Chief executives look back at the financial crisis – and preview their plans for the coming months

More change is on the horizon, according to insurance industry’s luminaries gathered at the second annual Insurance Times Leaders’ Forum, held in London last week.

In a panel session chaired by editor Tom Broughton, Marsh chief executive Martin South, AXA Insurance chief executive Philippe Maso, AIG UK managing director Lex Baugh, and Swiss Re head of property and casualty in the

UK Philippe Regazzoni gave their verdict on the financial crisis and a sneak preview of their plans for the coming months.

Martin South said that the mega-broker would be back on the acquisition trail, but would be looking for small purchases at much lower prices.

He said: “Some of the multiples of 13 times during the boom years were just crazy. I couldn’t make any sense of it. Marsh as an organisation has set out its strategy and it’s that, yes, we are looking at acquiring small agencies.

“We are in a good position if the right opportunities present themselves.”

South said he could also see consolidation among insurers looking to extend their global reach. Maso and Baugh agreed, but refused to be drawn on any acquisition plans of their own.

South also predicted a good year for brokers as the importance of risk management was paramount in clients’ minds. “We have seen a big take-up in D&O insurance. There is also huge demand for surety business.”

Meanwhile, Maso said he expected more shifts in distribution as the impact of the recession continued to be felt in the broker market.

The panel agreed that the market had failed to harden significantly this year, but hoped that it would do so next year. Regazzoni predicted reinsurance rate rises, which could lead to a harder primary market.

Maso and Baugh were asked from the floor whether they believed Aviva’s recent decision to appoint Mark Hodges to run both life and general insurance signalled that the two sides of insurance were moving closer together.

Both disagreed, with Baugh adding: “We are actually going in the opposite direction in terms of giving up composite licences across the world.”