Not many of us grew up saying that we wanted to work in insurance. As a teenager with a keen interest in medicine and science, I wanted to be a doctor.
As my A Levels loomed in the distance, however, the thought of six more years of study became less attractive and the thought of earning money and buying myself the Triumph Spitfire I’d always dreamed of became more and more attractive. So having enjoyed an extended summer holiday back in 1985, holidaying with friends and enjoying my new-found freedom, when a schoolfriend told me that he was working at General Accident in Croydon and that they had lots of vacancies, I decided that I’d work there for a few months, bolster my bank balance and buy the car.
What I knew about insurance could have been comprehensively covered on the back of a stamp. I imagined a stuffy office full of men in grey suits, being stuck behind a desk all day shuffling paper. Unbeknown to me, I was fortunate that I was put in the commercial department on the processing team dealing with new business enquiries and renewals. First impressions? Huge piles of paper.
As the weeks went by, I began to take interest in what was contained within those big dusty files. Survey reports and proposal forms contained some interesting stuff – discussions about chemicals being used in manufacturing, structural surveys discussing the causes of subsidence, previous explosions caused by gases and asbestos claims containing details about lung disease. I was quietly pleased by how much of it I understood from my handful of O and A Levels.
And so the few months I’d planned turned into a career in commercial underwriting. My interest in science never waned and my only regret was that I’d never done a degree in it and I therefore decided (in the midst of parenting two small children and a moment of madness) to do that degree and sign up to the Open University.
The relevance of the subject to my job has never ceased to surprise me – be it understanding the composition of building materials (claims for Cornish mundic whilst working as a Professional Indemnity underwriter in the City) to one of the last cases I came across (a motor trader had allowed an acid bath to overheat, filling the whole premises in a vapour which then ate through most of the paint on his customers’ cars and destroyed nearly every piece of machinery in his workshop) and an understanding in boiling points of chemicals.
In November 2013, I stepped onto the stage and collected my degree certificate – my career advanced, my grey matter flexed and my ambition to get my qualification satisfied.
And so to the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it brings – discussions around Business Interruption wordings, viruses, notifiable diseases and policy coverage abound.
Never let anyone tell you that insurance is ‘boring’. Whatever your interest, hobby or passion, there is a role in our industry that will enable you to use it – and the piles of dusty paper are long gone.