CEOs consider question of big versus nimble
Is big where it’s at, or is being small, nimble and unburdened by legacy issues preferable for success?
That was an issue a group of chief executive officers pondered during a wider conversation about where to find growth in the insurance and reinsurance industry.
They also spoke about how to nurture and encourage the best from their staff.
“There certainly is a lot of pressure on the industry at the moment; three years of cat losses, two years of large man-made losses, social cost inflation, and zero interest rates,” Greg Hendrick, CEO of Axa XL, said.
“An organisation like ours, you constantly have one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas.”
Mr Hendrick gave the analogy as he spoke on a panel at the PwC Insurance Summit, and highlighted three components necessary for growth in the marketplace.
“Some segments of the market are doing well,” he said, giving a nod to the wisdom of providing specialty offerings. “The second piece is you have got to be innovative, you have to be creating new product.”
He said the third component was scale, and he mentioned how Axa’s acquisition of XL Group last year had provided access to a huge distribution network that has boosted growth.
In the face of challenges from data analytics, regulation and distribution, scale can be a strength, he said.
“It can help you lean against those forces, lean in to them. It helps you deal with regulators, and harness data analytics.”
However, he added: “Scale is not the answer that conquers all, you still have to be efficient, but it helps with those big trends.
“There will always be places for specialists who are nimble and good strong providers of capacity.”
This year’s new arrival Convex Group Ltd, with $1.8 billion of committed capital, is the largest re/insurance start-up in the Bermuda market’s history. Even so, in relative terms to many of its competitors it is a smaller player.
But that has advantages, according to Paul Brand, deputy CEO of Convex Insurance. He said challenges arise for bigger organisations around processes, which tend to be more complicated, and legacy issues that need to be solved.
He said: “Small players have opportunity to adapt new technology and to react more quickly to opportunities those technologies offer.”
He said data analytics is going to be a big area for the industry, and that in many ways it is better to be a smaller company.
Where Convex might have the advantage with its smaller size is in having “a joined-up team”, he said, explaining that in a small company “when you pull a lever something actually happens further down the line”, but that is not so easy in a large organisation.
John Berger, CEO of Ascot Insurance, who was also on the panel, said the knowledge advantage that in the past came from experience has shifted with the advent of data analytics and technology. When markets become more efficient, margins shrink, he said.
“We are seeing that in our business. So then the pressure goes on to expenses; how do we become more efficient and reduce our expenses? It’s about how can you do more with less people.”
He said acquisitions present an opportunity for synergies, and is something that happens in all industries.
“But the offshoot of that is people get upset and leave. They start Convex, they start other companies, and it starts the cycle again.”
Mr Berger said mergers and acquisitions will continue, along with an increasing drive to decrease expenses. “That gives management good reasons to do it, and bad reasons to do it,” he said.
Expanding on that, and the challenges the market is placing on companies and their employees, Mr Brand said: “Mental health at work is becoming an increasing issue. As we go forward we have to think about how we solve some of those issues.”
He said managing people effectively does not just mean “squeezing every last drop of intellectual juice out of them and throw them out at the end of it”.
He said: “Companies with the right culture, where staff are fundamentally happy — they are much more attractive to do business with.”
While Mr Hendrick said: “Culture is what’s in the air to tell you what to do when no one is in the room to tell you what to do.” He added that “great communication” is a key component of that.
Nigel Frudd, CEO of Sompo International, said much of the insurance industry is overcomplicated and it should be about “getting the right communication”. He added: “We want to keep [our] culture and keep everybody happy.”
The PwC Insurance Summit, presented by The Financial Times, was held at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club.
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