2022 ERS Harriet Ackland BL

At ERS, we’re continuing to invest in our Commercial proposition, developing and digitising our service lines and ensuring that we deliver a timely and effective approach to underwriting.

One of our newest underwriters is Harriet Ackland. Based in Swansea, Harriet spent five years honing her skills in our Operations team before becoming a fully-fledged Underwriter in August 2022. We spoke to Harriet about her transition to underwriting, her assessment of the market and why she believes clarity of communications is key to forming strong partnerships with Commercial brokers…

How did you first get started in your career?

Before arriving at ERS, I worked at Virgin Media, first as an agent, then as a tech support operative, and then eventually joining the in-house management programme.

Chatting with my colleagues, I’ve found that we all tend to fall into insurance, and then we quickly realise that we’re comfortable in it. I’ve always been curious about motor insurance. I’m from a family of mechanics, so I’ve grown up surrounded by cars and bikes, while other family members were involved in goods distribution. It always left me thinking – who would insure a massive commercial vehicle or an ambulance?!

When I started reading up on ERS and its motor-only broker-only focus, it caught my interest. I began in Policy Operations, loading quotes and saying yes/no to new business risks. When we restructured, nine months into my role, I joined the Commercial team, where I’ve developed my specialist expertise.

When the underwriting role came up early this year, my team colleagues encouraged me to go for it.

I could see from my first interview that a lot of my managerial skills would translate well into the underwriting world – giving me confidence that it was the right role for me.

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

I’ve just started in my new role, but things don’t look too dissimilar to my time in Operations. I’m spending my day looking at risks and assessing them, now with more authority to approve things myself.

It’s all action on the Commercial team. We run multiple business lines, so there’s a constant influx of new requests. As it happens, my fiancé is also an underwriter in our bespoke team, which has made me all the more familiar with the demands of the role, as we do talk shop quite a lot on the way home!

I’m based in Swansea, but I work closely with the London team, so a fair amount of travel is needed to guarantee that we get plenty of face-to-face interaction. Having team members next to you is invaluable from a learning and development perspective. I don’t think the virtual world can ever replace this. The same is true of broker visits, which is something I’m looking forward to doing more of in the months ahead.

How has the underwriting role changed as more Commercial business gets processed via ERS eTrade?

Using ERS eTrade means our broker partners can get faster access to A+ rated quotes, MTAs and renewals. Previously, we had to manually load everything into our system, resulting in longer SLAs. Now brokers have 24/7 access to instant quotes, with the more complex risks being fast-tracked online to our underwriting teams ready to process as soon as they arrive at their desks in the morning. ERS eTrade also encourages brokers to find out more about the nature of each risk upfront, further improving our response times.

We’ve all been trained on the technical aspects of the system. The more we understand the detail, the easier it is to explain to brokers what’s happening and why a particular request may not have gone through.

As an underwriter, how else can you add value to your brokers?

One of the most important aspects of Commercial underwriting is being upfront and clear in all of our communications.

Businesses value clarity, timeliness, and consistency. We have to set the right expectations and make sure we deliver to them, so we have strict SLAs for our Commercial brokers. With these expectations in place, brokers can manage their customers more effectively because they always know when to expect a response.

This attitude and approach served us well during the first Covid lockdown. We made a massive effort to facilitate homeworking and maintain our SLAs. Our underwriters were going back and forth with the brokers explaining what we could/couldn’t do, making them aware of things like laid-up cover and the options available to them. We received a lot of positive feedback that we were one of the few insurers brokers could reliably get hold of during this difficult time.

Tell us about the key trends you’re seeing in the Commercial market.

I’m an underwriter for non-passenger – Courier, Transportation (Haulage/Own Goods) and Specialist Commercial Vehicles (SCV) – so it’s fair to say our customers had radically different experiences during the pandemic. We saw a massive spike in both Courier and Haulage with the rise of online deliveries, while the leisure-related Covid restrictions forced many SCV businesses out of action, some of which have sadly not returned.

Post-pandemic, inflation is becoming the dominant issue across the Commercial market. The rising cost of everything is making more customers shop around for their insurance, and others are downsizing their vehicles to cut costs.

Customers are also battling challenges such as the shortage of HGV drivers and automotive supply chain delays. We’re seeing more mid-term adjustments as vehicles are chopped and changed, with clients trying to get hold of any available vehicles to avoid business disruption. And, of course, the supply chain issues are affecting the cost of claims and making repairs take longer.

Given the difficult conditions, are there still growth opportunities out there?

I think it’s about striking a happy medium between pursuing new opportunities and continuing to deliver the best possible service to our brokers and their customers.

One thing we need to keep doing is to ensure our brokers are aware of everything that we offer and the breadth of our risk appetite. For example, I took a call last week from a broker asking if we could support a haulage risk in Northern Ireland – which of course, we can. And this type of conversation often opens the door with us helping to cover other more complex risks that might be hard to place elsewhere. .

What’s your main focus for the next six months?

My first priority is to get more underwriting exposure. I was in Operations for five years, and it’s a different mentality, so I definitely think I’ll benefit from more time on the ground. I have some strong relationships with brokers already, and it’ll be great to get the chance to develop these. I love learning from brokers around the UK about the different trends they’re observing.

In addition, I’m soon to get started on my Cert CII, so I expect to be studying a lot over the next few months.

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

The importance of maintaining work/life balance and the positive impact this has on mental health. At ERS, I’ve largely been able to leave my work at the front door, but during the pandemic it became more difficult as we were living and working in the same place. It’s something I’ve had to relearn since we’ve returned to the office.

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

I’m a qualified beautician and make-up artist, and I spent a lot of my spare time doing this before the pandemic. It’s something I’d like to get back into. I’ll probably do my own make-up when the wedding day arrives – and I’ll be giving my bridesmaids a bit of a tutorial too!

Aside from that, my fiancé and I love music, so we’ve been getting out to plenty of live events, as well as taking advantage of other things we missed during Covid – like spending time in person with friends, family, and colleagues.

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

I studied events management and production at university and have a weird passion for planning and organising things. If I wasn’t such a home girl, I’d love to be a tour manager!

Looking for a Commercial motor quote? The fastest way to access our A+ rated Commercial products is online via ERS eTrade. Find out more about ERS eTrade and how to sign up here.

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