Steve Strauss brings nearly three decades of (re)insurance experience as Accelerant’s Chief Underwriting Officer for the U.S. region.
Over the course of his career, Steve was Vice President of CNA Reinsurance, Vice President of Business Development at Berkley Program Specialists, Senior Vice President and Deputy Team Leader of U.S. Casualty at SCOR, and Chief Underwriting Officer for SCOR Ireland.
Attracted to its approach to risk, close relationships with Members, and startup-like speed, Steve joined Accelerant in 2022. Steve said what drew him in was the thoroughness and efficiency of the work Accelerant’s professionals performed, and since taking the reins, he’s only further unearthed the extent to which this culture permeates the team.
We asked Steve to share what differentiates Accelerant from other underwriters, how his team achieves and perceives success, and what he expects in the years to come. Below are his insights:
How does Accelerant’s U.S. underwriting team define success?
We always strive for shared success. Usually, this means coming together with solutions quickly in collaboration between Member Directors and Members and delivering a truthful, honest result.
When presented with information, I generally follow three rules to ensure the greatest chance of success:
- Always hear the pitch.
- Challenge our underwriting bias.
- Protect profitability.
How would you say underwriting at Accelerant differs from the rest of the industry?
The rest of the industry, I’d say, has a more “parental” view of MGA’s, asserting their influence and presuming they have the final say on what is best, even when uncertainties exist. Accelerant accounts for the possibilities. We encourage an open mind approach with our staff and listening to Members to understand and quantify risks. By remaining receptive to feedback and ideas, we develop more customized solutions, and that’s something Members seem to respond positively to.
What tools and techniques does the underwriting team use to achieve this efficiency?
Our teams are our greatest resource. We’re fast—faster than anyone else in the industry. Part of that is our deep expertise and years of experience. Recently we had a Member look into a product expansion to align with a growing trend in the U.S. We listened to their pitch for the expansion and followed through on the submission within 40 days of receipt. The senior underwriter had 25+ years of experience, and we had a team of actuaries reviewing property rates, casualty exposures, etc. Elsewhere, this may have taken an arduous 10 months only to result in a perfunctory decline.
The number of opportunities and leads we come across in a year and a half is what normal program companies see over the course of 5-6 years. Yet we can keep up with the speed—and do so thoughtfully with diligence—because each of our senior underwriters has 20+ years of experience.
Moreover, our teams are very engaged. We’re regularly ingesting data and using it to guide decisions. Given that risk is constantly changing, it’s important to understand risk characteristics, frequency, and trends.
Could you share a moment of achievement from this past year that was particularly memorable for you and your team?
We recently had a product that needed to do a form change that would have certainly taken 8 months anywhere else. Our team finished it in a month and a half.
Our speed and success comes from a sense of shared purpose and a commitment to timeline goals. We can quickly assess large programs, and on calls, we know where the pressure points are.
Most of all, we celebrate onboarding progress. We have a strong internal culture of tactfully tracking movement, and not only do we celebrate internally but also with Members. Before a Member gets in the door, they share in the Member experience—the feeling of being a star—and this lasts the full lifetime of working with the team.
What industry trends will have a significant impact on your team and Accelerant in 2024?
Social inflation, or the increasing costs of insurance claims, is becoming more prolific among casualty products and will negatively impact profitability. It’s outpacing expectations based on general economic inflation because civil trials are awarding plaintiffs higher and higher payouts. Consumers are losing trust in corporations and “the system,” increasing severity.
Hence, it’s more important than ever to evaluate our Members’ risk selections closely to minimize significant catastrophe risk in portfolios. Catastrophe underwriting and the use of risk scoring will have a large impact on the team in 2024.
What will underwriting look like 10 years from now? What are some long-term challenges and opportunities?
We are entering the golden age of underwriting. Proper usage of data analytics has the potential to greatly enhance profitability and efficiency—all because the right insights are tangibly useful to growth.
In the book Moneyball, baseball scouts and sabermetricians transformed the way front offices composed baseball teams. Underwriting is no different. We cannot lose sight of ascertaining execution risks of an underwriting plan—that’s where real-time monitoring and our Members’ input in monthly meetings comes into play. This is why we are keeping pace with the changes, transforming our own teams and structures.
Risk is ever-evolving, so we can’t get trapped in a Black Box mentality, where relying on outdated assumptions leads to poor decision-making. Analytics are necessary—now. The insurance industry lacks strong training programs; meanwhile, the next five years will see an exodus of seasoned professionals. Analytics are the key to offsetting these long-term challenges: We learn from modern insights, and we use them to improve.
What is the most surprising thing about underwriting that people don’t know?
Underwriting changes our lives for the better. In claims, you see all forms of heartbreak and tragedy. Behind the claim are folks who lost their family business to a fire—generations of blood, sweat, and tears wiped away in a day. There are family members injured on premises, needing medical attention and rehab. There are victims of floods, of accidents, of loss.
Underwriters strive to reduce these accidents—these losses—in hopes of making the world a better, safer place.