Podcast Episode Transcription: Season 2, Episode 11

Leah Lambart:
Welcome to the CGA Career Podcast. Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Boyd, who graduated from Caulfield Grammar in 1993. Michelle has had a very successful career of 20 years working in insurance in the UK, and she’s kindly joined me today to share her experience and to give us a better understanding of what is involved when you’re working in the insurance industry.

Michelle Boyd: Thanks, Leah. It’s great to be here.

Leah Lambart: Michelle, you’ve had a very successful career working in insurance. I’m interested – most people don’t leave school thinking that they’re going to work in insurance.

Michelle Boyd: It’s definitely not something that’s very common amongst students. Can you explain how you first came to work in this industry?

Leah Lambart: Can you explain for someone with very little knowledge of insurance, what do insurance brokers do and what do underwriters do?

Michelle Boyd: Yeah. So an insurance broker is effectively an intermediary between clients, underwriters, and insurance companies. They help clients find the best insurance coverage for their needs by using their specialist knowledge to locate the best underwriters and negotiate the most favorable contractual terms. Whereas the underwriter’s job is to evaluate and analyse the risks presented to them by the broker, and the underwriter is the one that decides whether to provide the insurance, which is the commitment of a financial promise to pay in the event of a financial loss.

And if so, what type of cover they’ll give and the type of premium in exchange for the risk. So brokers are responsible to their clients to arrange the correct type of cover and make sure in the event of a claim, the client’s assets or their people are indemnified for their loss, whereas the underwriters are responsible to the company that they work for and their client base to manage a portfolio risks based on the based on the premium of many paying for the claims of the few and make a profit in the process, which is very important.

Leah Lambart: So when you explained it the first time, it sounded to me like insurance brokers are perhaps more people facing and perhaps need some of more of those relationship building, rapport building, networking skills, where an underwriter might be a bit more behind the scenes using analytical problem solving skills. Would that be correct?

Michelle Boyd: There in some aspects, yes. Because you’re quite right to pick up on the fact that the broker needs to be quite people facing, quite client facing, be able to listen to their clients’ needs and put that into a, develop that. You’re absolutely right. You need to be able to be perhaps a little bit sort of, not extroverted because I don’t like using the polar extrovert and introvert tags because I think all of us in some way are extroverted in some things and introverted in others. But you’re right, the role of the broker is to be a bit more people facing. However, and that would possibly apply in marketplaces outside of the London market. So whilst my experience has only ever been in London, the really unique thing about the market here is that it’s all people facing.

And it’s very traditional in the way it does business and the way that relationships are established to get that business done. So to be an underwriter, you need to have those people facing skills because you do meet your clients face to face as an introduction through the brokers. You do need to talk to brokers day in and day out. And because you do see them all the time, it’s not just on one risk. It’s often on lots of different risks that they want to present to you. But the underwriter also needs to be able to take a step back from that frontward facing role and have a variety of soft skills, technical skills, and industry knowledge to perform their role. So often that’s statistical data analysis. You have to be comfortable in taking risk. It’s not something that perhaps everyone considers is something that they’re comfortable with.

And by that, I mean, not everyone is comfortable often committing millions of dollars at a time of their company’s money to a risk based on their professional assessment of that risk and then be able to justify why they wrote that risk and the rationale for writing that risk based on the information that you have. So, you need to be a good problem solver to be an underwriter or a broker because you need solve problems for your clients as a broker, but you need to solve financial problems as an underwriter.

Leah Lambart: So underwriter is probably a little bit more technical in terms of more the analytical skills?

Michelle Boyd: On the day to day, yes. However, a good broker is just as technical as their underwriter because it’s up to the broker to challenge the underwriter on what they are telling them to get the best results for their client.

Leah Lambart: So those influencing skills, important and negotiation skills?

Michelle Boyd: Very much so.

Leah Lambart: When you, say you were recruiting a graduate for your team, what sort of personal qualities would you look for in someone in order to see if you think they’re going to be successful in the field?

Michelle Boyd: This is a great question because I think my time here I’ve seen the full gamut of recruitment policies, of trying to entice people into the industry. And once you know the industry exists, it’s pretty hard to walk away from it because it’s a really exciting industry to be in. And I would say that the types of it’s not so much. I’m not looking for people that that know it all from day one. In fact, I’m looking for people that really want to learn and have that excitement in their eyes for an opportunity.

