The credit and political risk insurance market has seen an emergence of new players recently, with fledgling underwriting firms seeking to fill any gaps left by the larger, established players. But what exactly are they bringing to the market, and are they doing anything differently? Felix Thompson reports.
While established players in the trade credit and political risk insurance (CPRI) sector brace for rising claims as a result of Covid-19, new underwriters have continued to spring up, promising to innovate the insurance class – or, at the very least, boost market capacity and draw in fresh customers.
As part of these developments, specialty lines insurer HDI Global Specialty SE introduced a credit and political risk team in June, while Convex, a newly established international specialist insurer and reinsurer, has made various appointments in London, as it works to build a political and credit risk team.
Elsewhere in the past few months, Africa Specialty Risks, a new insurance and reinsurance company, was launched with backing from private investment fund Helios.
Meanwhile, a new special risk division rolled out by well-established commodity trade credit specialist Groupama Assurance-Credit & Caution in 2018 is now up and running.
Andrew van den Born, managing director, global head of CPRI for financial institutions at broker Willis Towers Watson, explains that new entrants to the CPRI space can capitalise on their relative lack of baggage and bring new capacity to the sector.
“It’s a good time for insurers to enter the market. They don’t have to deal with some of the issues of a legacy book that are impacting their competitors,” says van den Born. “They can take advantage of a hardening market. If this translates into more capacity for high demand names or countries, then that’s obviously a positive.”
According to BPL Global’s annual market survey, released in January 2020, the number of insurers in the CPRI sector remained stable in 2019.
Sian Aspinall, co-managing director at BPL Global, notes in the report that while there was consolidation in the sector in 2019, as Lloyd’s attempted to “get its house in order”, new players stepped in to fill the gap.
James Esdaile, managing director at the broker, tells GTR that there have been three key exits from the CPRI sector this year, with Starstone, Neon and Allied World Assurance Company’s (AWAC) European platform all leaving the space. Although, he notes the first two involved a total cessation of all activity – not just CPRI.
Against the backdrop of a competitive market, some say new players could be doing more to innovate.
“Part of me would prefer new entrants to maybe provide broader offerings, or perhaps be a bit more innovative than some of the existing players, rather than simply coming in and doing what everyone else is doing,” says van den Born.
“But the reality is that most new entrants to the market will likely be, at least in the first couple of years, relatively conservative, in terms of what they underwrite as they try and build their book,” he adds.
In the broker space, there has been a general trend towards consolidation among the bigger players, with two substantial deals announced at the top end of the of the CPRI sector.
In April 2019, Marsh & McLennan completed its US$5.6bn acquisition of Jardine Lloyd Thompson, forming Marsh JLT. Then, in March 2020, Aon and Willis Towers Watson announced a US$30bn merger, although that deal is yet to be signed off by regulators.
Against the backdrop of these larger movements in the broker space, new firms continue to spring up.
Specialist CPRI broker PolFin, for instance, was launched by Robert Deeley in London this year after gaining FCA approval in August.
Deeley tells GTR that start-ups like his can bring new customers into the market, focusing on financial institutions that haven’t been served before, and looking after the smaller companies that larger brokers “don’t consider to be worthwhile”. He says that he is seeing a lot of interest from the Middle East in particular.
Another start-up in the broker space, Equa Specialty Risk Partners Corporation, has been working to provide CPRI coverage to Canadian financial institutions and corporates since April, while also giving them access to international markets through a partnership with BPL Global.
Tamsin Plumptre, who leads the structured credit, political and security risk division at the firm, tells GTR that there is currently a need for CPRI specialists in Canada, where the private market is currently in a “nascent stage” of development. She adds that companies have traditionally turned to Export Development Canada – the country’s export credit agency – for support.
In terms of underwriters, there have been several notable additions to the market:
HDI Global Specialty
HDI Global Specialty launched a London-based political and credit risk team in June, hiring Nick Robinson from specialist insurance provider Neon Underwriting to run the unit, while also appointing Anthony Vaughan – another hire from Neon – as senior analyst and underwriter.
The focus for the new unit in London is non-payment risk, says Robinson, adding that it has been working alongside an existing political risk team based in Stockholm, which writes the company’s equity PRI for physical assets.
Robinson tells GTR that from a sectoral perspective, there tends to be a large oil and gas energy contingent element to the portfolio. “But we see growing demand in renewables, financings relating to, unsurprisingly, data centres and 4G or 5G infrastructure and logistics.”
He says that it’s the team’s intention to limit the oil and gas element to 25% of the portfolio, although, for now, there isn’t a fully formed portfolio to speak of, given the firm only started issuing indications nine weeks before press time.
