First Published in Bermuda Finance Magazine, December 2020

As the reinsurance industry grapples with the challenges of COVID-19, Bermuda is poised to play an important role as it adjusts and finds opportunities. A number of the Island's leaders in this sector sat down in a virtual roundtable.


Paul Simons: It has been very much business as usual, but also not business as usual. The industry and our colleagues have adapted to work from home really well. The technology worked, which is important because the business has to continue. I was so impressed with our people who took it in their stride.

We adapted. Business went on. We've been paying claims, we've been providing quotes, we've been servicing our clients—all of the things we normally do.

Some of it is even better because now when you are meeting virtually with a client or a broker you can include as many folks as you want, junior, senior, whatever. That's a real positive, and we need to think about the future and how we work.

As an industry, we have worked together and continued for all our stakeholders. That has not stopped. We should be very proud of that as an industry.

Christian Dunleavy: Bermuda has coped very well. Bermuda is one of the only places in the world where you can conduct face-to-face business right now in the reinsurance industry so the Island has played to its strengths. We can control our border with a strong testing regime, and universal compliance with COVID-19 protocols means that we have the most normal reinsurance market anywhere.

Brokers are desperate to do face-to-face meetings, because I don't think they enjoy negotiating remotely. There's definitely pressure but negotiating remotely is clearly with us for now.

But the Island and the industry held up well. I saw a huge commitment to the communities, not just in Bermuda, but globally. Plus, we have been paying valid claims, of course, for an event that is a pretty much out of the box.

As an industry it has held up well and, as a jurisdiction, Bermuda is leading the way.

Dan Malloy: What's interesting is how resilient and flexible people are. We're fortunate to have jobs and be working from home conducting business relatively normally. Bermuda is in an enviable position with its low rate of COVID-19. It is much tougher for people in other industries here: people must work face to face, and other countries are challenged with potential new shutdowns.

Bringing it back to business, we have 40 people and we've hired six since the pandemic started. That means about 15 percent of our staff never saw the office, and never met a colleague during the interviewing and onboarding process. It's pretty astounding.

It will be interesting to see how things evolve. I'm part of a generation that learned by face-to-face mentoring, and interacting with peers. I worry how isolation is going to affect that process.

But maybe we're the ones who are out of touch and this is a taste of the future. We may have to learn from the younger ones since remote working is a new reality for the near future.

We have had a busy time in other ways. We announced a merger with Sirius and we helped set up Arcadian Risk Capital. Both of these major projects were done without anybody being in the same room together. It's amazing how we've adapted.

John Huff: First and foremost the return on investment for technology has paid tremendous dividends for companies.

The Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA) has adapted really well, keeping pace with demand and its responsibilities. You don't expect the regulator to have the technology that the companies would but they held their own.

Bermuda succeeded in containing the pandemic and we will come out stronger on the other side.

Accolades should go to the government and way they are handling the pandemic. COVID-19 is not going away quickly, so Bermuda is probably the safest place in the world for renewals.

Anup Seth: The industry as a whole has coped very well with COVID-19, leveraging technology to trade as effectively as before. We are starting to notice a slight drop-off in productivity.

People are getting burned out with the number of Zoom calls and they're missing that social interaction. But we have reopened the offices in Bermuda to 50 percent occupancy and I think that is making a difference.

We've also hired new colleagues during lockdown and it's been very tough to onboard colleagues in a virtual environment. I think a hybrid model between office and home is going to be the norm for a while longer, but I certainly feel that from a Bermuda perspective, it is extremely safe.

The economic impact of this is immense. It is a real challenge—a social and an economic challenge.

For our industry, this experience will change us in other ways. Lloyd's had a great trading platform online but there was less than 10 percent utilisation. Now, it's in the high 90 percents in terms of utilisation. Necessity is the mother of invention.

They've obviously realised that we're never going to go back to the old face-to-face trading floor when we've got such effective trading now online.

The trading floor will reopen but it will have a different function. The binding and quoting processes and the transactional piece will all be online, which is a good way of doing it.

Bermuda can benefit from that sort of system. If we had an electronic trading platform for the Bermuda market, key discussions, key negotiations—it would be great. Nothing can beat that face-to-face discussion or negotiation, but it would be more efficient if we had technology backing the trading.

