Upland readies for construction launch with Vela hires

Start-up specialty insurer Upland Capital Group is preparing to launch into its third line of business after recruiting a casualty construction underwriting team from Vela Insurance Services led by Carl Dowling, The Insurer can reveal.


According to market sources, the Dallas, Texas-based E&S carrier – which writes business through its AM Best A- rated subsidiary Upland Specialty – has been in the market with a reinsurance placement for its entry into the contractors’ general liability segment.

The underwriting team for the new business line is led by senior vice president for casualty construction Dowling, based in Atlanta.

Dowling was most recently senior vice president of construction and national market segment executive at WR Berkley subsidiary Vela Insurance Services. He was at the carrier for six years after similar tenure at XL Catlin, also with a focus on casualty construction business.

He is joined at Upland by his former Vela colleagues Joe De Jesso and Clif Kersey, who both take the position of vice president for casualty construction.

Details of the casualty construction product offering or the reinsurance panel had not been confirmed at the time of publication.

The carrier is understood to have secured the support of blue-chip reinsurers on the programs supporting its initial product launches, however, with participants thought to include Munich, Chubb, Sompo and Axis.

The Upland Lowdown

As previously reported, Upland was launched in Q1 2021 by chairman, president and CEO Todd Hart after securing $200mn of backing from Newlight Partners.

Hart is an industry entrepreneur and executive who was most recently CEO of Rhode Island-based Narragansett Bay Insurance Company.

Other members of the start-up’s management team include former Hallmark president and CEO Mark Morrison as executive vice president and CFO, and his former colleague Jim Damonte as CUO.

The carrier is understood to be looking to build out into casualty, property and specialty lines of business, with a focus on smaller limit, small to mid-sized market commercial insurance risks.

The first product offering brought to market by Upland was in the excess transportation liability space, with an underwriting team that had previously worked with Damonte at Hallmark.

They include senior underwriter Krysia Alt – who was most recently at Core Programs – and vice presidents Andrew Stock and Mark Grossberg, who moved from Hallmark to Scion Underwriting Managers before joining Upland.

The second launch came in May with an excess liability coverage for public entities led by Richard Wilson, the former Hallmark national practice leader for public entity business who was also most recently at Scion Underwriting Managers.

Craft underwriters

Talking to this publication after the initial launches earlier this year, Damonte said the plan was to build out other pillars in E&S property and some E&S specialty through 2021 and into 2022.

And Hart said Upland’s strategy is to recruit “we-entrepreneurs” who consider the business of underwriting to be a “craft”.

“We’ll allow the underwriters to do their craft and we’ll take care of everything behind the scenes – the systems, reinsurance and all the administrative aspects of running a business,” he added.

That will help the start-up become “the most nimble, disciplined and profitable underwriter”, he added.

Chairman, president and CEO Todd Hart

Hart explained that while the company is benefiting from cyclical tailwinds with submissions through the roof, he and Damonte would have launched the business irrespective of market conditions.

“We’re building something for the long term and we’re being methodical about what we’re doing. Our job is to be able to trade the cycle and we need to make sure we can manage the inevitable downturns,” he said.

Damonte added that Upland is steering away from commoditised lines of business and towards segments where it takes underwriting talent to deliver the results, and where margins tend to be higher.