Welcome to the first of our ‘Meet the Underwriter’ Q&A’s, where we’ll be chatting to members of the Aqueous team, getting to know more about them, their role, the challenges they face and why the love what they do.

To kick-off this new series, we sat down with one of our most recent hires, Jonah McSweeney.

How did you start your career in underwriting?

I joined Aqueous back in August 2021, where I was hired as a Trading Underwriter. I now work within the E-trade team, where most our trade is heavily dependent upon and transacted through technology. Brokers submit their quotes via our easy-to-use online platform and then the team follows up with referrals relating to those quotes and submissions that need additional consideration.

In terms of how I got into underwriting, my initial role within the industry was actually working for an MGA setup within their marketing team, where I was helping them build products, websites and branding to help distribute products. I then moved into an underwriting assistant role to get exposure to commercial underwriting. I later qualified with a professional certificate in insurance and had the pleasure of gaining on the job experience whilst working alongside the team. Once I moved up to the role of underwriter, I then decided to join Aqueous to take the next step in my career.

What attracted you to the role of an Underwriter?

I feel like underwriting is a good fit because it combines a number of my skills. Since a young age I’ve always been number-focused, with a particular love for maths and science at school. I had also always had ambitions of moving into finance, but with underwriting, it also focuses on skills within sales – another interest of mine. Ultimately, underwriting provides the opportunity for me to play with numbers, whilst also involving a lot of human interaction, which I believe, makes it the ideal position for me.

What does a typical working day look like for you?

Working through the E-trade platform means dealing with cases, whether that’s a new business, renewals, or adjustments to a case that we currently hold. I am the point of contact for the brokers through emails and phone calls, supporting them with pricing, cover, and claims queries –  essentially the whole package of what a broker may need.

What challenges have you faced in your role as Trading Underwriter?

One of the main challenges I face is keeping up-to-date with everything that’s going on. At Aqueous, one of our key focuses is the hospitality and leisure sector, which is relatively niche and one that many insurers don’t get involved in. Since Covid-19 struck, the sector has faced some serious struggles, with these being well-documented in the news. Part of the challenge I face as an underwriter is the responsibility to stay up-to-date and understand the latest government guidance and support measures. Things like VAT reductions and the business rates reductions effect the SMEs we cover, so I need to understand how these will affect our industry.

Another challenge is our efficiency and speed of response, which we are determined to deliver to brokers. We have strict time scales to meet when delivering a quote back to our brokers, this can essentially mean that when a broker comes to us at the last minute on a Friday, we’re on the phone making sure that we can service those brokers as and when they need it, because that’s ultimately where we set ourselves apart – by providing outstanding customer service.

What changes has the pandemic had on the way you do business?

Much like many other businesses, we have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic. Being hired while working from home has proved to be difficult at times, especially when speaking to brokers, I have only been to see one broker in-person in the five months I’ve been at Aqueous. Although, a benefit to working from home has been the group team calls where more people can get involved, whereas if we were in the office, you might only speak to a few colleagues at any given time throughout the week.

In terms of our current way of working, there has been a lot of adaption over the last 2 years. For example, when restaurants were only able to operate outside, and business owners were granted a pavement license, we had to adapt the way we looked at this as a business. Whereas normally we would view this as a potential new risk or something that increases their exposure, we had to accept this as the ‘new normal’ at the time and in turn, responded by adapting our cover.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have also adapted the way that we deal with brokers, how we respond to the queries and how we deal with referrals coming in, no longer being dependent solely on technology or on humans, but combining these two aspects together into a perfect hybrid model.

What advice would you give a person looking to start a career in your industry?

The key thing that I’ve learnt during the last 5 years of being an underwriter and something that I wish I had known beforehand; is that the most important part of your role as an underwriter, and your success as an underwriter, is not only down to your technical knowledge, your ability, or the product that you’re selling – it’s mostly about your relationship with the person you’re trading with.

Brokers see you as a person that understands them and cares about them, and if you’re enthusiastic about providing that good service, they will be enthusiastic in return. Obviously, your knowledge and pricing are important, but the main factor is your ability to trade and deal with brokers and form those relationships.

Finally, what do you enjoy doing outside of work?

There are two pillars that make up my life outside of work. One being, my two rescued Irish setters, Fergal, and Faylan. They’re three years old and are completely crazy, exercising them helps to keep me active and means I spend a lot of time outside the house.

The other pillar to which I dedicate a huge amount of time, is that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and I run the youth program locally and regionally for 12-to-18-year olds. I spend every Tuesday night running activities and events for my local kids, and every couple of weeks we run activities either in person or online, using new technologies, for the young people in and around Coventry and Warwickshire for the Church.

If you’d like to know more about the E-trading team at Aqueous and what has made us an award winning insurer for SME business, then please do reach out to Jonah or the business.

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