David Brown: Today is the official first day of EY back in the office, so we're excited. A lot of credit should be given to the Bermuda government for taking steps to keep us all safe and allow business to return quickly. It's business as usual to a certain degree in Bermuda, which is very positive.

The BMA has coped well. We've had a number of meetings with them. There are a lot of companies forming, new capital, transactions, etc, so they have been doing their part.

The remote working environment has justified the investments that companies have made in technology. The current environment has almost forced companies to advance their digital agenda, across the board.

Overall, the industry has handled it well and for Bermuda, there are some opportunities coming out of this. We're seeing a lot of new companies forming.

One reason for that is the hardening rate environment but the wider point is that Bermuda is open for business and from a safety perspective, probably the best place to do business.

Brad Adderley: COVID-19 has made us more efficient. We submit everything electronically now to the BMA and that has made everything quicker and easier, which is a real positive.

This is a crazy season: we have the renewals, new capital , new sidecars, new insurance-linked securities (ILS) platforms, new startups. And we have COVID-19 and the hard market—it's crazy.

There have been a lot of discussions about startups; it is interesting to see the amount of capital they're raising, which is less than in previous years. The class of 2001 raised $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion; in 2005 it was about $1 billion.

Convex raised $1.8 billion in early 2019 but now most of the startups are raising $500 to $800 million and a lot of them are struggling to raise the capital despite it being a hard market. Most are raising significantly less than previous years.

So raising money does not seem as simple as it used to be, which is not what you would expect.

One reason might be that it can be hard to create a platform from scratch, therefore maybe they are better off buying another company.

Second, perhaps people don't want to invest in a traditional reinsurance company.

Maybe they expect it now to be more innovative, or what had gone before is not acceptable to private equity (PE) firms.

The other thing is that, given the size of these companies, will they affect pricing at all? In the grand scheme of things, the startups probably will have very little effect on pricing. It will be interesting to see how many of these get off the ground by January 1.

Huff: In contrast, more established firms in Bermuda have done very well going to market to raise capital. Equally, there have been some startups, so new capital is coming and more is being raised.

Investors seem to be interested, which will impact rates as we move towards 1/1.

Brad Adderley: I agree that existing carriers have been very successful. The reputation makes a difference and they've raised a lot of money. Equally, a lot has been raised on the life side, which will help Bermuda's economy. In terms of startups on the P&C side, it will be interesting to see which companies succeed.

Malloy: From talking to people in the PE space, the uncertainty around COVID-19 is a factor. It's not clear to investors what the opportunity will be, or what the quantum of the change is going to be.

So they question the return assumptions in an uncertain underwriting environment. That is different to post-2005 and post-2001 when it was pretty clear that the opportunity was real and there was something to take advantage of.

Looking at the other side of the balance sheet, interest rate assumptions are very low so in some instances the math just doesn't work for investors.

In contrast, we just merged with Sirius and we have balance sheets, clients, people and ratings. That was a long process, even going for validation as opposed from a startup.

Investors are going for known commodities, people they made money from in the past, as opposed to evaluating someone remotely that they haven't traded with before.

Dunleavy: It's been easier to raise money into existing franchises, which speaks to the value of what investors are seeing there, particularly as they are also buying into COVID-19 uncertainty.

As such, the startup environment is difficult. Also, experienced executives will not be available for January 1 or potentially even mid-year next year, so you're missing an important window.

Maybe investors think the pricing environment might shift again.

For Bermuda, however, there will be opportunities post COVID-19. Money is flowing to Bermuda.

Whether it's a startup or existing franchises or the life side, Bermuda does seem to be a kind of magnet for a lot of the capital, far more than anywhere else in the world.


Simons: Without a doubt, if you're thinking about starting a new enterprise in our space now, Bermuda is a good place to start it. From a regulatory perspective, from a talent perspective, from an ease of doing business perspective, Bermuda has it all.

Bermuda is open for business, compared with the US or London, where things remain in flux. The issues that are plaguing other jurisdictions are not plaguing us.

At AXA XL we've been able to move business around from the various platforms we have and we're lucky we have the ability to do that. We can take advantage of that flexibility.

