Meet our experts: Vanessa Tomik // Marine Insurance

Vanessa Tomik, marine insurance underwriter at Delvag, talks to us about the general situation in the industry and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interview // 08.11.2021

In our ‘Meet our experts’ series, we regularly introduce you to our experts from all areas of the Delvag Group. Vanessa Tomik, marine insurance underwriter at Delvag, talks to us about the general situation in the industry and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also cites a few extraordinary examples that reveal why you will constantly be confronted with insurance-related matters in everyday life, even though you can turn your computer off after work.

Ms Tomik, can you briefly explain to us the risks that Delvag’s marine insurance covers?

Very generally speaking, we at Delvag want to offer our customers a comprehensive risk-management service in transport and logistics matters. Air cargo has always been the main focus of the risks we underwrite. We also have long-time experience in insuring sea freight, in the field of diamond and jewel trading (“Jewellers’ Block”), in “Cash in Transit” and in transporting other valuable cargo. But we don’t just want to insure every risk – that would not be in our interest, nor in the interest of our customers. That’s why, as part of our ‘transport risk management’, we offer a consulting service encompassing both goods-specific risk analysis and packaging consulting, as well as detailed planning of logistics, including transport monitoring.

But our main focus is air cargo: We of course also provide our parent company Lufthansa with all the cover and know-how it needs when it comes to transportation. From internal transportation, to sensitive jet-engine transportation and storage of spare aircraft parts, to all kinds of special arrangements and risk analyses, we provide a comprehensive service here in our role as captive insurer.

For nearly four years now, we have also been working with underwriting agents, operating in classic cargo as well as in our specialised cover. On the one hand, this has of course enabled us to build a broader product range and broach new risks. And on the other hand, it has meant we have been able to further develop existing business relations and secure new, trustworthy ones.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the marine insurance market?

Marine insurance has always been hugely important, and continues to be so even during the pandemic. I think the marine insurance industry had to learn to deal with this new risk relatively quickly. What new loss scenarios could arise and how could it be possible to calculate them with at least half-decent accuracy? Because they were in high demand, masks and other medical goods effectively had to be treated as valuable cargo.

Most marine policies are based on all-risks cover. So, there were of course considerations as to whether, as marine insurers, we wanted and indeed could afford this uncertainty. One measure taken to make the new, unknown risk a little more calculable was to limit damages resulting from delays, if this was not already being done. The GDV also addressed the issue of the pandemic, and published a non-binding pandemic exclusion clause. What measures will be required moving forward is something we will have to learn as we go.

But there are of course many other factors at play, as was evidenced by the “Ever Given” problem in the Suez Canal earlier this year, and the flood disaster from a few months ago. These sorts of incidents can occur at any time, regardless of the pandemic.

In your specialised area of marine insurance, can you explain to us exactly what customers and risks you deal with on a daily basis?

It can be anyone with an interest in preventing damage to their goods or external goods. In most cases, our customers are shipping companies and forwarding agents. As marine insurance is known for being very complex, however, some of our customers can end up being more ‘exotic’, such as all kinds of retailers and wholesalers, marine biologists, car manufacturers, parcel service providers, tuna farmers, and many more.

For many types of customers, the insurance cover can be ascertained instantly. For others, however, we discover that the term ‘transport/storage’ is rather loose. Storage, for example, does not necessarily have to be on solid ground; it can also be in the water.

That sounds exciting! Are there also times when you come across work-related issues in your everyday life?

Those sorts of moments have increased massively as a result of underwriting cargo insurance. Previously, it might have been a case of seeing the store of a jeweller you’ve been dealing with. But the goods handled in cargo insurance aren’t as easy to avoid.

One morning, for example, I was still thinking about whether and how blueberries could be shipped from Chile. That afternoon in the supermarket, I was no longer just thinking that blueberries were getting increasingly expensive, but also had a look to see which country they came from and how well they had survived the shipment.  There have even been heated internal discussions over the packaging of citrus fruits, which led to us heading to the supermarket after work to look at packaging and (unfortunately) discovering that the boss was right.

As our portfolio has now also included tuna in recent years, I’ve developed a completely different relationship to tuna. There are countless points of contact, and that’s precisely what makes marine insurance so exciting for me.

Even on the highway, I can’t help but see the logos and lettering of the insured companies, shipping companies or forwarding agents, and wonder whether all the safety aspects really have been taken into account for particular shipments.

Can you really prepare for the role of underwriter, or is the theory often outpaced by practice?

It is indeed impossible to totally prepare for the specific challenges that arise in the marine industry. Of course, you need solid insurance know-how as a basis, which is why I have undertaken further training in conjunction with my job in recent years, such as the state-accredited business administration qualification and, currently, the marine specialist (DVA) qualification. But vocational colleges or university studies can never teach you all the transportation expertise you require. For this, you need to rely on helpful colleagues and business partners, as well as learning on the job. When I started, I was told I would need at least two years to familiarise myself with the business. But it is also true that, in marine, you never really learn all there is to know, because there are constantly shipments, cargo and situations you’ve never seen before and which, in some cases, are just completely new. Like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanks for the chat.

About Vanessa Tomik
Vanessa Tomik began her professional career as an insurance and finance trainee at Delvag in 2011. She is celebrating 10 years at the company this year. Since 2014, she has been working in Delvag’s Marine Underwriting department, which involves varying areas of responsibility. For the last few years, she has also been specially focusing on ‘marine insurance’ as an authorised product manager. She is simultaneously undertaking further training to become a marine specialist through the DVA (German Insurance Academy). In her spare time, she enjoys ‘plotting’, which has become her new passion in the last two years, and she stays fit and healthy with “jumping fitness”.


From Andreas Brodesser
Corporate Communications Delvag