Evaluating Maritime Risks: How Marine Insurance Underwriters Protect Corporations

Despite working for more than 10 years in maritime, to Joana Leong, a Manager at Sompo Insurance Singapore Pte Ltd, there is still so much to explore within the industry.
In the second instalment of our Marine Insurance series, the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) dives into the role that Marine Insurance Underwriters play in this ecosystem.
How did you first enter the insurance industry?
At the age of 21, I began as an admin staff at Sompo Insurance Singapore Pte. Ltd. I was not an underwriter then and as an outsider of marine insurance, the industry seemed untouchable. Perhaps this is because the bond between professionals in maritime is extremely strong and people rarely leave the industry. Although I wanted to step foot into maritime, the process felt daunting.
When there was an opening in marine insurance opening at QBE Insurance, I decided to seize this opportunity and made the switch. That was my first encounter with maritime and it was very interesting. In that role, I focused on underwriting hull insurance.

Joana with her colleagues (Photo taken pre Covid-19)

What are your responsibilities as an underwriter? How does one become an underwriter?
Underwriters assess a risk and decide whether to accept the risk given the premium, terms and conditions of cover. At the same time, underwriters are the frontliners that source for business, provide quotations and service the client. The specific allocation of work may vary across corporations where some have a dedicated marketing team to reach out to clients. For insurance claims, this will be handled by the claims department.
On the qualification process, I did not pursue other qualifications apart from the mandatory ones that cover both marine and non-marine insurance. My underwriting skillsets are largely acquired through both self-learning and on-the-job training from my seniors. The Singapore College of Insurance (SCI) offers a Diploma in General Insurance and Risk Management and other more specific courses which is a great start to acquire knowledge.
Pivoting into marine insurance, what was the experience like?
Initially, I found it challenging because ships are not something you see daily. However, I learnt a lot and found the role to be fulfilling. I began with writing hull insurance and eventually expanded into writing cargo insurance too.
There is just something about maritime that draws you in, and people stay in it for a long time. Maritime is extremely collegial, and I have forged strong bonds with my clients and colleagues. Not only do they become my friends, but I have also learnt a lot from them.
For those considering a mid-career switch, marine insurance does not only consider your paper qualifications, but also your passion. If you are passionate about something and have the right mindset, you will do well.
Joana’s work desk
Could you elaborate more on what having the right mindset entails?
One must have the desire to keep learning. Maritime does not only cover Singapore or the Asia Pacific region, but it exists on a global scale. From your customers’ business processes to their trading operations, there are plenty of opportunities for you to expand your knowledge.
What are some challenges that you have faced in this role?
Underwriters must be prompt with our response, not just for quotations but also claims. Since underwriters are the ones that present the quotation, clients often reach out to underwriters first before contacting the claims department when they wish to make a claim.
As marine insurance uses old English for its clauses, I had to familiarise myself with the language. However, this was not insurmountable, and I found it to be rather enriching.
The current marine insurance market is extremely competitive where risk premiums are at cut-throat levels that favour the insurance buyers. One key challenge for underwriters is to find ways to make an underwriting profit despite the challenging market environment.
Company Gatherings (Photo taken pre Covid-19)
Besides cargo and hull insurance underwriting, are there any other areas of marine insurance that you wish to underwrite?
As a marine underwriter, I do not want to restrict myself to a specific class of business. An area that I want to explore is marine liabilities. Also, as I have only been underwriting marine cargo for 3 years, I wish to further my knowledge in this area.
What is the most interesting case that you have dealt with?
I am fortunate that the cases I oversee have yet to incur huge losses. My colleagues on the other hand, have experienced a few interesting ones.
The first case involves a cargo transporting corn kernels into Singapore. Due to the heat, humidity and long journey, the corn kernels unfortunately became popcorn by the time the container arrived in Singapore.
There was another claim where a container of onion bulbs sprouted into spring onions on the ship’s journey. Consequently, part of the cargo was lost, and the damages were not claimable because it excluded damages that arise from poor packaging.
These incidents illustrate the different risks that we encounter, and the dynamic nature of the cases we deal with motivates me.
What sets marine insurance apart from other areas of insurance?
The industry introduces you to a breadth of knowledge. You will be exposed to a variety of industries without having to work in them. For example, I have dealt with logistics companies that have to insure their cargo. Through underwriting, I have learnt more about their operational processes such as the way items are packed and shipped.
As highlighted by Joana, maritime opens doors that extend beyond the industry. Be a part of an international community that presents endless opportunities.

