Karla Scott remembers getting a phone call late on a Friday afternoon.
“As an underwriter, you just know that answering a phone call on a Friday means there will be some sort of emergency or urgent situation to address,” Karla said.
On the other end of the phone was one of Karla’s logistics brokers – an intermediary that connects shippers and carriers on behalf of their client – who wanted to insure a product that was going to move across South America that day. She had to decide whether it made sense to provide coverage.
Logistics companies are at the heart of global commerce. They help businesses move their goods around the world, a complex process that involves everything from transportation to warehousing.
“With logistics companies, their clients represent every kind of industry in global trade,” she explained. “You have to decide quickly on that Friday afternoon if your logistics client’s urgent need aligns with your interest, if the risk is within appetite and to the benefit of The Hartford, while at the same time solving the urgent needs of the broker and client.”
Karla is a senior managing director, leading a team of underwriters in Ocean Marine at The Hartford. She joined the company after The Hartford acquired Navigators in 2019.
In her role, Karla works with her clients, agents and brokers around the world to ensure businesses have the protection they need through the product’s entire supply chain life cycle. Her team insures raw materials and goods throughout the life cycle of the global supply chain. Those goods are transported on containerships, airplanes, trains and trucks.
The complexity of the ocean marine and logistics industries can present new dilemmas each day – a challenge that Karla said excites her.
“You’re learning about a different commodity and a different business every single day,” Karla explained. “One day, you’re insuring bananas and you become an expert in what happens with bananas in transit. The next day, you’re an expert in pharmaceuticals. And the next, it’s auto parts. You’re immersing yourself in the intricacies of that particular business.”
What It Takes To Be an Underwriter in Ocean Marine
The ocean marine industry is a specialized area within insurance. Karla got her start in the industry working at a brokerage firm that specializes in logistics. From there, her interest took off.
“I fell in love with global trade and transportation of goods around the world,” Karla said. “When you overlay that with what’s happening in the world and the geopolitical environment, it all comes into play. A shipment in one country has very different risks than a shipment to another country.”
While it takes time to learn the ocean marine and logistics industry, Karla said it shouldn’t deter anyone. Because of the complexities, it’s a role that requires patience and discipline.
“It takes time to understand the industry and it’s important to learn from those people around you and their experiences, enabling you to carry the learned and experienced knowledge base forward as you grow,” she explained.
It’s not uncommon for an underwriter in ocean marine to wear different hats and take on various roles – sales, distribution, rating, modeling all done by a marine underwriter, Karla added. She likened it to being entrepreneurial in nature – like having your own business to grow and take care of.
But the time, commitment and effort can pay off, Karla emphasized. “You begin to develop your own reputation, which is important, she said. It’s seen as a valuable benefit to agents and brokers because they trust you and your knowledge. When you mix a good reputation with a bit of a sales and strong relationships, it makes a career in the ocean marine and logistics industry fun, Karla said.
How a Culture of Support Led to a New Product
By the time Karla joined The Hartford, she brought with her two decades of experience and a book of business that she was able to help grow. Through this experience, she has recognized how the specialty nature of her work lends itself to being on the cutting edge of solving some of the most unique and challenging risk issues.
When she thinks back to joining The Hartford, after the insurer acquired Navigators, she said it was the perfect opportunity for The Hartford to be a leader in logistics.
“It felt like being part of a startup in a huge organization,” Karla said. “There was a lot of investment in technology and a sophistication that was coming to the logistics industry, which presented a ripe opportunity for The Hartford to get deeper into it.”
Recently, The Hartford launched a logistics coverage product aimed at protecting logistic companies. It was a development process that Karla spearheaded.
“There was so much support and enthusiasm for it,” Karla said, describing the excitement she felt as she got momentum from The Hartford’s reaction to her idea for a logistics product leadership team. “I talked about it with Global Specialty leadership, took the idea and presented it to the Underwriting Risk Council, where [The Hartford Chairman and CEO] Chris Swift and [The Hartford President] Doug Elliot asked great questions about logistics and how it makes sense to The Hartford.”
And her success hasn’t stopped there. With her ocean cargo team, Karla said The Hartford was able to double the size of the ocean cargo business in less than three years.
It’s all been possible because The Hartford has become a “market leader” in ocean marine.
“It started with a small flame and now we have such great momentum to drive change and impact,” she explained. “Momentum doesn't just happen, it's what we bring to the marketplace in a very unique way. With The Hartford, there’s broad agency distribution, expertise and nimbleness where we can also partner with specialty brokers in specialty marine business.”
The Importance of Mentoring
While thinking back on her career and her success within ocean marine, Karla credited mentoring for playing a part in her success. She partnered with Carl Bach, CEO of International at The Hartford, to better understand the Lloyd’s Syndicate and how current world affairs were affecting logistics, the supply chain, and the insurance industry overall.
“Hearing about geopolitical events from the head of International and how it impacts his business was really fascinating,” Karla explained. “It really provided context to what we we’re doing and how it impacts global economies.”
She added that the individual needs of being an underwriter in ocean marine, coupled with the constantly changing landscape in the industry, was easier to navigate with the help of mentors.
“It’s daunting,” Karla said of the constantly changing landscape in ocean marine. “It’s a little unnerving because there aren’t any guidelines for all of this. So, mentoring, learning from your predecessors and on-the-job training is a huge part to success.”
As a leader in the space, she’s also passing along her experience through mentorships and volunteering on various boards and committees.
“I’ve mentored a few women in my career and I’m now seeing them rise in their careers,” Karla said. “It feels good and really worth it.”
Pushing for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Within Ocean Marine
A big focus for Karla is diversity, equity and inclusion. She hopes to grow the number of women working in ocean marine and holding leadership positions. Karla reflected on a business dinner 10 years ago, where she was the only woman at a table of 30 senior-level people. But more recently, she noticed a larger presence of women at a senior-level meeting for logistics brokers.
“Historically, it’s largely been a male-dominated place, but there is an effort to grow talent in a diverse way,” Karla said.
Karla added that The Hartford is also working to grow internal talent. There’s an effort to provide more avenues for growth and development, like training, so underwriters throughout the company can decide if they want to be an ocean marine underwriter, or an underwriter in another discipline like property or group benefits.
“When you become an underwriter at The Hartford, it doesn’t mean you’re an underwriter for that particular business forever. If you have an interest with what’s going on in Global Specialty, you have the ability to move,” she explained. “We’re trying to expose underwriters to different areas.”
A Growing Industry Making an Impact
Some people think that working in insurance isn’t exciting or valuable – a view that Karla does not share.
“What we’re doing really matters. A shipment that needs to get delivered to another country wouldn’t happen unless it’s insured. There are countries that depend on imports being delivered,” Karla said. “What we’re doing keeps global trade and economies moving. Otherwise, it comes to a screeching halt.”
Learn more about an exciting career in underwriting at The Hartford.