Less than two years ago Lloyd’s revealed to the London insurance community a vision of itself in 2025 enthusiastically endorsed by Prime Minister David Cameron. At its heart was a repositioning of the market to take advantage of the opportunities in the world’s high growth economies. Since then the Lloyd’s hierarchy have sat at the front of the bus on some high-profile overseas trade missions sending a serious message about their global ambition. Few of course doubt that the strategy is long-term requiring guile and patience in equal measure.
Lloyd’s conceded at the outset that much of the work in realising their vision will fall to the underwriting and broking businesses whose appetite to grow in new markets will govern the success of the plan; and there perhaps lies the biggest challenge. Released from the grips of recession advanced nations like US and Japan now look like more attractive bets than the higher-risk developing countries where growth is faltering. The BRIC economies have a hit a wall. Investors are fleeing markets from Latin America to Asia, tanking currencies and stocks as they head off. Interviewed last week even the Chairman of Lloyd’s conceded that the it would be the established markets of North America and Continental Europe that would offer the best prospects in 2014.
Were it just a cyclical slowdown, insurers might be less deterred than others. The true source of the business opportunity in the developing world is in fact the very low level of product penetration, the small percentage of GDP spent on insurance, rather than the rate by which GDP grows. Unfortunately the problems appear to run a lot deeper. Writing recently in Time Magazine, Michael Schuman blames the complacency of overconfident governments in China, India and Brazil for the evaporation of investor interest; in particular their failure to press on with reform; fluffing the chance to liberalise and reshape tapped-out growth models.
This is an assessment that will resonate with insurers. If the weaker economic outlook and declining premium rates were not enough to contend with, restrictions on overseas ownership and licensing; rules preventing offshore reinsurance and the preferential treatment of state-connected enterprises are just some of the factors that are further souring underwriters and brokers taste for expansion. No surprise therefore that Lloyd’s is set to initiate a ‘market access’ project next month to strengthen its global licensing and trading framework in the emerging economies. Their success with this and their lobbying with local regulators for freer open markets may ultimately determine whether the market resembles the Vision by 2025 or maybe some years later.