The Lloyd’s Building, at 1 Lime Street in London, is the vital, dynamic heart of the London insurance market, as well as the historic center of the global insurance industry. The D&O Diary is on assignment in the U.K. this week, and one of the high points of the business itinerary was a tour of the Lloyd’s building in London, supplemented by a short but gratifying introduction to a host of London insurance market professionals.
The Lloyd’s Building’s exterior, still striking after 25 years, often attracts the most attention (and, even now, some controversy), but it is the building’s interior that is actually the most interesting. The building’s first three floors are a web of activity, with underwriters in the boxes considering risk submissions brought to them by the brokers.
The boxes are a remnant of the marketplace’s earliest origins at Lloyd’s Coffee House, where in those days marine risks were underwritten at the shop’s stalls and booths. The boxes today include sleek computer screens, and they often display the names of large multinational insurance organizations. Just the same, according to time-honored practices, the brokers still queue up at the boxes to present their client’s risks and much of the business is still transacted face-to-face. Even if these processes are vestigial, they represent both a civilized tradition and a time-tested way to transact insurance business.
On my prior visit to the Lloyd’s building years ago, there was a sense the building was a little under utilized. Much of the third floor then was vacant. But now the building seems to be full and the sense of energy and activity is palpable.
Notwithstanding the building’s ultramodern décor and the omnipresence of electronic technology, the building as an insurance market retains important artifacts reflecting its long history and embodying many of its traditions. The Lutine Bell, rescued from a sunken vessel, stands in the center of the building’s first floor; the bell still sounds from time to time, but only on the occasion of a major loss. The Adam Room on the building’s eleventh floor, a re-creation of the prior building’s meeting room, represents a sharp design contrast to the rest of the building. Though it is now used for ceremonial purposes, its traditional décor provides a symbolic link to the market’s long and venerable history.
The London insurance market is now much bigger than just Lloyd’s itself, and around The City there are other insurers in the so-called company market who do not participate directly in the Lloyd’s marketplace. But even these other participants are located in close proximity to the Lloyd’s building. As a result of the physically compact nature of the London insurance marketplace, and also due to the marketplace’s tradition of doing business face-to-face, there is very much of a feeling of community in the marketplace. Many of the participants know each other, to a much greater degree that their counterparts might elsewhere in the global insurance industry.
I enjoyed a particularly rewarding encounter with the London insurance community at a reception that my firm, OakBridge, co-sponsored with Beazley Group and the Ince & Co. law firm. It was through my friendships with individuals at these two other firms that the reception came about, but the reception itself was really not for or about the sponsoring firms as such. The whole point of the reception was simply to bring together as many participants in the London management liability insurance arena as were willing to come out on a Tuesday evening. In the event, over 75 underwriters, brokers, reinsurers and lawyers attended. I saw many old friends and made many new friends.
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to become better acquainted with my professional colleagues in London. I came away with a strong sense of the professional collegiality that is so characteristic of the place. In the U.S., the D&O insurance industry is also collegial, but because it lacks the geographic concentration of the London market, the sense of community in the U.S. is not the same.
As a result of the Internet and other features of modern business, all too often in the U.S. (and elsewhere) our business interactions are impersonal and detached. In my own work situation, I am literally in an office by myself, with no colleagues nearby and with my links to the business world running through Internet routers and telephone lines. Sometimes it seems that what we may have gained in process efficiency from our modern approach to business, we may have lost in so many other ways. Although our transactions are usually friendly, it is infrequent that we know or know much about those with whom we are conducting business. As I circulated among the guests at the reception the other evening, I was reminded that in a business community built on relationships, business takes place not merely among market participants, but also between friends. And there is a lot to be said for that.
I would like to thank my good friend Tom Coates of R.K. Harrison for taking me and my son around the Lloyd’s building. I would also like to thank all of my friends at Beazley Group and at Ince & Co. for co-sponsoring the reception. And to all my friends in London, old and new, all I can say is that I hope someday I have a chance to repay your hospitality. And to do business, as well. Cheers.
The Adam Room
Some of Lloyd’s City Neighbors