60 seconds with Mairead Dawson

Mairead Dawson, senior underwriter, ACE Global Markets

On International Women’s Day we talk to Mairead Dawson, senior underwriter at ACE Global Markets about her fascinating career.

As Ace Global Market’s Energy underwriting manager, Mairead Dawson has worked her way up the ranks in one of the industry’s more specialised and challenging classes. With ACE recently launching offshore and onshore energy cover from its Lloyd’s syndicate 2488, she has a new platform from which to grow the business. Like many of her peers Mairead “fell into” insurance 22 years ago and has forged a successful career in a sector that has experienced huge change in the two-plus decades she has been underwriting. She now has some sage words of advice for graduates starting out in the industry.

Tell me a bit about your career so far...

I’m responsible for the largest of ACE’s five regions within global energy and that’s my ultimate career highlight to date. Over the last ten years at ACE, I’ve held various positions that have led to this current role – each of which has brought new challenges and experience.

Before ACE I spent a couple of years with Zurich Global Energy as a senior underwriter. Prior to Zurich I started out my career in energy insurance at AIG and spent ten years there working my way up the ladder from underwriting assistant to underwriter.

The industry has changed exponentially since I started. The sheer scale of risk, especially offshore, has increased greatly: whether looking at drilling a well in deep water or the value of some of the assets, exposures are incredibly large.

What made you decide upon a career in insurance and how did you learn your trade?

Like many of my peers, I fell into insurance by chance. My first job was in an insurance company in Dublin in the marine department. I really enjoyed the challenge of that and when I came to London I actively sought out opportunities to join an insurance company. I realised very early on that insurance could provide individuals with a very rewarding career so long as you put in the effort and take on the apprenticeship to learn and develop your craft.

When an individual starts out in the offshore industry, most of us attend Rig School, with the main one being in Houston. There are also ‘under 35s’ trips you can attend which are very educational.

When I started, it was probably easier to go offshore and visit a platform. I went to a platform in the North Sea and to a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, two very different experiences, but it gave me a flavour for risk. 

Nowadays there are more hoops you have to get through to go offshore as a lot of the companies don’t want to take on that liability for visitors. It’s probably easier to see refineries, processing plants and terminals than it would be drilling rigs, but there are still some trips available.

Tell me about some of the opportunities in offshore and onshore energy?

ACE Global Energy is pursuing a worldwide strategy to extend its penetration of oil and gas markets through itsour expanding global networks.The sheer scale of energy risks in the oil and gas industry today, coupled with the requirements in the emerging market for significant local participation, often creates attractive surplus lines business and a requirement for our capacity. We’ve identified a number of these jurisdictions as potential attractive opportunities.

The introduction of our Lloyd’s underwriting base really should complement this strategy. The Lloyd’s platform will give us the opportunity to upgrade our ability to capture risk that might otherwise have been missed by ACE and the London market. It’s really complementing our business overall.

There are still few women in senior underwriting roles in the industry, although plenty of women graduates are opting for careers in insurance. What would you say to those coming up through the ranks?

I really enjoy the opportunity to mentor younger generations as they come through the ranks of the energy market, particularly when I see individuals progressing in their careers. Insurance can be a very rewarding career but you’ve got to take time, effort and patience, whether you’re male or female.

Many individuals nowadays don’t realise – certainly with specialty lines, which energy is – that you can’t learn it quickly. Time and experience play a huge role – but if you don’t allow yourself the time to develop and really learn your area your career could be very short lived.

Insurance can offer a great opportunity to travel and meet with your client base. If you think about the areas in the world where there is a lot of oil and gas – West Africa at the moment, the Far East and Australia – they are exciting places to travel to, especially if you’re younger.

There may be few women in senior underwriting roles but I’ve never been put off by that – and nor should other women. I’ve always viewed business as “a-sexual” in a way, and if you knuckle down, do your time and you learn your craft in this industry I believe you’ll ultimately earn the respect of your peers, irrespective of your own personal background and theirs.

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