There is no substitute for experience, according to the proverb, and it is particularly applicable to one of our longest-serving colleagues, Elizabeth Bocca. Our Lead Commercial Underwriting Manager has some 30 years experience in trade credit insurance, having started out at Trade Indemnity, which was bought out by Euler Hermes forerunner SFAC in 1996.
“I have experience of recessions and soft markets, of commercial and risk underwriting,” says Elizabeth. “When I make decisions it is invaluable to be able to call on everything that I have learnt.”
Amid the current global economic uncertainty, record payouts by insurers and once-in-a-generation events such as Brexit, it is comforting for our customers to know they have professionals such as Elizabeth to rely on.
What commercial underwriting is
Her team consists of two underwriters and within the bigger team, a technical trainer and a project manager. “We provide the strategy for the underwriting floor,” she explains. “We set underwriting guidelines, ensuring account managers and our sales teams have the tools and support they need to provide customers with a comprehensive product that covers their needs.”
More specifically, the day job includes developing and underwriting new products, pricing, commercial gestures, cross-border processes and making difficult decisions on high-risk cases.
The go-to people
“What I love about my job is that we are the go-to people when others need help and advice,” Elizabeth says, although she admits this brings its own problems. “The biggest challenge is the expectation that we will have all the answers!”
Even so, the commercial underwriting team aims to be something of a centre of intelligence. Asked what skills are required to do the job, Elizabeth replies: “We need an in-depth technical knowledge and an understanding of various sectors so we know what our customers actually do, thereby making sure that we make informed decisions. We have to make sure specialist parts of all trades are recognised on the policy at the right price – what we don’t want is to have a customer who is not covered for something they expected to be covered for.”
The wide range of different sectors that we provide policies for ensures that the commercial underwriting team’s work is diverse. Elizabeth describes a typical day as being “hectic and challenging” but it is clear she’d have it no other way.
Three key things dominate her inbox currently – Brexit passporting rights, Brexit pricing and new product launches. On the UK’s departure from the European Union, Elizabeth says a lot of work has been done to ensure our strategy will enable customers to have a “seamless transition” when Brexit happens. In particular, she has been heavily involved in working out how to offer policies to customers based in the EU. “We are currently updating customers to ensure they are aware of our strategy,” says Elizabeth.
Where pricing is concerned, data from the Association of British Insurers shows that trade credit insurers paid out £92 million in Q2 2018 – the highest quarterly number ever recorded – and Elizabeth has had to make some tough choices.
“Sometimes, when it comes to pricing, it may not be what the customer expects but in the current climate, with the claims and overdues that we’re seeing, we are having to harden our prices and try to restructure some policies to make sure they are on the right structure going forward,” she explains.
“It’s hard because we’ve had a soft climate for a number of years so it’s quite difficult for a customer that hasn’t had any losses to then have their rates increased.” Nevertheless, Elizabeth says affected customers are “very aware” that the market situation necessitates change. Pound for pound the price of risk has increased.
Meanwhile, we are rolling out innovations to customers. EH Cover One is a policy that covers single contracts for up to 3 years. “Normally our policies are 12-month contracts for either the customer’s whole turnover or a selection of buyers so this offers something different,” explains Elizabeth who acts as the underwriter for Cover One. “I am involved in checking we have sufficient information to understand the risk and price the business accordingly,” she adds.
The second is MyEH. “This is our new customer portal that will give customers more information than they’ve ever had before regarding their policy,” says Elizabeth. “It will transform and enhance the customer experience - they’ll be able to interact with us more and extract more information than before.”
This ability to combine innovative new offerings with decades of industry experience is something that Elizabeth hopes will set us apart. Given the speed with which things are changing today, such an approach has never been more important.