Specialist Spotlight: Chris Poulter

Meet Chris Poulter, Team Manager in the Professional Risks team at Miles Smith. We sat down with him to learn about his career, experience and observations of the market.


Chris’s journey into the insurance industry

Building the early foundations

Chris's journey into the insurance industry began at the age of 16 during his year 11 work experience at a local insurance broker. Three weeks of general admin duties, sending out quotes and making tea and coffee, laid the foundation for his career. A temping agency later placed him in a summer job at a High Street broker named HML in Wickford, Essex. Working on the travel insurance desk, Chris found a unique opportunity to delve into the intricacies of in-house schemes, particularly travel insurance. This hands-on experience solidified his interest in insurance.

Decades of growth

While studying English literature at university, Chris's early exposure to the insurance industry became a valuable addition to his CV. Post-graduation, he entered the field of Professional Indemnity (PI) at Amlin Insurance, where he spent three years supporting PI underwriters. The Lloyd's background he gained positioned him for a decade-long tenure at Senior Wright, a Lloyd's PI wholesale broker. Progressing from an Account Handler to a Renewals Manager, Chris showcased a relentless commitment to professional growth.

In 2014, former colleague, Nick Pauley set up a PI account at Miles Smith. A year later, Chris followed suit and his contributions have been integral to Miles Smith's success ever since, underlining his strategic role as Team Manager.

Life as Team Manager at Miles Smith

When Chris joined in 2015, he had a dual role encompassing account handling and setting up in-house binding authorities for PI, before transitioning to a specialised focus on underwriting more recently. Chris’s current role involves reviewing incoming business and identifying opportunities for in-house underwriting. A seamless coordination with account handlers on the PI side ensures efficient communication with brokers. Should a case fall outside the scope of Miles Smith’s PI facilities, Chris will pass them onto Fin Vollans, Head of Miles Smith PI Broking, whose team will take the cases to the open market.

A significant part of Chris's daily responsibilities revolves around the meticulous management of the renewal book. He reviews previous rates and proposal forms, crafting precise renewal terms. The two primary binders now boast a substantial premium income ranging between £3-4 million each.

Design and construction dynamics

Within UK wholesale broking, Chris addresses the nuanced risks faced by small businesses and independent professionals. With a focus on design and construction, Chris offers decisive insights into the specific challenges encountered by these entities.

Small contractors form a significant part of Miles Smith’s business, and the predominant risks centre on design errors leading to underlying problems. Chris speaks of the delayed nature of claims, often surfacing years after the completion of the work. The crux lies in identifying the roots of the problem, particularly when it traces back to flawed designs or the specification of incorrect materials.

Consider this…

Cutting to the heart of potential issues, Chris provides a concrete example. Consider a scenario where a contractor wrongly specifies materials for waterproofing a basement. Years down the line, heavy rain exposes the flaw, flooding the basement. Chris explains that such situations become grounds for PI claims against the contractor, underscoring the financial and reputational risks at play.

Beyond the scope of design, Chris delves into the asbestos PI scheme, illuminating another facet of risk management. He draws attention to the challenges faced during asbestos surveys in buildings with intricate layouts, emphasising the difficulty of identifying suspected asbestos in hard-to-reach areas. The issues then arise when contractors, in subsequent phases, discover asbestos overlooked by the initial surveyors.

Chris's insights on the Building Safety Act 2022

The Building Safety Act, enforced in October 2022 following the Grenfell tragedy, stands as a pivotal piece of Government legislation. The act places heightened obligations on all parties involved in a contract – be it designers, contractors, or building control bodies. The new piece of legislation treats them all as duty holders, magnifying their responsibility and exposure.

