Ian Russell talks to Chris Wheal.
Ian Russell is underwriting director at commercial underwriting agent APC Underwriting. The firm was founded in 1993 by his father, Brian Russell, to support brokers facing increasingly tough competition from larger competitors. Now Ian oversees all of APC’s underwriting activities, which it delivers under binding authorities from its panel of A-rated Lloyd’s carriers, for its 1,000 regional brokers throughout the UK including Northern Ireland.
How did you make it to where you are today?
When I was at secondary school, I actually worked for APC on a work experience placement for two weeks as a general administration clerk. After finishing my GCSEs I studied graphic design but, after two weeks at college, I decided that the workplace was where I ought to be. So I returned to the admin department at APC, which at the time consisted of only two people. From there, I set about working my way up through the company passing through several departments. By the time I was working in the adjustments department I knew my real passion was for underwriting. Eventually, I reached the main underwriting department and from there I was able to progress to my current position.
What are the key challenges ahead?
Growth is definitely the main objective and challenge for us. Being an underwriting agency is a tough challenge, not only to grow the business, but also to continue to make a healthy profit for our carriers. With broker consolidation still going strong and new markets constantly arriving, it is crucial for us to stay at the top of our game. Planning ahead is an important part of achieving that. We must continue to release new products and expand in the classes of business we write, to give brokers greater choice.
What has changed the most since you started in insurance?
Technology has changed most significantly. Every single quotation and adjustment used to be manually written on a fax presentation, which then required a proposal form (an inch thick) to be completed within 30 days. Although the internet allows us to run our business much more smoothly, there can be some negatives, such as underwriting knowledge. I learnt more from manually processing and underwriting every single piece of business that came through the door.
What advice would you offer someone just starting out?
I have always been passionate about the independent broker market and, despite the current mass consolidation, I am confident that as long as you have knowledge, experienced staff and the right facilities, it is very possible to thrive in today’s market. In fact, consolidation may well work in the independent brokers’ favour, as being independent can sometimes allow access to more markets.
What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?
When I was 18, I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical and travel to Whistler in Canada for the skiing season. But I chose to carry on working. I do regret that but I’m sure I will end up skiing there one day.
“I do have a huge amount of respect for the independent brokers operating in the market who have created and built niche markets and products from scratch.
What was your biggest success?
Apart from becoming a father in 2007, my greatest achievement was becoming the underwriting director for APC. After 12 years with the company, at 27 I was absolutely thrilled to be asked.
Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends
I have a huge amount of respect for the independent brokers operating in the market who have created and built niche markets and products from scratch. Their ingenuity is proof that there is plenty of demand for, and life left in, the independent broker market.
What is your unique selling point?
Our online trading platform QuoteMac, and due to strong relationships with our carriers at Lloyd’s, the high levels of service we can offer alongside that. QuoteMac handles everything from quotations to online accounts and it makes day-to-day business much more efficient for brokers and indeed for us. There is a saying, ‘it’s one thing writing plenty of business but you’ve also got to manage it’. Brokers expect a high level of service and we are in the fortunate position of being able to provide it.
When you are not working, what do you do to relax?
With a one-year-old son I don’t have much time to relax, but when I do I love to go fishing. From the age of about eight I have had an addiction to carp fishing and at least once a year I go to France for a week’s fishing. I am also a keen car enthusiast and I enjoy travelling and socialising with friends and family.
What is your favourite book/film/football team?
Films: the Back to the Future trilogy. I’m not really the techie sort, but these films are just in a different class. Books: the Harry Potter series.
Football team: As my father originates from East London, I did not have much choice over which football team I supported. But, 30 years later I’m still a Happy Hammer.
Day in the life
6:30am The annoying sound of my mobile phone alarm wakes me up. I then get straight out of bed, get in the shower and am ready by 7am. I always make a point of spending at least 10 minutes with my son Harry and eating something before I jump into the car and drive to the office.
7:30am After a shorter commute than most, I arrive at the office, make a cup of coffee and my PC goes straight on. This is my favourite time of the day because it is the only time I can get anything done. I always make sure I use this precious time to prepare for the day ahead before the rest of the team start to arrive and the ladies talk about what happened in EastEnders the previous night.
9:00am It is the morning underwritersâ€™ meeting; we make it a priority to have a team meeting most mornings to discuss the weekly events and current underwriting issues, then it is down to business.
10:00am Much of the morning is spent sifting through emails and dealing with broker inquiries. The majority of these are usually inquiries from brokers about new business. My mornings are not really structured beyond this is it is vital to be able to respond to people and inquiries fast.
1:00pm If I am in the office, lunch is usually spent grabbing a sandwich from the baker downstairs and catching up with reading the market news. If I am not in the office, I am either in the City or out in the regions round the UK seeing a broker or coverholder.
2:00pm Growth projects at various strategic points in the calendar can sometimes easily take up the remainder of the working day. After spending much of the morning responding to a range of inquiries, the afternoon is sometimes when I implement and investigate ways we can take the business forward.
5.10pm After a round-up of the dayâ€™s business, the office is calm again â€“ heaven. With no phones ringing and e-mails beginning to slow, it is the last chance to get things done before I drive home.
7:00pm The office is only six miles away which means it is usually a doddle to get home at this time in the evening. I always go straight home to spend some quality time with the family before watching the daily news while winding down. I do love my sleep, especially with a 10-month-old baby, so it is lights out at 10:30 at the moment.