London market participants are getting comfortable with homeworking as face-to-face meetings become increasingly difficult to arrange

By Jon Guy

Quite apart from prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘partygate’ interrogations, this week’s UK political agenda has featured efforts by the UK government to get civil servants to return to Whitehall - many appear to be more than happy to spend their working week at home.

Surprisingly, the London market is having a similar problem.

Jon Guy

Jon Guy

Brokers and underwriters working across the Square Mile are falling victims to their own success.

The way in which the market adapted to Covid-linked requirements to close its offices, supported by technology enhancements, brought a great deal of praise for quickly introducing a new “business as usual” - for both the market and its policyholders.

The industry has since been swept along by its remote working success and the decision by many business sectors to introduce a hybrid working system, whereby staff would spend a certain number of days in the workplace and the remainder of the week working remotely.

However, cracks started to appear as the national lockdown continued. Brokers were complaining that while renewals were easily and quickly processed, the ability to broker new business or look for new markets at renewal were being badly impacted by remote working practices.

It became clear that video calls were a poor substitute for the traditional face-to-face meetings on which the London market has been built over the last three centuries.

Firms were quick to put in place the ability for staff to shift to a hybrid system, but it seems that those best of intentions have not translated to a seamless service transition.

Timetable confusion

HR departments have been dealing with an increasing number of internal issues as staff look to make the most of the opportunity they have been given to change their working lives.

Unsurprisingly, one issue that has arisen around homeworking is the large number of staff who have sought to take their remote days either side of the weekend, leaving management and firms having to become more prescriptive.

The biggest issue remains the ability for brokers to meet underwriters face-to-face as they discover that their days in the workplace fail to match up with when underwriters are in the city.

Underwriters are also struggling with the challenge of hosting a week’s worth meetings in the two or three days they are available face-to-face.

It does not look likely that Lloyd’s John Neal, the International Underwriting Association’s Dave Matcham, the London and International Insurance Brokers Association’s Chris Croft or the London Market Group’s Caroline Wagstaff will need to play the role of the market’s Jacob Rees-Mogg – the government’s efficiency minster seeking to name Whitehall departments with the highest rates of working from home in a bid to encourage staff back to the office.

However, it seems that companies still have a number of hybrid wrinkles to smooth.