What Makes a Good Underwriter?

What Makes a Good Underwriter?

Argo Property Senior Underwriter Lissie Van Leunen wants to spread the word that labels are not limits and that learning is a lifelong process.


When Argo Property Senior Underwriter Lissie Van Leunen graduated from college with a degree in finance about 10 years ago, the country was reeling from recession.

“A decade ago, it was not a great time to graduate with a finance degree – or really at all,” she says. “It was really tough to find a job. I sent my resume to any kind of fiduciary company.”

She eventually took a data entry job at an insurance company.

“That’s how I started,” says Van Leunen, who joined Argo Group in January 2020 in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

While in her data entry job, Van Leunen took introductory insurance courses offered by her employer, soon discovering her affinity for the fast pace and variety of property underwriting.

“Each submission you get is completely different from the last one,” she says. “The market changes daily, and the business changes daily.”

After a decade in the industry, she’s facing a new challenge.

“The market is hardening for the first time in my career,” she says. “Almost overnight I had to learn how to underwrite in a rebounding market.”

To make that transition, Van Leunen says she has learned to focus on underwriting discipline when deploying capacity, negotiating terms and pricing business.

Learning from those around you

Van Leunen believes that what makes a good underwriter is asking questions to, in her words, “soak up the knowledge” of experienced coworkers.

“When I have downtime in the office, I will go to more senior people and pick their brains, listen to their stories and learn from them,” she says.

She wants to hear about the good, the bad and everything in between.

“I think I’ve learned the most by them telling me the mistakes they’ve made,” she says. “We can’t wait for perfection. We’re never going to have all the information, and we’re never going to be 100% certain. Just own your mistakes, learn as much as you can from them and let it go.”

Van Leunen believes the ability to move forward after making mistakes is essential, particularly in the insurance industry.

“Our whole job is taking risks, and if you’re not able to do that, you’re not going to be successful with your career.”

Being different is not a barrier to success

Van Leunen has dyslexia, and she considers it to be both a motivator and an opportunity.

“You can be successful even if you have something different about you,” she says. “I think it pushes me. I want to be a role model for people who have learning disabilities.”

She is inspired by her mother, who tirelessly worked to secure the support and services Van Leunen needed despite having to manage health challenges of her own.

“She had cancer when I was really young, and that did not stop her,” Van Leunen says. “While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, she was on the phone, advocating for me.”

Van Leunen continues to receive her mother’s tenacious support.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” she says. “There isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for the people she loves and even people she may not like all that much.”

When she isn’t working, Van Leunen enjoys spending time near the water with her husband and two dogs.

“We go to the river, the beach or kayaking as much as we can,” she says. “Water definitely recharges me. My friends always joke that no matter how cold the water is, I’m going to jump in.” 

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