The Society of Underwriting Professionals - one year on

The Society of Underwriting Professionals launched in October 2019 as a community for CII members in the underwriting sector to find and share good practice, insight, and knowledge. One year on from launch, Matthew Hall, CII Strategy & Operations Manager for Insurance Societies and Networks, reflected on the first year of the Society, and looks ahead to the future:

"When the Society launched, the challenges and opportunities we envisioned for the underwriting sector and the insurance profession were rather different to the time of writing this article.

Our Advisory Board, made up of experienced professionals from across the sector, provides the direction for the content and insight we produce for our members. A year ago, we considered the impact of technology and automation was the most pressing issue modern underwriters would need to deal with.

Increasing pieces of opinion and comment from across the market heralded the end of underwriting as we knew it, with increased redundancies caused by technological advances, and the lack of direct customer interaction making the sector highly vulnerable to automation.

The Society was determined to take a realistic and yet optimistic view: underwriting might be changing, but there are exciting opportunities for professionals willing to change with it, enhancing and changing their skillset to reflect the new environment. Perhaps the underwriter of the future will be akin to a pilot, allowing computers to automate mundane and repetitive tasks, but possessing the skills and judgement to step into when more challenging situations present themselves.

Whilst automation and technology will continue to effect widespread disruption in the underwriting sector, it would be difficult to avoid the fact that much like the rest of the world, everything changed in early 2020. The coronavirus pandemic caused a fundamental change in the world the underwriting sector serves, and a host of new challenge emerged for underwriting professionals.

It was evident immediately that the priority had to be in supporting our members during an incredibly difficult time. How could we do that? In an environment where so much was beyond our control, we focused on our core objectives – by providing our members with knowledge, skills, and insight, we could ensure they were best equipped to navigate the challenging business environment, and crucially, achieve the best outcomes for their customers and clients.

“The Society brings issues to life and, I believe, adds depth to the member's understanding.” Member Survey, June 2020

The Society launched its ‘Coronavirus Hub’ in March, a destination for underwriters looking for news and learning in a rapidly changing situation. We saw the needs of our members crystallise into two distinct, but equally important, areas. Underwriters were hungry for technical insight on key issues such as business interruption, but also suddenly needed to understand how they could carry out their jobs effectively on a remote basis. It was also crucial that our guidance covered the health and wellbeing of our members: a happy, confident, and motivated team is always more likely to achieve the best results.

Now, 8 months on from the beginning of the pandemic, I believe we can look back with satisfaction over the first year of the Society of Underwriting Professionals, even if it was not the first year we expected. We have covered the pandemic from a number of different angles without losing sight of the bigger picture, also looking at subjects such as AI, public trust, organisational change, mental health, and much more besides.

“Great network with forward thinking and highly competent peers” Member Survey, June 2020

What comes next? It seems quite certain now that the effects of the pandemic will be with us for a prolonged period, and the Society and its Advisory Board will continue to look at how we can support the sector and the professionals within it. The FCA guidance on this is clear: “Firms should consider, along with other challenges, the impact of staff absences and the need to ensure staff wellbeing on continuity of service.” We must look after our colleagues and teams to ensure continued operational resilience.

Alongside, we will provide the technical guidance our members value – as a key component of a broader risk management ecosystem, underwriters will be an important voice in the debate around business interruption, and key stakeholders in the improvements and clarity required in this area. The Society will consider how the sector can mitigate and prevent the disruption and negative impact of a pandemic happening again in the future.

As we enter our second year, I feel strangely optimistic about what may be a challenging period ahead. The members of the Society of Underwriting Professionals have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to developing new knowledge and skills, and supporting their colleagues and peers. This positive and professional attitude will surely put the Society and its members in a great position for whatever 2021 may bring."