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Insurance Underwriter

What does an Insurance Underwriter do?

Insurance underwriters decide if applications for insurance cover (risks) should be accepted and, if so, what the terms of that acceptance are. They assess a risk according to the likelihood of a claim being made by weighing up a number of factors and asking for detailed information from prospective clients (policyholders). The aim is to minimise losses for their company and help to make a profit.

Insurance underwriters not only judge whether applications are accepted, but also decide the terms and conditions of the insurance by assessing the probability of a claim being made. Their role involves:

  • assessing background information on the client
  • studying insurance proposals
  • calculating the risk
  • deciding how much should be paid out
  • liaising with professionals and specialists to help judge risk assessment
  • selecting appropriate and competitive premiums based on information and judgement
  • writing policies and adding specific conditions when required
  • deciding whether the risk should be shared with a re-insurer
  • negotiating terms.

What qualifications do I need?

Insurance companies and underwriting firms usually look for trainee domestic underwriters who have actual experience or knowledge of the insurance industry. Employers prefer to hire university or technikon graduates, even for entry-level underwriting positions. A bachelor degree in an appropriate field such as accounting, finance, law, economics, financial services, business science or business administration provides a good background for a career in underwriting. Much of the training takes place on the job through short courses and continuous professional education. Entry-level domestic underwriters work under experienced risk analysts, are exposed to case studies and learn from insurance professionals. Continuous professional education through work study and distance learning programmes enhance career development and progress. The insurance industry also has learnerships for underwriters.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Mathematics


Where can I study?

UNISA: Centre for Business Management
Various Insurance Courses and Programmes

South African Qualifications Authority
Occupational Certificate: Insurance Agent / Insurance Underwriter

Where can I get more info?

Insurance Institute of South Africa – www.iisa.co.za


Interview with an Insurance Underwriter




Why did you choose this profession?
Growing up, I never pictured myself working in the insurance industry as it had this stigma attached to it, and in some ways still does. It is not a profession I chose, it’s actually the profession that chose me. I have never looked back though. This is my 14th year in this industry and every day I learn more.

What training did you undergo?
After matric, I studied at CPUT and obtained my BTech in Business Administration. I obtained my COP (Certificate of Proficiency) through the Insurance Institute, the FETC Short-Term Insurance through Inseta; as well as my RE 1 (regulatory exams) and internal CPD (Continuing Professional Development).

Describe a typical day
I start off by going through reports of claims registered the previous day, looking out for multiclaimants, and discussing with the underwriters what can be done to improve our book of business. Then I do new business quotes for potential new clients; request surveys on existing clients’ portfolios in order to ensure that they are adequately insured; work with our accounts department on the age analysis (collection of annual premiums); do signing of refunds; and, deciding on when to write-off outstanding policy premiums.

What do you enjoy most?
The interaction between myself and my colleagues. We spend most of our time at work, so good team spirit and camaraderie is very important. I know they have my back and I have theirs. There is never a dull moment!

What don’t you like?
Having to cancel a client’s policy due to unpaid premiums, or not being able to give any further discounts in premiums.

Hurdles you have overcome…
To be taken seriously by colleagues who have been in this industry longer than I have but are now having to take direction from someone younger and, in their opinion, less experienced.

Your career highlight so far?
Being promoted to manager in my division, and recently celebrating being with RBSKB for ten years.

What are your future goals?
To further my studies in insurance, and obtaining my credits in Commercial Underwriting. Also, completing my MTech in Business Administration and, most importantly, getting my driver’s licence!

In the insurance industry, how does experience compare to formal training?
Training and knowledge form the basis, but at the end of the day, experience is key. You can only learn so much from a book.

Is there a type of personality best suited to this work?
I would say someone who is service-orientated and not afraid of hard work; who is able to multitask and handle stress; who has the ability to empathise with people and not see clients as numbers, but rather treat them as individuals. You need to provide the type of service that you yourself would expect to receive.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Always remember that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Never be afraid to ask questions, and don’t take anything at face value. Knowledge is power, so always strive to improve your knowledge and skills. Think of yourself as a sponge and absorb as much as you possibly can.

Describe your job in three words
Challenging • Exciting • Intense