The past year has seen sweeping change at some companies - and a surprising lack of change at others
It would be easy to pass off 2010 as uneventful for the (re)insurance industry. After all, reinsurers will end the year much as they started it – strongly capitalised and facing the prospect of further price declines given the lack of market-changing events.
But dismissing the year as dull would do it a gross disservice. The industry was hit with losses in excess of $22bn in the first half alone – coincidentally the amount Berkshire Hathaway paid for General Re in 1998. And while the losses did not have an impact on prices overall, they certainly had market-changing effects in specific sectors or geographies.
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion is a case in point. Rates for insuring and reinsuring deepwater offshore drilling have skyrocketed, and the event has sparked efforts, notably from market leader Munich Re, to provide greater levels of liability coverage to such projects.
There has been sweeping change at the top of companies such as PartnerRe and Swiss Re and a surprising lack of change at others – notably Joseph Taranto’s abortive attempt to retire from Everest Re.
Others will point to a dearth of mergers and acquisitions as evidence of a quiet 2010. Yet this was the year UK-based broker Cooper Gay completed its audacious bid for US wholesaler Swett & Crawford, propelling it into a new broking category. We also saw Brit finally agree to takeover terms from private equity firms Apollo and CVC Capital Partners after months of wrangling.
The coming year promises to be just as exciting. What will reinsurers do with their excess capital? Will they continue to return it to shareholders through buy-backs and special dividends, or will we see them go on an acquisition spree?
More broker mergers seem inevitable as competition gets tough and rising service expectations put strains on smaller firms’ resources. The balance of power is currently in favour of Aon Benfield, but could a further mega-merger change this?
One thing is sure: the year ahead certainly won’t be dull.
Ben Dyson, assistant editor, Global Reinsurance