Claire Simpson

The Political Risk Underwriter on the buzz of finding new clients and what it’s like to take tea with Berber tribesmen.

As a child, what job did you dream of doing when you grew up?

At primary school I wanted to become a vet. I discovered a talent for languages however that led me to studying German at university. I then thought about a career in diplomacy, but a spell of work experience at the European Commission put me off that idea.


So, how did you get into insurance?

From university I took a job at Ernst & Young as a trainee accountant. I worked on an audit for a Lloyd’s syndicate and thought it was great. So I decided that insurance was a more interesting career path and applied to the Lloyd’s Graduate Scheme, working for Brockbank (now part of XL). I then joined Hiscox in January 1998.


What do you like best about your job?

I haven’t got over the thrill of closing deals and I get a kick out of seeing something we’ve insured in the press - for the right reasons. The buzz of bringing in new clients and of meeting new people doesn’t fade, while I never feel I’ve mastered my job, which prevents complacency from creeping in. 


Do you think political risk cover is well understood?

This is still a young class of business and it is continually changing as the global environment changes. I think political and credit risk is well understood in a relatively small marketplace, but the challenge is to grow the market. The number of corporates for instance, who believe they need the cover has declined in number, whereas demand remains more positive amongst traders and banks.  


What’s the biggest challenge facing your market over the next 12 months?

The need to find new markets is important, but increasing competition from new entrants is bringing in more capacity and putting pressure on rates against a backdrop of increased global volatility. We want to do the right deals at the right price, but don’t want to chase the market down.


What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

I hope I haven’t had it yet! There are lots of good days and my work is so varied.


What’s been the lowlight?

The global financial crisis. It became very difficult to read the paper knowing the latest disaster could cost us in claims. But the crisis had a positive side for us, in that it validated our product. When banks had their claims paid promptly it made them realise why they bought the product, which has been good for us in the longer term.


What’s your favourite book?

I’m a voracious reader, whether it’s classic fiction – Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird - or something more modern, such as Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus, or Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. I also read lots of non-fiction stuff related to finance and the economy.

When banks had their claims paid promptly it made them realise why they bought the product, which has been good for us in the longer term.


Which are you more likely to go to watch: Fifty Shades of Grey or American Sniper?

I have two children so my cinematic habits are dictated by what they’ll enjoy – Big Hero 6 was the last thing I saw.


Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know?

I once took tea with some Berber tribesmen high up in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Very sweet mint tea since you ask…


Readers’ poll

London Matters, your view: what do you think? - old

Of the six opportunities highlighted by the London Matters report, which one do you think is the most important to take advantage of to safeguard London’s position as a leading international hub for (re)insurance?