Prolonged liability horizons

The shift in legislation extends beyond immediate obligations. Another alteration lies in the extension of claims windows – a departure from the conventional 6 or 12 years. Now, claims can be lodged up to 30 years from the completion of the work. Chris notes that this remains relatively untested terrain since the act's enforcement in October 2023. The anticipation, however, is that it will unfurl in the coming years, revealing claims that previously fell outside the legislative view. This is likely to lead to a surge in claims owing to the amplified responsibilities put upon contractors as duty holders. 

The behavioural shift has already surfaced in the form of increased queries. However, the insurance landscape is currently in a phase of observation, with insurers diligently noting the evolving scenario. The absence of sufficient claims data makes it difficult to make reliable predictions, so insurers are simply waiting for high-profile cases to test the waters.

Anticipating changes and challenges

Looking forward, Chris envisages a transformation in the approach of contractors, especially larger entities. The call for increased responsibility and meticulous adherence to regulations, suggests fewer cost-cutting measures will be taken. The shift will likely have cost implications, particularly in the context of the current soft market. The ripple effect on the market's trajectory, alternating between soft and hard phases, remains a subject of keen observation.

Key risk management strategies

Continuous professional development

Chris emphasises the importance of having qualified professionals at all times. He stresses the critical need for ongoing updates and maintenance of qualifications, especially when technology and building regulations undergo constant changes. The reality is, that claims can arise if professionals fail to keep pace with these shifts, so staying up to date is non-negotiable.

Peer reviews

The value of peer reviews emerges as a focal point in Chris's recommendations. He highlights the significance of this practice, especially for younger or recently qualified staff. The potential for oversights in initial surveys leading to future claims necessitates a proactive approach through peer reviews. These are crucial to preventing issues from escalating.

Project Managers as key figures

Chris unveils the harsh reality that project managers often find themselves at the forefront of claims. His assertion is straightforward – the overall project managers, overseeing the deployment of subcontractors, become susceptible to claims. While the work may not be directly their fault, the dynamics of subrogation against contractors bring about defense costs. Chris's analysis underscores the need for project managers to assume a level of responsibility for the contractors they deploy.

Chris's insightful outlook for 2024

Chris provides a candid analysis of emerging trends in the insurance landscape for 2024. With a focus on PI, Chris's insights, rooted in the stark realities of market dynamics, shed light on the shifts observed in recent years and the expectations for the months ahead.

A shift in market dynamics

Chris's observations reveal a noteworthy shift in market dynamics. From 2018 to 2022, the insurance industry experienced a stringent phase marked by a hard market. During this period, premiums for PI soared, witnessing a substantial increase of 40-50%. However, the tide has turned in the last nine months. The market has softened, bringing about a decline in premiums. More insurers, dormant in the PI sector for several years, have re-entered the arena. A rise in market capacity has led to increased competition among industry players.

Looking ahead, Chris anticipates the continuation of this trend, despite the decline in premiums surpassing predictions. The prevalence of PI claims in the market gives optimism that the soft market is only here for the short term, and looking beyond 2024 we may well see rates rising again.

Miles Smith's strategic position

In navigating these market shifts, Miles Smith stands resilient. Chris affirms that as a wholesale broker, the company is strategically positioned to thrive even in a soft market. The strength lies in a well-curated panel of brokers, exclusive in-house binders and robust relationships in the open market. Notably, Miles Smith's PI binders are not just accessible but profitable – a competitive advantage that sets them apart in the industry.

Chris shares what he most enjoys about working at Miles Smith

Finally, in reflecting on the job, Chris expresses a strong affinity for underwriting. Despite initially aiming for the Lloyd's Box at Amlin, a decade in broking ensued. Chris enjoys collaborating with highly experienced and knowledgeable colleagues in the PI team, who maintain an open environment where questions are welcomed, showcasing a collective commitment to approachability and support.

Find out more

To learn more about placing complex PI risks, get in touch with a member of our Broker Relationship Management team.

Read our previous Specialist Spotlight on Account Director, Andy Brooks, or our recent PI case study.


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Talk to Our Team

020 7977 4800


Author: Miles Smith

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