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Press Article: A journey from West to East - Launching Coastal & Inland in Asia with Callum O'Brien
Callum O'Brien has worked with Standard Club for more than seven years. He recently moved from London to Singapore to work as an Underwriter in the company's Coastal & Inland class to help the team support the region. This...
Callum O'Brien has worked with Standard Club for more than seven years. He recently moved from London to Singapore to work as an Underwriter in the company's Coastal & Inland class to help the team support the region. This expansion means that the team is empowered with fully-localised authority in underwriting and claims.
In many ways, Singapore and London share several similarities. They are both financial and business hubs serving as transit points for global enterprise; they both boast colourful cosmopolitan energy and approximate each another for multiculturalism.
But it wasn't the sameness that motivated Standard Club Underwriter Callum O'Brien to move from the United Kingdom's capital to a South East Asian city-state 10,000 km away. It was the differences.
Standard Club, a mutual insurance association which specialises in marine and energy, extended its Coastal & Inland class in February this year to cover the Asia Pacific region after 50 years of successful operation in Europe.
“I always wanted to work abroad, specifically in Asia, so when the opportunity came along, I did jump at it,” he said.
Moving to Singapore presented an opportunity to learn about new markets and meet different people from all over the world, he explained.
“It's such a huge region, the Asia Pacific, and there are so many different markets to deal with and cultural differences to understand.”
Callum had previously covered blue water shipping in the Greek, Norwegian and Cypriot markets as a deputy and then full underwriter at the club’s office in London. The reach of its Coastal & Inland class is significant, but its presence in Asia has been nonexistent in its 50-year history.
“My role is basically to service our existing business that we have built over the last eight months or so since launch, and then continue to grow the book.”
“I don't think anyone grows up wanting to be a P&I underwriter, to be honest. It's quite a niche career path!” he laughed.
He kick-started his career with Standard Club in 2015 straight out of Sheffield University as an underwriting assistant authoring documentation and supporting admin. After seven and a half years, the company had work for him in Singapore as a dedicated underwriter, intending to grow its portfolio in the Asia-Pacific region.
“I spent three years in an underwriting assistant role and then was promoted to deputy underwriter and then underwriter at the beginning of 2021. I was always in the same team (the European Division) working on the larger blue water ships in the European markets” he said
A lot of what Callum is doing now is new business. The geographical remit is gigantic and spans from South Korea to Australia, the entire pacific and India.
“It's a huge region, and we've never underwritten business out here for Coastal & Inland before, so it's a completely new market for us in that sense,” Callum added.
The job essentially involves developing relationships with brokers and investigating the various markets to find new businesses opportunities. Risk assessments are then conducted and policy terms are subsequently created. Another aspect of the work is servicing all the business retained throughout the year.
The Singapore role is also faster paced. Callum's previous work with blue water involved much larger ships that needed to be entered in the International Group system. The International Group Agreement meant that quoting business freely was more constrained and therefore there was less new business to try and win.
“It's a very unique opportunity to be able to start a book of business entirely from scratch in P&I,” he said. “It has been a very steep learning curve, as the small craft market in Asia differs hugely from writing blue water tonnage in Europe. Fortunately, I benefit from the vast experience of the existing Coastal & Inland class in London and the established team here in Singapore.
Callum also set up the club's Technology Working Group, with a focus on autonomous shipping. The initial idea of the working group was to observe technological development in the shipping industry, such as drones delivering supplies to ships and how blockchain might affect both the shipping and insurance industries.
“It started off when there was a lot of noise around new technologies in the market and our attention quickly focused on autonomous ships. We believed that this technology would continue develop over time and potentially have implications for our members, particularly those with small craft. We wanted to become experts in that field and be able to advise on the insurance implications. The group consists of people from across the company – both departmentally and geographically – to discuss different technological advancements and understand if it might affect our members or the company,” he said.
Callum has also been expanding his industry credentials. He has completed the Diploma in the International Group P&I Qualification (P&IQ) and is currently working towards Professional Qualifying Examinations with the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.
“P&IQ is relatively new and specialist to the industry itself,” Callum said. “Before this, people just learnt all the intricacies of the system and the cover on the job over decades. Now you can just sit down and get a pretty in depth understanding of everything over the course of a few years.”
“I then decided to start the Professional Qualifying Exams of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers." he said. “Understanding the insurance industry is one thing, but shipowners are rarely interested in talking about that! Gaining a more detailed understating of the mechanics of the shipping industry has been a huge help for me and I've found it fascinating”.
Aside from work, Callum has found a personal love for Singapore and has quickly adjusted to his new lifestyle in the Lion City.
“Food is the big thing for me,” he said. “A lot of life in Singapore is based around eating and I've been loving exploring all the different cuisines on offer. There's a lot of travel to places I've never been too. I've got trips coming up to India and Australia, and I've never been to either of those places. I'm excited for that.”