Speaking about future plans, Robinson says that the team will initially work to innovate the way in which its products are placed.
“In the short term, we must provision support to the developing platforms used by the market and some new platforms developed by individual brokers. In the future, innovation will come with improved ease of use and accessibility, as well as more automation of insurer capacity being offered,” he notes.
He adds that HDI Global Specialty will also look to innovate the products themselves. “I think that will come a little bit further down the line. Because of the Covid-19 environment, we are seeing a good enquiry volume, albeit with a slight reduction. The quality paper is the key differentiating factor in our launch in 2020 and going into 2021.”
HDI Global Specialty is a joint venture between HDI Global and Hannover Re.
Convex, a newly established international specialist insurer and reinsurer, has made four hires this year in its bid to carve out a space in the political and credit risk market.
The firm was formed in 2019 by industry veterans Stephen Catlin and Paul Brand with US$1.7bn of initial committed capital to underwrite insurance and reinsurance for complex specialty risks.
Since April this year, it has been working to build out a CPRI unit, hiring Navaid Farooq from Anvil Underwriting – where he had been serving as managing director – to head the new team.
Meanwhile Murray Ross, who had been serving as head of political risks and credit Europe at Chubb, took on the role of deputy head in July.
A spokesperson for the firm told GTR earlier this year that the team will write credit and contract frustration risks for policy periods up to 10.5 years, and political risks – such as expropriation, forced divestiture, exchange transfer and political violence – for up to 15 years.
Ross tells GTR that a data-driven approach and a clean balance sheet – the firm is “legacy free”, unlike more established competitors – are two factors helping it stand out in the CPRI market.
He adds that the firm has the appetite and line size to establish itself as a leader in the market, but admits no one “can predict where Covid-19 is heading and the impact it will have”.
“We have to be pragmatic about our risk appetite. It’s a tough environment with a number of unknowns so our appetite is conservative to begin with, as you have to be wary of risks and how they change in the current environment,” he says.
Groupama Assurance-Credit & Caution
In late 2018, the well-established commodity and agribusiness trade credit specialist Groupama Assurance-Credit & Caution (GAC) rolled out a new special risks division and hired Valerie Talbot to lead it.
Talbot, who had been serving as head of commercial underwriting in London for Euler Hermes’ transactional cover unit, was tasked with setting up the new desk in France, and with rolling out single risk, excess of loss and top-up solutions.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a growing interest in the credit insurance market for single buyer cover, as well as more requests for non-cancellable cover,” she tells GTR.
The unit mainly serves European corporates and has a focus on short-term cover, with top-up and excess of loss policies linked to ongoing sales, and single-risk policies coming with maximum tenors of 36 months.
As a part of the wider Groupama group – which has historically focused on providing insurance to French farmers – GAC has built up expertise in the agri sector over the past 40 years, with soft commodity traders and producers constituting the majority of its clients in credit insurance.
The division has also become active in non-agri sectors through the top-up policy, which sees GAC provide additional cover in tandem with another insurer. According to Talbot, customers may look for this if another firm “has offered insufficient limits to allow for seasonality of sales, for instance”.
Africa Specialty Risk Group
A new insurance and reinsurance company targeting the African market was launched in London in September, with backing from private investment firm Helios Investment Partners.
Mikir Shah, previously CEO of AXA Africa Specialty Risks, is CEO of the Africa Specialty Risk Group (ASR), with co-founder Bryan Howett, who formerly served as CEO for Old Mutual’s pan-African reinsurance operations, taking on the role of CFO.
The company – which currently has 12 employees, two in its CPRI team – aims to boost CPRI capacity in Africa by providing risk mitigation and insurance products to local and global businesses, as well as financial institutions, operating on the continent.
Speaking at the time of launch, Souleymane Ba, a partner at Helios, said: “We have identified a sustained lack of adequate insurance capacity across Africa, which has been exacerbated further by Covid-19, as global reinsurance providers focus on their home markets.”
The firm will have two strands of business, providing direct trade credit and political risk insurance policies with a maximum of seven years to financial institutions and businesses through the London managing general agent (MGA), and reinsurance through a Mauritius MGA, which is currently in the process of being finalised, says Genevieve Ahinful, an underwriter on the CPRI team.
She says that ASR will work “on the ground” with African insurance and reinsurance companies, helping them build capacity and giving them access to Lloyd’s of London and the European market. “This is an area which is very much untapped at the moment,” Ahinful adds.
Meanwhile the firm’s plans to establish hubs across the African continent will be another “differentiating factor”, giving the (re)insurer a physical presence, which Ahinful says will help ASR interpret and react to potential risks quicker than competitors in London.