London's insurance market
London's position as world-leader in insurance is under threat
FROM the doomed Titanic, an ocean liner (1m), to the legs of Cristiano Ronaldo, a footballer (144m), some of the biggest and most unusual risks have been taken on by the London insurance market, the oldest and largest in the world. Started more than 300 years ago in a coffee shop in Tower Street run by Edward Lloyd, the market was first thought up to share the hazards of mercantile trading adventures. It grew with the empire.
Cyber-risk wasn't a problem for Mr Lloyd
Today, the sector employs 48,000 people, makes up 21% of the City's economy and underpins global industries like aviation (57% of whose insurance is underwritten in London) and shipping (33%). One tenth of global commercial insurance and 13% of reinsurance is underwritten in London, making the market roughly the same size as its three closest rivals—Bermuda, Singapore and Zurich—combined.
However, a study published on November 10th by the London Market Group, which represents the industry, and Boston Consulting Group, a consultancy, says London's dominant position is under threat. While the rest of the City was forced to reform in recent decades, the insurance industry has remained largely unchanged. The report reckons as much as 40% of London's current insurance business is now at risk of going elsewhere.
Emerging markets accounted for 43% of world growth in the commercial insurance industry over the past three years—the Chinese market alone grew by 18% annually over that period. Yet London only managed to capture 0.5% of that growth. Its share of emerging markets fell to 2.5% in 2013 from 3.2% in 2010. The London market is also losing out to competitors in reinsurance (the insurance of insurers), where its share has fallen from 15% to 13% and is expected to drop further. The big threats here come from new market entrants (such as hedge funds) and expanding competitors such as Bermuda (whose reinsurance grew by 5%) and Singapore (10%).
Perhaps the biggest challenge lies in finding solutions for new types of corporate risks. These include reputation- and cyber-risk. The insurance industry has failed to keep up with changing business needs and some chief executives say that as much as 90% of their corporate risks are currently not insurable, because nobody has come up with the right products.
The industry remains strangely old-fashioned. Only 35% of its workforce have a university degree, compared with 60% for the workforce in central London. It has also failed to compete on cost, with burdensome regulations and higher transaction costs adding up. Investors are pouring new capital into the wider insurance market. Customers have plenty of choice.
There is plenty London could do to improve, says the report. It needs to shift its focus to emerging markets and to high growth sectors. It also needs to lead the way in adopting the latest technological innovations to measure and predict risk. There have been great advances in telematics, for example. One device is a box increasingly used in cars to assess individual drivers' behaviour, which makes it easier to assess the risk of insuring them. Mr Lloyd might have approved of such radical innovation.