How Lloyd's of London is pairing tradition with tech
Lloyd’s of London likes its traditions. The 330-year old insurance market recently decided it needs an injection of start-up spirit. The FT's insurance correspondent Oliver Ralph visits Lloyd's Lab to see how the business is being brought up to date
Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Produced and edited by Daniel Garrahan
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Lloyd's of London likes its traditions. The 330-year old insurance market, where people buy cover for everything from satellites to submersibles, are stuck with tried and tested ways of doing business. Face-to-face negotiation is a good example. Brokers and insurers meet in the famous underwriting room to discuss how best to cover their clients' risks. And deals are often still concluded on paper.
There are also a whole host of more ceremonial traditions - from the book where ships that sink are recorded with a quill pen to the Lutine Bell, which is rung on very ceremonial occasions, and the strikingly uniformed waiters who usher visitors around the building.
By and large, it works well. About $34bn pounds worth of insurance is bought at Lloyd's every year. Last year, it paid out $bn pounds in claims. But even Lloyd's has to move with the times. So they've set up Lloyd's Lab, where 10 start-ups have 10 weeks to get to know how Lloyd's works and what it needs.
We know with new technology we have to keep thinking about innovation. And the lab is a way to bring technology from outside into London and think about how we can innovate in the future.
The companies in the lab have plenty of ideas, whether it's using AI to help small businesses buy insurance, blockchain to pay claims more efficiently, or drones and mobile phones to help respond to natural catastrophes. But getting insurance companies and start-ups together isn't easy. A lot of people say they speak different languages. While insurers talk about claims ratios and brokerage costs, the start-ups are interested in funding rounds and product development.
We have all of our jargon in the insurance industry and the technology jargon as well. But we have been really pleased with the attitude of the market to this. And we're really actually seeing a kind of meeting of minds rather than a clashing of cultures.
Both sides seem to think it's worth a shot, even a tiny slice of Lloyd's's annual premiums is a big prize for an entrepreneur with a good idea.
Tradition is important to Lloyd's. But there's more opportunity that they can take advantage of. That's true among any industry that's faced with those disruptors, if you will. But I think you'll find that most of the cohorts here are not looking to disrupt it. We're here just to make it more efficient so that the companies that we are trying to provide insurance for, risk management for, can grow at a rate and make the overall pie bigger for everybody.
For the insurers, technology offers the opportunity to get an advantage, however small, over rivals. There's plenty of competition for business in Lloyd's and prices for some types of insurance have been falling for years. Almost immaterial of the trading environment, people are conscious that innovation and technology is already having an impact and will have an impact on our industry. And actually, regardless of whether it was a good time in the market or a bad time, we need to adapt. We need to modernise. And we need to change.
It's a very traditional industry in a lot of ways. Is it culturally difficult to encourage people and insurance to look at new technology?
It's trying to explain to people simultaneously that there are some challenges out there that we have to respond to but also showing them the opportunities. Culturally, it varies across the industry. There are some people who are very receptive to it, other people who maybe need warming up to it a little bit more.
The people organising the lab have had to work hard to bring the two sides together, convincing them to change the way they do things.
In some respects, it's been a challenge. Lloyd's and the market have had to accelerate the way that they work. And the start-ups will sometimes slow down in order to be able to work with the incumbents. And that's the process of these labs that actually does end up finding that medium that both parties can play it.
If the lab is to succeed, it will need to convince the doubters that the start-ups can offer something worthwhile. People have tried to modernise Lloyd's in the past with limited success. But with the challenges to the market growing, the people behind the lab think that this time they really need to make it work.