This article was produced in partnership with Signal Underwriting
Sandra Dawes-Chatha, of Insurance Business, sat down with Alexander Blair-Johns, CEO and class underwriter for Signal Underwriting, to discuss what makes his new MGA unique and its first months of business.
Alexander Blair-Johns’ (pictured) road to becoming the head of his own MGA started more than 20 years ago as a brokerage file clerk. With his interest in the industry piqued, he quickly earned the designations he needed to become a broker. After eight years at the brokerage, he welcomed the challenging and fun opportunity to move to the underwriting side and has worked as an underwriter/underwriter manager in the healthcare, life sciences and commercial programs niche since.
“I think spending about half your career on the broking side and the other half on the underwriting side gives you a unique perspective and advantage when starting an MGA,” he said. “It allows you to understand the needs of the carriers you represent, while having first-hand knowledge of the challenges brokers face.”
Signal Underwriting, which he proudly shares is fully independent and has no financial ties to any broker or carrier, officially opened on January 01, 2022.
The company currently provides liability offerings for the healthcare, life sciences, manufacturing, wholesale and distribution industries, focusing on products where it holds underwriting authority and that bring new capacity to the market.
Blair-Johns emphasized that his company is customer-focused and very supportive of its broker network, offering in-depth knowledge as a key added value on top of regular services. “We know that it’s impossible to be an expert in everything as a commercial broker, and that’s where we can come in, offering not only a customized product but hands-on assistance and guidance,” he said.
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He was inspired to start Signal Underwriting when he saw the healthcare industry segment, one of his areas of expertise, being underserved by reduced capacity and broad exclusions. It was a gap he knew he could fill and “during a pandemic nonetheless,” he added.
The entrepreneurial journey has been “fun, scary, and exciting” and has come with some key accomplishments, such as Signal Underwriting becoming a Lloyd’s of London coverholder in less than a year. Having great help makes a difference, and Blair-Johns was quick to point out that things wouldn’t have been possible without the support he received from his London syndicates and brokers, domestic carriers, Lloyd’s and CAMGA.
Building Signal Underwriting from scratch has allowed Blair-Johns to set up the company the way he wants, both with underwriting (data collection) and customer service in mind. These internal processes have allowed the company to automate many parts of its operations, such as document issuance for its in-house underwritten products. Automation means a quick turnaround time, which is essential for the survival of a small company.
Signal Underwriting’s first year of operations is going well and the company continues to innovate and improve its product offerings. It has three new products on the way, as well as improving its manufacturing product to include sub-limits for manufacturers’ E&O and product recall. You can follow Signal Underwriting on LinkedIn to keep up with company announcements.
Blair-Johns attributes his ability to survive the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship to his supportive spouse and personal and professional support system. He’s excited about Signal’s future and looks forward to continuing working with its existing broker network and welcoming new partners with, he noted, “no contracts necessary.”
Blair-Johns has been in the insurance industry since 2002, spending his first eight years as a commercial insurance broker working with commercial insurance programs and within the healthcare and life sciences practice.
In 2010, he moved to underwriting where he managed a large portfolio of healthcare, a variety of commercial insurance programs and a life sciences book of business. He held the titles of senior national manager (programs) and professional liability lead, and AVP healthcare and life sciences during his tenure.
In March 2021, Blair-Johns founded Signal Underwriting Inc., a company that provides value to all three of its customers: the retail broker, the insured and the insurance company.
He currently holds the professional designations of Canadian Accredited Insurance Broker (CAIB), Fellow Chartered Insurance Professional (FCIP), Canadian Risk Management (CRM) and Registered Professional Liability Underwriter (RPLU).