Doctors, dog groomers, Daimlers…

Any insurance broker who’s still in business after almost five years of financial crisis should congratulate themselves. But with the weaker players out of the running and the economy basically flat, the market is now more competitive than ever. Achieving organic growth means holding fast to existing clients while they are bombarded with better offers, while pulling in new ones from rivals who are clinging on just as tenaciously as you, something one broker compared to Olympic track cycling: you have to get everything right to be successful. In this article for Insurance Times, I looked at the best growth strategies for the months ahead, and at how brokers can transform themselves from passive “farmers” into efficient “hunters” , ruthlessly pursuing new business, eliminating distractions and cutting timewasters loose. One of the keys is specialising in niche areas, whatever they may be – it’s much easier to get everything right when you’re only trying to do one thing.

“We don’t get into bidding wars with employees”

Are you sitting comfortably? More than three-quarters of people in the insurance sector are – according to the latest jobs market survey from Reed, which found that 77% considered themselves either secure or very secure in their jobs. Ironically, and unfortunately for their employers, that means they’re much more likely to be looking around for other opportunities. In this piece for Insurance Times, I looked at what firms are doing to hang on to their staff as the employment market picks up, from hard cash to monitoring for signs of the five-to-seven-year itch…

“One-in-100-year events happen all the time”

As recently as 2010, Bristol came tenth in the list of cities in England and Wales most at risk of flooding. Now it’s fifth, and the number of homes at risk has shot up from 12,800 to 29,000. But this has got nothing to do with any physical changes in the city itself – it’s solely down to how the risk is measured. The council has invested in an extremely detailed model of flood risk across the city, the first of its kind in the world. The results have not only challenged perceptions of Bristol’s own flood risk, but scientists’ understanding of flooding itself. Flood modelling is a highly specialised discipline combining environmental science, applied mathematics, hydrology, surveying and advanced IT, not a combination that usually captures the public imagination. But 2013 is likely to see a great deal more demand for accurate models, when a gentlemen’s agreement between insurers and the government expires – and the owners of 200,000 high-risk properties find their cover rockets in price or is withdrawn completely, rendering their homes worthless. For this article for Modus magazine, I spoke to the world’s leading flood risk engineers to find out how they do it, and what their latest discoveries could mean for us all.

Market forces

If you’re in any doubt that insurers secretly rule the world, take a look at the latest edition of Lloyd’s Market magazine. For this issue’s Foresight section, I interviewed insurance experts on Mexico’s controversial new government and its likely impact on infrastructure, organised crime and the oil and gas sector; the latest EU sanctions that prohibit insurers and reinsurers covering the transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products; how a Greek exit from the euro could throw contract law across the EU into chaos; the construction of the Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope with 3000 antennas spanning Australia and South Africa; and gadgets in your car that log not only your driving behaviour but reveal your whole personality…

Multiple risks

Question: What do Mongolia’s mining boom, $225bn of deep-water drilling in Brazil, the rising threat of terrorism in Asia, European financial regulations, cyber-risks, Qatar’s growing SME sector, and the difficulty of predicting natural disasters in Australia and New Zealand all have in common?

Answer: They are all insured through Lloyd’s of London, and I covered them all for the news section of its relaunched Market magazine in June.

“We must be seen to be co-operating with the authorities at all times”

As this article went to press, there were 680 people held at gunpoint in the Gulf of Aden: the crews of 30 merchant ships hijacked by Somali pirates. It may be weeks or even months before their ransom is negotiated, and they know there is little hope of rescue. For the 20,000 ships that sail the Gulf of Aden every year, kidnap by Somali pirates is a constant and growing threat. The world’s navies do have a presence here, but there are only around 40 warships attempting to patrol an area of ocean one-and-a-half times the size of Europe. To stem its heavy losses, the insurance industry is attempting to establish what has been billed as a “private navy” to guard commercial shipping – unprecedented, controverisal and extremely complex under international and maritime law, as I found out in this article for Insurance Times.

Cash in the basement

Insurance is not a sector that’s renowned for being at the bleeding edge of technology. But firms are waking up to the fact that all that data buried in dusty mainframes is one of the most valuable assets they own – if only they could work out what it’s telling them. In this tech feature for Insurance Times, I reviewed three software products developed to unlock the commerical potential of claims records.