Plus, Howden Group’s chief executive believes the current hard market ‘will certainly sort the wheat from the chaff’

Although the insurance industry hasn’t “covered ourselves in glory” following the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, brokers must use this time to re-evaluate their relevance and ensure they can meet the changing demands and needs of future clients, says David Howden, chief executive of Howden Group.

“To me, this is the opportunity [for] the insurance industry as a whole to come together and actually be part of the solution going forward,” he tells Insurance Times.

“We’re a resilient industry, so we should put our efforts in to supporting our clients when they need us now. But if we do that and do that right, just as importantly, they’ll need us in the future because we’ll be relevant.

“If we become irrelevant to clients and they decide insurance isn’t what it needs to help them build their business, protect their employees or make investments that they might not make without insurance, then it’ll be us that suffer in the long-term. The pandemic has brought a focus on that [which] we should not lightly ignore.”

Howden describes this drive to remain relevant as “the biggest and most interesting challenge [to come] out of this pandemic”.

“How do we make sure we make the right investment in the people, in focusing on product development that we actually become relevant through the changing issues in the world?” he continues.

“Our job as insurance is to be there to insure, to protect, support, so let’s really learn from this lesson and make sure that we are there and thinking about where could the next real hit come from and how can we help our clients, if and when that happens, [to] push through, survive and grow.”

Products of the future

Product innovation is one way to ensure future relevance, says Howden.

“How do we really come up with coverages that our clients are going to need as their business models change, they adapt and innovate - we’ve got to do that with them. We’ve got to be relevant to the exposures and needs of our clients in the future and that innovation is critical if we’re going to be there to support our clients and [be] relevant ourselves in the future,” he explains.

This also means reviewing brokers’ pandemic performance and learning from possible mistakes. “The broking industry will have to learn that it didn’t have all the answers for this pandemic and it wasn’t able to provide the coverages clients wanted [or] needed,” Howden admits.

“There have been circumstances where we haven’t covered ourselves in glory. We should have, both from a broking side and the underwriting side, been clearer with our clients of what the coverage was, ask them what they’re really seeking to cover and providing greater certainty.

“It doesn’t do anyone [a] favour for insurances to end up being disputed in a court. It’s not helping our clients at all and it’s certainly not being part of the solution.”

Digital revolution

The sector also has to “embrace the digital revolution”, Howden adds, “to ensure we deliver effective products to clients and service them when we’re having to work remotely, or in a different way than before”.

For him, this focus on digital advancements is “a really big change” and “a kick up the backside that the industry needed to shift itself into the 21st century”.

Making the most of “the opportunities from a digital and data world” will also work to “reduce the frictional costs”, Howden says.

He continues: “People don’t mind paying for good advice, they don’t mind paying for expertise, they don’t mind paying for good service, they don’t mind paying for finding capacity. What they don’t want to pay for is the frictional costs of just doing transactions, that’s a waste of money.”

Sorting ‘the wheat from the chaff’

Amid this drive for relevance, a key challenge for brokers at the moment is the hard market – something which Howden says “will certainly sort the wheat from the chaff”.

He says: “We’ve got young brokers out there who have not experienced a hard market before; they don’t understand [what it takes] to persuade the insurer to give the coverage their clients want, negotiate better terms on behalf of their clients or find capacity for their clients.

“This is what I would call a proper brokers’ market and it will call on us to make sure we educate our staff, train our staff, educate our clients, warn our clients, help our clients, anticipate what’s going to happen at renewal.

“At a time when [there are] challenge already with what’s gone on with the pandemic, to be then faced with restrictions in coverage, price increases or [to] not be able to get the capacity that they want to get, that is something we’ve really got to make sure we help them as much as possible on.”


  • In 2019, founded data business HX.
  • Formed MGA Dual and set up Howden as a group in 1998.
  • Founded Howden as a broker in 1994.