Insurance Underwriter Careers — Analyzing Risk from Shipwrecks to Sports Cars

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Underwriters assess information and make decisions.

You would be forgiven for thinking that an underwriter is some kind of author or journalist; underwriters actually get that question a lot.

In reality, underwriters evaluate applicants for insurance by analyzing the risks they face and decide whether to offer insurance for those risks. The name actually originated hundreds of years ago in London, when people would confirm their willingness to insure a sea voyage by writing their names on a piece of paper underneath the risk information for that ship.

The basic principle remains the same today — underwriters assess information and make decisions. They then have to justify those decisions to the people seeking financial protection for whatever it is they want to do.

“It’s a lot of negotiation skills,” said Ann-Marie Tate, 23, an underwriter at Liberty Mutual in Charlotte, N.C. “You should have a competitive nature and great analytical skills.”

Underwriters who focus on the property-casualty side of insurance usually handle applications for home, car and business insurance — underwriters for reinsurance companies even handle applications for insurance companies themselves. Underwriters who focus on the life-health side of insurance usually handle applications for people and groups of people.

What often happens is that an agent or a broker talks with applicants about their insurance needs, and then the behind-the-scenes underwriters are responsible for giving people the insurance they seek, allowing them to live their life and protect their stuff.

To illustrate the various factors underwriters take into account, consider these examples. If someone is looking for car insurance but is driving an unsafe vehicle, has a history of reckless driving, and has been involved in a number of accidents, the underwriter will need to increase the cost of coverage to reflect the higher risk.

Conversely, if a person is seeking homeowners insurance for a new home in a safe area that doesn’t often experience dangerous weather, the cost of coverage for that home will be lower than that for an old home on the coast, where hurricanes regularly occur. People with similar risk will pay similar premium rates, as determined by the underwriter.

Much of the computation that goes into these assessments is automated, which leaves underwriters free to do more research, negotiation and selling. It also means that the overall number of insurers is expected to decline — the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects that number to drop 11 percent from 2014 to 2024. That being said, there will still be plenty of opportunities in the underwriting field because many existing underwriters are nearing retirement, opening up positions for rising young professionals.

For this role, most companies require a bachelor’s degree to start, although not necessarily one in a particular area. As for pay, the typical insurance underwriter earns between $40,000 and $110,000 a year, depending on experience, location and specialization. The median pay of an underwriter in 2014 was $64,220 per year, according to the BLS, almost 50 percent more than the average job’s. That, plus stability and relatively little stress, earned underwriter a spot in’s 2015 list of best jobs, ranking ahead of electrical engineer, school principal and surgeon.

“It’s a stable work environment, which is why I chose it and why a lot of people chose it,” said Tate. “It’s becoming younger, it’s exciting, and it’s challenging. I always have something new on my desk.”