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Risk in Focus: Vanessa Jones GradIRM, Head of Catastrophe Risk, Dale Underwriting Partners

The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) asks its members what working in risk is really like and what hints and tips they'd share with people looking to move into the industry.


Vanessa Jones GradIRM

Head of Catastrophe Risk

Dale Underwriting Partners


How did you get your job?

I started as a junior catastrophe modeller for a Lloyd’s syndicate just a few months before Hurricane Katrina happened. It was a very formative time for CAT modellers as well as the models themselves. It made my role incredibly interesting as there was an abundance of change and new solutions being discovered on how to best manage your organisation’s catastrophe risk.

Over the following years I moved into a start-up and had to put my experience to the test; luckily I loved it and joined another start up Lloyd’s syndicate in a head of department role years later, which is where I still am currently. Having to deal with the complexities of catastrophe risk management in a growing business against the backdrop of the changing natural and man-made risk landscape means my role as Head of Catastrophe Risk is constantly evolving. New risks such as cyber and pandemic mean I constantly get faced with new challenges managing our risk appetite and contributing to our portfolio management and reinsurance strategy.

What’s a typical day like as a Head of Catastrophe Risk?

My day varies throughout the year, typically it is a mix of ensuring all management information my department is responsible for is flowing correctly, dealing with an active event (calculating loss potentials and ensuring information is produced up and down the business chain for our underwriters, board and investors), creating business forecasts and aiding our underwriting teams decide their reinsurance strategy. I also spend a great deal of time validating our catastrophe models and ensuring they are appropriate for our risk profile, as well as building out our technical abilities with improved tools for pricing, reporting and data management.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working in a small, young Lloyd’s syndicate means I have an incredible amount of variety in my role and a huge amount of interaction with my colleagues across all sides of the business. I also have to use my judgement a considerable amount – there is rarely a straightforward answer, so I have to apply my experience to all the new challenges we face, particularly when considering emerging risks or following events when we have only partial information.

What are the challenges?

Working with limited information can be hard but it gets easier the more experience you have. Emerging, man-made risks such as cyber and terrorism have been the most challenging I have found to confidently quantify for the business. The complexity of cyber risks is incredible but gradually we are improving the scenarios and calculation methods we use so they can be more useful and actually help guide the business strategy around these new opportunities.

What would you say to others thinking about taking the Diploma in ERM (newly revised)?

Think about where you are in your career and ensure you can put the techniques learnt into practice so you gain the most understanding from the course. You need a broad understanding of how your organisation functions so you can think through all the facets of risk management in context. Then just make sure you have the time to do the course!

What have you been able to put into practice in your job as a result of what you have learnt?

I have been able to put catastrophe risk more solidly in context with all the other risks the business faces and am able to demonstrate that the principles, tools and techniques of risk management apply consistently, no matter what type of risk you’re dealing with – catastrophic or otherwise. This enables me to advise more precisely on what steps the business may need to take to manage or mitigate my specialist area of risk – context & materiality are everything.

Top tips:

To become a catastrophe modeller be sure you have an analytical mind-set and enjoy problem solving. I think it helps to have a background or strong interest in natural perils as these make up a key part of the role, but it’s not a necessity – you may just enjoy learning about a new subject. Be prepared for the long haul - to get the most out of a role in catastrophe modelling you need to get some experience and stick with it. You might start in pricing and think it seems repetitive, but this will give you the grounding you need to understand the business and really see what variety of roles there are for you.

Find out more about our newly revised International Diploma in Risk Management.


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