It’s 37 years since I turned up in EC3 for my first day as a fresh-faced insurance broker. Barring short working stints broking in New York and Singapore in the 90s, I’ve been here ever since. I spent about 15 years as a broker and while I never moved company, my first employer, Leslie and Godwin, like so very many others, became part of Aon’s growing empire.
I moved into public relations in the very early 2000s and, with an almost exclusive focus on advising businesses in the specialty (re)insurance markets, and with a view of Lloyd’s from the office windows, I don’t feel I’ve moved very far from my original working roots.
Whether my 37 years have given me a valuable perspective on how EC3 ticks, I can’t say. But they have given me a perspective of some sort. For those at the beginning of their London (re)insurance careers, firstly I’m jealous. It’s been a hoot and I’d love to live it again. Secondly, you’ll hear, almost incessantly, how important relationships are in this market and how those relationships provide a unique business edge keeping London at the top of the world’s insurance and reinsurance markets.
This is true, but far from automatic. And relationships are not the only ingredient to the market’s success, or the success of individuals within it, but I don’t have space to get into the importance of creative thought, diligence and respect – perhaps that is for future musings.
When I first turned up, we didn’t have computers on our desks, we had overstuffed slipcases, and underwriters’ record keeping was manual in ledgers. It seemed like a system ripe for error, or even fraud. But trust, by and large, was a force as strong as any email chain. That trust was built on the back of good behaviour, on brokers and underwriters speaking the truth to each other, in person, and making good on their promises.
Technological advances have been huge and created efficiencies we couldn’t have imagined in the 1980s. I don’t think though that they’ve changed the fundamental dependence this market has on trusting the behaviour of our fellows.
Relationships in this market are usually personal. And that makes being here as much fun as we want to make it. But what we really mean when we talk about relationships isn’t about lunch, dinner or a pint. That’s just the way people dress relationships to keep them warm. What we mean is that we know our counterparties (or their reputations), we trust them and have confidence that our transactions will be marked by honesty and fairness. So, relationships of value in this market are both built and maintained by good behaviour, by being trustworthy. That’s my perspective.