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Thought leadership, insights, and success stories

4 Challenges of a Life Underwriting Leader


Whether you are a Chief Underwriter, Underwriting Manager or Director, you’ve likely enjoyed a career filled with learning, growth, and stability but, like most roles, some recurring challenges and rote tasks are also part of the picture. Many of which I have experienced myself, having been in an underwriting leadership role for over 15 years. Reflecting on my experience in the industry, I’ve compiled four of the top challenges we, as life underwriting leaders, encounter and outlined some simple ways you and your team can spend less time completing cumbersome, but necessary day-to-day tasks and more time focusing on new business.

4 Challenges Life Underwriting Leaders Encounter

Time-consuming Tasks

Being thorough is part of the job – but the amount of time some tasks take doesn’t always match up to the value they generate. Some of the most common drawn-out duties include:

  • Attending Physician Statements (APS) Summaries – While imperative, these laborious administrative tasks disrupt workflows and are quite taxing on senior staff’s time.
  • Trial Applications/Preliminary Inquiries – Underwriters can spend hours combing through the (often extensive) information provided on a preliminary case… that may or may not come through as an application… and may or may not turn into a formal application.
  • MIB Follow Ups – reviewing any follow-up hits and the previous application takes time. Liaising with other insurance companies can also lead to extensive back-and-forth and lengthy email threads.
  • Contestable Claims – lengthy reports on their own are time consuming. Add to that time for reviewing the original application and evidence, it can make contestable claims long and difficult.


Deciphering different processes can disrupt workflow and eat up a lot of resource time. Being proactive rather than reactive or stagnant with internal processes is essential to enhance efficiencies, drive consistencies and avoid errors.

PRO TIP: Constantly raise the questions Why do we do things this way? Is there a better way to do it?

Other strategic questions you can ask to build consistencies in common problem areas and leverage best practices for cohesion are:

  • Workflow – How many touch points do applications have? Does the work move smoothly or is there a lot of back and forth between departments or roles? Is the right technology in place to aid in workflow? Is there automation built in to help with standardized communication?
  • Co-signing Processes – Do underwriters frequently get files over their approval authority? How much of their time is spent sending files for cosigns?  Do you have a consistent cosigner to ensure training and coaching opportunities aren’t missed?
  • Underwriting Decisions – What are the agreement rates on your team? Are all underwriters performing to industry standards? Do you have underwriters that merit a higher signing authority?

Balancing Time and Expertise

While it would be ideal for all organizations to spend time only putting new business on the books, there are other tasks that involve time and specialized expertise, but don’t necessarily result in new premiums being generated. However, they are necessary to business. Therefore, as a leader, it can be challenging to balance your team’s time and expertise spent on underwriting new business versus these necessary tasks.

Policy changes – including reinstatements, conversions, face amount increases, and rate reductions – can be long, laborious processes that overshadow working on new business. They require an experienced underwriter to understand what changes can be made, what’s necessary, and whether any additional requirements need to be requested.

Rescissions are another challenge that can have serious legal implications if they are not properly handled. Understanding the whole picture and filling in the gaps of omitted information is an arduous process that demands a high level of expertise to properly consider and execute.

Workflow Management and Unpredictability

Fluctuating workload volumes might happen for different reasons - unexpected leaves of absence, sales campaigns, new product launches, and peak periods – but they can result in significant increases in the  existing flow of business. Constantly juggling the caseload across teams can result in overtime and  compromised service levels. Creating a solid and well thought-out contingency plan can help address these fluctuations quickly.

Claims reviews, which are sometimes the responsibility of underwriting leaders, can also be difficult to consistently manage and oversee in the midst of regular duties. Having someone with a holistic perspective of the department is crucial – but it demands dedicated time, expertise and focus to be effective.

Turning Underwriting Challenges into Opportunities

If you can relate to the challenges above, prioritize the ones you see impacting your team the most and try the following strategies to resolve them:

  • Conduct a review of best practices to identify any gaps in processes and begin developing workflow consistencies. A tailored solution can create a more productive and unified workplace, reduce strain on existing resources, and ensure consistency across the organization.
  • Try using a dedicated resource to work on administrative duties or time-consuming tasks. This can increase efficiency and limit workflow disruption. Maximize your team’s expertise as you free up more senior underwriters to work on more strategic, revenue driving initiatives.
  • Aim for consistent decision making to unify your organization and offer quality service. This can be achieved by completing an audit of decisions and enlisting a dedicated co-signer that can identify patterns in underwriting decisions over time and assist with training.
  • Leverage an external resource that you can work with on an ongoing or as-needed basis to provide flexibility and offer an unbiased opinion. External support is also cost-effective and can free up the rest of your team to focus on underwriting new business.

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Written by: Darlene McFadden

Darlene McFadden is Vice President, Underwriting Operations at RGAX. She is responsible for overseeing the underwriting and operations of RGAX Underwriting Services to ensure the delivery of comprehensive life insurance underwriting solutions. She also helps carriers optimize risk management outcomes to better compete now and into the future. Darlene draws on her impressively well-rounded experience in life, critical illness, and disability insurance. Prior to RGAX, she held progressive positions with various insurers, including leadership roles at Hunter McCorquodale, PPI Advisory, and Manulife.

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