. I got the interview through a recruitment agency that I approached once I had nine months’ experience under my belt.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I enjoy working out rates for clients and the best part is getting to bring in commercial business. It’s satisfying to secure business has come under attack from competitors, and meeting company targets on retention of business.I maintain a personal target of a 90% renewal.
Most challenging part of the job?
It’s not all about maths. You have to learn how to develop a good relationship with your brokers too, and judge when they’re doing honest business with you. If they work with competitors too, you might have to adjust discounts, for example. I have the power to negotiate what premium I charge: that’s a big responsibility. But it’s fun too – you get to know the people you speak to on the phone.
Advice to readers considering a career in your field
Underwriting is hard to get into directly – you usually do a couple of years as an assistant before making the progression. I knew I needed to get to that position straight away to advance my career at the pace wanted, and so picked my company carefully. Big companies are good for graduate schemes, but you can progress faster with a medium-sized company.
Also, if you know what you want to do, the right degree can give you points towards your chosen professional qualification. For example, my business degree gave me points towards the Chartered Insurance Institute professional examinations, and this has aided me in getting my Certificate in Insurance.
Underwriters assess and price the risk of almost any activity an individual or company may care to insure. Candidates have to be numerate, but it’s definitely not about "men in grey suits sitting in cubicles and doing sums". So says Steve Wellard, director of communications for the Chartered Institute of Insurance, whose professional exams underpin underwriters’ careers.
Salaries range between £18,000 and £25,000 for graduates, depending on location and company, with those joining "underwriting academies" on the fastest track. Chartered underwriters with a few years’ experience earn between £45,000 and £60,000. Once qualified, there are two lucrative career paths for the underwriter: either to become a specialist, say in Hollywood film stars, or to move into general management, managing a variety of disciplines including marketing sales and HR.