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Thought leadership, insights, and success stories

How Managing a Life Underwriting Team is like Playing a Game of Chess


Managing resources  on your underwriting team is a tricky balance.  In fact, I’ve often heard to it referred to as a game of chess.  Like chess, it requires you to always be looking ahead and making the right move at the right time. But even the most skilled chess players encounter challenges.  When they are challenged, what do they do? 

Instead of hastily making a move, they step back and take a hard look at what’s in front of them.  They carefully consider the possible outcome of the chess piece they are about to move.  They anticipate what move their opponent may make and the impact their move may have.  Then they carefully and methodically move their chess piece.

Similarly, when managing resources on your underwriting team, you have to make the right moves to ensure you have the right people aligned to the right clients at the right time.  This requires deep thought, considering all of the possibilities, and anticipating what move may be around the corner. Not to mention unexpected challenges can pop up at anytime and caseload volumes can change on a dime.

So how can you strategically manage underwriting resources to win the game of chess?

Knowing the number of resources you need is one thing, but that’s just a baseline. You have to be able to calmly and quickly react when unexpected things happens (i.e unexpected absences, peak in caseloads) and prevent things from slipping sideways. Which means having a strategy for when your original game plan goes awry. You do this by creating a solid and well thought-out contingency plan.

How to create an underwriting resource contingency plan

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1. Know your Client and plan ahead

Make sure you have a full understanding of your clients’ needs and what your team’s availability and skill sets are to meet those needs.  A little knowledge goes a long way to ensure you can stay ahead of the curve.  Client delivery is “king” (pun intended!) at RGAX.  We strive not only to meet our client expectations but exceed them.   Once you know all the information, chart it out, stay on top of it and update it regularly.

2. Measure SLAs and Metrics

Be on top and stay on top of your service levels and metrics to ensure your team is delivering each and every day.  Not only is this paramount to meeting your client expectations, but allows you to address service and staffing issues proactively and promptly.

3. Communicate

Check in with your team….often!  Be sure you know who is working on what and if there are obstacles that may get in their way of delivering to your clients.   Communicate with your team individually and as a group.  Often when someone is in a bind, another team member will pitch in and help out.  Encourage a culture of collaboration and team work!

4. Cross train, cross train, cross train

This is a critical piece in making sure you don’t have a single-point of failure.  Have multiple staff fully cross trained on client products, systems and philosophies. This will allow you to have additional resources jump in and help out when you need them to.  It is also key to making sure you are able to meet your client deliverables when unexpected barriers occur in your internal team.

5. External pool of resources

If you are still seeking resources after cross-training internally, you might want to add an external pool of resources to your contingency plan. Our underwriting services provides a pool of resources that are trained on your business and can be tapped into at anytime. 

Take some time to consider what a contingency plan would consist of for your business. While everyone’s plan will look a little different, the most important thing is that you build one so you can deal with unexpected challenges. It could be the move that helps avoid you hearing “check mate”.

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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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