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Igniting Next Gen: The Exciting World of Underwriting Excess Casualty Insurance

By Alliant Specialty

Karen Caterino and Eric Seaborg speak with Victoria Vasso, Assistant Vice President, Excess Casualty with Ascot Insurance, to find out what inspired her early career development starting in London as a broker and now underwriter of liability insurance.

Intro (00:00):
You're listening to a special episode of In the Public Eye podcast, Igniting NextGen for Careers and Risk Management, where we explore all the exciting career opportunities and possibilities within the insurance industry. Here is your host. Karen Caterino.

Karen Caterino (00:18):
Welcome to Igniting NextGen for Careers in Risk Management and Insurance Podcast series. I'm Karen Caterino, senior vice president with Alliant Insurance Services. Along with my cohost Eric Seaborg, area vice president.

Eric Seaborg (00:32):
Always great to be with you, Karen. Thanks.

Karen Caterino (00:34):
Our podcast are focused on enlightening students and young professionals about all the exciting career possibilities in the insurance industry. With me today, I have Victoria Vasso Assistant Vice President, senior underwriter with the Ascot Group. Welcome Victoria.

Victoria Vasso (00:48):
Hi, thank you for having me.

Karen Caterino (00:50):
It's great that you're on the show. We are so excited to hear more from you about how you got started in your career and risk and insurance. Tell us a little bit about that as well as a little bit about the company you work with.

Victoria Vasso (01:02):
I have to go back now almost half my life. So, my first job in insurance was at 19. I actually had a summer internship at Advisen, which is an insurance data provider. So, that was kind of my first foray into it. And then actually, while I was at college, I worked at a local Allstate Agency near me and did cold calling for a couple of years.

Karen Caterino (01:29):
And you've remained in the industry. That's great.

Victoria Vasso (01:33):
Despite all the hangups and people telling me to leave them or alone at dinner, I decided I still wanted to go into insurance. I got my degree in psychology. And honestly, you can't do much with a BA in just psychology. You need to go on and study further. And I knew I ultimately did not want to have a career in psychology. Having had a couple of odd jobs in insurance, as well as some family and insurance. I just thought it may sense to, to go down that path. I just sent my resume out to a bunch of places and decided to start my career at Marsh New York.

Eric Seaborg (02:12):
Victoria. Great to have you on the show. And I have to comment on that psychology degree. I think that gives you a great advantage when meeting new people and assessing the best way to work with them. But let me ask, what was the attraction to the insurance industry itself for you?

Victoria Vasso (02:28):
Initially, if I think about myself when I was in my last semester in college, what I was going through my head was probably, all right, you're not going to go and get a master's or a PhD. So, you need to apply to places. So, where's the easiest entry point. And all honesty, that was probably the first thing that ran through my head. But then I had family in the industry and I thought I can do this for a couple of years. It'll be great experience. And if I want to then go back to school and, and further my education I can always do that, but why don't we go there, start paying off some of your student debt and see where it goes from there. And I've had an amazing career so far. Like I mentioned, I started in Marsh, New York and after being there for about a year and a half decided I really wanted to work abroad.

I had studied abroad in my junior year of college in London, and really loved it as a city. So, I wanted to move there. And so I moved there in 2013 and thought, okay, I'll stay here for a couple years. And then seven years later, I found myself still there. And while I was there, I got the privilege to work for Bowring Marsh for about four and a half years, working on international casualty business, which was quite interesting, but I knew that I always wanted to come back to the states at some point. So, wanted the experience of, of working on a US portfolio. And there was an opportunity that opened up at Willis in London and a couple years there before moving back to the states. So, it's been an amazing journey so far, and then obviously made the, the jump from broker to underwriting, which has been quite the experience.

Karen Caterino (04:06):
So, Victoria, go into a little bit more detail on that. What is the a day in the life of an underwriter in casually insurance? What does that look like?

Victoria Vasso (04:14):
In all honesty the day to day in many ways is similar to what you I did as a broker from a different perspective. So I'm still reviewing submissions, I'm looking through quotes and the terms and conditions on those quotes. I'm looking through exposure information, both current and historical, going to a company website, Googling to see what, if any press there is about any particular insured, the goal of doing all that is ultimately to decide if it's a risk that falls within our appetite and that we'd like to go after. Yeah, a lot of things while the systems and, and the viewpoint I have on an account has changed a lot of my day to day hasn't. And I think in all honesty, I go back to the opportunity of working in London. I think it greatly benefited me because while I was there, I worked as a middle man to a middle man. And you have to triage accounts to determine which markets would be a good fit for any particular risk as the first step in your broken process there. You do have to learn quite quickly what information each underwriter would look for. So, I feel like that benefited me in a way, make the transition not as difficult.

