5 Takeaways from the 2017 CPCU Underwriting Collaboration Seminar

This article by Carly Burnham originally published at InsNerds.com

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don’t, you should!), you’ll have seen a ton of posts with the hashtag #UCS17.  The Casualty Actuarial Society and The Institutes CPCU Society hosted this year’s Underwriting Collaboration Seminar in Chicago, IL.  I’ve attended the past two CPCU Society Leadership Summits and Annual Meetings, and I always leave with interesting ideas about the future of the industry and how I can apply the knowledge I gain at the seminars back at my desk.  I was not disappointed this time around, and the opportunity to interact with Actuaries, in addition to fellow underwriters, was quite useful!  After my experience, I want to share five of my key takeaways:

1. Facts are Free

During the opening session, the President of The Institutes, Peter Miller said “Facts are free,” and it stuck with me so much that this quote is now a pinned tweet.  Throughout the history of our industry, people have found insurance concepts extremely opaque and out of reach of the consumer.  Underwriters, Actuaries, and Claims Professionals have pursued designations, spent years developing technical knowledge, and often kept that knowledge to themselves, from time to time hoarding the knowledge without sharing with their colleagues.  In this day and age, we can no longer afford to believe that the core concepts and technical knowledge of our industry are out of reach of the general population.  (To be clear, unlike some writers, I don’t believe we ever acted this way out of malice; people just never seemed interested.)  My husband and I often say to each other “All the information in the world is in our pocket” in reference to our cell phones.  This is becoming true even of insurance concepts.  People are tweeting definitions of things like Host Liquor Liability.  For Insurance Professionals, this means that if we want to stay relevant, we need to know more than just what the form language says.  We must understand how it applies, and we should strive to go even further and begin to think as true Insurance and Risk Professionals.



2. Stories are the Best Communication Tools

As you might imagine, much of the conference focused on the differences between Actuaries and Underwriters.  Lots of jokes were made about how Underwriters prefer to go with their gut and Actuaries can’t make a decision without consulting 12 spreadsheets.  However at the end of the day, we must learn to communicate with each other.  For this to work, we have to tie our goals back to the broader picture.  All professionals can benefit from the age old advice that telling a story and allowing the listener to find the conclusion through the story.

(If you’re in any doubt that stories are great ways to communicate watch Tony’s session on Retaining Millennials in Insurance, almost all told in funny stories.)



3. The Industry is Primed for Disruption (and We’re Finally Trying to Be Proactive)

Many of the sessions mentioned #Insurtech firms in passing.  Without verbalizing it, it seems that we are all running these firms through Nick’s Model.  We recognize that competition from these “Industry Outsiders” will increase, and they will have advantages, like newer technology.  However, we are looking for ways to partner with some of these startups and think about how we can adapt to the ever-changing landscape.  While we are a conservative industry that has not had to move quickly in the past, we are actively trying to become more nimble.

There are literally hundreds of #InsurTech startups and they’ve raised billions!


4. Big Data is Influencing All Aspects of the Industry (So, We ALL Need to Get Comfortable With It)

Since this was an event with Actuaries, we talked a lot about predictive modeling and the increased access to data sources.  Underwriters are sometimes wary of dependency on data supplanting the “Art of Underwriting.” This is likely a concern for other professionals as well, claims professionals, HR professionals, etc.  However, there are companies who are already using data in all arenas, from deciding which customers to target, to sorting applications for potential new hires, to early recognition of fraud.  I firmly believe that some of the fear around data replacing the art stems from fear.  As we learn more about how data can inform our decisions and how we can apply the information, we will be able to work with it more comfortably.  If you are looking for a few resources to become better at this, I’d recommend starting with the books Predictive Analytics by Eric Siegel and The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver.  Once you’ve finished those, you can move on to the two new designations created by the Institutes and the Casualty Actuarial Society: the Associate in Insurance Data Analytics (AIDA) and Certified Specialist in Predictive Analytics (CSPA) respectively.  As underwriters, we must remember that you can beat the model on individual risks, but you will not beat the model on the aggregate.




5. The Talent Gap is Still a Big Concern

Another comment in most every session was on the challenge that we will be facing due to retirements. There is concern that we will not be able to attract the talent we need, and simultaneously, we are losing the knowledge of experienced professionals.  This is a time of great opportunity for new entrants to the industry, especially if you are willing to apply yourself and spend some extra time developing your own knowledge base.  I highly recommend spending time with experienced professionals in your discipline, so that you can informally gain some of their wisdom.  On the company side, we need to focus on cataloging what knowledge we can from those experienced professionals.  The challenge is finding time to do that in production environments.   I’ve found that attending Seminars and Conferences allows me some space to learn from those with more experience,  and I would recommend attending these kinds of events to any young professional.

Overall, I walked away from the Underwriting Collaboration Seminar with more knowledge about how Actuaries think about their roles and how we can better work together to drive the goals of our companies.  I am excited to get to work planning the 2018 Seminar and hope to see some more of my Underwriting Colleagues there, along with making new Actuarial Friends.


Disclaimer: InsNerds.com gets a tiny commission if you buy a book using one of the links above.  Someday it might even buy each of us a coffee, maybe.

About Carly Burnham

Carly Burnham began her insurance career in 2004 as an office assistant at an agency in her hometown of Duluth, MN. She got licensed as a producer while working at that agency and progressed to serve as an office manager. Working in the agency is how she fell in love with the industry. She saw firsthand the good that insurance consumers experienced by having the proper protection. When Carly moved to Des Moines in 2010, she decided to commit to the industry, and she completed her CPCU in one year finishing it in 2012 and attending commencement in New Orleans. She completed her MBA at Iowa State University in 2014. During this time, she and Tony founded a Gen Y Associate Resource Group at Nationwide in Des Moines. After they had both left Nationwide, Tony recruited Carly to co-author and manage InsNerds.com. She has the difficult task of keeping his constant flow of crazy ideas focused and helping to flesh them out into useful articles. Carly enjoys sharing knowledge and ideas about the future of the industry and finds the website a good outlet for this passion. Carly is involved in the the CPCU Society Underwriting Interest Group. She also writes "Next Wave" a monthly column in the "Perspectives" section of Best's Review.

2 thoughts on “5 Takeaways from the 2017 CPCU Underwriting Collaboration Seminar”

  1. Thank you Carly for attending and for your live tweeting and posting this summary! Our intent as a planning committee of CAS and CPCU members worked hard to foster an environment for strong networking and interaction between actuaries and underwriters – mission accomplished! The only piece of constructive feedback I received was from an actuary who said we needed more underwriters to attend next time – I could not agree more! We need to help promote this event more within the CPCU Society. A final shout-out to Carly for stepping in and pinch hitting for me at the student program as a mentor – THANK YOU!


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