And I’m also looking for people that show me a bit of grit and determination because you need resilience to work in this industry. And you also, and it’s a bit of a difficult concept to explain to perhaps a school leaver, but I really do encourage everyone to take like, a growth mindset, not be fixed in their ideas of what they think insurance is about or what be fixed in the idea of what they think that they can bring to the role. In fact, be open to the possibility of opportunity. And then make your assessments based on what you like doing from there. It’s a very, very practical and pragmatic industry. And it’s for that reason, I think it’s really accessible. Because whilst qualifications and anything you bring into the industry is very valuable, you also get the opportunity to move into studying formalised qualifications often, not always, but often at the expense of your employer. They will pay for your further education into the industry.

Leah Lambart: That’s always a bonus.

Michelle Boyd: Absolutely.

Leah Lambart: You mentioned earlier about needing some grit and resilience, can you explain why?

Michelle Boyd: Yes, okay. Because working in a fast paced industry, you need to be able to roll with the punches. I think that’s probably the way that I would explain it. No two days are the same. Even though the subject matter might be the same, the world around us changes daily, and you hear on the news things are happening daily in the world. For example, my background is marine insurance. I absolutely love all things to do with ships, but that was as a result of coming into this industry and being given an opportunity.

And the type of grit and determination to actually get to where I wanted to be was working hard. It was showing up, doing the basics, being curious, interested in the subject matter. And if you’re interested in what you’re doing, that grit and determination, whatever it is, will get you to where you want to be. So it’s not so much I’ve got an a I don’t even know what you call them in Australia anymore if you get 5 a’s or whatever we call it BCE. But, it’s not about I got 5 a’s on my on my English paper. It’s about, well, how did that person get there? What did they need to do personally to decide that this is what they wanted for themselves? I think that is the essence.

Leah Lambart: Can you explain to me with salaries in insurance, are you paid base plus commission, or is it always just a base salary?

Michelle Boyd: Really good question. I think from a broker’s perspective, there’s different ways remuneration happens in the insurance industry. Essentially, in broking, you get a salary and then you’re probably a part of a wider team that, that you will get a percentage of your annual salary, which could come into a bonus pot, and that bonus pot will be based on whether you meet budget as a team. And there’ll be other softer softer things around that where your management might evaluate your contribution at a team level.

They might sort of look at the culture of the organisation and whether you’re meeting the values, and there’ll be a sort of discretionary element to all of that. It’s not just pure commission, which is kinda nice because it means that even if you aren’t making the money, your contribution is very much valued on a softer level. And certainly, when you’re starting in the industry, you can’t expect to be earning huge bonuses. And bonuses are somewhat more controlled in the current financial environment. I think they used to probably be less so back in the day when I first started.

But to put that into context for underwriting, again, it’s very important that it’s understood that underwriters are there for profit and not top line. So how that translates into the world of taking risk. If every broker in the London insurance market put an insurance contract in front of me, and I committed made a financial commitment on each and every one of them, it could be argued that you would be underwriting for income rather than taking a closer look and assessment of the actual risk profile of each one of those, which is the underwriter’s job. You’re looking at risk profiles and you’re assessing the types of claims that is going to come out of any one type of risk.

Leah Lambart: You talk about risk and whether you’ve got the right risk profile. As part of the recruitment process, do they do a risk assessment to see if people have the right appetite for risk?

Michelle Boyd: Good question. I’m sure there are big companies that will run graduate recruitment programs, and the types of paces they may put you through to try and find the ultimate candidate based on an algorithm exist. Doesn’t sound particularly attractive to me, I have to say. But sometimes these big companies have really great structured programs where you get an opportunity over, say, a 2, 3 year to typically a 2 year period to do a rotation. So you do end up getting a flavour of underwriting, broking, back office, claims.

And when you do those sort of things, you do get a flavour, oh, I quite like that or don’t like that or you build your own picture. But I think to a certain extent, there has been, as I say, I think I said earlier that I’ve seen the full gamut of recruitment policies and that’s one of them where there’s algorithms, but we’re absolutely coming around to that being not the right answer. The London Insurance market is going through a fantastic change and view of the types of people that they want to welcome into the industry. There’s untapped talent out there and we’re very lucky in London. We’ve got huge, as it is in Melbourne, a hugely diverse population of people from lots of different parts of the world, different cultures, and they bring loads of different things to the equation.

And in a global insurance market, like the London insurance market is, there’s that opportunity and that realisation that actually the people that work in our marketplace need to reflect the types of customers that come to our marketplace. So it’s really and in order to facilitate that cultural change, we need to make it accessible for people. So companies are really spending time, money, and effort to attract the right candidates, and they are interviewing people from all walks of life and backgrounds to get that great mix.

Leah Lambart: Yeah. It’s something just definitely saying that pattern here, you know, firms like PwC and, like, even, you know, bringing candidates in with a music background or something. They were used to, like, just commerce graduates. So definitely seeing more of that here as well.