Eric Seaborg (05:29):
So, beyond all the wonderful experience you've had, Victoria, what would you say are the skills and characteristics a person should have to grow and be successful in this industry?

Victoria Vasso (05:39):
I really like this question for a lot of reasons, and I want to answer it two different ways. So, one, I do think it's maybe a major misconception and in my personal opinion, a bit of a barrier to underwriting or even the insurance industry, generally to think that you have to have some sort of skillset or innate qualities in order to be successful or to get into the industry. For me, the reality is we all start at ground zero and insurance again, in my opinion is meant to be a career and not a job. So, whether you have a degree or not, you all start at the same place, Ivy league, community college, or no college. And we all check policies, submissions, and invoices to start painfully. So to me, this is a journey that evolves over many years. And if you want a quick win, this is definitely not going to be the right industry for you.

There are of course, some skill sets that you definitely should have. You need to be able to work hard. You need to ask questions. I know that everybody says, don't be afraid to ask a question, but really don't be afraid to ask questions in this industry, because reality is we're dealing with legally binding contracts and it could have a major effect on a company if we get something wrong. And I don't think in the 10 years I've spent in this industry that I've come across, I probably have come across a couple people who have been not so helpful, but 99% of the time people are super helpful and kind and willing to sit down and walk you through a particular. And then I think the other thing is you need to be humble because whether it's underwriting or brokering. The knowledge for those jobs is very much learned and perfected over time on the job. I know that's two different answers to that question,

Karen Caterino (07:35):
And that's a great vantage of how you look at it, Victoria, I think all too often, we say you have to be a math wizard or a problem solver or something where it there's a lot of soft skill that you just discuss that also comes into play and is just as critical. So, thanks for sharing that. How do you find success for someone in your position? What inspires you? What keeps you motivated and what excites you about what you do each day?

Victoria Vasso (08:02):
So, it probably sounds a bit cheesy because it is, but honestly, I really do love getting that unsolicited email or text or call from a broker to just say, thank you. That does make you feel good, no matter who you are, whether you're underwriting or brokering, you have to deliver bad news to a client. And especially over the past two years, it's just feels like nonstop, bad news. And so that can wear you out. But when you are able to provide a good deal, that everyone is relatively happy with, and that makes somebody's day a bit easier. That's when I feel the most satisfied. And then obviously also when you are at the end of the month and you have that celebratory cocktail to, to say, thank God that's over.

Eric Seaborg (08:51):
Oh, certainly no arguments there. It is healthy to kick back and re-energize. So, you're refreshed and ready for the next challenge. So, I'm curious about how you stay on top of the trends in this business, give the listeners some insight as to where you focus your attention.

Victoria Vasso (09:11):
Honestly, I tend to focus on what's happening legally, and there's two websites that I use the most probably to see what's happening in terms of legal cases and how that could potentially affect insurance and for more specifically, excess liability and construction. Excess liability, which is what I focus on. So, one is Judicial Hellholes, which hopefully that's not a naughty word on this, but that is a great website. And it outlines certain jurisdictions and courts and etcetera, that have both regulatory and legally expanded what the definition of liability is and how that ultimately can affect the industry. And also we'll talk about little wins here and there where the definition liability has not been expanded in a detrimental way. And then another one I go to is SDV Law, which I also think again, has great insights about insurance legal cases. They categorize the insights dependent on the line of business you're interested. And so those are two places that I look to see what trends are happening and how they can impact the industry. And then in general, if you're stumped for something, I actually think IRMI’s website has loads of free content, which is great, especially when you're new to the industry, their insurance glossary is really helpful because we in insurance love an acronym and sometimes they get really ridiculous and confusing. So I think that's really great if, if you're new to the industry.

Karen Caterino (10:46):
Yeah. Eric and I are bookmarking them now, IRMI is great. And thanks for mentioning that too. I think even all of us have been in this business a long time. I still go back to that website to look up the acronyms and definition. So, that is a great one. Thank you for that. Victoria, do you have a mentor? Are you a mentor? We all talk about this a little bit more now in the business, this deep learning curve, as it relates to insurance sometimes can be a barrier to people participating and, or staying engaged. So what have you found there? Maybe share a little bit about that.

Victoria Vasso (11:21):
I mentioned earlier that a kind of grown up in insurance. I have family in the industry who definitely have had an impact on some decisions like that I make or getting into the industry generally. So, it started there for me in terms of mentorship and career advice. And it went even further back than that. I had a grandfather who had an agency in California and my granny was an underwriter places like Liberty Mutual and Chubb. And so, yeah, I was bred for it. And I don't think necessarily just on that, I don't think you should lead with it because you do want to make a name for yourself and be respected and rewarded for the hard work you put in. But I think mentors are great. And if that mentor ends up being the family or friend in the industry, there's absolutely no shame in that.