In terms of startups, it will be hard. They have to get the business, hire the talent, get the investors.

I have seen various cycles and I look at the landscape now and we need to get back to rate adequacy. That's the focus for us. That's what we're driving towards, those are conversations we're having with our clients. Meaningful rate increases need to be secured.

That's one reason you haven't seen the influx of capital and things haven't come to fruition as quickly or as visibly as one might expect. The cost of capital has gone up, it hasn't gone down, and investors in our space the last few years have been burned with capital from things that they weren't aware of, or risks that wasn't in anyone's pricing.

These are teachable moments for all of us in the industry and how we handle it is important. Business is all about surprises, but we're getting to an inflection point in the market around pricing, and around the attractiveness of our business. There are investors that have had capital on the shelf, so it's a bit of wait and see.

Our focus as an industry and company is on profitability to ensure that we're able to cover our clients' existing and emerging risks. For probably four years on the run, it's been difficult. I think that's the same for all investors. We're at a place now where investors are not ready to jump in with both feet.

Brown: We continue to believe that Bermuda is the best place to start a reinsurance business, and that's equally true these days on the property/casualty and the life sides.

We have seen some exciting growth on the life side in recent times. But if you look at the hardening rate environments that are coming, there's going to be tremendous opportunity.

Another opportunity comes from the fact that Bermuda is a leader in the ILS space. There's going to be some opportunities for Bermuda in that space to address some of the risks coming out of the pandemic.

When you get to the question of 'why Bermuda?', it's the reputation, it's the fact that the BMA is open for business and that allows you to put capital to work quickly in the jurisdiction.

Obviously having Solvency II equivalence and a great reputation from a tax transparency perspective are key considerations. If you add all those up, that's why you're seeing all this capital coming in. New companies are forming, and for every one of them Bermuda is at the top of the list.

Seth: The key theme we're seeing is around access to capital. The large corporates we work with are focused around how can they increase the utilisation of their captives; that's an access point for them in terms of their capital.

We have also definitely have seen an increase of reinsurance purchasing, whether that is traditional rated paper or access to capital markets. Since July, we've seen an uptick in the number of cat bonds, mortgage insurance bonds and even traditional companies revisiting their third party capital strategies and looking to raise more third party capital.

That whole access to capital theme is going to continue, and when you look at some of the risk-adjusted returns for next year, when you allow for the hardening market and the assumptions around double-digit rate increases, whether it's the retro market, certain areas of the reinsurance market, you are getting a favourable risk-adjusted return, particularly in this low interest rate environment.

Our pipeline is very strong. We are bullish and optimistic about the future. And where better to bring risk and capital together in an efficient manner than Bermuda? So, we continue to invest in our business across the board because we see that trend continuing.

Huff: The future of the market plays to Bermuda's strengths. We've established the safety of Bermuda, and Bermuda for the next 18 months is probably going to be the most stable environment in the world.

Think about what the UK is going through as it separates from the EU. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the UK. Then in the US, there is also a great deal of uncertainty with the election and what happens after that.

Then you have product lines of the future. Future pandemics will be too large for the insurance sector to absorb so by definition there has to be a public-private partnership between the insurance industry and governments.

Bermuda does business in 150 countries, we've developed those working relationships, and they will be so important to future pandemics.

Finally, there is also the issue of climate change. Natural catastrophes are our bread and butter, it's our strength, as that translates into business. It will play to our strengths as well.

In terms of rate hardening, it's about matching rate to risk. There are a variety of drivers for that but also I think COVID-19 will, by some estimations, be the largest insurance event in history.

Dunleavy: I see the pandemic as accelerating a change in the market that was already in process and was well overdue. If you get a 10 percent rate increase on a deal that is down 50 percent over the last five years, that's not even remotely enough.

The real driver is not capital but the underlying health of the industry, which has been poor for a long time. Balance sheets might be strong but shareholder returns and performance have been poor.

Now, that gap between what management is saying and what underwriters are actually doing on the ground has dramatically narrowed. There is finally more resolve to get paid appropriately for the risk we are assuming.

I also think that third party capital will continue to play a strong role in the industry, but people will be more selective around where that capital goes. Some of the returns promised to investors as well as rate increases didn't materialise.

