Will a call for the insurance industry to get more involved in the fight against terrorism have any impact?

At last month's Airmic conference a senior police officer gave the industry a sharp wake-up call. "You have work to do," was the message to brokers and insurers alike.

David Veness, assistant commissioner special operations in the Metropolitan police, was the man pointing the finger. And the subject on his agenda was terrorism. The industry, he said, had to do more. The terrorist threat had changed and the industry had to respond.

He charged the industry with taking a more active role in counter-terrorism. Fighting terrorism, he said, had to be a "team endeavour".

Now insurers and brokers are asking what more they can they do. Some even wonder whether it is their role to play a more active role in counter-terrorism.

Allianz Cornhill consultant Peter Adlington is one of the sceptics. "We do a lot in relation to general security. But we don't have the expertise to advise specifically on terrorism. The expertise is with the government and the police force - and it will remain there," he says. Another insurer says it is a "cop-out" for the police to rely on the insurance industry to fight terrorism.

But others agree that the industry has a part to play. Marsh crisis consulting practice leader Bob Wilkerson says the insurance industry needs to understand that while terrorism is a government issue, the ramifications are a corporate issue and, as such, is an issue for the insurance industry.

"Part of the responsibility for protecting businesses against terrorism must fall on the government and the police, but another falls on corporations themselves," he says.

Veness argues that post-11 September, everyone must be involved in fighting terrorism. "There is a new generation of counter-terrorist," he says. "Everyone is a potential victim and so the counter-terrorist role has to be expanded broadly. The issue for leaders of the industry is to find innovative ways to define the agenda and tackle it head on."

Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) technical underwriting director Colin Short agrees the industry has a role to play in counter-terrorism and says there needs to be more collaboration between industry and government.

"There is a lot of experience around the country, but it is often very uncoordinated. We need to be asking how the insurance industry, the service providers and the government can co-ordinate better."

The problem faced by many in the industry is that the authorities are not forthcoming with information that can be passed on to policyholders. Damian Doran, a director of Birmingham-based broker Perkins Slade, says: "At the height of the IRA's violence a lot of work was done in terms of prevention, and the government provided a lot of information. Now, when there is a heightened risk, there has been no information from the government. There is no ready-made information source that people can go to."

AXA property manager Neil Mercier agrees, saying that even after the recent warnings from the head of MI5 about a possible 'dirty' bomb attack, no one from the police or the government has offered any advice that could be passed on to policyholders. Other insurers make similar comments.

Veness recognises that there is scope for greater collaboration and sharing of information. "We have to make sure that businesses feel they are effectively supported. The government will play a key role," he says. He adds that in the past his priorities have been towards the financial centres, but says it is now time to engage in a wider dialogue.

"There is an opportunity for us to explore this agenda more radically. We need to move as quickly as possible and find what contribution the insurance industry can make. The industry can educate and act as a financial lever through the way it provides cover."

One initiative Veness is involved in is Project Unicorn, which is looking at ways in which the public and private sector can support each other in the fight against terrorism. It began three months ago and in the next few months will report with proposals and discussion points. "I will make sure that the ABI is involved in the project," says Veness.

A further issue is the lack of co-ordination with the industry itself. Doran argues that the industry needs to work together more closely when it comes to disseminating information. "There has been no co-ordinated advice from the industry as a whole. It is up to individual brokers and insurers to provide the advice. But protecting against terrorism needs more than an individual approach. The insurance industry has a lot of expertise, but advice from insurers is mixed."

An ABI spokesman acknowledges the provision of advice has been an individual matter for each company, but says the trade body will "look to work closely to get information to policyholders".

The industry will certainly be looking for more over the coming months.

What can the industry do?

The "community" approach
"It is important that security does not stop at the perimeter. For example, CCTV should be outward - as well as inward - looking. Businesses should also be encouraged to work together, as the financial services industry is doing with fraud," says police counter-terrorism specialist David Veness.

Counter-terrorism education
SMEs are still largely unaware of the seriousness of the threat of terrorism in the UK, says Veness, with 85% needing counter-terrorism education. Businesses, he says, need to better understand the "enduring nature of the terrorist threat as well as the scale of possible harm".

But while insurers acknowledge there are opportunities to further educate businesses, they fear a backlash from customers if they push the threat of terrorism too hard. "We could do more to get the message across, but at the risk of being accused of scaremongering," says R&SA's Short. "One risk manager at Airmic said that the industry was trading on fear."

Changed threat
Veness says, while the government must play a key role in raising awareness, it is important that everyone be involved. "There is a need collectively to recognise the threat of terrorism has changed. There needs to be a realistic yet balanced discussion that recognises the new normality."