A model underwriter

Find out why Hiscox Re's Katy Sivyer moved from modelling risk to underwriting risk and why January 1st is a more significant date to her than to most other reinsurance underwriters.

When did you join Hiscox?
I joined in 2008 to work in Hiscox's London Market division as a catastrophe modeller for our MGA book, before moving to Hiscox Re in 2012.

What's your background?
I studied Geography at Bristol University before taking a role as a hydrologist for Atkins – an engineering and project management consultancy in Surrey. I spent four years there doing flood risk assessments for projects as diverse as highways and the London Olympics. I'd always had an interest in different applications of modelling and the opportunity to work in London for Hiscox - combining the research and analytical side of modelling in a commercial way – really appealed to me.

What does a modeller do?
We use existing models to quantify a relevant risk - say hurricane risk in Florida - for each of our clients, adapting the models to develop our own Hiscox view of the probability of a particular event occurring and the financial impact it would have.

How did you get into underwriting?
Five years ago when I first joined the Reinsurance team, I thought about underwriting but didn’t feel ready and found it a bit intimidating. With experience and as I learnt more about the underwriting process, I came to realise that underwriting is not gambling and that there are clear steps in the decision making. 

Two years ago, when I decided I was keen to explore underwriting, I spoke to my manager and HR as part of the PDR conversation and I also had a coffee with Ross Nottingham who heads up the London North American Treaty team to express my interest.  When I was on maternity leave a position became available and Ross gave me a call.  Ross was keen for a more technical focused underwriter to complement and balance the shift towards commercial acumen and sales in recent years.  I came in for a career conversation with Mike Krefta and Louise Reid then on my return to work after 9 months maternity leave, I moved into the underwriting team.

What differences do you see between the two roles?
One of the key differences is that as an underwriter there is the ultimate responsibility of knowing that you have to deliver against business plans in terms of premium as long as market conditions are right. I also have to manage our client relationships and think not only about the numbers but what else we can do for our client overall.  Saying that, there are so many similarities - in both, you need a thorough understanding of the client, their business model and their exposure.  Coming from the analytical background, I approach underwriting with a more technical bent.  This has already come into practice with the development of the Hiscox Re Flood product where my technical skills and focus complemented the market awareness and commercial business acumen of Chair of Product Group, Bill Lazzaro.

What do you find most satisfying about underwriting?
After I'd completed my first broker negotiation I got a real buzz and sense of excitement. It can be challenging presenting - sometimes on my own - to CEOs and CFOs from our cedants but I have found my modelling background as well as my experience in London Market and as a hydrologist come in very useful.

Any downsides to the new role?
My son was born on the 1 January 2016, which makes the 1/1 renewals extra memorable or extra stressful, depending on how you see it! And I can't say I enjoy reading reinsurance contracts – plain English hasn't arrived in the reinsurance world quite yet.

Can you see underwriters moving the other way into modelling?
Of course! I really do see the two roles as very complementary. Our philosophy as a business is to deliver a highly consultative approach to our clients to work out what structures suit them most and the quantative element is very important. I think every underwriter could do with a stint in modelling and in all parts of the team; operations, claims, wording etc.  Having a breadth of end to end process is really important.