Q and A with underwriter David Chase

11 Jan 2022

David tells us about his career to date, why underwriting is an exciting career choice and his guilty pleasure

How do you describe what you do to family and friends?

I explain that I am in the business of risk: risk transfer and risk management.

What is your role at Harbour Underwriting?

I’m an underwriter at Harbour Underwriting. We review submissions for dispute insurance for commercial disputes, offering insurance cover that mitigates clients’ exposure to the costs of commercial litigation and arbitration. We liaise with insurance brokers and solicitors to prepare bespoke policies that fit the unique requirements of the cases falling within our appetite. We conduct case management until the conclusion of the disputes we have underwritten.

Can you briefly outline your career before you joined Harbour Underwriting?

Having completed the Legal Practice Course at BPP Law School, I started as an After the Event (ATE) underwriter at Firstassist (later Burford Capital) in 2006 and progressed from there. Before joining Harbour Underwriting, I was the deputy underwriting manager at Temple Legal Protection in their commercial ATE department, having joined Temple in 2013. I have 15 years of substantial experience in dispute insurance, having underwritten a broad spectrum of individual cases (both commercial and non-commercial) and managed delegated authority schemes during this time.

What prompted you to go into the insurance industry and become an underwriter?

Quite by chance, a recruitment agent encouraged me to enter the realm of legal expenses insurance. By good fortune, I started my career as a dispute insurance underwriter at Firstassist and never looked back. I felt that my transferable skills developed at law school would be helpful in this specialist type of insurance. I had loved studying litigation, so underwriting dispute insurance seemed a natural fit.

What do you most enjoy about being an underwriter?

I most enjoy reviewing the case submissions presented to us by brokers and solicitors, writing recommendations and incepting policies. No case is the same, which provides variety. It is exciting to be working with extraordinary people involved in whatever capacity on some of the most valuable, high profile, hard-fought and complex disputes in the UK and abroad.

Tell us about some of the most memorable events in your current career?

Having followed the Harbour Solutions Group’s progress for some time before being hired in my current role, joining Harbour Underwriting earlier this year was a memorable event. Other memorable events have inevitably been celebrating successful outcomes on cases I have been involved in underwriting. The majority of those wins have enjoyed confidential settlements. Experiencing the “win” on a case can be fleeting, and it is worth taking a moment to reflect. The notable successful outcomes I remember are those of my underwriting portfolio of cases that have been most valuable, been reported in the national press, and when a client has subsequently succeeded in the higher appellate courts.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role?

I’ve found that the analysis of cases requires a thorough and meticulous approach, and you need to be comfortable reading and writing a lot during a typical working day. Luckily for me, I enjoy this. When presented with the toughest problems, I try and look at the situation from different angles to keep an open mind. There will be outcomes out of your control and not foreseen at the outset of a case submission. Adopting a pragmatic attitude and having a calm nature help in these circumstances.

What are your ambitions in your current role?

To help the business achieve its growth targets and realise its ‘vision’, which is: “To be the MGA of choice, providing all of our customers with market-leading dispute insurance solutions.”

Who has been the most influential person in your career, and how have they helped you?

I’ve been blessed to work with many inspiring people during my career, past and present. That is inevitable given that we work at the nexus of the legal, insurance and litigation funding worlds. I particularly remember some advice: “Know the law, apply it to the facts, and show that you have applied it”, and to “prioritise”. Also, “be careful with your time”. Early in my career, it helped significantly to formulate a structured plan for my personal development with my then line manager, giving me focus and even more motivation to progress. I’ve found that frequent chats with a company’s directors, my line manager and team to discuss cases, workload, and priorities for the next day or week have been invaluable throughout my career.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do? What qualities do they need?

An underwriter is detail-orientated and exercises communication, problem-solving, negotiation and decision-making skills. Making sound decisions is vital to maintaining your company’s overall profitability. You typically train on the job, supervised by senior underwriters. Research an underwriter’s role and evaluate your personality, skills, and interests honestly to discover whether underwriting is a natural fit. You’ll be amazed what you find out about yourself. Ask an underwriter to have a chat with you, seek work experience, read about legal disputes in the national press and visit a law court to see how a trial plays out in real life. I’d say it is a must to have studied law at university or law school, though you could feasibly work and study law part-time instead.

What is the biggest misconception about the sector you work in?

The biggest misconception made about the insurance sector is the perception that it is dull. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is perhaps more challenging to convince an audience when the products are intangible, but discussing the concept of risk could be a valuable way to start. Most children in the UK know little or nothing about insurance (let alone legal expenses insurance and the underwriting of it), and I believe insurance is not promoted enough as an exciting and rewarding career choice. It will become increasingly vital to encourage the next generation to join an insurance business function that suits them as time goes on.

What do you most enjoy doing outside of work?

Catching up with family and friends, pursuing precision sports and going to a pantomime at Christmas time. Also harvesting the fruit and vegetables grown in our garden.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I’ve recently taken up reading the Financial Times at weekends after many years break. In my dreams, I would snowboard (and ski) in jaw-dropping scenery every winter.

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