The “Phases” of learning in reinsurance – A graduate’s perspective


Authored by Kevin English, Associate, Liberty Mutual Reinsurance

As someone who recently joined the reinsurance industry, I fully appreciate the learning curve that new hires are faced with. At times in my first few months, it seemed like the more I knew the less I understood. I would participate in hour long underwriting discussions and come out of the meeting with pages of unknown acronyms and questions.

Looking back now, I view my first years’ worth of development in different “phases” of learning. Within this piece I’ll look to explain these phases, in hopes of conjuring memories for my more experienced colleagues and providing reassurance to my fellow new hires.

Phase #1: Understanding the basics

Those with many years of reinsurance experience may not recall the flood of information, phrases, and acronyms that new hires must learn. What is a loss ratio? What is a combined ratio? How does a quota share work?

To gain this understanding, I relied on formal education and discussions, more like crash courses, with colleagues. The formal education consisted of reading and notes from industry organisations that provided a base understanding of terms and processes; this was bolstered through crash courses with colleagues, who could provide me with real life examples of the topics I had studied.

After a few months of studying, defining, and clarifying countless topics, I was able to follow along in underwriting discussions, a big milestone for a young underwriter.

Phase #2: Everyone knows so much more than me

Having learned the basics and able to follow along in meetings, I began to appreciate just how smart and experienced my colleagues were. I found it fascinating when actuaries were able to recall figures from accounts they had priced years ago, or when an underwriter could describe all the large losses on a program dating back to 2008 (I was still in elementary school in 2008!).

At first, this asymmetry of knowledge was intimidating, and at times frustrating. I wanted to understand programs in the same depth as my colleagues and looked to make up for my inexperience by pouring through relevant information.

Despite my best efforts, simply pouring through submissions did not turn me into an all-knowing underwriter. At this point it was clear that tapping into my colleagues’ experience would be the most effective way to improve my knowledge and understanding.

Phase 3: Asking questions

This is the phase of learning that I enjoyed the most, as I was able to have many one-on-one discussions with experienced underwriters.

Big picture questions, such as how an individual program should be viewed in the context of a portfolio, were discussed, and smaller questions, such as clarifying contractual terms, were addressed. Most of all the freedom to ask any questions was appreciated.

I now came to meetings not with a summary of facts, but with a page full of questions. Additionally, I began to ask the same questions over and over again to different underwriters, to gain different perspectives. This is what learning really looks like.

Phase 4: There’s always more to learn (The Perpetual Phase)

As much as I would like to take a “Master of Reinsurance” course, pass an exam, and become an all-knowing underwriter, that is simply not the case. The fact of the matter is that questions lead to more questions, which lead to more questions and so on.

Evident by this story I’ve shared with you, it took me time to come to grips with this fact. However, due to the experiences I had and support I was provided throughout my first year, it is no longer daunting or frustrating. Rather, I am excited to take on new challenges and be thrown into situations I have not been in before.

This change in perspective is not because I have an experienced group of colleagues to rely on, but because I have proven to myself that I can effectively learn from my colleagues, a testament to their knowledge and willingness to teach me.

I will leave off with the most important thing that I learned in my first year with LM Re: come with questions, and don’t be afraid to ask them, because everyone in reinsurance is constantly learning.



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