On Lloyd’s, Cat Bonds, Yachts, Lightning and Cyborg Technology

David Cameron speaking at the launch of Lloyd’s 2025 Vision

Wry smiles all round and well done to Lloyd’s chairman John Nelson for persuading the PM to address the market in the room; a public relations coup that evaded his highly connected predecessor during his tenure. In offering the government’s support to Lloyd’s Vision 2025, David Cameron acknowledged the importance of financial services and insurance especially to the UK economy and, via the substantial tax revenues generated, to the treasury’s deficit reduction programme. As a restatement mostly of the strategic plan unveiled last year, Vision 2025 might be light on content but as a signal of long-term intent it could be what the market needs. Engaging with and developing access to the high growth economies whilst constructively collaborating with the global broking firms to achieve this should ensure that the attraction of Lloyd’s as an international centre for specialist insurance will endure. Inevitably the fine words need to be backed up by strong  positive leadership from the market practitioners so we should be encouraged by Catlin’s tie-up with China Re and the relocation of Aon’s group head office to London as first steps in realising the vision.

The evolution of Bermuda in the last two decades as a competing venue for reinsurance underwriting is a harsh reminder to Lloyd’s of how easily a position of preeminence can be lost. Of all the lines of business, the innovations shaping reinsurance have been the most radical and we may be on the cusp of an even more fundamental change. This April was a record month for catastrophe bond placements and all the signs are that 2012 will be the strongest year to date for bond issuance. Although there remains a relatively small concentration of investors playing in this market, the appeal is clearly widening as institutions search even harder for decent non-correlating returns on capital. The much heralded convergence of financial derivative and reinsurance markets grinds on but the structural obstacles that have discouraged insurers from hedging their exposures in non-conventional markets are being tackled with each wave of loss events, most recently last year in Japan. By 2025, the structure of the reinsurance industry could be fundamentally different to how it appears currently.

This week an insurance man no less, Robert Figueredo, was arrested in Miami for scuttling his $2 million boat. He of course should know better but unfortunately fraudulent claims are now quite common; a major concern for yacht underwriters. Here in Europe, Italian authorities recently uncovered widespread tax evasion and in a recent raid in Bari found that nearly a third of 963 vessels inspected had owners with suspiciously low tax returns. Similarly Greek inspectors have evidently seized over 500 yachts as part of a fiscal clampdown. The extreme austerity affecting Mediterranean countries according to adjusters Charles Taylor is leading to a significant increase in suspicious arson related losses.

As another wave of Euro anxiety sweeps through the media, the new French president François Hollande, whose plane was struck by lightning en-route to a meeting with Mrs Merkel, can at least relax a little as the incident may not necessarily be the omen he might fear. Evidently the average plane is hit at least once a year, however, an aircraft is designed and built to withstand jolts in excess of 250,000 amps whereas a typical lightning strike is a little over 30,000 amps. Thankfully there are no modern-day examples of a plane being brought down by lightning alone and experts say the only serious risk is if the non-metal cone where the radar is located is severely scorched; highly unlikely as this area is protected by conductors.

We may soon be joining dogs and cats in having chips embedded in our bodies. A Canadian software company is researching the methods by which we interface with everyday gadgets and has been testing the functionality of buttons, sensors and LEDs implanted under the skin. Although it sounds quite ghoulish to incorporate consumer electronics into us, the insertion of medical devices such as pacemakers is quite a routine procedure. The more widespread commercial adoption of cyborg technology will offer an interesting challenge for those insuring equipment that can track our movement, raising broader questions for society around privacy and freedom.

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