Graeme Suth Bl

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to agri motor insurance. Every region is different, which is why we’ve invested in our regional underwriting capabilities to support brokers across the whole of the UK. And, as seasoned regional trading underwriter Graeme Sutherland tells us, if you’re going to make headway in the Scottish market, it really is vital to be on-the-ground and able to make your presence felt…

How did you get started in your career?

I’ve spent 13 years in the insurance sector working as an underwriter at RSA, AXA & NIG as well as working as a broker for Arnold Clark insurance, so I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

I must admit I never saw insurance becoming my permanent career – my qualifications were in accountancy! I’ve always been great at arithmetic and finance and so this was my intended career direction. However, when I began working in the accounts team of a local insurance broker, I quickly realised that everyone else in the office had a more interesting job than me!

How easy was the switch over to insurance?

My accountancy background has really helped me. As an underwriter, knowing your numbers is very handy from a new business perspective. I’m never afraid to dive into the detail when a broker asks me questions. I don’t need a calculator, which means I can think on my feet, and this is helpful in conveying to brokers that I know my stuff.

Tell us about your day-to-day role at ERS.

For the past four years I’ve been a regional trading underwriter for agriculture in Scotland and NI. From day one this has been a home-based role, which was a big change to what I was used to, and quite forward-thinking for an insurer at the time

I’ve found it makes me more productive, with the ability to spend extra time at my desk as well as more time on the road visiting brokers (pre-lockdown). Of course, since the onset of the pandemic, these visits have been replaced by calls and webinars so I’m not doing as many miles currently as I would normally do. I am focused on quotes, renewals, adjustments and handling broker queries as well as prospecting and identifying development opportunities for the future.

With so much work now being carried out over the phone/internet, does a local presence still make a difference?

I think it does. I work in a small market where relationships are just as important as strength of product and competitiveness. A lot of the people we trade with daily have been close contacts of mine for more than a decade. Brokers appreciate being able to speak to someone they know and who knows them.

It’s also worth remembering that I work across a lot of remote areas. It’s easy for people to become isolated right now, hence another reason why it’s important to keep reaching out to them.

How about from the customer’s perspective?

Well, imagine a broker presents an insurer with an agri motor risk on islands. Does an insurer based in Leeds or Gloucester really understand all the nuances involved in pricing it accurately?

Local knowledge results in ‘sharper’ rates, because we’re underwriting with full confidence in what we’re doing, so it’s worth its weight in gold for customers too.

Beyond the pandemic, what have been the key market trends in the past year?

It’s been a complex year of uncertainty, a knock-on effect from Covid and brokers are really starting to see the need for a long-term, more sustainable approach to agri insurance, to better protect their customers.

Stability is so important as an insurer, and it’s why we need to carry on strengthening our local broker relationships, putting in the miles to go and see them, and ensuring that we maintain our service levels however busy things get.

And what do you see as the biggest opportunity for ERS in the year ahead?

The uncertainty in the agri market is going to continue. Competitors will be forced to make changes with their capacity providers, leading to snap changes in underwriting appetite and reduced service levels. I believe our business will continue to grow as more brokers realise that the stability and certainty, we can provide for them is the preferred route of choice for their customers.

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

Treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. Put yourself in other people’s shoes and ask how you would feel. Working as a broker taught me that there is always an end customer to think of, and we need to consider how our actions may impact on that individual.

What are your passions and pastimes outside of working hours?

Having recently become a dad, my favourite pastime is undoubtedly learning nursery rhymes and spending time with my little boy. From sitting on the floor playing games to taking him for walks, not to mention explaining everything I know about football, it’s been quite a journey so far!

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

Being a big football fan, it would have to be a role in Steven Gerrard’s backroom team at Rangers Football Club, working as a scout. Of course, it wouldn’t be Scottish-based. I would be covering southern Europe and beyond, travelling the world identifying players for the club.

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