When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. The power of words intrigued me, but I was also strong in math, which ultimately drove my decision to major in Engineering at Howard University. How I went from an engineering education to an insurance career is an interesting plot twist.
Midway through my engineering studies, I left school to start a family. I found a job as an administrative assistant at Sedgwick Re where I leveraged my analytical skills and drive to get a permanent position and later, a promotion to production assistant. I discovered early on that the insurance industry needs good people who want to learn the business. I still believe an insurance career is one of the best-kept secrets in terms of opportunity and challenge.
I eventually went back to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in Risk Management. I subsequently earned a master’s degree in Insurance Management from Boston University and obtained my CPCU [Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter] designation and an Associate in Reinsurance designation.
After working at Sedgwick Re for four years, the broker I worked for decided to leave and asked me to go with him. I joined him as a production assistant at Bates Turner Intermediaries, a subsidiary of Employers Re, but eventually I realized I wanted a role where I could gain underwriting experience. I moved to The Hartford as a Senior Account Coordinator and completed an Underwriter Training program. I held several progressive positions over eight years until I left as a Senior Underwriter in their Property and Marine department.
A former co-worker from The Hartford recruited me to Chubb. She was my biggest cheerleader. She was in my corner and advocated for me even when I wasn’t in the room. She had confidence in me and knew I could take on new challenges, and she made sure others knew it too. I stayed at Chubb for 12 years, growing in my role to Regional Vice President of Retail Property and Marine.
A Climate of Change Means My Work is Urgent
One of the most cherished facets of my role is the relevancy and urgency of the work, especially when I consider the increasing frequency and severity of catastrophe events, such as floods, tornados, hailstorms, wildfires or hurricanes. As underwriters, we grapple with the complexity and magnitude of these events, in terms of analysis, coverage and pricing. To stay profitable and ensure our clients get the coverage they need, we have to think outside of the box and find solutions and alternatives that require in-depth analysis. For example, 2023 was the hottest year on record, which fueled wildfires. We must use the available data to evaluate these types of weather developments and the implications for how we underwrite property in the future.
Valued for Being Me
I stay at Arch because of the culture, the people and their expertise in their craft. I also value Arch because there is technical underwriting expertise in the highest levels of leadership. This has a real impact on how we are resourced and our goals and targets, because it comes from a place of truly appreciating the nuances of this work.
“It is rare to find a company that puts as much care into its people as it does the business and financial aspects.”
The Insurance Industry Needs You!
Anyone who enjoys the analytical process should consider a career in underwriting. When I’m personally doing the hiring, I look for candidates who are curious, driven to excel, resilient and who thrive in high-production environments.
As a woman of color who has found a great career in this industry, I strongly encourage young people of color to see what this industry has to offer. There is so much opportunity to excel in the insurance industry. Find a mentor who has organizational and industry influence, who believes in you, works to understand your unique experiences and is willing to coach you through challenges.
It’s important to understand who you are and ensure the foundation you stand upon is firm and strong, so that you will always be clear about the value you bring to the table.
Tonya B. Courtney (Washington)
Regional Vice President, E&S Property
Arch Insurance | Alpharetta, GA.