Insurance Business America
Discipline unlocks success in the MGA market
Whether it’s taking a start-up from zero to $650 million worth of business or making inroads into the specialty reinsurance space, Shevawn Barder’s grit, discipline, and foresight have established her as one of the top leaders in the insurance field.
The CEO of AM Specialty Insurance Company (ASIC) spoke to IBTV about her experience, sharing the challenges and successes she’s encountered along the way.
Barder began her career as a broker at Lloyd’s of London for Willis Faber, Alexander Howden, and Sedgwick. The experience opened her eyes to the fast-paced and exciting world of insurance.
“At the time, Lloyd’s was such an exciting global centre of insurance,” she recalled. “It was very entrepreneurial and full of unique characters.”
Her 10 years as a London broker gave Barder “fantastic training that was the basis of [her] career.” But it soon became clear that there were other opportunities to explore.
In 2000, she followed her entrepreneurial spirit to start up MarineRe with her husband, Simon.
“We decided to capitalize on our Lloyd’s experience by going into the US market. We felt it was important to be on the ground in the US,” Barder said of the move. “Upon reflection, this was very forward-thinking.”
In addition to being one of the first reinsurance managing general agencies (MGAs), MarineRe addressed a gap in marine business in the market. MarineRe was acquired by Ironshore in 2008.
The challenges of growing an MGA
Barder continued to grow Marine Re after it integrated with Ironshore, focusing on marine, inland marine, and offshore reinsurance. Under her leadership, GPI grew from $35 million to $102 million, while Ironshore’s business diversified.
Barder went on to found AM RE Syndicate, another reinsurance-focused MGA, in 2014, during what she called a “very soft” market cycle.
“Our intention was to write more diversified lines of business,” she said. “With AM RE, we did something unique: We went to the Asian market to create our panel of security to offer Asian security, diversification, and access to the US market.”
AM RE Syndicate flourished to become one of the leading specialty program reinsurance providers in the country. Barder expressed pride in the book of business they built.
“We built AM RE as a true start-up from zero to $650 million of written premium, with a portfolio of low-limit, non-NatCat, well-spread business,” said Barder.
A “fortuitous” relocation to Dallas
In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, AM RE Syndicate relocated from Manhattan to Dallas, Texas – a move Barder called fortuitous.
By then, around 75 percent of their business had been coming out of Texas and other southern states.
“Texas has become an incredible hub for the program business,” Barder said. “I think we were very lucky with our timing. We were able to work from the office and we didn't have to work remotely for very long.”
2020 turned out to be AM RE’s busiest year yet. It boosted its team with several hires and continued to grow its business.
“We created a panel of international security, including Lloyd's of London, [and] London-, Swiss-, and Asian-based securities. I think that's unique in this market,” said Barder.
Culmination of experience and hard work
Despite her success, Barder admits it took time and an incredible amount of discipline to thrive in the MGA space, even as the market grew in the US.
“There is a massive focus on the MGA market in the US right now. It seems like everyone wants to start an MGA,” she told Insurance Business.
“That is a tough thing to do, because you need to have tremendous discipline. We worked incredibly hard in those first two years, and we didn't pay ourselves for a year,” she said. “But ultimately, it clicked.”
AM RE also paved the way for the birth of ASIC. An Arizona-authorized domestic excess and surplus (E&S) carrier and accredited reinsurer, ASIC was founded in 2022 by Barder and her husband.
It proudly leverages partnerships with retail producers, national wholesale brokers, MGAs, underwriting managers, reinsurers, and program managers to provide E&S coverage for its clients.
“AM RE provided us with the framework and structure [for ASIC], and the realization that we could really go for it and create an E&S carrier in the US market,” said Barder. “ASIC is the culmination of my experience to date, and I'm really proud of what we've achieved.”
Advice for women leaders
Looking back, Barder credits her focus to strong underwriting as a fundamental part of MarineRe and AM RE’s successes.
“I think it goes back to being very focused on what we wanted to achieve with underwriting and creating some key relationships that helped establish our presence in the market,” she said.
Her advice for other women leaders in insurance? Be patient, and pace yourself.
“The most important thing [to remember] is that your career is not a sprint, it's a marathon. You have to be patient and just keep at it, and ultimately, you'll succeed,” she said.
“If you have a desire to do something, don't give up. Be very focused on what you want to achieve.”