Learn About Being an Underwriter

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

What does an underwriter do?

An underwriter examines loan, mortgage, insurance or securities applications to determine risk. They base their assessment on a careful analysis of the applicant’s data. An underwriter’s job responsibilities include:

  • Examining applications for loans, mortgages, insurance or initial public offerings (IPOs)

  • Calculating the risk based on information provided through the application process

  • Conducting research to evaluate an application

  • Using computer software to help make an approval decision

  • Approving or declining each application based on the risk

Average salary

Underwriters normally work regular business hours. They may occasionally need to work nights or weekends when they need to meet deadlines. An underwriter’s salary may depend on their experience and certifications. The size, type and location of the business in which they work could also affect their salary.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $67,169 per year

  • Some salaries range from $15,000 to $157,000 per year.

Underwriter requirements

The requirements for becoming an underwriter will differ depending on where you live. The most common are:

Education

In most cases, you will need a bachelor’s degree to become an underwriter. You may not find a specific major in underwriting, but there are other degrees that will help you find employment, such as finance, accounting, mathematics or business. An underwriter’s work involves research and working with data, so any courses that teach computer and mathematical skills are helpful. Some employers may hire underwriters with relevant work experience and excellent skills. 

Training

Entry-level underwriting jobs with banks, credit unions, brokers and other financial institutions normally involve training. During on-the-job training, an underwriter will learn the processes and procedures that the company uses regularly to evaluate applications. An underwriter will also receive instruction on any specific computer programs or software necessary to complete tasks.

As loan regulations continually change, an underwriter should maintain the most current knowledge of state and federal guidelines. They can attend seminars or conferences to ensure they stay up to date on industry changes and learn more about the various aspects of underwriting.

Certifications

Though you don’t need a certification to become an underwriter, earning one can demonstrate your dedication to your role and expand job opportunities available to you. Here are three of the most common underwriter certifications: 

Certified Residential Underwriter (CRU)

This Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) program offers a residential mortgage loan underwriter certification. There are three progressive levels, each with its own certification. Successful completion of the Basic level gives you the Residential Underwriter Achievement Certificate. It also qualifies you to take the next level if you wish. When you pass the Intermediate level, you receive the Residential Underwriter Professional Certificate. You can then take the Advanced level course, which earns you the CRU Specialist Designation. You can take all of the courses and exams online. 

Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)

Offered by the American College of Financial Services, this designation is for those interested in insurance underwriting. Courses include teaching the fundamentals of insurance and estate planning, life insurance law, income taxation and investments. You can complete the program through self-paced study or through live online classes. To receive the designation, you must complete eight courses, pass the exams and meet certain experience and ethical requirements. You also need to re-certify every two years through their re-certification program.

American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters (“The Institutes”)

The Institutes offer the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) and the Associate in Commercial Underwriting (ACU) designations. Intermediate and advanced level courses are available for both. You can complete the ACU program in nine to 15 months and the CPCU in two to three years. There are additional requirements to earn these designations, including passing foundation courses, complying with ethical standards and completing a minimum number of experience hours.

Skills

Underwriters need a certain set of skills to excel within the role, including: 

  • Computer skills: Computers complete most of the statistical analysis work for underwriters. Each industry has its own specific software underwriters need to learn and become comfortable with. It can be helpful to learn spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel. They may also need to use a computer to conduct research.

  • Analytical skills: There are many factors that determine an applicant’s risk. A good underwriter is able to examine each factor, assess it appropriately and come to a decision. Computer software can be a useful tool to help make that decision. However, they still need to consider those results to decide whether they should approve the application. 

  • Mathematical skills: Though a computer will perform most of the math involved in an application, underwriters need to verify the accuracy before making a decision. They use statistics and probabilities most often when calculating an appropriate rate or determining the likelihood that the applicant will file a claim.

  • Communication skills: Part of an underwriter’s research work involves communicating with customers. They not only need to communicate clearly but also ask the right questions in a friendly and professional manner. It is also important that they listen carefully to the answers so they can respond appropriately. Underwriters often negotiate with customers and investors, which requires them to have confidence in their communication ability. Professional communication skills may also attract potential clients.

Underwriter work environment

Underwriters typically work in an office setting. They sit for extended periods of time while working at a computer, either entering or analyzing data. They may occasionally have interaction with agents, either in person, over the phone or via email. It is also possible for underwriters to travel to attend meetings. Most underwriters work within financial services, usually with a bank, a credit union, insurance agency or investment company. Underwriters typically work normal business hours with occasional overtime. 

How to become an underwriter

These are the steps to becoming an underwriter:

1. Earn a degree

The most desirable degrees are in finance-related fields. Good examples are mathematics, business and accounting. Any coursework you can do to improve your computer skills will also benefit you. Some companies that hire underwriter managers may seek applicants with a master’s degree in business administration. 

2. Apply for an entry-level job

Most underwriters start out working for a bank or other such financial services company in an entry-level position. This might be as an underwriter’s assistant, or an underwriter under the direct supervision of a senior underwriter. This job is will help you get comfortable with analyzing data and assessing risks. As you progress in knowledge and experience, your supervisor will give you more independent work and responsibility.

3. Take a certification course

This is not required, but it will help establish you as an underwriter and potentially increase your salary. Look for certification programs within your particular field of underwriting. For example, if you are working as an insurance underwriter, you might consider the Chartered Life Underwriter designation offered by the American College of Financial Services.

Underwriter job description example

Acme Insurance Company is seeking a detail-oriented insurance underwriter. As part of our team, you will review insurance applications and conduct credit, background checks and other necessary research on applicants. We will look to you to provide competitive insurance premium quotes and negotiate the specific policy terms. This is a full-time salaried position with the opportunity for advancement. 

The right candidate will have:

  • Exceptional analytical skills

  • Excellent computer and mathematical skills 

  • Good communication skills

  • Bachelor’s degree or higher in a business or finance field

  • Minimum of two years underwriting experience

Related careers

If becoming an underwriter is interesting to you, consider one of the other following careers:

  • Loan Officer

  • Insurance Agent

  • Actuary

  • Tax Preparer

  • Accountant

  • Financial Advisor


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