Cover stories

Ask the Expert: Simon Webster, Biomedical and life sciences product manager

Ask the expert - submit your sector, coverage and risk appetite questions to Simon.

Simon has been an insurance underwriter for 19 years, specialising in biomedical and life sciences for the last 14 of them, joining Markel in 2012 with a brief to develop a specialist product and underwriting team to complement our existing niche product portfolio.

Q. Simon, what led you to join Markel?
Simon: I could see a fantastic opportunity. Markel has a long history of finding creative ways to tackle challenging sectors and had the foresight to see the potential in the biomedical and life sciences sector. I had the knowledge and desire to make that happen. Joining Markel gave me the opportunity to design a product that met the needs of the UK market.

Q. What sort of challenges and rewards has your role brought?
Simon: Obviously, in the early days of me joining Markel, we were effectively re-inventing the wheel, which was both challenging but very exciting. Thanks to a lot of hard work from the whole Markel team, we believe that we now have a really unique biomedical and life sciences offering, of which more and more brokers are recognising the benefits. The product is designed to be really flexible, enabling our underwriters to offer brokers and their customers bespoke cover. I'm also still an underwriter at heart which enables me to use my experience in the sector to the full, supported by a dedicated team with the right experience and skill set. We are all excited about building the account.

Q. What is the most important thing you tell brokers?
Simon: Undoubtedly the biggest challenge that we all deal with every day is in helping brokers to recognise all of the areas where a specialist biomedical and life sciences policy would be beneficial to their clients. That's because while it's easy to see that a medical device business requires this sort of specialist cover, many businesses in the field are mistakenly classified as simply manufacturers or distributors, when they urgently need the unique benefits of a dedicated policy. So in our conversations with brokers, we always try to get them to consider the 'end use' of every product or service offered by their insured. If this falls under any kind of biomedical or life sciences category, the chances are that they need a dedicated policy, as standard policies simply won't give adequate cover for events such as interruption of research and development where lack of progress can lead to a cessation of milestone payments; or when legal requirements such as re-certification of labs or clean rooms can extend the business interruption period far beyond the indemnity limits often sought, to give just two examples. Having said that, we know that brokers care about getting these things right and we're working to help many of them to understand how to recognise clients who really need Markel's biomedical and life sciences cover.

Q. So why do you feel that brokers should use Markel?
Simon: In some cases, insurance companies have massive financial backing but can lack flexibility, and vice versa. I think that Markel offers the best of both worlds as we have tremendous financial strength; but I know from my day to day work that we also have the experience to offer flexibility wherever it's required, particularly in the field of biomedical and life sciences. Flexibility is the key to success in this sector, as no two risks are the same. Being able to underwrite risks across the sector with a product designed for the UK market means that we will be able to tailor a solution for the client’s individual needs.

Q. Finally, can you tell us something about what you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies?
Simon: As a family we enjoy regular trips to France whether skiing in Les Arcs or camping around Lake Annecy. When at home my wife and I are involved with our local church, but spend most of our time entertaining our two boys, which keeps us both very busy.