Insurance underwriters serve as liaisons between insurance carriers and insurance agents. They identify and calculate risk of loss from policyholders, determine premium rates and write insurance policies. They use computer applications called “smart systems” to analyze data from loss-control consultants, medical reports, data vendors, and actuarial studies. Many of these systems are connected to the Internet, enabling them to instantly retrieve necessary information. They must then decide whether to issue a policy and the rate that should be charged. Most insurance underwriters specialize in either life, health, or property and casualty insurance. Life and health insurance underwriters usually further specialize in either group or individual insurance, while property and casualty underwriters may specialize in commercial or personal insurance. An increasing number of insurance policies today are group policies, either through a single group contract or through a policy that provides members of a group with individual policies.
Insurance underwriters should be detail-oriented people who are interested in analyzing information. Because they are required to make excellent decisions, they must have good judgment. Because they deal with so many other professionals, such as insurance agents, they need to have highly-developed interpersonal communication skills.
In 2002, insurance underwriters earned a median annual salary of $45,590. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $28,840, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $79,400. Median annual salaries were $46,690 in insurance carriers, and $43,560 in agencies, brokerages, and other insurance related activities. Benefits such as retirement plans and life and health insurance were best in insurance carriers.
Training and Education
Employers usually require a bachelor’s degree in business administration or finance, with an emphasis in accounting for entry-level underwriting positions. However, a bachelor’s degree in another field, including course work in business law and accounting, can sometimes be sufficient. Most starting underwriters assist more experienced underwriters in order to learn more about the job. As they gain more experience, they are given responsibility for projects with greater risks. In order to advance, they usually need to attend continuing education courses and programs, which are often sponsored by their employers. The Insurance Institute of America offers the specialty designation, Associate in Commercial Underwriting (AU), or the more advanced (Associate in Persona Insurance (API). The highest designation available for underwriters takes about 4 years to earn and is titled Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), offered by the American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters. Those who earn these designations and gain experience may advance to senior underwriter or underwriting manager positions.
In 2002, insurance underwriters held about 102,000 jobs. 64% worked for insurance carriers, and most of the remaining worked in insurance agencies or organizations that offer insurance services to insurance carriers and policyholders. A small number worked in banks, mortgage companies, and real estate firms.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of insurance underwriters is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Computer software will increase productivity, but will be tempered by economic and population growth and the continued demand for human skills. Demand will also increase due to insurance carriers hiring more underwriters in an attempt to restore profitability and make up for large recent losses. Those with the best computer and communication skills will have the best prospects.