An aviation underwriter


Bruce Carman, Atrium's Syndicate 609 war underwriter, takes time out of a crammed schedule to apprise Guy Anker of just what his day-to-day routine entails

Aviation underwriters have had to endure much instability over the past few years. Of course, the catastrophic events of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent volatility in the market have had a significant impact.

But less-publicised incidents have also made their mark.

These include attacks by Tamil Tiger rebels on Sri Lanka's international airport in 2001 and the continuing threat to aircraft in Iraq, all of which combine to ensure that the likes of Bruce Carman, Atrium's Syndicate 609 war underwriter, are kept occupied.

"People just do not realise the sorts of losses we are exposed to and the subsequent job that is required," he explains. "Some brokers think it is all about 11 September, but even that loss - from a war perspective - was less than that in Sri Lanka the same year."

Q4 renewals

When Post Magazine catches up with Bruce at Lloyd's, he is immersed in the fourth-quarter busy season - when 80% of his renewals take place.

First up is the aviation team's weekly meeting - chaired by Bruce - and, in keeping with tradition, held over a coffee and flapjack in the Lloyd's canteen. This is the calm before the storm as discussions leap from holiday bargaining between staff to gossip about Atrium's competitors to the nitty-gritty of renewals.

Back on the box and things begin to heat up. "There is not much stability as an aviation underwriter," says Bruce. "But that keeps you on your toes and ensures the job is never dull." And, judging by the constant stream of brokers and team members wanting to meet with him, it is clear that Bruce's time is in demand.

He explains that, since the events of 11 September 2001, there have been a number of changes in the industry that have led to an increase in his workload. Indeed, with a keen news eye that would put some seasoned hacks to shame, Bruce - who has been with the company for 17 years - is supplied with a live feed of information on his PC to ensure he is constantly updated with world events that may affect prices.

His computer files are awash with aviation information and historical fact files and images, while he is regularly briefed with information from experts on global risks. This means that Bruce, who has focused solely on aviation war and terrorism underwriting for around 10 years, is an expert on world and conflict-related events. This is illustrated by the fact that he knew of a failed bomb plot on a cargo plane in Iraq last year before some sections of the national media.

He studies every single detail that could determine whether to insure a client or not. But, while Bruce may be using technology to its best effect, it is clear that some of the stereotypical inferences that Lloyd's is stuck in the dark ages when it comes to technology are not too far from the truth.

His desk and those of his team are awash with paper and files. But he is not concerned. "It is not a problem," he argues. "You will never get brokers to stop wanting stacks of paper because they want something in their hand to go home with. I do a lot of deals via e-mail, but it is unrealistic to change the Lloyd's paper-based system."

Face-to-face meetings

Lloyd's underwriters may still be bogged down by paper - although there is no evidence of the infamous cigarette-packet 'slips' - but it is clear that other aspects of their roles involve business practices that others hanker after as a lost or dying form of communication; face-to-face meetings are the foundation of his working day. Bruce mentions that he is required to be at the box for much of his time, limiting opportunities to visit brokers and customers away from Lloyd's. In the past 18 months, however, his team has doubled in size, creating more opportunities to escape his desk.

"Most business is transacted on the box, although we may also sign contracts over a coffee - to ensure the legacy of Lloyd's lives on," he jokes. Indeed, orderly queues emerge as Bruce sits at his desk with brokers waiting for a slice of his time.

He adds: "At the busiest time I can get two or three people queueing. But it is like London buses, you never know when they will come - and there can be long periods when no one comes at all."

Heated debate

Given the sizeable premiums involved, and the competition in the market for business, it is no surprise that some of the meetings involve heated debates. On one occasion, two determined-looking brokers approach him about a deal. Bruce jokes beforehand that they will "beat me up"; however, while the discussion is intense, peace prevails.

With Syndicate 609 leading many of the world's major airlines, estimated by Bruce to be one-third of the global market, it is obvious why he is a man in demand. But he also has a sense of humour about his work. For example, his mobile phone wallpaper proclaims: "I love insurance."

His position in the middle of the floor at Lloyd's, and the fact he sits by the gangway where brokers and insurers glide by, also adds a social dimension to his work. He explains: "We all chat with each other as we get to see so many different people." But he is not concerned that the audible nature of the floor means that competitors - a couple of whom are based no more than a couple of metres away - can eavesdrop on crucial meetings. "While many get-togethers are at the box, we can take some to meeting rooms, but there is not a problem with others listening in."

What does differentiate Bruce from competitors on the floor, however, is his early arrival. While many of the boxes only start filling up at 10.30am, he will typically have been working for at least an hour and a half by then. "I am on the hop if I start at 10am so I am here at 8.30am. This is because most business is transacted in meetings just before lunch, so I want to be ready for the 11am rush."

Every day is different

And, after those deals are completed, he says there is no chance of a few drinks over lunch. "The days of a booze-up over lunch are gone, especially when you are dealing with multi-million-pound liabilities - Lloyd's doesn't work like that."

A normal day for Bruce ends around 6pm to 6:30pm, although he occasionally takes work home with him. "I have remote access at home so it can go into the night. It's not normal for me to work at home, although it is rare to be working really late."

He emphasises that every day is different and that the final quarter of every year is when it really "gets going". But he maintains his sense of humour throughout the stressful period, as demonstrated in one meeting with a hesitant broker, by mimicking Michael Winner's now notorious tone from the Esure television advert: "Trust me, I'm a Lloyd's underwriter."

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