Whether you are just starting out or considering a mid-career pivot, there’s a lot to be said for a career in the surety industry. Surety is a challenging and rewarding industry requiring strong interpersonal skills as well as deep technical knowledge. As a key job facet, surety underwriters work with construction companies who pursue bonded work, building anything from large buildings, to roads, bridges and other key infrastructure. Imagine driving past a construction project where you played a key role in the construction’s facilitation.
Likewise, surety underwriters evaluate a wide variety of non-construction businesses requiring surety support as well as obligations that you as an individual may have.
Experiences and exposure to a broad base of business opportunities are what a surety career offers.
That all sounds great, but what is surety?
Generally speaking surety is a part of the property and casualty insurance industry.
“While surety is a mechanism of insurance, it isn’t insurance,” says Ken Chapman, Executive Vice President of IAT Insurance Group’s Surety division. “We operate as an unsecured creditor.” Whereas property and casualty insurance is a two-party agreement between insurance company and insured, suretyship involves three parties – the principal (surety’s customer), obligee (entity requiring the obligation) and the surety company. The surety’s primary job is to evaluate the principal’s financial and organizational capabilities to discharge the obligation for which the bond is required. With the surety bond being a credit instrument, a principal’s character and reputation must also be one of the utmost integrity.
A distinct feature between surety and insurance obligations is that the surety, just like a lender, expects no loss for the credit guarantee they extend. As such, should a principal be unable to satisfy their obligation(s) to an obligee, the responsibility may become the surety’s. Should the surety be called to perform, they will seek restitution from the principal through an agreement of indemnity.
“A surety underwriter needs to be part accountant, part lawyer, part contractor or business owner, and part consultative sales partner,” says Chapman. “I can’t think of many other roles that require as much bandwidth.”
What is it like to work in surety day-to-day?
If you like variety in your work, then surety might be just the thing.
“No two days are ever the same,” says Chapman. “Different opportunities and challenges happen routinely throughout the week. It’s this level of variety, challenge and reward that has kept me a part of this industry for more than 30 years.”
From the surety company and underwriting perspective, we invest time in producer relationships in terms of managing a portfolio of business and working to attract new opportunities. For our shared customers, the bond principals, we invest time in the underwriting and credit prequalification process. This means thorough reviews of business and personal financial information, credit reports, bond and contract forms, client meetings and many other areas that are a part of the underwriting process.
The many career paths within surety industry
Working in surety doesn’t involve just one kind of job as there are a variety of roles.
“It’s a fairly wide-ranging career universe for potential surety employees,” says Chapman. From the surety company perspective, there are roles in Underwriting, Claims, Strategic Initiatives, Administration and Leadership. From a distribution or retail perspective, potential employees have opportunities in Producer, Account Manager, Administrative and Leadership roles.
“What’s important to know is that each of these areas have opportunities for employees to advance from entry-level to senior and even executive roles.”
When it comes to career potential, the sky’s the limit when working in surety.
The road to a surety career
Unlike becoming a doctor or lawyer, there’s really no specific education or training path to becoming someone who works as a surety underwriter — but that’s actually what makes the industry so great.
“Just about anyone can be a candidate for the surety industry,” says Chapman. “Considering surety is a relationship business, solid interpersonal skills are a must. We can teach the technical, but those that are most successful in the industry must have a strong inclination toward developing and maintaining strong relationships.”
It’s also important to have a high level of intellectual curiosity, an interest in a broad range of industries and a desire to constantly improve and grow.
“Underwriters by nature ask questions to better understand the organizations and risks they bond,” says Chapman. “Aside from this, those that have an interest in finance and consultative selling, as well as an interest in life-long learning, make good candidates.”
While a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, construction management or law are preferred for entry-level underwriting and claims roles, there can be exceptions.
“We’ve also hired kinesiology and English majors,” says Chapman.
There are also many ways into surety for mid-career professionals that don’t necessarily have the preferred educational background.
“A successful candidate may also have many years of transferable experience from other industries such as banking, areas of credit and financial analysis or construction management, which would be considered in the hiring process,” says Chapman.
Now is a good time to consider a career in surety
For anyone making career plans, it’s a really good time to consider surety. For one thing, there’s a need for more talent.
“The surety industry, like insurance, is facing a talent dilemma,” says Chapman. “It’s a growing industry that has not done enough to ensure an adequate supply of talent. Add to this the fact that there’s a considerable number of professionals planning on retirement over the next several years and it’s clear that we need to be doing all we can to recruit, train and retain the next generation of underwriters and agents.”
The industry has started to address this. A number of companies, including IAT, offer summer internships to college students with an interest in the work and have trainee programs designed for entry-level talent.
Along with many other sectors, there’s also a realization that more has to be done to foster diversity and inclusion. IAT’s Surety business unit, for example, recently sponsored a $5,000 scholarship for the Surety and Fidelity Association of America’s (SFAA) Surety Foundation, which works to increase diversity in the surety and fidelity industry.
All of this means that surety should be on the short list of a wide variety of people seeking a fulfilling type of work.
“I think there is opportunity for those who’ve not considered the surety or insurance industry in general to be a viable career option,” says Chapman.
For more information on what a career in surety at IAT can offer, please visit our website.
Certified as a Great Place to Work® for the last three years, IAT Insurance Group is a privately owned, specialty insurance company providing property, casualty and surety products for niche markets. IAT goes to market through eight business units – Commercial Transportation, Specialty, Programs, Inland Marine, Excess Casualty Mid-Market, Reinsurance, Surety, and a newly formed Management Liability division. The IAT Insurance Group companies are rated A- Excellent by A.M. Best. Connect with IAT Insurance Group on LinkedIn and learn more about the company at iatinsurancegroup.com.