And I also think it's okay to have more than one mentor. I think a lot of people think you have this one mentor and that's your mentor life, but sometimes you'll have a mentor that's maybe your age, who you commensurate about things that being a young professional in the industry, the frustrations or the challenges that you face and have you come across that and what did you do? And then other times it's going to be somebody with much more experience that you can maybe lean on to guide you with. And maybe you're thinking of making a career change, or you've been asked to take on some more responsibility and what are their thoughts? So, I think having a mentor is great. You'll develop those relationships I think naturally over time.

Eric Seaborg (12:45):
Victoria had done a great job articulating your career ladder, but you haven't mentioned anything about industry credentials. What's your take on additional credentials in the industry?

Victoria Vasso (12:56):
So I personally don't have any of those designations. The only one that I do have is Cris, which is construction specific. And I got that because I was so focused on that throughout my career. So, I do think if you have something that specifically interested in, it makes a lot of sense to take one of these kind of specialty certifications and go for it. And I think you will find that there's a lot of support within most industries, if not all, to go ahead and go down that path. I think they can be helpful, but have I found it's personally a work requirement to be good at the job, no. There's absolutely nothing wrong with them and I think they are great to have and can only benefit you.

Eric Seaborg (13:42):
You know, I'm having so much fun listening to you, Victoria, talk about your career because it really matches my perspective on how to discover the right path. I've always felt you should get in with a good company and learn as much as you can. And don't just focus on your job, but learn about different occupations because you never know what you might like.

Victoria Vasso (14:01):
Yeah, I would say that. I think that's a good point. The great part of insurance is there are so many different types of careers you could have. You could start in casualty and end up in terrorism. Or when I first moved over be to Willis actually, while I was in London. I did a six month stent in US property. And that was more than enough for me to realize I didn't enjoy it, but it was still a really good experience. And even in those six months, it gave me so much more insight as to the complexity of building a, a property program in the casualty world. We like to say that property is just rate times value and make it super simple, but it's really not simple at all. No lines of business and insurance are. So I think that's, what's nice is you can commander along a very interesting road if you want to, for the 10, 20, 30, 40 years that you are in the industry.

Karen Caterino (14:53):
Victoria, that's a great point. And I hope what makes it exciting for next generation when they're considering careers. Because as we know, they tend to like to shift careers every three to four years. I think our business is probably one of the best to keep them in insurance. It's not so much a career corporate ladder, as much as I've said this before a lattice approach. And then be able to move from brokering to underwriting. If underwriting isn't passion, you can go into claims, you can go into investigation. There's just so many different facets to what we do. It seems like there would be a niche for somebody somewhere that will keep them in the industry.

Victoria Vasso (15:29):
Yeah. And I do think it's a very older train of thought to think you go to one place and that's it. And if you do, that's absolutely great. But if you go somewhere and the team that you're on, you're like, you know what, this has been a good experience for these 2, 3, 4 years that I've been here. But I really, I think I like that. And if you voice that, generally speaking, I've found there is the opportunity to move. And if not, you can always have that cup of coffee with somebody who might have that opportunity and is willing to give it to you. And I'd say, when you are looking whether being new to the industry or moving, when you're looking at the new shop, look at what their culture is. I think that was one of the main things when I moved over to Ascot was yes, it's an new team, but Ascot as a company's been around for actually 20 years.

So there was a really nice established culture and then what's leadership. And what does that look like? And the leadership at Ascot, again, it really attracted me. One of the things that I really loved was that our chief underwriting officer is a young woman who has had 20 years of at excess casualty experience. So, that was nice to know that she understands what our team specifically goes through on a day today. And the challenges that we've faced over the past few years, just keeping all those things in mind. And it's not that traditional corporate ladder anymore. It's the lattice like you said, I like that description of it actually.

Karen Caterino (16:50):
Well, Victoria, thanks. You've just given us some great insights from your vantage that I think are just really cool. So I appreciate your time on the podcast today. And with that, Eric, I'll turn it over to you, wrap it up.

Eric Seaborg (17:03):
It was a pleasure having Victoria on the podcast today. And if you missed episodes one and two of this series, we hope you can make a point to carve out a little bit of time to go back and listen. We greatly appreciate that. We look forward to you joining us on our next episode. So on behalf of Karen and myself, please be kind to each other, be safe and take care.


Alliant note and disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance. Please note that prior to implementation your legal counsel should review all details or policy information. Alliant Insurance Services does not provide legal advice or legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please seek the services of your own legal advisor or ask Alliant Insurance Services for a referral. This document is provided on an “as is” basis without any warranty of any kind. Alliant Insurance Services disclaims any liability for any loss or damage from reliance on this document.