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PartnerRe marks 25 years in Bermuda

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Big birthday: PartnerRe turns 25 this month and CEO Emmanuel Clarke says the reinsurer is still the right home for the global reinsurer (Photograph supplied)

It is 25 years ago this month that PartnerRe set up in Bermuda as a brand new reinsurer with ten employees and $1 billion of capacity.

Much has changed over the past quarter of a century as PartnerRe has evolved into a major player with $8 billion of capital writing multiple lines of business.

Now backed by the might of Exor, an Italian investment company that bought the reinsurer in 2016, PartnerRe has 1,000 employees working in 19 locations around the world.

However, at least two things are the same as they were back in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew: PartnerRe is a pure-play reinsurer and it still calls Bermuda home.

Furthermore, there is no desire to change those two enduring characteristics any time soon, Emmanuel Clarke, PartnerRe’s chief executive officer, told The Royal Gazette.

Bermuda, Mr Clarke said, remained the right domicile for the company, for two reasons. “First, it is the heart of the property-cat market, so it has great talent,” he said. “Second, it’s a business-friendly environment. The regulator here [Bermuda Monetary Authority] is both strong and supportive — that’s very appreciated.”

Many rivals have sought to diversify their businesses by writing both insurance and reinsurance, but PartnerRe remains one of the few remaining pure-play reinsurers. Mr Clarke believes that gives his company an edge.

“In a world of clients purchasing reinsurance from a smaller group of real partners, how can you be a real partner and at the same time compete with that client?” Mr Clarke said. “We think there’s a real contradiction there.

“It’s a differentiating part of our value proposition to say we’re here to support you and help you grow — we’re not here to try to grab your business or your teams. That gives us a special intimacy with our clients, because they are not ready to share with people who do both.

“Not a lot of people have been successful at managing both insurance and reinsurance, because they are fundamentally different business models.”

One of the drivers of the wave of consolidation that has swept through the industry is the desire for scale. However, Mr Clarke rejects the notion that PartnerRe needs to get bigger to compete effectively and adds that at its present size, it can maintain its “culture of nimbleness”.

“Scale is important in insurance for economies of scale, but in reinsurance I prefer to talk about relevance,” Mr Clarke said. “It’s not about how many dollars of premium we write, it’s about what we offer and how we are relevant to our clients.

“Are we impactful, insightful, responsive? Can we do every class of business? Are we easy to deal with? Do we write large lines? That’s what matters to a client.

“I believe PartnerRe has the necessary relevance to be in that core group of companies that clients want to deal with and that’s already the case.”

In recent months, there have been widely reported rumours of PartnerRe in merger talks with French giant Scor. Not true, Mr Clarke said. “We deny this. There have not been any such discussions.”

Mr Clarke has been with PartnerRe for nearly 22 of its 25 years, having joined the company as a result of its acquisition of Safr in 1997. He has seen the firm evolve from a monoline property-catastrophe reinsurer, into the global, multiline, diversified operation that it is today.

He highlighted two of the biggest changes he had seen in the industry.

“Alternative capital started in the mid-1990s and has accelerated in the last five to ten years,” he said. “It has really changed the property-cat market and has in turn changed the whole reinsurance business and how we think about the returns we generate.

“There have also been changes in how our clients buy reinsurance, from very specific to holistic. People have moved from having 70 reinsurers on their panel to buyers being happy with five to ten, favouring relevance over diversification.”

Mr Clarke is upbeat on the future and sees many logical reasons why reinsurance demand should grow. “The risk landscape is very active,” he said.

Urbanisation, for example, has resulted in a concentration of values in risk-exposed areas, a trend that could increase the severity of natural catastrophes.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the potential for contagion becomes greater. This is as true for supply chain and credit issues, as it is for viruses of the cyber and biological varieties, he argued.

New kinds of risk, the likes of cyber and alternative energy, will call for new capacity. And a further driver of potential reinsurance demand may come from “our primary insurance clients being increasingly attentive to volatility of earnings”, Mr Clarke added.

He is not one of those CEOs losing sleep over technology’s potential to disrupt their business. He sees technology as “more of an enabler than a disrupter”.

Ten years ago insurers worried about the impact of e-commerce, he said. However, companies who embraced the technology had made e-commerce part of their value proposition.

Automation and algorithms would help the industry to leverage better analytics to make better decisions and also to improve efficiency, he said.

Exor is the investment vehicle of the wealthy Agnelli family. Its principal investments, apart from PartnerRe, include car makers Fiat Chrysler and Ferrari, football club Juventus and The Economist newspaper. Life as part of Exor agrees with the reinsurer, Mr Clarke said, for a number of reasons.

First, the acquisition took PartnerRe private, freeing it from the demands placed on public companies.

“We focus on long-term value creation,” Mr Clarke said. “Every company says this, but if you’re a public company, you have one eye on the long term and the other on the next two or three quarters. When you’re a private company you have your eyes on what moves the needle to create economic value over the long term.

“An example of this is that we want to grow our life reinsurance business. In the short term, that’s not necessarily accretive to US GAAP results, whereas it is clearly accretive in terms of long-term growth. We can do this because we can have a long-term view.”

That said, PartnerRe still publishes quarterly results. There is a degree of obligation, because the company continues to have publicly traded preferred shares. Additionally, Mr Clarke said: “We’ve decided to continue to disclose results for transparency reasons for our clients. We did not want private ownership to mean less transparency in the way that clients could access information about us.”

No longer does PartnerRe have to worry about getting caught up in the turbulence surrounding consolidation.

“Having been acquired, we’re completely undistracted by what’s going on the M&A space,” Mr Clarke said. “We see ourselves as a stable partner to our clients with no risk of being absorbed by another large reinsurance company.

“It gives us the advantage of stability to focus on the business and our clients. I think a lot of our competitors would envy us.”

PartnerRe endeavours to be a good corporate citizen on the island. The PartnerRe Women’s 5K Run and Walk is probably its best-known community effort. The road race has raised more than $400,000 for local female-related charities since 1998.

“There’s one location where we feel we have a special responsibility towards the community and that’s Bermuda,” Mr Clarke said. “It’s a small community and we’re a big company and we feel we have a responsibility to give back. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past 25 years.”

Emmanuel Clarke, CEO of PartnerRe (Photograph supplied)