Born and raised in the northeast of England, you began your career in recruitment for the London insurance market, including Lloyd’s of London. Next you decided you wanted to leave London and live in New York City — and you made that happen. Tell us how “venturing outside your comfort zone” early in your career served as the foundation for where you are today.
I came to North America not really knowing anyone and having never visited before. That leap of faith to come to New York City taught me a number of important lessons: Things that scare you tend to be the most worthwhile; learning to fail and overcoming fear of failure increases confidence; and commitment to your goals is part of how you reach your goals. When I was about three months in, a family friend said, “If you truly want to stay, you’ll find a way to make it work.” There’s still that way of approach inside of me today.
Prior to joining AEGIS, you held business development and underwriting positions with GCube Insurance and AXIS Insurance in London and New York City. Ultimately, you chose to focus solely on underwriting for renewables. Why?
I had more of an interest in the technical aspect of risk and wanted a deeper technical knowledge of a product rather than simply door-opening sales knowledge. When I graduated college, a goal of mine was to be sought after for my opinion. The more I learned about renewables, the more I got interested.
What were the steps you took to achieve being an expert in your area?
There were so many avenues in my 20s as I was thinking about what I wanted to specialize in. I wanted to be a master of my craft and provide value in this world, and thought about how I would achieve both. I got interested in renewables early on and set out to learn as much as I could. So I talked to people and listened to people’s opinions and their needs. Then came accessing that information and forming opinions while asking questions and striving for specific knowledge. I wanted to be valued, and in order to be valued, I’d need to work and make a commitment in terms of building knowledge as a specialist rather than being a generalist. Renewables became my specialization.
AEGIS offers a full slate of property and casualty products specifically designed for the renewable energy industry, including solar, onshore wind assets and battery storage facilities. How does the underwriting differ for each of these renewable energy sources?
Wind and solar both face inherent weather exposures. Solar is a fragile property often spread over thousands and thousands of acres with exposure to natural perils. It requires a technical knowledge of the project’s features designed to mitigate against the external exposure, and a deep knowledge of geography and weather systems, including natural catastrophe modeling for hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and severe convective storms.
Though also exposed to weather, onshore wind assets have more moving parts than solar, so you tend to see more electrical and mechanical attritional losses. In an effort to generate more power, wind turbine blades and wind towers are getting bigger and bigger. The major issue with wind is the internal perils caused by incredibly rapid technological advancement.
With battery storage facilities, there hasn’t been a common consensus on the technology to use. Rapid technological advancement and a lack of consistent design present new challenges every day.
AEGIS is now offering products designed for offshore wind assets. What are the underwriting challenges for this?
Offshore wind has been prevalent across the world, and now our members are getting involved in this renewable energy source. We do currently write a handful of U.S. offshore projects, but the real growth in this area is coming in the next five years. Since offshore wind turbines can be three to five times larger than onshore units, that’s one of the key underwriting challenges. Placed in the middle of the ocean, there are also challenges from an installation and maintenance perspective.
You built the original renewable energy underwriting team for AEGIS. Today, as Renewable Energy Product Manager, you are responsible for specific renewable energy insurance products, including builders’ risk and operational property. Speak to the key aspects of underwriting for renewables and how they were “created by AEGIS members, for members.”
Everything we do has been created from the need of our membership. Back in 2018, AEGIS management identified a need for a stand-alone renewable energy product. Members were investing in and building renewable energy products, so we needed the expertise, the capacity and the claims-paying ability to provide a specific product for each phase of the project’s lifecycle. In short, our members needed cost-effective risk transfer for projects being built, as well as cost-effective risk transfer for operational assets.
How do AEGIS Loss Control and Claims teams support the Underwriting team?
The Underwriting, Loss Control and Claims teams have an intrinsic knowledge of the technology and the risks associated with each phase of the project’s lifecycle. I mentioned before how rapidly technological knowledge of the risk is evolving. Simply put, you can’t know too much. The Loss Control team identifies loss trends, serial defects and loss drivers, which then help us to provide consistent coverage and capacity for the long term at a sustainable level. The Claims team is absolutely essential because claims paying is the actual product. You are only as good as the product you’re delivering. The AEGIS Claims team is looking at this as helping the members where they can, as opposed to a commercial carrier, whose aim is often to pay as little and as infrequently as possible.
Your career travel has necessitated visiting renewable energy sites across the globe, from a solar site in Puerto Rico (after Hurricane Maria) to an offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom and a solar power tower in Nevada. Share some highlights of these on-site visits.
The real highlight has been meeting the people on site and seeing how proud they are about their projects and their specific roles. Additionally, rather than just looking at a risk submission on paper, site visits bring everything to light. I’ve learned about the technology and how they run things on a ground level. Some of the technological aspects have been really cool. The solar power tower in Nevada is like something out of a sci-fi movie.
To make the most of your business travel, you said that you often “tack on a day to go exploring.” Recently, while in Scottsdale, Arizona, you hiked Camelback Mountain before a morning meeting. Is the explorer in you part of how you approach your work — that is, always searching for ways to advance the product or find something better?
I’ve never really considered that before, but I think yes. I enjoy the innovative side of product development — exploring and testing new ideas, dealing with ambiguity, failing and finding another way. That probably comes from having an inquiring mind and wanting to explore new concepts and places.
You shared that you enjoy mentoring and training underwriters and that you have gotten better at it over the years. How have your mentoring and teaching made you a better manager?
Honestly, I got better at both of these when I became a parent. Parenthood teaches you how to convey information and adapt your message to the audience. I’ve learned patience. I’ve learned to be adaptive, because everyone has their own way of learning. And self-awareness comes as you grow older, and I know what my limitations are. Put another way, just because it’s my perspective doesn’t mean that it’s a perspective that everyone else shares. I’ve really tried to think about that with managing our most recent hires, who have come from different backgrounds than where we have traditionally hired and bring their own perspectives and insights.
What are you most proud to be a part of at AEGIS?
At its core, AEGIS recognizes what it’s here for, which is to fulfill the members’ needs. The goal is to provide consistent, sustainable capacity for members’ activities and their risks. It feels like a tight-knit community with a shared alignment of interests. It’s more worthwhile to be a part of a company like this rather than returning a profit to faceless shareholders. As an organization, there’s very little ego in our senior management. I’m proud to be part of it.
When you look ahead, what opportunities do you see that you believe can benefit members?
Everything we do is geared to benefit the members. In fact, every single thing has been born out of “how does it benefit the members’ needs?” Our ability to identify the challenges our members are likely to face in renewables — be it with offshore wind or newer technologies — creates an abundance of opportunities for AEGIS to meet their future needs.
Learn more about our Renewable Energy product here.