Chris Harman is a traditional Lloyd's broker who believes the market has a masochistic streak. Andrew Holt explains
His discourse takes in a career spanning 36 years, the many peaks and troughs of the Lloyd's market, Lloyd's leaders and a bit of masochism.
To avoid any rumours taking hold at Lloyd's it is best to deal with the latter point first. "The [Lloyd's] market beats itself up about what it does wrong. It is a form of self-flagellation. It is always doing it," Harman asserts. Earlier this year, Lloyd's chief executive Richard Ward threatened to name and shame Lloyd's companies who miss the proposed electronic reform targets, now set for the end of the year.
"The market is not perfect, but it shouts about its imperfections rather than its strengths. The reality is that it is a unique market and almost impossible to replicate. Lloyds at one time didn't care, or need to care, about its image and how it dealt with its traditional working methods, but now that has changed."
Lloyd's naming and shaming is on the horizon because it says the uptake for electronic trading systems for the third quarter of the year was about 40% 20 points short of the 60% target. For Harman this is more evidence of Lloyd's beating itself up.
"I know that there have been some problems in obtaining reliable statistics. We achieved 100% by 1 January this year, but the stats said we achieved only 40%. That is because it includes things we dont do. We are 100% in everything we are able to do. So something is wrong."
Harman speaks of Lloyd's as a concerned parent does of a child, with personal affection. "The vast majority of companies in the market are good, compliant, professional companies. If they were not, the market would not have survived as long as it has."
And he puts the case for basing business start-ups in Lloyds. "What do you get at Lloyd's? The capital leverage, the A plus rating, the infrastructure backing and stability. So it is a logical decision."
Harman is in a good position to judge, having worked in Lloyd's since 1971.
"I joined the market after working there part-time. My father, who was a Lloyd's underwriter, said it was time I got a proper full-time job. So I did."
Harman is now in a good position to have his say within the Lloyd's power structure. In February, he took up a position on the Council of Lloyd's and will hold the post for three years.
"I was aware that the council had no broker on it, and I was keen that there should be someone from a broker involved to create some form of balance. What I didn't account for was that people wanted me to be that person."
The council has overall responsibility for managing the world's oldest insurance market. For many of its functions, the council acts through the franchise board whose members are appointed by the council and are drawn from inside and outside the Lloyd's market.
Harman will no doubt prove a good broker ambassador on the council, but he does'nt want to be seen as just that. "The Council of Lloyd's is there to represent the interests of the market; not factions inside the market. It isn't just a case of putting the broker voice forward, but having a say on all issues. I don't want to be seen as a broker, raising broker-only issues."
In his long and distinguished career, the darkest moment he has seen was the Lloyd's Names crisis. It has to be the major event to have occurred. The market was in meltdown and corporate capital provided the vote of confidence that stopped that meltdown.
Lloyd's was pushed to the edge of collapse under the weight of claims relating to asbestos, pollution and a string of disasters. But Harman asserts: "Ultimately though, Equitas proved that the market always had enough left over in the bank to deal with claims through that most unusual animal, a solvent run-off.
“Richard Ward has realised he cannot transfer what he did at the International Petroleum Exchange to a complex market like Lloyd's
So what does he make of Richard Ward's tenure as Lloyds chief executive?
"It is easy when there are not any losses," he says pointedly.
But he adds: "It has been a learning curve for Richard, he admits that. He has realised he cannot transfer what he did at the International Petroleum Exchange to a complex market like Lloyd's. I do though think he has been inspirational and has a clear vision of some of the important matters in the market."
Like many in the London market, Harman talks well of Lloyd's franchise performance director Rolf Tolle.
"I have known him since he was an underwriter in Oslo. I really admire his intellect."
Harman was a founder of Harman Wicks & Swayne in 1988 after years of cutting his teeth in the Lloyds market, starting with Lloyd's broker AG Winchester. HWS has grown to reach a group income of £8.7m thanks to a focus on property, professional liability, political risk and reinsurance.
"Our strength is offering a top class service. Everything we do comes back to quality service."
And Harman says that his clients keep him and his colleagues on their toes. Our clients are very demanding and their demands don't diminish, so we have to keep measuring up."
HWS also deals with over 30 regional brokers. "We have picked up some good regional business and act as a wholesale broker for them. We deal with them in an efficient business-like way. Some companies in the Lloyd's market don't want to deal with regional brokers, but we offer them a really good service."
Given the on-going march of consolidation in Lloyd's and elsewhere, has he considered selling-up?
"We have had some people talk to us, and if it were the right fit there would be logic in us coming together. That has not happened yet, but I would never say never."
And what does he make of the much-talked about Lloyd's versus Bermuda argument?
"Lloyd's has the infrastructure, the lawyers, the relationships, the efficiency, and shared costs. Bermuda is good at the top end of the business with low tax, but not many people to do it. They are different."
What then does he offer as advice to others in the market and industry? "Always look to do things better."
And of course, he could add, don't beat yourself up when you are doing well.