Interview with Christian Dunleavy

Aspen News

Could you please tell us a little about yourself, including your background and new role at Aspen?

I joined Aspen (a very fast) six years ago, initially to lead the Property Catastrophe Reinsurance team globally and, subsequently, led the Bermuda platform as well as Aspen Reinsurance as their CUO for two and half years. In January 2022, I moved into the newly created role of Group Chief Underwriting Officer, where my focus has been Aspen Group’s underwriting strategy and enhancing the execution between and across our segments. Prior to Aspen, I spent 13 years at AXIS Capital as a Property Underwriter, after beginning my career in reinsurance as a Catastrophe Modeler. I attended the University of Western Ontario and have a degree in Political Science.

What are some of your goals/priorities for you and your team in 2022?

We’ve made huge strides in turning around our underwriting performance, improving our expense ratio and repositioning Aspen over the past three years – as seen by our 2021 results – however the job of continual improvement is never over. Initially, I am focused on three goals:

  • Firstly, improving our underwriting data and decision support systems.
  • Secondly, through an enhanced return on capital analysis, I have initiated a conversation with the segments to look at where we are allocating capital, ensuring that we are prioritizing products with the best possible return profile and long-term profitability.
  • Thirdly, we are investing in improving our exposure management and modeling capabilities to support better risk selection and portfolio management at the time of the risk taking decision.

These three primary priorities should strengthen our shareholder value, balance sheet and produce top quartile returns.

One other key goal is my intention to meet as many of our teams in person as I can by visiting our offices. One of our Company’s Values is “In it together” and that means being present and spending time together in person. That is where relationships are solidified, and we can innovate and collaborate to drive our business into the future, while enjoying the company of our colleagues.

What are some of the skills needed to have a successful career in underwriting for a global company?

Underwriting requires a broad array of skills, but to be a successful underwriter you must make considered, data-driven decisions that are coupled with experience and strong customer relationships. Increasingly, underwriters need to be comfortable with data, pricing models, portfolio theory and have a true grounding in the products they write.

Few people get into insurance intentionally, and the range of backgrounds that results brings a varied perspective to the industry and diverse thinking. At its core, underwriting is about measured, appropriately-sized and thoughtful risk taking through a consistent decision framework. While we all develop strong and deep relationships with our producers and brokers, we also need to be careful not to fall in love with a product class or client. Those relationships – while important – have limits. Profitability and protecting, and growing our balance sheet are our overriding objectives.

How has the role of underwriting changed over the last five years?

The last five years have been very driven by external factors, with profitability challenged by under-modeled cats, a pandemic and now the Russian war against Ukraine and rising inflation. Climate change is one area that is consuming a lot of thinking and creating adjustments to everyone’s underwriting approach. However, it speaks specifically to expecting the unexpected and understanding that frequency and severity are more interconnected than we think. The human mind often underestimates the potential for extreme scenarios. Underwriting has become more technical and model driven, however, the last few years have demonstrated that those models have limitations, and we always need to apply good judgment and think about the unknowns.

What role do you and your team play in helping Aspen achieve its vision of becoming a top quartile specialty company?

The Group CUO is a new role within Aspen and connects into every area of the company – to be an advocate, a facilitator and a challenger, all at different times. I am spending my time thinking about the future. We are building a deliberately interconnected company across Insurance, Reinsurance and Capital Markets. This is truly one of the differentiators for Aspen, where the whole is greater than the sum of our parts, and we can deliver a resilient earnings engine across the market cycle. We have built an integrated business, where we should be able to turn different dials as we see opportunities and exploit market dynamics. My role is to help the segments execute on their strategies and be objective about where our best opportunities lie and to steer the portfolio in that direction.

What part of being Aspen’s Group Chief Underwriting Officer do you enjoy the most?

The reach of this role is one of its most enjoyable aspects. The ideas, passion and energy that I see across the company, after a period of rapid reinvention of Aspen, is energizing and encouraging. Aspen is not so large that we can’t move quickly when we need to, but small enough that we have a lot of opportunities ahead of us.

How would you sum up the culture at Aspen? How has it changed over the last few years?

The culture at Aspen is welcoming, accessible and open and that comes from the top. As someone who joined at the end of 2015, I was immediately struck by the commitment and loyalty of the people to this company during a period of ongoing uncertainty and change. The hangover from that period for some was longer than I expected, however, I would like to think the dramatic change in tone and style from our CEO & Chairman, Mark Cloutier, is contagious and energizing. But that doesn’t mean we won’t make hard choices and confront tough decisions when we have to, and there’s been no shortage of that in the past few years. Through all of that change we should enjoy working together and treat each other with respect and bring fun to our work.

Is there anything you would like to share about yourself that many people don’t know about you? (e.g. hobby, charity, sport?)

I’m a girl dad, with three daughters in university now who I am extremely proud of. I want to help build a working world where they can thrive and succeed, both personally and professionally. I love technology, and I’m an avid news and political junkie. As most of my days are spent indoors, I try to spend my weekends outdoors, and enjoy sailing, boating and skiing.