Why the Insurance Industry Fascinates This Ariel Re Official

Matt Wilken finds what he does highly satisfying despite originally dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot.

Growing up, Matt Wilken wanted to join the Royal Air Force and become a fighter pilot. He even studied astrophysics at Queen Mary University of London, thinking perhaps one day he’d venture into space as well.

But Wilken developed so many ear infections growing up on Guadalcanal in the Pacific Solomon Islands that he became partially deaf in one ear. That doomed his dreams of flying.

“By the time I ended up graduating from the university, I had no real idea what I was going to do,” said Wilken, deputy global head of reinsurance at Ariel Re, a subsidiary of Argo Group.

He was interested in a career in London and was offered positions in both banking and advertising. However, it was insurance at the Lloyd’s of London Syndicate RJ Kiln that attracted him most, and he joined the firm in September 1991.

It’s a field he’s remained in ever since.

Wearing multiple hats

Although he’s not piloting fighter jets, Wilken, who joined Argo Re (now Ariel Re) as a founding member in 2008, takes great satisfaction in what he does.

“It’s an industry that is fascinating for me because it encapsulates multiple different lines of business,” Wilken said. “One minute you’re a marketer, and you’re trying to promote business and sell to the customers. The next minute you’re a mathematician trying to empirically assess and measure the value of risk. Then you’re a geologist or a hydrologist, and you’re trying to understand exactly what’s going to happen to the world around you and the vulnerability of changing weather patterns.”

Dealing with catastrophic losses

Since a large part of Ariel Re’s coverage includes reinsurance in cases of catastrophes related to natural disasters or terrorism, the work can be particularly sobering.

“We’re dealing with earthquakes, or forest fires in California, or windstorms such as Irma and Maria,” Wilken said. “We’re one of those somber industries where we have to look at the death, devastation and destruction around us.”

No two days are the same

“And of course, we’re an international business, so you wake up to a swath of emails that come in from London,” he said.

Workloads can also vary depending on the time of year.

“January, June, April and July are extremely busy months,” he said. 

A passion for water sports

Wilken maintains an active lifestyle, having played sports including football and cricket, even serving as team captain many years ago. But his real passion is for water sports.

That includes surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding.

“I used to surf in the U.K., in the bitterly cold North Sea,” he said. “So it was quite a delight to move to Bermuda where the sea is certainly bluer and warmer.”

Enormous changes ahead

Wilken marvels at the amount of information the insurance industry has available and how this will help shape its future.

“We’ve now collected more data in the last year than has ever existed in the history of mankind,” he said. “Access to data underpins people’s levels of risk assessment, and so the industry is going to face some enormous changes over the next decade as we embrace artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques and as this data network expands massively.”

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