A Day in the Life of a Reinsurer
5:50 am — The alarm rings on loud and I tumble and fumble to find the “Off” button. How my wife sleeps through the noise I’ll never know. I shave and shower, dress in my most conservative suit, then reset the alarm to 7:00 am for my wife. I kiss my wife’s sleeping cheek and pet dog on his ear. The room is very dark and I can only hope that I kissed and petted in the right order. I walk softly through the darkened house. The grapefruit juice is chilled and I grab a quick six ounces. Funny, when I was a kid, I didn’t like grapefruit juice. Maybe it was because Mom made me use it as a chaser for my daily dose of cod liver oil. Now, if I don’t get it, it’s like leaving the house without brushing my hair or splashing on after-shave. After-shave...today I selected Royal Spice, nothing to romantic or provocative for the business that lies ahead.
6:25 am — My Subaru roars to life. Roar is perhaps an overstatement. Subaru’s tend to clink & clatter to life more than roar. But it knows the way to 1-95 and soon I am amassed with thousands of other commuters who left early to avoid being amassed with thousands of commuters. Traffic moves surprisingly well and the 28.135 mile ride to the office passes quickly. Don’t think I haven’t clocked this trip to the 3rd decimal.
7:00 am — The company garage affords a wide selection of parking spots at this hour. My immediate concern is “coffee”. The cafeteria normally doesn’t open until 7:30, but I’m able to bribe a kindly white-aproned gentleman by moaning softly as he processes a steaming urn. Pity is a great sales tool. I return to the garage and await the van driver making his first run of the day to the railroad station. His van is icy cold and starts to warm just as he drops me at the station. Winter is hell!
7:30 am — The train station is under construction so I await my train in 35 degree elements. Trains come and go and hundreds of people pass by. Who are these people? There’s a young man, maybe 25, in a beautiful Chesterfield coat and carrying an expensive briefcase. Who is he, where does he work; does he make more than me?
An older man, gray haired, bearish, is eating a glazed cruller and has no coat. Who is he, is be an eccentric, does he make more money than me? Ladies pass wearing heels, boots, and tennis shoes. What do they do? Do they make more than me? Do they think I’m an eccentric?
7:55 am - Just before frostbite sets in, my train arrives. I settle into my seat and the porter takes my breakfast order. I choose the omelets dujour even though I didn’t know what omelets dujour is. Actually, I think I like omelets dujour best. It has red stuff in it and big brown chunks.
8.30 am — On my 2nd cup of coffee now, I decide to peek into my briefcase and prepare for what lies ahead, a difficult call in Philadelphia. Do I like this company? What risk are they going to ask me to take? What rate should I charge? Familiar questions with no pat answers, but I have one & half hours to learn as much as I can, prepare answers to questions they might ask and determine whether I want to add this company to my client base. I defer conclusion until additional facts are in.
10:13 am — Miracle of miracles! The train arrives on schedule, a cab is waiting, and the cabbie even knows how to get to where I’m going. I arrive 5 minutes before my scheduled appointment.
10:30 am - If ever there was an insurance company that epitomized what an insurance company should look like, this one does: massive stone exterior, huge columns flanking the entrance, marbled halls, clerks scurrying hither and yon. It reeks of tradition, conservatism and vast sums of cash stored in huge vaults somewhere on the premises. Their reserves, no doubt, are kept in cash. A very neat and attractive secretary meets me in the lobby and escorts me to the office of the VP of Marketing. We make small talk about the weather, a plaque on the wall honoring employees with perfect attendance (she didn’t make it by a long shot, I gather) and finally about the Boss’ spirits today. Apparently, they’re better than usual. I consider this a good omen.
10:35 am — Pleasantries, trivialities and establishment of good rapport come first. My trip, his family, golf, and the state of the industry are soon dispatched. Now he say’s those dreaded seven words. “I’d like our actuary to join us.” Well surprise, surprise! The actuary ain’t such a bad guy. But to the point, why am I here? What is on my agenda, their agenda? I proceed cautiously. History first, fact finding is next. Finally, (and the question hangs in the air as thick as mustard), what do I suggest? I could suggest anything. Or I could suggest nothing. Have I gathered enough information to make any suggestion at all? What the hell, life is short. I make my suggestions. At first, they don’t comprehend. My fault! Let me explain more fully. Now they understand, but quickly anticipate problems. Good thing I had that second cup of coffee on the train because I anticipated these very questions. I elaborate. They ponder, and ponder some more. I somehow withstand the overpowering urge to break the silence. Finally, they nod and say, “I guess that will work.” We cover the details. They raise problems I hadn’t thought of. I assure them it’s a good point, but one I believe can be solved. I promise to investigate. They seem satisfied. Total time elapsed - about 1 ½ hours. Now we look at each other with the expression we have all come to identify as “who’s going to buy lunch?” They offer, I accept. Off we go the to employee cafeteria.
12 15 pm — A gourmet delight awaits me. A dried out Philly cheese steak with onions and hot peppers and (be still my heart), potato chips and a pickle. Luncheon conversation is sports, our deal, travel stories, our deal, etc. The diet cola goes to my head and I tell several of my favorite travel stories.
1:15 pm — Back to the VP’s office. We clarify what is to be done now, who will do what and when. I’ll do this, you’ll do that. We shake, we smile and each wonders whether anything worthwhile will ever result from this meeting.
2:25 pm — The train is late! I’ve already killed 45 minutes by making several phone calls, browsing in a bookstore and buying some green pepper jelly (hard to find in Connecticut). Another 20 minutes, 30, 40. It finally arrives.
3:45 pm — The porter has neatly set out my martini, honey roasted peanuts, breadsticks and cheese. What did I accomplish today? Less than 3 hours in front of the client. Is it a good deal for us? Did I pick up enough information? Did they perceive me as an honest, knowledgeable, trustworthy business, person. Or did they perceive me as a scheming, profiteering, reinsurance peddler. Only time will tell.
4:30 pm — The train enters the Meadowlands, vast fields of light brown sea grass streaked by frozen riverlets. In the distance, the Manhattan Skyline. The twin towers of the World Trade Center seem a long way from the Empire State building. I’d never noticed that before. Over my shoulder, the sun is a red ball settling between dark clouds. I enjoy the magnificent view until it is abruptly turned off as we enter the tunnel to Penn Station.
5:15 pm — The ride will be over shortly, but as we emerge from the tunnel, I note that darkness is speckled by the millions of lights in the metropolitan New York area. Some final notes and I gather my belongings (always liked that word).
6:15 pm — Back to the office and it seems even more deserted than it did at 7:00 am. My desk is cluttered with pink phone messages and the “In” basket is stacked high. I dictate a report on today’s meeting, several related memos, then leave with a curiosity, but no enthusiasm for tackling the “In” basket.
8:00 pm — Home at last! My wife and I exchange our typical greeting.
“How was your day? Fine! How was yours? Fine! Anything special happen? Not really! How about you? Nothing exciting.”
And it wasn’t a special or exciting day. Just a typical day in the life of a reinsurer. A day I enjoyed.
Stephen E. Cunningham, FLMI was most recently the Vice President-Marketing of Mystic Insurance Intermediaries. He had a 40 plus year career in the Insurance and Reinsurance Industry. Steve passed away on March 26, 2007.
Note: This essay appeared in the Actuarial Digest Summer 2007 Edition