Insurer expects minimal Japan claims

Specialist churches and charities insurer Ecclesiastical is planning to move more strongly into the property-owners insurance market, according to UK and Ireland managing director Steve Wood.

“We are setting up a team in our city office in London to focus on the national and London city brokers for property-owners business,” Wood said.

The company already writes some property-owners business but Wood said there would be a sharper focus on it going forward. “We are launching the proposition to market next month and we are already talking to a number of brokers. We have got a good pipeline developing already.”

Wood declined to say how much more property owners business Ecclesiastical was looking to write, but added that the focus was on profitability rather than revenue.

Last week Ecclesiastical reported a 36% decline in pre-tax profit to £50.4m in 2010 from £79m in 2009. While gross premiums written were up 11% to £474.4m from £427.7m, the company made an underwriting loss of £5.9m in 2010 compared with a £27m profit in 2009. The combined ratio increased to 102% from 89.6%.

The drop in profitability was driven by natural catastrophe losses in 2010, which included burst pipe claims relating to the UK winter freeze, hailstorms and flooding in Australia, and earthquakes in New Zealand and Chile. Ecclesiastical’s international exposures emanated from its London market operation, which it placed into run-off at the end of September 2010.

Despite the closure of the London market book to new business, there are some in-force policies that will attract claims from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. However, Wood describes the remaining exposure as “very modest”. “We are not anticipating anything very material in terms of claims. It will be less than £1m and may not even approach that, although it is very early days yet.”