Michelle Boyd: Yeah. Great.

Leah Lambart: Can I go back and ask you more about the ships, the marine specialisation? I’m just intrigued that you’re insuring navy ships or luxury yachts. Who are your clients?

Michelle Boyd: Oh, wow. So, if you think about all the ships in the world, they are our clients. So I know that sounds a bit broad, but it really is. So putting it into context, you’ve got ships in the world that move cargo. You’ve got container ships. You’ll see them coming into the port in Melbourne. They’re huge. They’ve got boxes and boxes and boxes and bolts on board. They need insurance. They need insurance for the ship itself.

They need people, they need insurance for the cargo on board. They need insurance for the liabilities that might come in operation of a ship like that. And crucially, they need insurance for the people that are on board. So my type of insurance that I have done is hull and machinery insurance. So I would insure the hull of the ship and the machinery of the ship. And I, in my assessment of that, would use lots of different data to understand, sorry. I’m gonna pause. Roll back. So I am or was or are a marine insurance underwriter.

My specialism was marine hull and machinery. So that was the hull of the ship, so the actual ship itself and the machinery on board. And I I ended up in marine insurance as it was my fourth job in the insurance market. So I started brokering terrorism insurance. I was then approached to join another company, a broker terrorism insurance, which also involved brokering property insurance as well as construction risks, as well as onshore power risks. And then I took up an opportunity to join a Lloyd’s syndicate in their operations department, completely different. And in when I was working in the operations division, I didn’t particularly enjoy that, I have to say.

And I then looked for opportunities within the company. And they were looking for a marine assistant, very low level entry position. Even though I’d come across I was a manager in a different division. They said to me, Michelle, you know, we want you to start from the bottom. And I said, I can do that. I saw the opportunity. And marine is a fascinating career. It’s actually the foundation of where insurance started. And insurance started in London, And it started as a result of traders of goods that came across from, I think it was the East Indies, pulling up alongside the Thames, and people on board would run from the Thames up to the coffee shops that would look for people that would take the risk, the financial risk, from what today are now known as underwriters in exchange for the promise so the premium in exchange for the promise to pay claims. And that was back in the 1700.

Leah Lambart: Yeah. That’s a long time ago.

Michelle Boyd: So you look after hull and machinery. So does someone else in your team do the underwriting for another part of the ship?

Leah Lambart: Yeah. So how it works is that you’ve got teams of specialists in London. So I do hull and machinery, but in my wider marine division, there would be someone that would do the liabilities and somebody a team of people that would do the cargo on board. But all of them work in silos to each other. So one client that a company could have on a ship for the hull of machinery wouldn’t necessarily be the same client as the cargo underwriter would.

And it’s up to that. And that would just be as a result of the marketplace, the relationships, the broker relationships, the type of the type of insurance being needed, your particular expertise, and what you bring to the equation. It’s how I got into it was taking opportunities and I absolutely love it. And it’s the backbone of the financial system. Without marine insurance, you wouldn’t have world trade. Ships are the most cost-effective way of shipping goods around the world. Container ships, I use that example, but there are plenty of other ships out there. Like, for example, let’s put it into the context for for Australia. We, as a country, are integral to the financial system producing, well, fossil fuels for perhaps we won’t focus on that so much, but fossil fuels. So or iron ore, Huge exporters of iron ore. You need ships to ship that all around the world. I underwrite those ships.

Leah Lambart: I provide Yeah. I provide insurance to make world trade happen.

Michelle Boyd: When you look at it like that, it’s really key, isn’t it, to other governments? As we look towards the energy transition is a huge topic in the insurance market, and the kids of today are gonna be those people that are going to be working through that transition which is what we’re starting, but there’s a long way to go. And part of that transition will be creating different ships to meet the new energy demands of the next generations. We’re seeing that now. A lot of research and investment is going into developing new technologies so that we can use greener fuels to power our ships, to move our goods around the world.

Leah Lambart: Alright. It’s it was you mentioned something before that really struck me when you said that once people go into this industry, they rarely leave.

Michelle Boyd: Mhmm.

Leah Lambart: I found that interesting because as as a career coach, I think the reason I don’t know much about insurance is because I never meet anyone leaving insurance.

Michelle Boyd: Quite possibly.

Leah Lambart: Other careers where I see people from that industry all the time, so you learn a lot about it. So I think you’re right. I don’t think I’ve really had any clients who were looking to leave and get out of that industry.

