Are Insurance Underwriters an Endangered Species?

A piece created by MoneyWatch last November listed “10 Disappearing Jobs” and among the the professions on their way to extinction was the insurance underwriter.

The rationale was essentially that technology can do the job.

Blame it on the software. New programs allow underwriters to take on three times as much work as in the past, collapsing the need for more hires. As a result, the BLS projects that the number of people employed in the field will decline by 4 percent, or 4,300 jobs, by 2018. “[The underwriter] just punches in data, and it spits out, say, whether a potential homebuyer is approved or not,” says Henry Kasper, supervisory economist at the BLS. Growth in the insurance industry isn’t exactly exploding either, further undermining the career outlook for underwriters.

That’s obviously a vast over-simplification of what the underwriters do as we’re not talking about screwing in bolts at an auto plant. Then again, I’ve met a few brokers and risk managers in my day who probably would prefer dealing with a robot rather than some of the underwriters they have gotten quotes from.

For another perspective, let’s ask: what does the insurance community think of the notion of underwriter as a disappearing job?

Risk & Insurance asked that very question and according to the industry folks quoted in the article, insiders think the notion is mostly rubbish,

Here’s what Seraina Maag, chief executive of North America P/C for XL Insurance had to say.

“Underwriters are able to look at what’s happening in the world, what it means for our customers, and to devise appropriate solutions. Computers can’t replicate those abilities,” she also said. “So I believe the opposite to be true: The underwriter’s job will increase in importance because of these changes and their ability to understand them fully.”

A Lloyd’s director expressed the same.

“Whilst technology is no doubt advancing, the face-to-face relationship between brokers and underwriters is a unique and essential part of how business is conducted here,” stressed Sue Langley, director of market operations at Lloyd’s.

“Technology in the market serves to improve and aid the business, but the complex and specialist risks that are underwritten need the expertise of the Lloyd’s underwriters and always will.”

I would have to agree that MarketWatch got this one wrong.

And for risk managers, the fact that underwriters — human underwriters — are likely going nowhere is a good thing.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from risk managers is that they sometimes don’t get what they feel is a fair rate because they are lumped in with similar companies. Through loss control methods, they have reduced their risk. They while have lowered their risk profiles, they still cannot differentiate themselves to their underwriters.

From what I’m hearing, however, things are improving in this area. Today more than ever, risk managers can get underwriters to actually see the true exposures of their operations — not just the typical risks of a company in their industry. This differentiation would not be possible when just dealing with technology. To a robot, you’re just a number and an account. To a person, it’s much easier to make the case that you are different.

So if the insurance underwriter is indeed not a dying breed, the risk manager should be the first one to show up to her next birthday with a gift.

3 thoughts on “Are Insurance Underwriters an Endangered Species?

  1. My guess is that they meant Health Insurance Underwriters. Ocare will require only claim admin staff and some policy admin but the “come one, come all” aspect of Ocare will make health underwriters as scare as politicians with a conscious.

  2. One job missing from the list is a BLS statistician. Given the record of government projections like savings created by health care legislation or the federal budget projections, its a marvel anyone takes anything coming out of a federal bureau as any more than a Grimm fairytale. On the other hand anyone who has a job that looks exactly the same in 2018 as it does in 2008 or 2011 should be asking themselves another question. Why am I doing the same things in the same way today? I was around in 1980, 1990, 2010 does anyone want to say the job they do today is even remotely the same as ten years ago, twenty, thirty… Really…Really?

  3. It’s apparent from the example given that the MoneyWatch article is referring to personal lines underwriters, whilst the persons quoted were speaking of commercial lines.

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