Alice Sharman discusses her role as an underwriter and explains how she helps to support a wide range of businesses by providing surety and guarantee solutions.
Supporting customers’ needs
Alice is a surety and guarantee underwriter, which means she looks after the bonding and guarantee requirements for a variety of companies across many sectors but with a strong focus on UK and Irish corporates. She describes bonds and guarantees, as a commercial requirement for corporate to guarantee contractual obligations that they may have committed to another party. For example, a building contractor may need to provide their client – let’s say a property developer – with a performance bond to guarantee their construction performance obligations under an agreed contract.
We provide a wide range of surety and guarantee solutions, not just limited to construction bonds, so a key part of Alice’s role is identifying which requirements customers may require and how best to support their needs. “There are many different factors considered in the underwriting process – the main one being a company’s financial stability,” she says. “Every case is unique and every customer is unique, so I have to give an individually tailored response to every challenge and opportunity that comes in.”
“Whilst the most common form of bonds for our industry are performance bonds for the construction sector, we are increasingly being successful at offering other guarantee products,” Alice says. “We provide corporate solutions to scenarios that may well have historically relied on corporate asset pledges or bank letters of credit. We are well placed to provide more bespoke solutions as well as covering the core construction bond piece.”
As a commercial underwriter, Alice is primarily responsible for the front-end client underwriting and broker relationship management. The role also requires close collaboration with a number of internal stakeholders. “We work closely as a team in London to provide an efficient and complete service,” says Alice. “We have a duty internally to control and monitor all of our portfolio risks and the risk function of our team is essential. We are also fortunate to have a very strong client services team that ensures the efficient administration of a bond/guarantee facility – which for our clients is really important.”
A local team, a global presence
“Overall, we operate as a local team but, as we have a growing global surety presence, we have the ability to find international solutions for our UK-based customers,” says Alice. “With clients we are familiar with, we can turn around the required solution within 24 hours. For a new client, there will be a range of information to collect and due diligence to perform so that inevitably takes a bit longer.” She adds: “Investing time with customers is key to understanding their business and developing a mutually beneficial long term partnership.”
The wide variety of customers in different sectors means every day in the office is different for Alice. “I guess that’s why I enjoy my job so much – it keeps it really interesting! I’m also continually growing my skillset and responsibilities, so I never stop learning,” she says.
But like any job, there are also challenges. “Keeping multiple stakeholders happy is the biggest,” says Alice. “Balancing customers’ expectations with a product that is ultimately for the benefit and protection of a third party means that there will be a lot of moving parts, negotiations and difficulties to overcome.”
Away from the office, Alice likes to spend time with family and friends. She is a keen horse rider, enjoying country pursuits, playing the piano and even sews in her spare time. “However, I have a Springer Spaniel called Purdey who is really the centre of things, and take priority over most things!”