In some ways I feel we are entering a market that is perhaps better than a hard market in the sense that it's really about the fundamentals of the risks that you're assuming.

There are perils such as wildfires we have not adequately priced for, you have worrying trends in casualty. I think we are looking at a multi-year market hardening, which is overdue and needed, frankly. People need strong reinsurance partners and poor results year after year doesn't give that to them.

It's an underwriter's market. Hard markets tend to spike and then go away, whereas this is a real opportunity to get back to pricing levels that makes sense for the long term.

Seth: We are having a much broader risk conversation with our corporate clients. The world is definitely a more volatile place whether it's pandemic, cyber, wildfire, geopolitical—and a lot of these risks are not even insurable.

So we're having a much broader conversation around risk identification, risk mitigation, risk management, and then there is the risk transfer piece. It's only one element of the boarder risk management conversation.

If you look at the values on clients' balance sheets, particularly in the tech space, we've seen a huge acceleration of intangible value. We have developed a new intellectual property solution. We've just launched it, and we've chosen Bermuda to launch this line. It looks at how we can we find a risk transfer solution for intellectual property.

Post COVID-19 some industries such as the technology industry, the life sciences industry and companies that have a strong digital strategy will accelerate in their growth, whereas other industries such as hospitality, travel, and energy may struggle. They call it a K-shaped recovery.

For the companies that have accelerated, how do we bring relevant solutions to them with regard to risk transfer? How can we help those clients manage their risks?

Simons: One thing I would add is that for all the work we've put into our business and pricing models and dashboards on pricing the one thing that has been missing is the psychology of rate change.

The underwriters dealing with brokers and clients day to day are highly talented and very motivated, but in some cases inexperienced.

We have a lot of very dynamic young people but maybe they haven't experienced this sort of market. So it's the psychology that comes along with it.

It's important because often it comes down to an underwriter sitting in front of a broker, negotiating a deal. The C-suite might be pushing for rate hikes but still the underwriter has to execute on it. My sense is the psychology is changing, and I think it's important.

Malloy: The key is uncertainty. Life is more uncertain now than a year ago. Mother Nature has thrown curve balls with increasing frequency. We also have social inflation, and the low interest rate environment on top of ongoing COVID-19 losses. Those are all big movers of the dial. So even if life is going to revert to normal, you would need to have more capital for uncertainty.

You mentioned intellectual property as an example of a new line of business. That's a good example of what underwriters in Bermuda can achieve when they put their minds to a problem. We have grown comfortable with the risk and the price but absolutely need to factor in uncertainty.

For 10 years, the industry had no major cats. If you were property cat underwriter, you were successful, but also faced year-on-year rate reductions.

The same happened on casualty when there were no headline-grabbing lawsuits. Rates fell and now we are seeing a slow-motion car crash. I agree that now it's an underwriter's market again as a decade-long softening market turns around.

Brown: We see that the hardening market is here for probably several years, the environment has created it. There is no sign of the low interest rate environment changing.

We've got social inflation, the wildfires that were unexpected or unmodelled to a certain degree, and companies living off reserve redundancies. Those have perhaps lessened to a certain degree.

In the past, we might have seen bigger corrections before now and maybe alternative capital muted that.

Now, however, after the challenges of trapped capital a new dynamic has emerged that has allowed the market to harden even quicker than it might have a couple of years ago. I think this environment is here to stay, at least for the short term.

Brad Adderley: From discussions with my clients, my view is that the hard market is here for a while, but I'm not an underwriter. It has been going down for so many years—you can't continue to lose money plus with interest rates so low, the only way you can make your money back is through pure underwriting.

On the topic of ILS, at the beginning of the year a lot of cat bonds came to market even from new players, and more innovative deals with new products and new sponsors.

Some of them were delayed for a while but they all came back in July. We are also seeing a lot of collateralised reinsurance deals being done as well as some very big ILS funds.

New ILS funds are definitely coming to the market and that is good, plus they are choosing Bermuda. ILS is going to go from strength to strength.

Brown: We are seeing a number of startups in the ILS space and I agree Bermuda is the leader there, which is certainly a positive thing.

We have an asset management side of our business that works well with the reinsurance side. But when we look at the alternative capital or ILS I'm seeing more teaming with traditional reinsurers, which may be the trend going forward.

