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News > Life After Hymers > Howard's Career in Maritime Insurance

Howard's Career in Maritime Insurance

Howard Potter (OH 1980-90) has been elected Vice Chair of the Loss Prevention Committee of the International Union of Marine Insurers (IUMI)

A Life in Maritime Insurance…..So far:

Well, I say “so far” because who knows what the future will bring, and because I enjoy working at what I do (despite the normal ups and downs), I suppose that 28 years at something clearly just isn’t enough!

I was at Hymers throughout the entirety of the 1980s, and after leaving university in 1994 I went straight into this particular game, and I have been with it ever since. Like many, I went through the normal milk round of graduate trainee placements in my final year. I didn’t think about it per se, but all the companies I looked at did all have some form of international trade / shipping / global / finance type themes to them. However, during this process a letter duly arrived after going through a 2 day residential course at Royal Insurance Global’s country pad in Cheshire, which was used for training at the time, and it offered me a 2 year programme of fast track training stating “You will start with our marine team”. I did, and I never left the maritime arena. They say that nobody ever goes into marine insurance as a result of burning ambition, which may be true, but a closer view on what the industry is, actually tells you why people enjoy it and therefore remain in it.

Marine insurance, put simply, is the cog that turns the wheels of international trade. Without policies worth many millions (sometimes billions) of Dollars, ships could not ply the oceans, cargoes manufactured in one country could not be transported to another, and in fact they would never be manufactured in the first place and nobody would be insuring the raw materials used to manufacture the goods in the first place. Ports would not function, oil spills would not get cleaned up, fine art and museums could not put on exhibitions, and if you are lucky enough to have a private yacht then you couldn’t use that either. When you look around your home or office, every single item – furniture, equipment, machinery, food, pharmaceuticals, your clothes – all of them have been transported and insured as cargo, whether imported exported or just transported inland.

Marine insurance therefore gives you the opportunity to meet people involved in the manufacture and global distribution of all these different and diverse types of businesses – including the owners of the ships themselves that carry other peoples’ cargo – because these people are your clients. Marine insurance is the oldest type of insurance in the world, and the basic concepts still existing in international maritime law today of parties coming together to protect a common maritime adventure (traders, sellers, and the ship) all go back to the Phoenicians of ancient time.

Since 1994 though, much has of course changed, along with every other industry. The advent of the internet in daily use means that gone are the teams of hundreds of people who even when I started typed (yes, typed!) up certificates of insurance and checked vessels in Lloyd’s Register – a mighty tome which ran to several volumes. A single underwriter or claims adjuster can now run an entire portfolio by him- or herself, and much business is of course transacted online.

Nonetheless, this is still a business where relationships are key. No individual or company is going to pass over said millions of dollars without knowing or trusting the individual responsible for their insurance. This means that over the years I have travelled to every continent, somewhere between 50 and 100 countries, and many of these people have become friends for life. I was fortunate to work in Canada for almost 4 years in the 2000s, and been responsible for operations in Europe and Asia, as well as having customers everywhere. London remains the single biggest marine insurance market in the world, though this is hotly contested by the likes of New York, Singapore, Tokyo, and notably some Scandinavian markets.

In spite of all the tradition, my most recent job has given me the opportunity to learn new tricks as an old dog – it can be done – as my company, Astaara, is the leader in marine cyber insurance and risk management, which is a wholly new take on the traditional theme. Shipowners and ports in particular are constantly subject to cyber-attack and intrusion. They often form part of state critical infrastructure, and so need to be treated as such to stay secure. The National Cyber Security Centre in the UK does important work in this for all industries and for our fellow citizens, and we along with many others support their mandate by providing vital loss prevention and risk management work. The ocean is full of opportunities, and the like the ocean they are endless and ever renewing.

As a side-line, I was recently elected Vice Chair of the Loss Prevention Committee of the International Union of Marine Insurers (IUMI). This in fact was the trigger for me being asked to write this article. Although this is in some ways a “side job” and unpaid, it is an honour, as IUMI is the global trade body representing all the major marine insurance markets around the world and works closely with government agencies and the likes of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The annual conference is always great fun as well as being informative, and this year when we got together in Chicago in September, slightly emotional, given that this was our first face to face meeting in 3 years.

It is a fun career. I would be happy to speak to anybody interested in it. You don’t have to work in London. In the UK, marine insurance is also underwritten in Birmingham and Manchester, and clients are everywhere.

What I do know, is that tomorrow will not be the same as today, and that’s what keeps it exciting.

Howard Potter

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