One advantage of tough times is that it enables an institution to examine all its established practices that otherwise remain unchallenged when the sun is shining.
After all, shibboleths have their place in religion but in a fast-changing world where technology, fluid capital and innovation is breaking down barriers to entry and exposing inefficiencies, all markets have to continually examine their received ways of doing business.
Lloyd’s head of underwriting Jon Hancock has begun a debate about the future of certain practices by highlighting the poor underwriting standards and high costs that exist on Lime Street (albeit co-existing with world-class underwriters, brokers and infrastructure).
And the vacant roles for both the Lloyd’s CEO and CFO are an opportune time to contemplate wider market practices that have remained unchallenged for years and possibly are contributing to the current, well-recognised issues of high costs, process inefficiencies, aggressive competition and under-performing syndicates.
One such practice is the leader-follower structure of the London subscription market. As a general rule, any London market insurer can lead the pricing of a subscription risk, albeit different classes have natural market leaders which are shaped by their risk appetite and expertise.
But does this lack of a strict definition of a leader contribute to the underpricing of certain risks with pricing being provided by markets that are not qualified to do so? Is this a factor in Lloyd’s stubbornly-high attritional loss ratio which - when combined with 2017’s heavy cat losses - caused last year’s £2bn loss. The worst since 2001.
And is it odd that genuine leader markets - who invest in their infrastructure in terms of underwriting excellence, wordings and claims - are not paid more than following markets for their contribution to the subscription market?
It’s a debate worth having.
One difficulty for Lloyd’s is that any attempt to effectively licence “leader status” could surely be challenged under anti-competition rules.
But that doesn’t prevent Lloyd’s from imposing minimum standards on lead markets around underwriting, capacity, wording and claims. Any insurer could then choose whether to invest in that class or simply become a follow market.
That would also dovetail well with the continued growth of broker-led facilities. If the risk had been priced independently and rigorously by a genuine market leader then it would diminish the concerns of those who feel these follow-form practices are encouraging poor risk selection.
Another benefit is that it may reduce syndicate costs. Many London insurers complain of a “war for talent” among underwriting support staff such as claims professionals and wordings technicians. If there were less de facto lead markets then it should encourage a focus on streamlined excellence.
At the very least, It’s a debate worth having. Perhaps one for the new Lloyd’s CEO to consider when he or she is selected…