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What Does An Insurance Underwriter Do? Skills and Duties

By Ashley DiFranza
July 5, 2019

There are many different career paths that a graduate of a bachelor’s in health management program can choose from. Some may want to pursue a healthcare administration role, for example, while others may lean toward another one of the top healthcare management jobs, which include hospital administrator, pharmaceutical project manager, chief nursing officer, and more.

However, for a very specific group of students with a unique interest in the financial side of health management, the role of insurance underwriter may be a perfect fit. Read on to learn about what this position entails, the common skills insurance underwriters share, and how to best prepare for a successful career in the field. 

Responsibilities of an Insurance Underwriter

Insurance underwriters generally declare a specialty in one of three concentrations: life, health, or property and casualty. However, no matter the concentration or specific industry insurance underwriters work in, their primary duties include assessing situational or personal risk and determining premiums accordingly. They are also in charge of denying an individual coverage if the assessed risk is too high. 

Breaking Down Risk Assessment

Assessing risk requires an insurance underwriter to look at all the facts in a given situation and decide whether or not it is in the best interest of the company they represent to get involved.

Insurance companies are best known for using underwriters in this way because of the high level of risk and reward involved in determining coverage. From a business perspective, an insurance company aims to make money by charging individuals a premium while simultaneously hoping that that individual will never need to cash in on their insurance. This means that those with a higher likelihood of doing so are considered “higher risks” and are charged more month-to-month to help cover for any potential future assistance. 

The factors that underwriters must consider when determining an individual’s level of risk vary greatly depending on the type of insurance they work with. For automotive insurance, for example, underwriters analyze an individual’s driving record, accident history, and age, among other factors, in order to decide how much that person will pay monthly toward their insurance.

Responsibilities Beyond Risk Assessment

Despite the significance of risk assessment in the work of insurance underwriters, there are many other relevant duties that are applicable across most underwriting specializations, as well. These include:

  • Researching client backgrounds and finances to assist in decision-making
  • Determining coverage costs and premiums for each client 
  • Selling insurance premiums
  • Networking and bringing in new business for their organization
  • Reassessing existing policies after client settlements or substantial life changes
  • Gathering and interpreting sensitive data
  • Operating underwriting software programs to help analyze collected data

Health Insurance Underwriter Responsibilities

For those with a health management degree, a role in health insurance underwriting is likely a great fit. In the healthcare field, assessing risk involves the examination of an individual’s medical background, including factors such as age, personal health history, and family health history, among others.

A health insurance underwriter must not only effectively communicate with the person trying to apply for the insurance to gather this information, but use mathematics and data analysis to calculate the risk based on that information. At the core of their work, a health insurance underwriter is in charge of choosing to cover individuals with a low risk of health issues and who will cost their organization the least amount of money down the line.

If the person is higher in age, for example, the risk that they will have medical issues that require coverage will be higher. Similarly, a family history of disease will increase an applicant’s premium, as there is a greater likelihood they may have similar medical issues in the future and will need to utilize their insurance. For this reason, an insurance underwriter may decide that that person’s needs are too risky for their company to cover, and deny them. The underwriter may also still choose to include that higher-risk individual but will set a higher monthly premium for them to pay in order to cover for future potential issues, instead. Either way, it’s up to the insurance underwriter to assess the risk level and make the necessary decisions about coverage accordingly.

Due to the need for both an understanding of medicine and finance, this role is remarkably aligned with the skills and practical training gained while earning a health management degree. The work of a health insurance underwriter also requires similar personal qualities as that of a health manager, including the ability to delicately handle sensitive information and manage the emotions of people dealing with high-stress, health-related issues.

Common Traits and Skills for Insurance Underwriters

Insurance underwriters across specializations usually have certain standard skill sets that allow them to excel in their roles. They are often very detail-oriented, have strong interpersonal and communication skills, and are adept at networking to build up new business for their organizations. Other professional skills insurance underwriters should possess include those in:

It is also important that insurance underwriters have the confidence and ability to make quick but informed decisions, even when those decisions are difficult or may leave clients unhappy.

Career Outlook 

Working in insurance underwriting is a lucrative career for many individuals with the correct interests, training, and skill sets. The average median salary for those in this position is $69,380 annually as of 2018, with the top ten percent of those in the field making over $122,840 per year

What’s more, there is an overall positive career outlook for those with positions within the healthcare industry. By 2026, there is expected to be an 18 percent increase in the healthcare occupations and the addition of about 2.4 million new jobs in the field.

Factors such as the continual increase in the population’s age, population size, disease prevalence, and more, continue to influence the way healthcare is managed and the need for trained employees in this field. The rising costs of health insurance—which is due to high-priced medications and treatments, and the expensive technology needed for diagnoses—also has the potential to impact future work of health insurance underwriters specifically.

Changing Trends in Insurance Underwriting

The use of technology and data in underwriting is a major trend within the industry. As society continues to become more reliant on technology in their day-to-day lives, the use of these advanced tools in insurance underwriting is also becoming more common. For example, underwriters are now using more sophisticated software programs to assist in the analysis of the various risk assessment factors, requiring individuals in these positions to possess more advanced technical skills than ever before.

These technologies also pose a threat to entry-level underwriters, whose roles run the risk of being eliminated due to this increasing reliance on high-functioning, automated software. To ensure their positions remain relevant, students should consider upskilling and developing important “soft skills” that cannot be replicated by software or machines, including those in judgment, teamwork, communication, empathy, leadership, and more. This concept has come to be known as being “robot-proof,” and is one which Northeastern University president, Joseph Aoun writes about extensively in his book of the same title, and has embraced as a significant part of his strategy for leading the university to success.

Another trend in insurance underwriting is the need for the skills to handle the increased amounts of raw data being gathered daily through social media, smartphones, and search engines. These platforms are providing underwriters with more information than ever to reference when determining coverage.

Real-World Example

In February of 2019, Forbes reported that life insurance companies in New York state are now legally allowed to analyze an individual’s social media pages when evaluating risk and determining their premiums. The New York’s Department of Financial Services declared in the press release that as long as the information doesn’t “unfairly discriminate against protected groups,” it is considered usable in underwriting assessments. 

These data- and technology-related trends have the power to make a lasting impact on both the day-to-day work of insurance underwriters and the industry as a whole.

How to Become an Insurance Underwriter

Due to the advanced critical thinking and analytical skills individuals in this field must possess, most employers require a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, business, analytics, or mathematics for generic underwriting roles. However, for students who aspire to work as a health insurance underwriter specifically, a bachelor’s degree in health management—alongside the necessary industry certifications—can provide them with an understanding of the healthcare industry that is often needed to complete risk assessment work in this sector.

Exploring the Bachelor’s Degree in Health Management at Northeastern

For adults who are considering going back to school to complete their degree, Northeastern offers a bachelor’s completion program in health management within the College of Professional Studies that has been designed specifically to prepare students for a position within the healthcare industry.

The curriculum within this program covers subjects from health management and finance to law, regulation, and policy, and concludes with a capstone course in which students are able to perform practical work within their healthcare management specialization, under the guidance of both faculty and industry professionals. This type of experiential learning opportunity allows students a unique chance to apply the skills learned in the classroom to an array of real-world situations before they graduate.

If you are hoping to achieve a position as a health insurance underwriter, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration from Northeastern University can help provide the skills, training, and hands-on learning experience necessary to excel in this role.

For more information on this degree, browse through the program page or contact one of Northeastern’s enrollment coaches, and get started on the path toward a fulfilling career in insurance underwriting today.

About Ashley DiFranza

Ashley DiFranza is a content marketing producer for Northeastern University’s Enrollment Management team.