On Metal Theft, Bankers, Burma, Scottish Independence and Robots

Hepworth's Two Forms before it was stolen from Dulwich Park

Perhaps the prayers of church insurer Ecclesiastical have been answered now that the Association of British Insurers has formed a working group and the government looks set to introduce tougher measures to curb the metal theft endemic. The company has been hammered with 30,000 claims mostly as a result of disappearing lead roofs. The problem is widespread costing the economy £770m according to the police. Close to home, last year Barbara Hepworth’s statue Two Forms was pinched from Dulwich Park, but the idiots who stole it probably had no idea that it was insured for £400,000 and almost certainly got a fraction of that for cash from a dodgy metal dealer. With churches now having to install alarms, extra security will be required for public works of art, all adding to the financial burden of this crime wave.

Much fuss this week once again about bankers, this time Barclays who were asking for trouble in a “disappointing year” paying themselves three times in bonuses than what they distributed to shareholders in dividends. Aviva has been caught up in the investor backlash but the best companies in the London insurance market seem to take greater care in structuring incentive programmes to reward profitable underwriting. Commonly payouts are deferred often up to three years and deficits carried forward which all helps in fairly aligning the interest of those providing the capital and those that deploy it.

There are few cities now in the world where one could confidently say that nothing much has developed in twenty years, but since my last trip in 1992, I suspect Rangoon is such a place; at least by the standards of the rapidly advancing region it finds itself. That looks set to change as the EU hesitantly lifts its economic embargo. Lloyd’s have discouraged trade and investment with Burma since the chairman wrote to managing agents in 2008 but that may also alter in the coming weeks. A new opportunity for insurers therefore beckons in this neglected corner of Asia; the construction, marine and aviation underwriters likely to be the industry advance party.

He might lack the piety of Aung San Suu Kyi , but Alex Salmond is as equally energetic in his fight for self determination for his people and he is hacked off.  What has got up his nose, and many others north of the border, is the Economist map of “Skintland” on its cover. What an independent Scotland means for UK insurers is not a question as yet addressed. There is already a strong life and pensions sector in Edinburgh and the offshore energy industry is important to underwriters. However, if the costs and hassle of continuing a presence in what would be a foreign country were too much then just perhaps some players would pull the plug on their branches located up there. As the referendum approaches we shall certainly hear more.

For fans of the 60s TV series Lost in Space, it has been a long wait but perhaps at last the time is nearing when robots will be doing all manner of useful things for us. The risk to humans in the clean-up following the Fukushima nuclear incident just over a year ago has prompted a Pentagon sponsored contest to develop robots to work in disaster areas. Already insurers are crafting coverage for unmanned aerial vehicles but as the application of robotics technology extends it will almost certainly be embraced by many of our clients, adding to their risk management armoury and creating a number of challenges and opportunities for the industry.

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