Sue Coates sees underwriting as something bigger than data, dollars and decimal points. In her line of work, it’s also about people and their schools, their communities, and the consequences of split-second decisions with little room for error.
Last year, Coates was promoted to senior vice president and head of Trident Public Risk Solutions, a member of global specialty insurer Argo Group. She came up through the ranks in the underwriting side of the business, helping craft safety nets for the people responsible for teaching children, responding to emergencies, and keeping communities safe and healthy.
Coates, who has worked in public sector insurance for 15 years, takes special pride in insuring people in the taxpayers’ employ. “When you think of teachers and school nurses and police officers and EMTs and paramedics,” Coates says, “those are the people who are really on the front lines of responding to the needs of a community.”
She adds: “Everything around us – where we live – is serviced by these people, and I find that very personal. We all live somewhere, we’ve all been to school, and so you can think about your own experiences when you’re assessing risk for these entities.”
A helping hand for community leaders
Coates has done just about every kind of public sector insurance underwriting job since she started out 15 years ago. Before moving into the leadership ranks, she spent a considerable amount of time interacting with policyholders, alongside risk control and claims professionals, in partnership with agents. It’s a collaborative approach that results in a really solid, holistic risk management strategy.
Insurance underwriting might be primarily technical and transactional in other sectors, but that’s not quite how things work in public sector underwriting. “This is a relationship business,” Coates says. Agents and underwriters get to know their clients on a first-name basis. Lunch meetings are not just about business; they’re about coming to understand the multiple layers of protection public entities need.
“You become very personally involved with these people,” Coates says, “because they’re looking for us to be a leg in the stool of their insurance and risk management protocol.”
Discovering the appeal of underwriting
Coates worked in mainstream insurance for about a decade before moving into public sector underwriting. That pivot transformed her career outlook.
“I had worked at agencies where everything was kind of laid out for you,” she recalls. “You come in and you do the same 10 things every day. And it was, quite frankly, boring. But doing an underwriting job, where you have to think about a lot of different things all the time, really captured my attention.”
A great example for young people
Coates and her wife have a blended family of seven including 21-year-old triplets. Coates’ underwriting career has provided an excellent template for advising these young adults as they move into the workforce.
“At the end of the day, it really comes down to some basics,” she says. “It is critical to provide good service, and to be client-focused and attentive to details.”
Coates believes patience and flexibility are traits that help people in any line of work. “My advice is to be open to possibilities and not overly engineer an outcome. It’s certainly something that has helped me be successful in my career. I never lose sight of that. Ever.”