Markel International’s chief underwriting officer underscores the ‘pivotal’ role of education and digital skills in empowering underwriters to navigate complex risk landscapes

Markel International, the London-based subsidiary of insurer Markel Group, is focused on equipping its underwriters with the “knowledge and tools” to make informed decisions independently, according to Nick Line, the company’s chief underwriting officer.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Line explains that this approach ”reduces the reliance on centralised decision-making”, which then enhances ”organisational agility” and ”fosters a culture of accountability and empowerment throughout the company”.

Line continues: ”By providing [underwriters] with the right training and support, we enable them to confidently navigate complex situations and make decisions in real-time.

”My passion lies in empowering our teams to excel and innovate.

”I believe in providing them with the resources and information they need to perform at their best, enabling them to make decisions independently.”

Line notes that underwriter “education and training” are particularly “pivotal” for tackling “fast-moving and politically exposed classes” that have “new challenges to navigate.”

He adds: “These classes include terrorism, which covers both war and protests, and cyber.

”Both classes are subject to changing levels of risk and different types of loss, sometimes with changes happening on a daily basis.”

Digital skills

Line notes that Markel International seeks to address the challenges posed by a complex risk landscape by building teams of underwriters that have ”both experience and expertise”.

These professionals are then armed with “a combination of pricing tools and internal and external data, including up to date risk assessments and modelling”.

For Line, “these capabilities, combined with Markel’s healthy risk appetite and long-term time horizon, allow us to operate in difficult markets, providing solutions for clients as well as an appropriate return for our shareholders”.

However, Line highlights that the rise of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic means that insurers have naturally begun to digitise more.

Consequently, “comprehensive training and onboarding processes” are essential due to the “complexity of modern underwriting”.

Line explains: “We understand the importance of digital skills in today’s landscape and we actively seek to bridge the gap.”

One example of this is using data analysis training programmes, targeted at underwriters, as part of Markel International’s talent retention strategy.

Line says: “We aim to stay ahead of the curve by nurturing talent, which is why we developed a framework called ‘The Future of Underwriting’, [which] launched in 2019.

“Since then, we’ve been working on [this initiative] to ensure we have the right workforce in place.

“The Future of Underwriting serves as a guide for any underwriter at any level. It’s more than just a static matrix – it’s an interactive website that offers insights into underwriting relationships, communication strategies, financial understanding, actuarial concepts, legal matters and digital tools.

“[Our underwriters] are curious, interested and understand that numbers are integral to our work. They actively engage with the models we utilise.”

Existing and current skills

For Line, upskilling the existing workforce – particularly those who are new to the digital advancements hitting the underwriting process – is important. However, he emphasises that this type of training is not about replacing old with new.

He explains: “Individuals may have multiple competencies, but they still need oversight for relationship building and conducting business deals.

“While the methods may change, underwriting will continue, albeit in larger and more complex ways.

“What sets us apart is our ability to leverage automation to streamline processes. This is further enhanced by external data sources, such as white papers or spreadsheet sets, which may include application and location data.

“The downstream processes become significantly more efficient as a result, necessitating a need for individuals to be aware of incoming data, engineer reports and other pertinent information.

“In cases where underwriting is automated, individuals may need to collaborate with brokers to assess potential risks and financial arrangements, requiring negotiation skills to determine acceptance criteria.

“Many of the skills individuals possess will remain relevant, albeit updated to incorporate digital and data literacy, regardless of whether they are applied by human or automated systems.

“We believe that by empowering our teams with the right tools and resources, we can collectively drive success and growth in the insurance industry.”

Service standards

Line believes the way in which Markel International trains and equips its underwriters gives customers better service as well.

He says: “We are witnessing a wholesale transformation in our approach to service delivery. One aspect of this evolution is our focus on providing tailored services that better suit our clients’ needs.

”While this may entail a higher price point, [this is] justified by the value it brings – particularly in terms of mitigating risks and providing comprehensive support.

“Ultimately, our aim is to ensure that clients receive the most appropriate pricing for the services rendered, thus maximising the industry’s positive impact.

”By delivering premium services more efficiently, we can effectively manage expenses and enhance overall affordability. Increasingly, we view insurance as a service, rather than just a financial transaction.

“For instance, in certain cases, we offer discounts based on clients’ proactive measures to enhance security, such as implementing firewalls and multifactor authentication.

”Additionally, we provide ongoing support, such as regular system testing, to help clients maintain optimal security standards. Furthermore, our services extend beyond premium pricing to encompass comprehensive advice and guidance.

“For example, our UK engineers receive advice on project management and feasibility, while clients may also benefit from guidance on risk mitigation strategies and asset protection.

”In essence, our approach [highlights] proactive engagement and support, aiming to empower clients to safeguard their assets and navigate challenges effectively.”