The franchise board director had pulses racing at the Insurance Institute of London, says Ben Cook

It was standing room only in the Lloyd's library last week as underwriters and brokers were granted an audience with franchise board director Rolf Tolle, who delivered a speech to the Insurance Institute of London.

Tolle is a firm favourite of the institute and the throng were reminded that this was the third time that he had been asked to speak at the customary lunchtime lectures.

Why does he keep being asked back?

The crueller members of the Lloyd's market suggest that it's worth listening to Tolle for comedic value alone. True, his mispronunciation of "genuine" and "apologies" did raise a titter around the audience, and conjured up memories of Rene's café in the TV series 'Allo 'Allo.

But this does the man an injustice. What really draws in the crowds is his uncompromising attitude and his forthright assessment of the task facing the franchise board. As the market enters a downturn, Tolle knows there are all kinds of maverick underwriters who could stumble out of Balls Brothers one afternoon and underwrite a risk that could, further down the line, dump the corporation in all kinds of trouble. Without flinching, Tolle assures us that he's prepared to deal with these wildcards head on.

"Managing agents will walk away from poorly-rated business," he says determinedly. With a mischievous glint in his eye, he adds: "If they don't do it we will help them to walk away." More laughter ripples through the audience - but this time it's the nervous kind.

One member of the audience stands up in the gallery, fists clenched to the handrail in frustration, and argues that Lloyd's underwriters who maintained rating discipline would lose out to non-Lloyd's insurers that undercut them on pricing.

But Tolle reassures his angst-ridden interrogator that insurers outside Lloyd's will not win because, ultimately, if they slash rates, it will have an adverse affect on their bottom line. Unconvinced, the questioner slinks back into the shadows.

In response to another question, Tolle assures us, as he has in previous lectures, that the franchise board does not intend to micromanage.

But, just in case they were in any doubt, he lets the underwriters know that "if I see things that are horrible, of course I'll get involved".

From the back of the library, you can actually see shivers going down some spines.