Michelle Boyd: It’s really unique in the London market and in Australia it’s probably a bit different because you are sitting behind a desk, you are sitting behind a screen, but the world is so interconnected now. And there is always value in cutting your teeth in a market like this and taking that all that expertise, that knowledge, those contacts back home with you to then apply it to your customer base in Australia, that’s plenty of people would snap you up and pay you good money to do that.

Leah Lambart: Michelle, if a young person was listening and thinking about leaving school and going to work in London, I don’t know what the market’s like over there at the moment. What would you say to a younger person whether they’re in insurance or not? Do you think it’s better for them to get some, you know, a couple of years of experience in Australia first and then go to London? Or do you think people may get lucky like you did by doing temp work and falling on their feet?

Michelle Boyd: Well, in the current climate, absolutely any any sort of financial service industry or any industry is crying out for people. So just know that if you’ve got any wits about you, you’ve got a good education, you’ve got a bit of grit and determination and drive. Just know that you’re an asset. And so and so it’s it’s difficult to know what the dynamics of people traveling and getting jobs is. But typically, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but London love Aussies. They love Aussies because we are known for working hard. Where we come from is not dissimilar to over here.

I some days I’m walking across the bridge to work, and I think, gosh, I could be in Melbourne today. It feels. It looks the same. It’s the same climate. It’s just the opposite way around. To answer your question about taking risks, I think I feel I was quite lucky, but then again, I made my luck. You know? I had years experience in recruitment before I left Australia, which was a skill that I could at least fall back on if it didn’t so that I could live and work at the same time as looking for my next best thing. And the first thing to say about London, it’s a very expensive city so you need to have a bit of cash behind you. So how I did that is that I got a recruitment job and I saved money through bonuses and just put it away so that I then had that background to taking those risks. And I think there are plenty of jobs out there, and it might not be the first one, but just understand that if you take a temp job, just know that that’s sort of financial peace of mind and then from there you can plot your path.

Leah Lambart: Good advice and often those temp jobs do lead to permanent don’t they?

Michelle Boyd: Absolutely. I travelled for a year prior to arriving in London and I was living in Dublin for 11 months. And at that time, Dublin the financial services industry in Dublin was just changing at a rate of knots. And I was approached I went in as a temp into a what I now know to be an asset manager. And they wanted to offer me a job, but because I couldn’t actually stay in the country any longer from the time there. But had I stayed there and pursued an opportunity and they sponsored me, they were there’s some rules around sponsorship and needing to sponsor local people first and all that. But I think the London market is a slightly different proposition. It’s a world city.

They need people, good skilled people all the time. And I really do think it takes a bit of a little bit of maybe heart and mouth for some of it, but, you know, persist, I’d say. But just also know what your limits are too. So don’t bend yourself in half trying to do something that isn’t working for you. And it’s a hard city to establish yourself in as well because it can be lonely if you don’t know anyone here, which was the case. A little bit of a case for me. But I traveled on my own. I was determined to do it on my own. I had friends on this side of the world. But I’d just give it a go. People you just don’t know.

Leah Lambart: Good advice. I’ve got one last question for you. If someone was considering a career in insurance, what would your advice be for them? What would they need to consider?

Michelle Boyd: Oh, gosh. I think having really good written and verbal communication skills is a real door opener because you’re working with contracts, which are naturally legal documents. So you need to be pretty sharp on written and verbal communication. Data analysis is a huge skill. If you can demonstrate you’ve got data analytical skills, that will open so many doors because the industry is going through a huge amount of change. More and more emphasis is being put on analysis and data and that’s only as a byproduct of our processes and systems actually becoming more digitized. So being comfortable operating in a digital environment is really key.

I think being curious, being open to opportunity, huge. And a can-do attitude, that’s a really good one that I think Aussies have in spades. Well, yep, I’ll do that. You might not know how to do it, but guess what? Go and find out. And so and but you need to be organized as well because there’s a lot going on. And I think the most important thing out of all of them is being people-focused. It’s a people business insurance. And being likable, I’m not saying that you have to change your personality to be liked, I’m just saying it’s very often the really simple things about yourself that attract others to what you could bring, a smile. It’s the backbone of the career of your career in London. People know you. You smile. I think there’s some something people say about your smile being your brand or your calling card or your business card or something. But essentially, it’s really true because people want to because it’s people-focused, people want to work with people that they like.

Leah Lambart: Yes, they do. Thank you so much, Michelle, for taking time out of your day, particularly so early in the morning.

Michelle Boyd: No problem. Very refreshing to speak with someone who is so passionate and fulfilled in a career that they’ve been in for a long time. So you’re a testament to that.

Leah Lambart: Thank you very much, and really great to meet you, Leah. I hope that was of something that you could take away for the future generations.

Michelle Boyd: Very helpful. Thank you, Michelle.