Introducing Garbhan O'Brien, Fleet Product Manager for Passenger Transport and Hire & Reward

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From private hire taxis to coaches and buses, we underwrite a wide range of passenger fleet risks at ERS. Overseeing every aspect of our Passenger Transport product is Garbhan O’Brien, who has been working tirelessly to support brokers and their customers through a series of Covid-induced market challenges. We spoke to Garbhan to hear more about how the industry is responding to these challenges and why he believes effective underwriting requires a team effort…

Describe your career path to date.

I joined ERS as a fleet underwriter and was promoted to product manager two years ago. Today I have overall responsibility for passenger transportation across taxi, coach and minibus fleets of five vehicles or more, as well as specialist haulage vehicles, which also fall under my remit.

Before joining ERS I held a number of different underwriting roles, always in motor insurance. In fact, I started my career with Allianz on a commercial underwriting graduate scheme.

So you had your sights set on the industry from the off?

Yes, I’m one of the few people who didn’t just fall into working in insurance!

My degree in Industrial Economics with Insurance gave me my first exposure to the sector. It’s one of the few University courses in the country that includes dedicated insurance modules. I saw that it was an industry that offered a lot of variety – from sales and marketing to underwriting and claims – and I guess it was this variety that appealed to me.

Of course, it was pure chance that led me into underwriting. The graduate scheme position just happened to be opening while I was on a summer work placement at Allianz.

How does your day-to-day role compare with what you originally envisaged?

It’s definitely a varied role and I get the chance to work with many of our other departments. I’m responsible for developing a product that works both for customers and for our business, so I must collaborate with all areas of our business to make this a reality.

It’s been a tricky time for fleet businesses. Tell us about what you’ve seen over the past few months and how you’ve looked to support brokers and their customers?

Passenger transport has been massively impacted by the pandemic, particularly bus and coach operators. A lot of vehicles have been laid up and we’ve returned a significant amount of premium to these operators in recognition of this.

It’s been a similar story across taxi fleets. We support a combination of city centre and rural businesses; the former has been particularly affected due to shop, theatre and restaurant closures. However, we’ve been able to support many customers in diversifying their revenue streams – for example, extending taxi cover to allow drivers to deliver parcels, care packages and medicines.

How has the pandemic impacted new business?

We initially saw a drop off in enquiries as brokers understandably turned their attention to supporting existing customers. This is now starting to increase again, although we’re finding that the cost pressures on fleet operators are pushing brokers to really shop around in search of a good deal.

What are the key messages you’re trying to get out to brokers right now?

We need brokers to continue educating customers so that the conversation isn’t just about price but the overall package. As market activity increases over the coming months we need to be clear about the artificial impact that Covid has had on loss ratios so that customers understand how we’re pricing their premiums and don’t opt for cheap policies that don’t really meet their needs over the long term.

I believe that the support we’ve offered in the past few months demonstrates our commitment to the industry. We’ve underwritten fleet for more than 40 years and we know the market inside and out. Yes, Covid has impacted the entire industry, but we’re still here and still operating at a really strong level. We need to ensure that brokers get this message and relay this to their customers.

What do the next 12 months have in store for the fleet market?

It is clear that the impact of Covid is not going away anytime soon and the 2nd national lockdown will no doubt create more challenges for the passenger transport industry. Our customers have shown great resilience throughout this period and have adapted their business activities to ensure they are still able to operate.

We’re currently seeking feedback from customers on how they’ve been impacted by Covid so we can adapt our products and pricing accordingly. Fleet underwriting has traditionally been based on assessing past risk performance to predict the future. This principle isn’t as relevant when considering claims trends over the past 6 months as traffic volumes and business activities in most cases have been vastly different to usual , so it’s right that we’re being more bespoke in our approach. We’d encourage brokers to ask more questions too, so that we can get an offer together that genuinely supports customer needs in the year ahead.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in your career to date?

Everyone’s contribution matters. I can’t make my role a success without the support of all of the experts and specialists across our wider business. Good internal communication plays a crucial role in this too.

What do you enjoy getting up to outside of working hours?

I’m a massive rugby fan and a season ticket holder at Harlequins. If I’m not at the ground in person then you can rest assured I’ll be watching on TV. Before Covid hit, I also enjoying playing tag rugby a few times a week. Unfortunately, I don’t have the physical attributes to play the full-blown sport.

If you weren’t working in fleet motor insurance, what would your dream job be?

Again on the rugby theme, perhaps I’d be a commentator or pundit – still involved in the sport but without all of its physical demands.

That said, unlike most of my industry peers, I pursued a career in insurance from the get-go, so you could say I’m already living the dream! Joking aside, my role is challenging and varied, and I think it’s a great industry to work in. 

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