Continuous Professional Development

by Stephanie Smith

Underwriting Assistant Stephanie Smith explains how executives are trained for their duties at Michael Else & Co.

Marine insurance is both very specialised and very technical. There are many experts, but how does a young novice develop the expertise to become a useful practitioner within a reasonable period of time? Perhaps my own experience demonstrates the importance of an effective continuous training programme designed to produce the next generation of P&I professionals.

I joined Michael Else & Co (The Charterers P&I Club) after graduating with a degree in Zoology. It is fair to say that my knowledge of the marine insurance and shipping industry was limited (in fact, non-existent), but luckily I had chosen a company prepared to invest in my education and training. Over the last three years, I have taken part in an internal modular training programme, attended seminars and marine courses both in the UK and abroad, and I am now working towards my CII qualification. Improving the knowledge and understanding of employees is at the forefront of the company’s aim to provide a high level of service. All team members are encouraged to take part in all of the four strands of training that the company offers.

The first is the internal modular training scheme which has developed over the last couple of years, the aim being to gradually build an understanding of the business within a small personal setting. There are usually only 4 or 5 people per session which allows for questions and discussion. Each module builds upon the previous one; the first explores the background and history of marine insurance and how it has gradually evolved to the present day. The next illustrates how P&I and liability insurance fit into the bigger picture and subsequent modules aim to extend participants’ knowledge of various topics including piracy, charter party types and risk factors. The training programme has proven popular both internally and externally. Indeed, several of our clients have requested that their own trainees spend several days in our office to learn more about P&I.

There are a number of external practical and theoretical marine insurance courses available and I have attended several since being at the Club. Each course has helped deepen my understanding of both the shipping industry and the marine insurance environment, and has also provided me with opportunities to make new contacts and to extend my network. During my first year I was invited to spend two weeks with Munich Re at their client training course. From it I gained a good overview of the shipping industry. Before joining Michael Else, I had never set foot on a ship, but by the end of the first week I had been on board a brand new cruise liner and had toured several shipyards and container terminals. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and I was quickly able to develop an idea of the various risk factors that I would have to consider as an underwriter. The second week of the course involved a series of seminars around the theme of “the life and death of a ship”, beginning with shipbuilding risks and concluding with reinsurance. I found the maritime law section particularly helpful, as at this point I only had an underwriter’s perspective of liability insurance. It was interesting to be made aware of the various issues that the claims handlers deal with on a day-to-day basis. Most recently I have attended the Brookes Bell “Sharp End Course”, spending two days on merchant ships and learning about their operation. Again, it was an invaluable experience to be able to spend time on a ship and it allowed me to further my understanding of liability risks. The next course I will be attending will be the Marsh Insurance Course, which should further develop my understanding of various insurance topics delivered through a combination of lectures, videos and practical exercises.

The third strand of training is delivered by the Club’s network of correspondents, lawyers and surveyors. The company regularly invites guest speakers to hold internal seminars on current marine insurance issues. While some of the seminars are complex and aimed specifically at the maritime lawyers within the Club, others approach topics from a commercial perspective. These are useful for both underwriters and claims handlers. The seminars ensure that we are constantly updating our knowledge in an ever changing environment, so that when we provide advice to clients, we can be confident that our responses are accurate and informed.

Finally, we are also encouraged to work on our individual professional development. Several of the underwriting team members including myself are currently working towards our CII qualification. The aim of the qualification is to build our technical knowledge and understanding of insurance, and this is achieved by studying a number of modules each concluding with a written examination. Each module requires around 120 hours of study which we commit to in our own time outside working hours. The qualification ensures that as trainee underwriters, we are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to perform our roles competently and effectively. There are some intense study periods and exams best completed during a short holiday period, but Michael Else provides the necessary flexibility so that we each complete each module with good results.

As you can appreciate, this has been a steep learning curve. However, now I feel confident about taking on new challenges and tasks which not so long ago would have seemed daunting. This has only been possible through the company’s continuous support of my professional development, recognising that for each of us there is always room for improvement and that every learning opportunity should be taken. I look forward to developing my skills and knowledge of the business even further at the Club, with the ultimate aim of becoming a fully trained P&I underwriter. As to my degree in zoology it has come in useful at times when analysing the behaviour of colleagues; it’s amazing what can be achieved with the offer of a banana or a few peanuts… .