This article originally appeared in Insurance Business America issue 9.11.
A born and bred New Yorker, Matthew Shulman’s first exposure to the world of insurance was through his uncle, a Manhattan-based insurance broker. He held two intern-ships at his uncle’s brokerage while studying art history at Cornell University. After graduating, Shulman was drawn to the world of D&O liability underwriting, taking a job at Reliance National in 1995.
“I was always drawn to the idea that underwriting is a balance of being analytical and building relationships,” he says. After Shulman found his footing as an underwriter, a mentor recommended that he go to law school; he attended the Fordham University School of Law in tandem with building his insurance career. “It was a defining moment because even though I didn’t practice law, the education and thought process of analyzing perspectives from all angles was valuable in many ways,” he says. In 2009, Shulman joined Arch Insurance as a senior vice president, working as the head of the large commercial group within the Executive Assurance (D&O) division. In 2016, he relocated to London, where he worked as CEO of international operations at Arch until 2019. A global hub of insurance, London introduced Shulman to a dynamic environment that focuses on the personal trading relationships between brokers and underwriters, which he was cognizant of when he returned to New York in 2019 as CEO of Arch’s North American division.
“In the past, insurance was viewed as a vertical career, where you start in one role and look to move up within that specialty,” he says. “The advice I would give is to keep an open mind and move around an organization — try different things early on, even if it’s lateral moves to broaden your knowledge base.”
“We need to empower our employees to be bold, not be afraid of changing market conditions and be willing to use their expertise. We’ve grown meaningfully in this hard market, and I think that focus on being a bold solution provider has been the key.”
Arch writes insurance, reinsurance and mortgage insurance globally, using innovative digital solutions to build out its small commercial and middle-market capabilities. The company has taken the initiative to grow in specialty middle-market areas such as energy, private equity and construction.
“Years ago, I had the perspective that it was difficult for insurance companies to differentiate from each other — that everyone has similar products and if someone came up with something innovative, other insurance companies could match or copy it easily,” Shulman explains. “Now I think the exact opposite. The differentiating factor for us is our people, culture and the experience we provide.” During his tenure at Arch, Shulman says the company has placed an emphasis on understanding employee behaviors and customer experience. This was not fostered overnight or by accident. Arch’s leadership took a deliberate approach when working on the culture of the company, setting themselves apart from competitors with enhanced communication strategies.
The development of Arch’s culture and business lines continued to progress moving into 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Shulman says the company stayed agile in facing the challenges of the new environment. There was a heightened focus on employees’ well-being, and senior leadership came together to tackle any issues that emerged. “It’s odd to say, but there were many positive takeaways from the pandemic because we all learned we can be flexible, adaptable and work in unprecedented conditions,” he says. “As a company, everyone got closer, as our biggest strategy was to overcommunicate.”
“The focus we’ve put on culture has fostered a sense of accountability and urgency to making Arch a successful company.”Matthew Shulman | Chief Executive Officer, Arch Insurance North America
Pursuing Better Together
Arch’s new brand promise, ‘pursuing better together,’ is a culmination of employee engagement and understanding clients’ needs. Shulman says it originated during the soft market cycle and was meant to challenge the company on how to differentiate itself in the marketplace. At first, Arch focused inwardly on its culture and aligning the organization around certain behaviors. That led to initiatives such as ‘voice of the customer’ and ‘being bold,’ which are now embedded in the language at Arch.
“Being bold goes hand-in-hand with the marketplace changing,” Shulman says. “We’ve gone into a hard market, which causes some insurance companies to pull back and focus less on the customer and more on results and how to adjust their book of business.” Instead, Arch wanted to take a different approach during a difficult market and focus on being a holistic solution provider. “We needed to empower our employees to be bold, not be afraid of changing market conditions and be willing to use their expertise,” Shulman says. “We’ve grown meaning-fully in this hard market, and I think that focus on being a bold solution provider has been the key.
“Our brand promise has experienced an interesting progression. We strive to provide an exceptional customer experience, which is where ‘voice of the customer’ grew from. Then we asked: How do we know what success looks like? That’s where ‘being the first call’ was born, and it has become the mantra we use to know we’re building broker-client trust.” ‘Better together’ now has an external focus, to build out the initiatives that Arch has thoughtfully formed. Originally it began as a new slogan concept, but it became so much more than that, Shulman says. Now it reflects the progression and growth Arch has seen over the last few years.
“We talk about a couple keys to our success going forward,” he says. “One broad area is engagement. The focus we’ve put on culture has fostered a sense of accountability and urgency to making Arch a successful company. Externalizing our brand promise also reassures our clients and employees of Arch’s goals moving forward. We’re going to continue focusing on being an employer of choice and on attracting, developing, and retaining the best talent.” Arch heavily prioritizes the recruitment process, sponsoring several scholarships for candidates with diverse backgrounds who are pursuing a career in insurance. “Many of our interns become underwriters and then become managers,” Shulman says. “We’ve seen that progression for years, and bringing in diverse talent at the internship stage will help them continue to develop and grow into our senior team.” The insurance industry has jumped into diversity and inclusion with two feet, and Shulman notes that diversity brings an “exciting” future to Arch, as it will strengthen the organization and industry over time.