RichVintage /
13 December 2018Actuarial & underwriting

Investing in the future talent of the captive insurance market

If you had asked me when I was 12 what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have answered: “I want to travel the world. And wear a tie.”

Some years later, I find myself in a position where I have the opportunity to travel to major cities in Europe and North America, meet with professionals from a variety of leading international companies, and develop solutions to help these firms manage and mitigate risks more effectively today and in the future. And I do pack a tie or two.

Discovering the world of commercial insurance

Growing up in East London, I had no idea I would find myself working within the commercial insurance industry—and in one of the more specialist areas of the industry at that: captive insurance and global programmes.

I studied business management at university and cannot recall the commercial insurance industry having much visibility when it came to career options, especially compared to banking or management consulting.

In hindsight, I had a very naïve view of insurance. I thought a career in insurance was limited to selling car or home insurance. In fact, I learned about the world of commercial insurance only after meeting an insurance professional by chance.

My first position after graduating was in banking. It was a great experience, but what I really wanted to do was engage with various types of professionals in an environment that was solution-oriented as opposed to transactional.

As it happened, the bank I worked for was on Gracechurch Street in London, which is one of the largest insurance hubs in the world. This was my introduction to the commercial insurance industry.

I was especially struck by the fact that there are two side: brokerage and insurance. Two people who don’t work for the same company nonetheless have to collaborate in complex transactions to get the best outcome for their shared client. To me, that was completely unique.

I was also impressed by the diverse expertise of the people working in commercial insurance. I discovered that the industry employs all kinds of different specialists: underwriters, actuaries, risk engineers, data scientists, lawyers, claim specialists, marketing professionals and, of course, captive insurance and global programme experts.

As I learned more about what the industry does and the career opportunities it offers, I decided to apply for an open position with an insurance company. I didn’t have any expectations but figured there was no harm in trying. The company was XL—its offices were a few doors down from the bank where I worked.

I landed the job and started as a data analyst supporting the company’s international environmental and UK casualty teams.

I spent two years in that position. My role involved collecting and analysing data that was used to support underwriting decisions and portfolio planning. It was important work and I learned a lot: the different coverages, processes and financial metrics of commercial insurance. But it was behind the scenes.

With the support of my former manager, I then joined what is now AXA XL’s Captives and Global Programs team. It’s proved to be a great move. Over the last three years, I’ve been part of collaborative efforts to create the best captive insurance solutions for multinational clients; these experiences have propelled my personal and professional development to the next level.

A good story to tell

In my five years in the business, I’ve generally been surrounded—and supported—by insurance professionals with 20 or 30 years of experience with captives. They’ve created a robust and growing business model that’s helped companies all over the world manage and mitigate their risks with increasingly innovative and capital-efficient structures.

I don’t, however, encounter many of my peer group in terms of age. And, unfortunately, most young people are just not going to be exposed to the captive insurance industry. Not everyone is going to find themselves on Gracechurch Street.

However, while the captives industry is neither well-known nor highly visible—to say the least—it does have a good story to tell.

It starts with the observation that captive insurance fronting is ultimately a business characterised by relationships and focused on solutions. As a member of the team, I interact daily with seasoned insurance professionals, both internally and externally, who are more than happy to share their knowledge and expertise.

I also work with clients in diverse industries and with varying levels of experience and know-how when it comes to captives.

One day, for example, I may be participating in an in-depth discussion with a leading technology company on blockchain or autonomous vehicles along with AXA XL colleagues who have specialist knowledge and expertise in this area. On another day, I could be meeting with a prospective client and their broker outlining how AXA XL’s capabilities and resources can support them in managing their exposures more effectively, and enable them to take greater responsibility for their future risks.

The world is your oyster

Two final thoughts. First, I believe that finding new talent for the captives industry is made more difficult by how it is perceived. Even among some insurance professionals, captives can be viewed as complex and cryptic. And for non-insurance people, the words “captive insurance” may be interpreted as something else entirely.

It is true that some aspects of a captive can be quite technical—the regulatory requirements, for example, are not always straightforward. Nonetheless, the fundamentals are not so complicated.

When friends outside the industry ask me to describe what I do, my answer is quite simple: “I help companies insure themselves.” From there, it’s not hard to describe, at least on an elementary level, how we help clients create and manage their captive fronting programmes, empowering them to cost-effectively protect against future risks.

Second, with a growing emphasis on technological developments and an increased focus on data and analytics, the next generation of captive insurance subject matter experts can bring new skills and views that will enhance captive programme structuring going forward. In an industry filled with experienced and senior operatives, it is the perfect environment for young professionals to grow both professionally and personally—you can never have too many mentors.

There are many talented young people who would make great additions to the captives industry. I believe the industry can only benefit by more actively promoting the opportunities it offers for young people who enjoy collaborating and creating innovative solutions, and do not mind travelling the world while possibly wearing a tie.

Melvin Findlay is a specialist in the Global Programs and Captive team at AXA XL. He can be contacted at