Huff: We are seeing a flight to quality. Traditional insurers and reinsurers are partnering with alternative capital, so investors get the benefit of both: the rigour of the established carrier for terms of legal and compliance and modelling but also the opportunity to invest in a non-traditional way.

Dunleavy: I agree there has been a flight to quality around good managers and people who have taken appropriate reserving positions. There is definitely a higher bar in terms of what investors expect which may prolong the conversations around capital raises.

In turn, that could create more pressure around renewal discussions, because people won't necessarily know what their final end of year capital will be.

A lot of clients want to go early, but people may not have that third party capital lined up. It's a challenging market from all perspectives, but ultimately that creates opportunities.

Seth: There's going to be an important role for both the traditional reinsurance market and the ILS market coming into 1/1. Because of the increased demand for reinsurance or retro, if you've got that spare capital, you will have an opportunity to deploy it.

It's a question of whether you feel rates are going to be adequate, whether the risk-adjusted return you'll get is going to be appropriate. Both markets have an important role to play because the demand will be there.


Seth: We're lucky that a lot of our carrier partners are based in Bermuda, so having those face-to-face conversations or a quick coffee or a drink, is happening already. Those meetings will continue and will be very helpful as we finalise the negotiation process. We are very coordinated and there is a lot of connectivity among the global teams.

Whether you're a broking team in London or Bermuda or the US, we will find the best access point for the carrier around what capacity you need. In fact, we're moving towards a more efficient way of placement, and particularly the Bermuda market is very efficient when it comes to whether it's filling certain excess layers or looking at reinsurance towers or retro placements.

Certainly given where we are with the pandemic we feel we're in a very good position as we go into the 1/1 renewals season.

On the talent piece, we continue to have an overall challenge. Despite COVID-19, it has been yet again another active summer in terms of talent moving around.

There is a talent crunch. Some people refer to it as a talent crisis in our industry and I agree we will have a talent cliff, within the next five years, as a large number of industry leaders are coming up to retirement.

That is a challenge specifically to the renewal discussions. We will have senior colleagues overseeing the final negotiations and placements. Yes, we have junior colleagues who do a lot of the work as well, but when it comes to final decisions, final negotiations on behalf of our clients, we'll ensure that senior more experienced colleagues are involved.

Malloy: I remember my first hard market in the 1980s and one underwriter, a casualty underwriter, saying he would not quote anything until December 24. We are not in that position. It is not a question of name your price and the client has to take it. Hopefully, the discussions will happen in a thoughtful way.

I've been saying to my team that we're not in business to dictate ridiculous terms to anybody. Clients that have to accept any set of terms are probably clients I don't want on some level. We encourage our folks to engage with clients and understand this year is not simply the renewal of the existing structure at a different price; it could be a different approach, a different structure.

We encourage dialogue and communication. For a lot of people in the industry, it's a chance to step up and show what they've got. Some people are good at broken field running, good at creating opportunities, and this is a time when those people are going to shine.

We have to hope that occurs, because if people are not negotiating or trying to understand what the other person needs or is asking for, it's going to make for an unsatisfying renewal.

Simons: Uncertainty breeds fear and fear can lead to greed. The messaging from most companies is very clear: the performance of the business has to improve; they want to get back to simplicity and back to basics.

We all sell good products, certainly as a traditional carrier. But we've come through an environment where a long tail dynamic has been applied to short tail perils, such as hurricanes.

We have to go into negotiations with everyone crystal clear around what they're trying to achieve. People want to focus on fundamentals. If you're selling cat there is an expectation on both sides you're charging the correct price. Price matters.

Dunleavy: There's a lot of focus on rate change but what is underappreciated is the amount of limit compression going on among primary carriers. They are reducing their limits, pushing up retentions.

That's why you know that much more of a disciplined market change is going on and it will be more persistent than the kind of steep short spike of an event-driven change. This was building and I think it's going to continue for some time because so much ground had been given up on rate in the reinsurance space in particular.

We want to empower our underwriters, give them really clear principles and guidance around return expectations but also around contract language that needs addressing.