Inaugural MSC Maritime Digital Challenge Grand Finals Prize Presentation

Over 129 tertiary students across 35 teams took part in the inaugural MSC Maritime Digital Challenge that seeks to plug Singapore students with a passion for technology into the maritime industry.
Students from the Singapore Management University and Nanyang Polytechnic were announced as winners of the challenges posed by Eastport Maritime, Kanda and Torvald Klaveness at the Prize Presentation held on 13 November 2021.

MSC Maritime Digital Challenge 2021

Three challenge statements, 35 teams, 129 students and 12 finalist teams from 4 universities & 3 polytechnics. Catch behind-the-scene highlights of the MSC Maritime Digital Challenge 2021.

Singapore Maritime Foundation | MSC Maritime Digital Challenge 2021

Catch highlights of the MSC Maritime Digital Challenge 2021. We thank Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport Mr. Chee Hong Tat for being our Guest-of-Honour at the event.

SMF New Year Conversations 2022: Year-in-Perspective Video

The past two years of learning to live with Covid-19 has been challenging, but Maritime Singapore has remained resilient. What are the fundamental tenets that attract companies to anchor their business in Singapore and grow their operations here? And what more can be done to leverage on Singapore’s strengths to enhance its attractiveness as a global business hub for maritime companies? How will the Singapore Maritime Foundation organize its work around Connectivity, Innovation and Talent to strengthen the maritime ecosystem? Find out in this Year-in-Perspective video.

SMF New Year Conversations 2022: Opportunities Amid Disruptions

The 2022 SMF New Year Conversations that took place on 13 January 2022 was graced by Guest-of-Honour Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Transport & Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations. Over 250 industry leaders across the breadth of maritime attended physically and virtually.
Singapore was announced to have secured the overall top spot as an international maritime centre for the fifth consecutive time in the DNV-Menon Leading Maritime Cities 2022 report.
Thank you to our industry partners for your strong support.

Mr. Lars Kastrup

CO-PRESIDENT & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PACIFIC INTERNATIONAL LINES

Mr. Lars Kastrup is the Co-President and Executive Director of Pacific International Lines (Pte) Ltd (PIL).
Prior to joining PIL, Mr. Kastrup was CEO of NOL/APL, and subsequently assumed the role of Executive Vice President, Strategy and M&A at CMA CGM Group. A veteran in the global shipping industry with over 30 years of experience, Mr Kastrup’s other roles include Executive Vice President of Assets at CMA CGM Group heading up CMA Terminals, CMA Ships, Container Logistics as well as regional carriers such as MacAndrews, OPDR and Mercosul; as well as Vice President at AP Moller-Maersk.
Mr. Kastrup complemented his tertiary education with leadership and management training at Penn State University and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ms. Angeline Teo

MANAGING DIRECTOR & HEAD, GLOBAL TRANSPORTATION & OFFSHORE, OCBC BANK

Ms. Angeline Teo is the Managing Director and Head of Global Transportation and Offshore, Global Corporate Banking at OCBC Bank which focuses on the maritime, aviation, land & port ecosystems.
Ms. Teo has spent over three decades in maritime finance. Prior to OCBC, Ms. Teo was working at ING Bank, ABN Amro and DnB in Singapore focusing on maritime and offshore.
Ms. Teo graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in Business Administration.

Mr. John Martin

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, GARD SINGAPORE

Mr. John Martin began his career in London in 1989 with Richards Hogg Lindley Average Adjusters, and qualified as a Fellow of the UK Association of Average Adjusters in 2000.
At RHL he worked in their offices in Australia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 2003 he joined Gard Hong Kong, as a claims handler. Mr. Martin also worked in Gard Japan, and in 2014 he moved to Singapore to set up the Gard Singapore office.
Besides running Gard Singapore, Mr. Martin also heads the P&I and H&M claims units and is the Senior Claims Representative for Gard in Asia.

Mr. Cyril Ducau

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, EASTERN PACIFIC SHIPPING

Mr. Cyril Ducau is the Chief Executive Officer of Eastern Pacific Shipping Pte Ltd, a leading shipping company headquartered in Singapore for the past 30 years.

He is also currently the Chairman of Kenon Holdings Ltd and a member of the board of directors of Gard P&I (Bermuda) Ltd. and of the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation Limited, which was established by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. He was previously Head of Business Development of Quantum Pacific Advisory Limited in London from 2008 to 2012 and acted as Director and Chairman of Pacific Drilling SA between 2011 and 2018.
Prior to joining Quantum Pacific Advisory Limited, Mr. Ducau was Vice President in the Investment Banking Division of Morgan Stanley & Co. International Ltd. in London between 2000 and 2008.
Mr. Ducau graduated from ESCP Europe Business School (Paris, Oxford, Berlin) and holds a Master of Science in business administration and a Diplom Kaufmann.