If you ever fancied hosting a fire-walking event with yourself as the star attraction, hang-gliding from a great height, or swimming in shark-infested waters, insurance could be difficult to organise. Even some of the most resourceful brokers might be stumped by the suggestions. But there is one company that insists it is a one-stop shop for more adventurous risks and claims to consider even the most bizarre of proposals on their own merits.
Set up in the US in 1952 by two friends who shared a passion for motor racing, SLE Worldwide prides itself on being a company that insures fun – no matter how that is defined.
Since setting up in this country in 1994, the UK operation insures numerous annual events and activities, and has on its books Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the Premier Football League, the Nationwide Football League and the motorsports association.
"When we set up in the UK it was a greenfield site and we had no existing book of business," says David Hatlem, marketing manager. "But the team had a wealth of experience and background from the US to fall back on. "It is a hard market in the US, because we were the only one specialising in this field; for example the company has insured the Super Bowl for 15 years in a row. There has been some competition in recent years, but this has arisen because of our own success."
Speed freak specialists
One of the disadvantages the company first faced when it arrived in the UK was the fact it was an underwriting agency and it didn't accept or 'take' any of the risk they were underwriting. But Hatlem feels that, in recent years, people have become more comfortable with the term underwriting agency, especially now that the company underwrites 100% of its business on behalf of a panel of Lloyd's syndicates. He feels this gives then more flexibility and higher levels of indemnity.
Originating in the US as K & K Insurance, SLE Worldwide was the first to focus on motor sports for both participants and spectators, and eventually moved into the leisure market in early 1980s. In 1994 it decided to expand internationally and started up operations in London, Sydney, Toronto and Mexico City.
Motorsports is also one of the core focuses in the UK, in addition to amusement parks, tour operators and football.
With more and more money being ploughed into football each year, the sport has made many an insurance press headline. An example being the Ruud van Nistelrooy case (not insured by SLE), where he was injured just before his £18m transfer deal with Manchester United took place.
In the Premier League
In partnership with brokers Windsor, SLE insures both the Premier League and Nationwide Football League.
According to Hatlem, disability insurance is one of most important covers that footballers have to consider: "Footballers have a short career in which to make money and it can be over by the time a footballer reaches the age of 32 or 33, because their skills have diminished or they have become injured. Disability coverage is a growing sector as agents are understanding it more.
"But footballers still have the view that they'll be okay, and they could be short-term, but when they get to 33 or 34 we don't want to insure them. It is a balancing act for us."
On the amusement park front, SLE's aim is to take on all the amusement parks and package them together. It already insurers Blackpool Pleasure Beach, but it is looking to foster a long-term partnership with the sector in order to offer competitive prices.
Hatlem says: "This sector is continuously growing, because even the small parks get over 10,000 visitors a year. The likes of Blackpool Pleasure Beach can get between seven and eight million visitors.
A new area of focus for the company recently has been in travel bonds. Bonding has long been a requirement for those involved in the travel industry. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and ABTA both require bonds to protect client monies. The international Air Transport Association also regularly requires bonds from agents issuing scheduled flight tickets to customers.
Hatlem says: "Business travel bonds give tour operators real strength and added value. This is the first time that Lloyd's has been approved to write this business. As the CAA has to give its approval."
Bonding is part of SLE's TripleSure package, which also offers operators D&O protection and liability cover. This is marketed in conjunction with specialist brokers Aon Cork Bays.
Working in conjunction with brokers is important to SLE and it recently set up a partnership with John Ansell & partners to offer a combined coverage scheme for companies trading in the health, fitness and recreation sectors.
Last year it also joined forces with South Essex Insurance Brokers to expand its range of products in the equestrian sector.
It was this partnership approach that made SLE decide that it didn't want to just focus on the London market when it first set up.
Hatlem says: "We are 100% broker-oriented and a lot of regional brokers will have risks such as amateur football and shooting clubs, but will try and place them locally. This is the sort of business that we are looking for.
Loves the aggression
"There is some big business outside London as well. We want to work with aggressive brokers and the quality of business in the regions is just as good as London market business, sometimes better. Regional brokers usually know their clients well and that is an advantage.
"It is very important to choose partners, whether they are large multinational firms or well-run regional brokers. We try and be open and up-front, but we will not be a dumping ground for risks that can't be placed anywhere else. It is important to have brokers that specialise in this niche and the numbers of brokers specialising is growing all the time."
With so many unusual risks on its books from arcades and aquariums to travelling showmen and zoos, effective risk management is vital for the company to achieve a profit.
And currently the company works with specialists to achieve consistency in its risk management approach around the world.
Hatlem says: "At football clubs there are 300-400 accidents a year and amusement parks are also frenzied environments. By working with experts such as David Bromilow, who has worked for 16 years in the US as a consultant for companies such as Disney, means we put health and safety issues at the top of our agenda."
It is a must for a company that aims to be at the forefront of the evolution of the sports, leisure and entertainment industry, which – let's face it – is getting bigger, faster, and more daring by the day.