From a talent perspective, if I were in my 30s I would be salivating at the opportunity to grow my own development and participate in this market. A lot of people get this only a couple of times in their careers. That will drive discipline and ultimately mean proper underwriting in the market.

Huff: I particularly like to hear the theme of entrepreneurship and what opportunities there are in the market for entrepreneurs; it goes again to Bermuda's strength of agility and innovation.

Brown: We have talked about the talent from an underwriting perspective, and obviously that has been key to Bermuda's success over time, but as we look at the industry, a big focus that the industry has to have is related to the next generation of leaders. I hope that the next generation is going to look more diverse from gender, race, and other perspectives.

Diversity is key, but also the ability to use new technologies and adapt to changing environments as far as insuring intangible risk versus tangible products. There's going to be a big shift and a big need for talent over the next five to 10 years.


Brad Adderley: The new Bermuda collateral insurer classification, which is a hybrid between a commercial reinsurance vehicle and a special purpose insurer, will encourage people to come to Bermuda becomes it provides significant flexibility, and helps promote a more innovative marketplace. It is a cutting-edge move that will help lead the industry.

What the BMA has done around insurtech will greatly help the Bermuda marketplace, especially with working from home and how people are doing things differently. It's a very exciting time.

Huff: We will shortly see Bermuda secure credit for reinsurance in the US as states pass the updated NAIC models. What's the benefit for Bermuda? We will have preferential designation as a reciprocal jurisdiction, which means we'll see regulatory collateral go to zero in the US for Bermuda reinsurers. It will be a great opportunity for Bermuda.

You should also look out for a modernisation of Solvency II in the EU which will be very important to Bermuda because of our equivalence.

Finally I would raise that personal privacy protection law in the US, which follows the EU General Data Protection Regulation, is an area to watch.

Brown: When you look from a pure accounting perspective, there are a number of standards that will impact many companies. IFRS 17 for those companies reporting under IFRS and long duration targeted improvements for the life companies that report under US GAAP have effective dates in a few short years, and these will require significant effort and system solutions from many companies.

There are also new cyber and privacy-related regulations that companies are dealing with and then we're seeing economic substance, Pillar 2 and other items from the OECD or EU, and increased regulatory requirements overall.


Dunleavy: I am unapologetically pro-Bermuda and an advocate of Bermuda, and the Island has a lot to offer post-COVID-19. People are looking for a place to do business face to face and get the true benefit of those serendipitous meetings and conversations that happen, which is where some of the great ideas come from.

The government has responded well in trying to encourage and help facilitate that through and my hope is that the value of that goes way past whenever we get a vaccine.

Seth: We continue to have a very vibrant industry in Bermuda, very well diversified—it's more than just property cat, there's a much broader industry. We have a vibrant legacy or run-off market now, there is also the life industry that has developed over the past few years.

We have the ILS industry, and looking into the future, the government is doing a lot to develop that digital economy as well. When you put that altogether, we have a very well diversified and exciting marketplace in Bermuda.

It is all predicated around the efficiency of bringing risk and capital together. It's a great place to work and if you're looking to invest in this industry you should definitely consider Bermuda.

Huff: Keep an eye on the Bermuda success story. Twenty-five years ago in Florida when established carriers did not like the volatility of catastrophes in Florida the model shifted to smaller insurers that are heavily reliant on Bermuda reinsurance. It solidified Bermuda's position in the US. Look for that model and potential for that model to be replicated.

If you look at California right now with wildfires, they're going through tremendous efforts for affordability and accessibility of coverage and there are opportunities to replicate that Bermuda model.

Brown: We continue to believe that Bermuda is going to play a key role in risk transfer—property/casualty, life and ILS—we have a great group of talent here, and sound regulation.

It's nimble and agile and has the ability to react quickly to market conditions, so it's a very bullish Bermuda market.

Simons: As a Bermudian I'm proud of how the community has come together in these difficult and trying times. I'm proud of how our government has handled the pandemic.

I'm proud of our industry and how we've been able to continue to support our customers and service their needs and be a good partner.

Bermuda has demonstrated that we're the gold standard and it makes me feel good about our standing today in the global economy, certainly within our sector of insurance and reinsurance and financial services.

We can give ourselves a pat on the back and be very proud of what we have accomplished.

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