Surety bond

‘Being part of a data-driven team is exhilarating’: Ben O’Donnell on how surety is future-proofing his career  

3 April 2024

Benjamin O’Donnell, Senior Surety Underwriter at Allianz Trade in North America, has several keen interests. Among them are construction, math and technological innovation. In surety, he’s combined all three.

He shares how he has built a career that he loves. And one that, he believes, is both shaping the the future – and future-proofing careers.

My first job was in construction – I really enjoy manual work (I do all the work on my house myself!). However, I soon realized this career is quite hard on people’s bodies, posing challenges for long-term sustainability. So, I chose to study finance and accounting because I love math. My goal was to find a field that would combine the operational, on-the-ground nature of construction with finance, without working for a bank, where the work/life balance didn’t seem great.

While studying for my Bachelor’s Degree, I did an internship at one of the local sureties – and it struck a chord. It felt like a nice middle ground between having to understand how global flows of money work as well as what the impact of that money could be on concrete projects.

I then found a job working in contract bonds for a local Canadian insurer and later got to work on more international surety deals for a multinational insurer’s Canadian branch. When I met Paul McIntyre, my current boss, he offered me an interesting opportunity in terms of the size, scope and global reach of projects, which is what led me to Allianz Trade.

I’m thrilled to be part of a data-driven team. We leverage data not just to make decisions but to evolve alongside those decisions. Crucially, our expertise lies in interpreting live data points using our hands-on understanding of the industries we work in – I find this really interesting.

Navigating the surety markets in Europe and the US adds an extra layer of excitement. The differences in guarantee sizes and contract types present a great opportunity to contribute to shaping the future of Allianz Trade. Because the Canadian market is not yet at US levels in terms of product development, I have a chance to be at the forefront of writing the lines for the future of the company. I love that I really get to see and understand the impact we’re making.

Of course, transitioning from a big fish to an even bigger one has been a learning curve and I had to adapt. I needed to understand global aggregation and be able to coordinate local underwriting with international operations. But my background and being able to look at a project from multiple sides were really beneficial – especially since, in my opinion, our product can be applied to a lot of different things beyond classic construction projects.

Going forward, I think commercial bonds will be an even more important vehicle for growth than contract bonds. Cost-effective alternatives to traditional financing, such as demand bonds, are reshaping industries. And at Allianz Trade, we stand out with global capacity. We can cater to multinational giants, ensure growth and stay ahead of global trends, which constitutes a vital edge.

My primary focus is to drive growth in the Canadian surety market, which currently stands at around $1 billion annually in Gross Written Premiums (GWP). I would like to capitalize on the on the products that have already been tried and tested from a risk standpoint in the US and bring them to the Canadian market to further contribute to commercial growth.

At the same time, I recognize that the industry needs to take a major leap when it comes to technology. I think there is no player better positioned than Allianz Trade to lead this transformation.

I also hope to be able to contribute to getting more people into the industry and ensuring our legacy. Starting with participating in boards with universities to ensure long-term staffing, I am even talking to my brother about this since his college applications are due soon!

Allianz Trade stands out as a company where people supersede technology. In surety, we’re looking forward to leveraging automation for efficiency, but the human element is still essential to our expertise. Much of the job is about both developing solid human relationships and assessing risk using myriad factors in a way that a computer just isn’t able to.

Overall, choosing surety has proven to be immensely fulfilling and I am grateful to be surrounded by passionate professionals. If I were to travel back in time, I would encourage more of my friends and network to bypass banking – join us on the surety side!

Got questions? Connect with Benjamin

Benjamin O'Donnell

Benjamin O'Donnell 

Senior Surety Underwriter  

Allianz Trade in North America