Interview with Sarah Stanford

Aspen News

As part of our series of conversations with Aspen’s leaders, we interview Active Underwriter of Syndicate 4711, Sarah Stanford.

Could you please tell us a little about yourself and your role?

I joined Aspen in 2007 as an Underwriter within the newly formed financial lines team and became Active Underwriter of Syndicate 4711 in 2019. In my role, I am responsible and accountable for overseeing the risks written through our Lloyd’s platform and the performance of this business as a result.

I am a school leaver who started in the industry at the age of 16 as an office junior at an insurance broker. 24 years and a lot of hard work later, I am now managing a Lloyd’s Syndicate with a gross written premium (GWP) of £815mn (US$1.1bn) for 2022.

Outside of work, I enjoy exercise, particularly my Peloton, listening to a broad range of music like electronic dance and indie music, attending gigs and festivals – I am a big fan of The Killers. I also love travelling and exploring new destinations, particularly in Italy.

What do you think are the most important skills for a good Underwriter?

There are several key skills to becoming a good underwriter. In no particularly order, strong analytical skills to evaluate data especially in specialty classes of business when dealing with complex risks and issues. Attention to detail and decision-making abilities. Good communication and interpersonal skills – the insurance industry is a people-focused business, and not all discussions, as an underwriter, will be rosy. Yesterday’s good risk could be tomorrow’s peril, so it is crucial to communicate your insights well.

For responsible underwriting, a sense of integrity, honesty, and accountability are all vital. Our clients are at the forefront of our thinking, however, having a lens of what would be good for our society is also necessary for a sustainable future; as well as having a desire to learn, always asking questions, being flexible and agile. We are in an ever-changing environment and paying attention to what is happening in the political and regulatory settings in different territories is important. For example, when I was responsible for Financial & Professional Lines, I encouraged my team to read the financial news regularly and not rely solely on data provided by clients and brokers; having a holistic view of situations is essential when you are not on the ground in a territory where you are writing business.  

Why is the Lloyd’s platform important to Aspen? How does it fit into the wider group?

Lloyd’s is now Aspen’s primary U.K. platform for the London market and European-exposed Insurance business. One of Aspen’s core goals was the simplification of our Group’s balance sheet and, as a part of this long-term strategy, we have transferred a significant portion of business from our U.K. insurance company to Lloyd’s in 2021 and will continue this in 2022. The Syndicate had a starting GWP plan of £423mn in 2021, revised to £554m at mid-year and that has now increased to £815mn this year. The Lloyd’s platform makes up slightly less than one-third of the Aspen Group’s GWP for 2022.

Therefore, growing our presence in Lloyd’s is a critical part of our overall balance sheet simplification strategy. This also allows us to utilize the unique advantages of the Lloyd’s platform, such as its financial strength rating, capital efficiency, access to licensing networks worldwide, benefits of the marketplace, and a face-to-face community. Furthermore, Lloyd’s focus on innovation aligns well with Aspen’s focus, and Lloyd’s wants Aspen to succeed as much we do.

What part of being Active Underwriter of Aspen Syndicate 4711 do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy the diversity that being Active Underwriter brings in terms of the different books of business and my involvement. In my role, I must have a detailed, cross-class understanding and knowledge of the various business lines that we write, which means that I am always learning!

One of my favorite parts of what I do is interacting and working with various functions within the business, as well as building relationships with clients, brokers, Lloyd’s, and external parties.

I’ve been at Aspen for 14 years, and I feel fortunate to work with a great set of people across the globe. We all want Aspen to succeed, and each member of the team brings their own strengths and learnings to the business.

What are you most excited about for the Syndicate over the next 12 months?

We have spent considerable time over the last few years doing remediation and optimization work and the transition or transfer of business to the Lloyd’s platform in 2021 and 2022. I am looking forward to 2022 as the year of executing our business plan, which we believe is logical, realistic, and achievable. Part of Aspen’s strategic goals is to grow in the right areas, expand our capabilities with strong underwriting, return to profitability, and continue to build upon our market presence and long-standing relationships.

My goal is, ultimately, for Syndicate 4711 to be a top-quartile Lloyd’s Syndicate, which is in line with Mark’s ambitions for Aspen to be a top-quartile specialty risk (re)insurer. While we still have some transformation work to do, we have come a long way and 2022 is an exciting chapter in our journey.

Lloyd’s set a target of 35% female representation in leadership positions by the end of 2023 – what are your views on the progress so far? What can be done to improve female representation in insurance?

It is great that Lloyd’s is a champion of such an important initiative that encourages more women in leadership roles in our industry. Interestingly, when I was 18 years old, I worked for QBE Syndicate 1223, run by Mel Goddard who was the first female Active Underwriter in Lloyd’s in 1996. Today, female Active Underwriters make up less than 10% of all Active Underwriters at Lloyd’s, so targets like this show that Lloyd’s is trying to move the needle in the right direction. Progress will take time and tackling this issue is multidimensional.

D&I is a focus for Aspen Group, and our approach encompasses all of our businesses, not just the Lloyd’s platform. We have created a strong governance structure with Group ExCo sponsorship, and I am a sponsor for one of the D&I workstreams.

Aspen has identified key priorities that include gender diversity across the overall Group and, particularly, at senior levels. We have launched a breakthrough program that offers mid-level female leaders sponsorship and mentoring to support them in reaching the next step of the career ladder. We also have refreshed our performance management approach to include self-assessment for a more well-rounded consideration of performance and progression.

Additionally, we have set up employee resource groups to hear directly from our colleagues what is needed to provide better opportunities – all our initiatives are underpinned by data.

In terms of the industry, we need to review our recruitment practices and start going to schools and universities to encourage young women to think about careers in insurance and encourage female leaders who work in this sector speak with students as role models. Finally, it is imperative that we not lose talented women when they are at a point in their careers that coincides with them starting families. I think ensuring that both women and men are equally supported can help address this in terms of balancing work and home commitments.