ALFIES Folk : a series of interviews with our members. #5 Tim Allen.

TIM ALLEN alfies
Tim Allen, focus group leader and underwriter at Beazley.

Having begun his career as a transactional lawyer on the finance side Tim has moved from an international recognised law firm to a leading underwriters, heading up a book of transactional products at one of the top syndicates at Lloyds. Tim has a strong network in his market, having worked as both a broker and more latterly an insurance underwriter. Technically sound as a lawyer and solid with clients, Tim decided to make the leap from law into insurance in 2007 and has never looked back since.

Tim’s training contract saw him spend 2 seats in the insurance group, one seconded to a large insurance companies M&A insurance group, as well as seats in Corporate and corporate and leverage finance. Once qualified he took his experience in the M&A and insurance worlds and ten years on is one of the go to experts in M&A transaction liability insurance but it’s not an easy climb. The question is how do you go about making a move and how can you face up to leaving law to starting all over again in the City as a risk averse lawyer attempting to grow in the sales focused environment of insurance?

In this week’s series, we meet Tim at the City’s newest and most talked about member space. We talk all things from how to confidently decide on a career change in the first place, knowing yourself and what’s best for success rather than sitting in a career you don’t entirely enjoy. We also discuss how to balance a role as a global team leader with the responsibilities of fatherhood.

Tim, you were known as an all-rounder and a consistent performer at CMS during your stint as a lawyer 10 years ago but one that enjoyed the personal side of business too. Some people make a move from private practice to in-house roles but few actually move into another industry. So, in short what made you give up law to jump into insurance?

I think lawyers tend to be better underwriters than brokers – speaking generally – as the risk appetites tend to be more closely aligned.

Tim: Exposure to a different industry was the key factor looking back. My 6 month secondment during my training contract showed me that not all city jobs had the same day to day existence and prospects as a junior lawyer. I also saw myself as less academic and more sales focused than my peers in law. I quickly learned, however, that insurance brokers are “proper” salespeople. Once I decided to engage with the opportunities outside law, I think I was always going to move. There is a huge world of commercial opportunities outside of private practice that can be equally rewarding. The biggest thing for me was the role(s) I moved to were business roles opposed to a classic “in house” position. The chance to be involved with building a business as a revenue generator as opposed to just a service provider is what ultimately drove me to underwriting. I think lawyers tend to be better underwriters than brokers – speaking generally – as the risk appetites tend to be more closely aligned.

What did you do and who did you meet to confirm your desire to become an underwriter? Was it just a casual conversation with an insurance professional one evening, or did you carefully plan and make the move?

I took advice from a few underwriters that I knew and importantly checked in with other brokers I was in regular contact with to make sure they would be willing to work with me.

Tim: The initial move to a broker was harder I think. It was farther removed from my work as a lawyer. The move to underwriting in the same niche market as I was broking in was easier. My first attempts were not successful – not a lot of people moved from broking to underwriting at that time – but once I found the right opportunity I haven’t looked back. I took advice from a few underwriters that I knew and importantly checked in with other brokers I was in regular contact with to make sure they would be willing to work with me. I would say the move was planned It was something I had been trying to achieve for at least 6 months before I got the opportunity.

How do you mentally prepare for the move from corporate lawyer to insurance underwriter?  Was the transition easy and how did you tackle the move once you arrived at an underwriter for the first time?

Tim: Corporate law to underwriting is not a massive jump in the TL market. We regularly use lawyers to help us analyse risk. The content is not wholly unfamiliar. The difference is the risk appetite. It’s one thing telling a client something is a high or low risk, it is another to take the action or make that decision and then bind the company to the tune of EUR 40m. As long as you are honest about your underwriting and believe in the products you are writing – i.e. that they have a chance of producing the results you have stated they are – then you are not doing your job if you are not taking risks. The moment you try and game the system or be too clever is when you are likely to trip up.

Even in your current role, you’ve moved from your current business to leading competitor then back again. How did you keep the door open despite having walked away from them?

I tried to be fair and hardworking on my exit and was making a move to step out of my line mangers shadow.

Tim: Good question. It is not uncommon for people to move in insurance – more common than in law – but moving back to an old shop happens less frequently, especially in underwriting where the more classic move is to go away from your old claims rather than back to face the music! I tried to be fair and hardworking on my exit and was making a move to step out of my line mangers shadow. I stayed in touch with a few people here but didn’t think about a move back until circumstances changed on both sides. The move back would’ve been a lot harder had I – or they – not acted with integrity in the market following my initial departure.

Do you still get to use your legal acumen and does it complement your role with your colleagues and clients or do you tend to leave it well alone?

Tim: The market we work in is all about contractual risk and M&A deals. Analysis of contracts and deals is my day to day bread and butter. So the legal background helps. Likewise with all the terminology and bespoke drafting we do. That said, I would not be able to go back and perform the legal role I have previously or offer myself as comparably qualified lawyer in any market. We deal with lawyers a lot and saying you worked as a qualified solicitor can help sometimes but I mention it less and less.

You are a family man and father to two boys. You are also one of the busiest underwriters in the market travelling frequently across the world to build a business. How do you balance time to make sure you keep both sides happy?

In M&A insurance the hours are much less regular than the majority of the insurance market, who tend to work on renewal dates so workloads are more manageable and predictable.

Tim: It can be hard being away, much more so with 2 small boys and the extra work load that puts on a partner. Travel has always been a big part of life as an underwriter, though. The key thing is flexibility. As a client – opposed to a service provider – it is easier to manage your own work pattern around seeing the kids either in the morning or evening. We live close to town so I don’t lose as much time with them commuting but often will switch on after they are in bed. I think work knows the family is important and generally are understanding. In M&A insurance the hours are much less regular than the majority of the insurance market, who tend to work on renewal dates so workloads are more manageable and predictable. Also its not just the travel but work entertaining, exercise and seeing friends. Exercise and seeing friends probably suffer the most and I have to be quite strict about the number of times I agree to events/meet ups during the week otherwise you could end up being out every night.

What would you say to someone considering a career move, but too worried to take a leap of faith into a different city profession?

Ultimately I am a big advocate of leaving private practice at some point in your career.

Tim: It’s important to do your research. Think about the opportunities of the role you are taking – is the market growing what does the future hold etc – but also focus on the type of work that you will be doing and be honest about what you enjoy. I was fortunate that had I remained in law I would have probably had to turn my hand to insolvency law during the GFC, which I would have hated and been bad. Even if you stay, things can change around you without your control. Ultimately I am a big advocate of leaving private practice at some point in your career. It’s a bubble. It can be a very enjoyable and rewarding one but its not the only option id you are legally qualified.

You cover off the Legal and Insurance in ALFIES and perhaps to an extent the accounting and finance sides. To this end is ALFIES going to be useful to you and how do you think it should develop as a member network to ensure it works for everyone in the chosen professions?

Tim: I think ALFIES will be helpful to grow my contacts beyond my traditional market and garner insight into other professions and happenings across the city. Content will be key I would assume so as to differentiate from other professional networks that are out there.

Finally, we have teamed up with the Devonshire Club to enable select members to use the meeting spaces and events rooms to network in an intimate and appropriate setting. Will this be useful to you and can we at ALFIES extend this invitation to you as a courtesy?

Tim: That would, be it entertaining important brokers or just using the meeting space as a mutually convenient and pleasant location. We are always looking for high class broker event venues to make our event stand out from the market and I would be keen to use the esteemed Devonshire Club for this purpose.

ALFIES is a complimentary exclusive membership only network for individuals in the accountancy, law, finance and insurance professions.

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