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Leadership in Underwriting

Costas Hadjipateras

Costas Hadjipateras

Head of Underwriting

September 30, 2021


Insurance is a promise, that’s our product. There’s something innately human about that, and a huge reason why I love being in this business.

Looking back at the past 9 years of my career, I fondly remember the moments that attracted me to this industry. Winning new accounts in a competitive environment was always momentous, managing and coaching young talent was incredibly rewarding, learning from the impressive mentors I was fortunate enough to have was everything. My favorite part, however, was actually helping long-term, loyal partners in the times when they needed it most.

This was the moment in which you were truly tested. It’s that moment when you determine whether or not your company’s client-centric values are more than just words on your company’s website. It’s when the culture of your firm gets its chance at center stage. You always hear how insurance is the product you hope you never use. But people do use it (usually at their most vulnerable moments). And when they do, you have to deliver.

Finding the balance

This is the value of underwriting for me: it’s a blend of art and science, rooted in real experience. It’s about appreciation for your client’s businesses/people and displaying that appreciation when it matters most. The best leaders in underwriting are able to pull back from relying exclusively on the models and evaluate a holistic relationship in order to make the right decision. This can be everything from servicing an account to paying a claim or showing transparency in your decision-making. It’s about ownership - of the good and the bad. It’s a basic philosophy that too often gets overlooked because of the distractions caused by bureaucratic hierarchies. If you’re lucky enough to have even a single loyal, safety-focused client in your portfolio, treat them well. Looking at your clients as people instead of numbers will take you far in any business, but especially this one.

At Shepherd, we are building an underwriting approach that automates the science in order to enhance the art. Underwriters here will spend more time getting to know their clients, being strategic, and moving quickly to decisions rather than plugging numbers blindly into outdated systems. Redundant referrals, multiple follow-ups for approvals leading to missed quote dates, and other internal bottlenecks will not be part of the Shepherd story. We think of our platform not as an opportunity to eliminate the human aspect of this business, but rather to enhance the customer experience (brokers and clients receive quicker feedback through a more efficient process) and empower the underwriters’ experience by leveraging new technology to make more accurate decisions at a larger scale. Through innovation in each of these two channels, the customer experience will improve, and ultimately, so will the relationships with our insureds.

Client-centric is more than a slogan

Another characteristic of great leadership I’ve witnessed throughout my career is humility. Especially maintaining that when your product is in high demand. If you start to take advantage of your customer base, your core will become vulnerable and markets that have historically been chasing you, all of a sudden will be right next to you. The competition is waiting to pounce on unforced errors and arrogance can be the ultimate enemy of incumbency.

Insureds have a plethora of markets to choose from, even in a historically hard market like the one we’re currently facing, there’s almost always an available option for even the toughest risks. Great leaders know how to avoid making knee-jerk reactions because of a single accident, losses are why our industry exists after all. Taking corrective action on an account is a core part of what we do; doing it with finesse takes empathy, a willingness to put yourself in your client’s shoes. If possible, make corrective underwriting decisions surgically, on an individual account basis rather than deploying broad brush directives on an entire portfolio. Punishing a client that’s doing the right things, has a strong loss history but faces tough exposures is a short-sighted approach.

I believe that communication and decision-making are pivotal components to leading successfully. Maintaining a constant cadence of communication with your staff and clients is critical. Being collaborative while maintaining focus is a balancing act that takes experience. Receiving feedback and actually listening to different ideas while also staying streamlined is much more difficult than it seems.

Final thoughts

In building Shepherd, we recognize that this business thrives on personal relationships. Our focal point will be around implementing efficiency as part of our commitment to enhancing both the broker and client experience. Client-centric thinking is core to our culture and is manifest through behaviors implemented internally already. How we operate internally will be the blueprint for how we treat our customers externally and will help determine who we intend to partner with for the long term.

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