My Insurance Journey: Will Thoms
Updated: Feb 2
My insurance journey began in 2011. After leaving university I joined a large American P&C company, with a growing Lloyd’s presence, working as an Underwriting Assistant on their newly established Marine Hull, Yacht & War team.
Over the next seven years, I put a huge amount of effort into becoming as fluent as possible in the fundamentals of both insurance and shipping. Whilst I spent a lot of time with brokers and underwriters in other classes of business the thought of moving away from Marine Hull never entered my head. In the summer of 2018, however, my mind started to wander.
Marine Hull insurance was in a very challenging place and had been for a few years as the market progressively softened despite increasing claims activity. This became a very real concern for me when I found myself looking for a new role after the company I worked for decided to shut its doors. I had to decide whether to look for another job in the uncertain Marine Hull market or take a leap of faith and explore another class of business. At 29 years old and one month away from getting married it did not seem like the best time to make a significant career change, however, after many discussions with those people I consider my mentors in the industry, I decided that now was indeed the time to consider moving away from a class of business which had been my world for the whole of my career so far.
My first overriding emotion was fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of a perceived hitting of the reset button on my career but the most prevalent fear was my own perception that the managers of other books of business in companies around the market would only choose to hire an underwriter with experience in their class. I decided that I wouldn’t know if these fears were justified unless I took the large step I had geared myself up for and so, with that in mind, I began to dig deep into the raft of products that the London market offered. I didn’t overlook any area during my research and I tried to be open minded about every class. Shipping was still at the front of my mind for obvious reasons but my research took me as far away from Marine Hull as you could get and into the world of non-Marine liability.
One of the classes that definitely stood out to me was Directors and Officers (D&O) and I started study the inner workings of the product. During this time, I was told that Allied World, a company owned by the same holding entity as my then employer and a multibillion dollar insurer, were advertising for a D&O underwriter to join their team in London. They had written D&O in Europe for over 15 years and the two most senior underwriters on the team had both been with the company for over a decade. Crucially, they were also very open minded about a potential candidate and were willing to talk to applicants from other areas of insurance. I applied and was invited to interview for the role and I ended up being offered the position a few weeks later.
I knew that starting a new class of business would be a huge challenge and the scale of that task became very evident during my first few weeks at Allied World. The difference between my old class of business and my new one could not have been more stark. Aside from the obvious challenge of having to become familiar with D&O wordings, pricing, tower structures and a new broker network in a very short space of time, I was also faced with doing this during the infancy of one of the hardest markets that the London market had seen for the last two decades.
Somewhat unexpectedly, however, there were a lot of skills I had learnt through my time in insurance that I could call on to help me with the steep learning curve. I realised that the essentials of underwriting and the analytical skillset needed did not change with the class of business. I was still working in risk transfer and I had a good amount of experience in how to assess and price policies I could call on to help with this transition. This understanding, combined with both my own research and the knowledge conveyed to me by senior underwriters and managers at Allied World, meant that I could gradually take on more responsibility and grow into my new role. The apprentice based teaching and learning model, which has been the cornerstone of the London market for decades across both broking and underwriting, is as crucial to my progress now as it was at the beginning of my career. This system is fostered at Allied World and utilizing this structure became vital for me as I was able to spend countless hours sitting next to extremely experienced underwriters absorbing as much information as I could.
Three years and a global pandemic later, I look back on my transition to D&O underwriting as the best decision I have made in my career. Changing classes of business after spending years learning one area of insurance has always had a stigma attached to it given the alleged backward step that is taken. In my experience, however, this is definitely an oversimplification and one of the most important lessons I have learnt from my journey is to have confidence in your own ability to continue progressing and making your mark even if you want to leave your current class of business. The learning curve will be very steep (and I still have so much to learn!) but if you have the drive to make a move then have the confidence to make it happen. More and more companies are open to interviewing underwriters, brokers and other insurance professionals who have little or no experience in the class of business they are recruiting for and this will hopefully open the door to more people moving across classes and not feeling trapped where they are. After all, to achieve our goals we need to enjoy what we do and sometimes that requires a change.
Will is a Senior Directors & Officers Underwriter at Allied World