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CEO: Liberty merger to fuel Ironshore growth

Like a prize in a game of pass the parcel, Ironshore Inc switched hands this week for the second time in two years.

But it is all good, according to Mitch Blaser, chief executive officer of Ironshore Bermuda.

“It is fantastic news for Ironshore overall,” he said, a day after it was announced that Liberty Mutual Insurance's $3 billion acquisition of Ironshore has been completed.

“The fact that Liberty Mutual has confidence in our brand and our operations to integrate their US operations into ours — that was a very strong vote of confidence in the strength of our brand and our business model,” said Mr Mitch.

He was referring to Liberty Mutual's decision to combine its existing Liberty International Underwriters US business and Ironshore's US specialty lines business under the Ironshore brand.

“Clearly the retention of the Ironshore brand is another favourable aspect to our operations in the US, Bermuda and internationally.”

He is not alone in his positive outlook for Ironshore under Liberty Mutual's ownership. Ratings services have also weighed in.

On Tuesday, AM Best removed Ironshore from “under review” and affirmed its “A” rating, while Moody's lifted a number of its ratings of Ironshore segments to “A2”.

Two years ago Ironshore was bought by Shanghai-based Fosun International. The global investment group then opted to sell the insurer last December to Liberty Mutual as it offloaded assets to “enhance” its financial flexibility.

When asked if another change of ownership in such a short period of time was unsettling, Mr Blaser said: “We've been very fortunate because Fosun was a fantastic owner. They bought us with the idea to build the franchise and have us run as an independent entity, so the impact on our people was minimal post-acquisition.

“Now we have been fortunate again to have a company with the breadth and depth of Liberty Mutual buy us with the intention of keeping the brand intact and building on our franchise.

“From a business standpoint, and an underwriting standpoint, we've been very fortunate and the disruption as a result has been minimal.

“Our people are very enthusiastic about this latest change in ownership, and very motivated to grow the company.”

Ironshore, which has offices in 34 countries, was formed in 2006 in the wake of the catastrophic losses caused by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

In Bermuda it has offices on Front Street. There have been no announced changes to the company's operations on the island as a result of the acquisition.

Mr Blaser sees opportunities to strengthen Ironshore's operations in Bermuda and globally.

“It provides us with the platform with a very strong parent company, and balance sheet, to continue to expand our operations and build out the specialty businesses of Ironshore as part of Liberty Mutual, which will bode well for our Bermuda operations.”

He said Ironshore Bermuda will see opportunities to cross-sell to Liberty Mutual's client base.

Mr Blaser, who is also COO of Ironshore Inc, added: “In addition, as of today we are globally a US company with so many of our clients and client-base emanating out of the US.

“From a Bermuda standpoint the closure of this deal provides for a growth platform in terms of the strength of our balance sheet, the strength of our ratings, access to the client base of Liberty Mutual and the strength of the resources that Liberty Mutual brings to Ironshore Bermuda and the rest of Ironshore.”

The combination of Ironshore and Liberty Mutual has created a global specialty business with about $6.5 billion in net written premiums.

When asked if he thought mergers and acquisitions in the insurance and reinsurance sector would continue, with companies morphing into larger entities, Mr Blaser said: “Yes, it will continue. I don't know if this is the beginning or the middle, it's certainly not the end.”

He explained: “It's very difficult for businesses in our industry to survive without the scale of resources and a strong balance sheet behind them.

“This type of consolidation has been evident in the reinsurance space probably for over five years. Now you are seeing it in the insurance space as well.”

He said that when capacity is widely available and it becomes difficult for a company to differentiate itself from competitors, then having a strong financial rating and balance sheet are increasingly important factors for clients and brokers deciding where to place business.

“Those advantages and those resources help differentiate yourself with the customer and are the most important features today. That will force more consolidation.”

Ironshore is the official insurer of America's Cup defender Oracle Team USA. Looking ahead to the competition, which starts at the end of this month, Mr Blaser said: “We are very much plugged into and excited about the potential of the America's Cup for Bermuda, not only as a sponsor, but to support it in any way possible.”

Looking ahead: Mitch Blaser, CEO of Ironshore Bermuda, is upbeat about the prospects for Ironshore and its Bermuda operations following the completion of its acquisition by Liberty Mutual Insurance (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 04, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 04, 2017 at 12:48 am)

CEO: Liberty merger to fuel Ironshore growth

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