The benefits of top level collaboration are never clearer than when the sector comes together with a common purpose, says Stuart Reid

By Stuart Reid

Stuart Reid

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So, what’s so special about a gathering of broking industry chief executives?

Well, the recent Insurance Times Broker CEO Forum, held earlier this month (16 November 2023) at Lainston House in Winchester, is a great example of what can be achieved when the sector comes together.

Having attended these gatherings many times over the years, it is always fascinating that, in such a small industry, there is very little rancour between those that compete.

Friendships are built and a camaraderie found in the exchange of ideas, the common battles and various approaches to issues taken – and yes, also in the gossip about who is doing what and why!

It is intriguing to hear how businesses develop, particularly at the frenetic pace we see at the moment.

Much is learnt and shared between the attendees, which ultimately leads to a better served industry– particularly when we face common causes and when the inevitable clashes between organisations occur. A settlement between colleagues, rather than adversaries, is better for all involved.

Making connections

It will come as no surprise that, in the quiet corners of events such as this, discussions about mergers, acquisitions and business deals always take place – something that those chief executives who are “too busy” to attend miss.

Events such as the CEO Forum are invaluable in making or strengthening those connections.

For example, I was on stage with Matt Brewis, director of general insurance at the FCA, for a session that saw the attendees pepper him with their questions.

In these days of an increasingly data-driven regulator, it is increasingly rare to have the chance to engage directly with the FCA, leaving his attendance eagerly awaited.

An important takeaway from this discussion was that we in the industry should not to expect the FCA to be more prescriptive – expect no weighty tomes to be issued on how to judge fair value, despite the pleadings of a fellow panellist.

Another session saw various M&A specialists speak about the issues affecting this facet of the market. Some out there have voiced the opinion that those looking to sell should do so now, but while there are no guarantees in life, this totally flies in the face of what the experts say.

There is so much money still looking for a home in the UK, particularly from the US.

I have met two new hopeful entrants myself in the last two weeks. Yes, they look to Europe as the opportunities diminish in the UK, but a foothold here is ultimately desirable in an industry that has proved itself bulletproof during times of recession.

Armed with plenty of cash and the fact that US debt works in a very different way to us here in the UK, prices continue to rise – as evidenced by an ebullient recent vendor who attended the gathering.

Not all doom and gloom

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the two day event was the interest shown in the session delivered by an industry economist – in part due to wit and candour of the presenter.

The doom and gloom we hear all too often was replaced with facts, figures and empirical evidence that showed that, while things are not what they were, we as an economy are not in too bad a shape, with a slow regaining of momentum envisaged.

Insurers were also allocated time to set out their positions to the gathered broking chief executives. They were honest about the challenges faced, but it was obvious that they were way behind many of the businesses in the room.

Adoption of technology promises much, but much of the discussion was similar to what has all been said before, particularly around the basics such as attendance in the office, access to underwriters and speed of decisions.

Unfortunately, a big disconnect exists between those insurers on the stage and those brokers sitting in attendance in the room.

Simply put, insurers have to do better on the basics, or we will.

I have spoken before about the rise and the rise of the MGA and I was genuinely shocked at the range and depth of the offerings many chief executives have at their disposal, even in the difficult private car arena. 

If things continue as they are, even with the current difficulties around capacity and the cost of reinsurance, insurers could well be relegated to providers rather than underwriters.

Add to that the continual speculation surrounding insurer M&A and the landscape in the UK could be very different very soon.

The CEO Forum was a fantastic opportunity for those that lead our industry. Insurance is a people business, plain and simple, and events like these prove it.