A personal view: cargo underwriting in 2020

By Sean M. Dalton, IUMI Cargo Committee Chair

As cargo underwriters returned to work following the 1 January renewal, the outlook for 2020 was promising in that the market should continue to improve. What started in 2018 and continued throughout 2019 can be described as a widespread market correction driven by many years of unprofitable results causing underwriters to address portfolios with urgency. One may debate how the situation got so bad but like many things it was the result of a combination of factors contributed to over an 18+ year sustained soft market.

Challenges to the industry exist in plenty, ranging from unknown accumulations to cyber exposures to cargo vessel fires. However, in early January 2020 we just started to learn about COVID-19 and not many people could have imagined what lay ahead.

By the end of March most re/insurance industry companies, if not all, were working remotely. Prior to the global pandemic very few underwriters worked from home on a full-time basis. Marine insurance professionals adapted quickly as they faced even greater urgency to remediate business and improve results. Lower interest rates and investment losses have put even more pressure on underwriting results.

From claims to risk engineering, and underwriting to account support, marine insurers continued to deliver on their promises and provide the requisite services that this specialty line demands. Brokers have done an incredible job in providing outstanding service to insureds. It is important to keep in mind that brokers were also dealing with addressing many of the same skill gaps as underwriters and also working to keep abreast of a rapidly changing environment.

IUMI has adapted as well moving to a virtual format for the 2020 conference. The ongoing education offerings from IUMI have extended the reach of the organisation to better serve the membership. The work that has taken place in the past five years has positioned IUMI to deliver these valuable services. One of the greatest advantages for a marine insurer is the technical expertise of their staff. While this may be under-valued and perhaps underappreciated in a soft market, it is vital to providing solutions and running a sustainable business. IUMI and the local market associations have delivered in helping build these skills.

As we prepare for the 2020 conference one would be remiss in failing to acknowledge the human toll and suffering. Many have lost loved ones and had their lives disrupted in unexpected ways. In a market that saw a number of colleagues displaced as a result of underwriters exiting the cargo line of business before the pandemic, the situation has become even more difficult. One of the benefits of working in a small specialty line like marine is that you have the opportunity to make personal relationships. We benefit from the happiness this brings us and also feel great sadness when our friends and colleagues suffer.

Looking forward, I believe this is about solving problems to meet the needs of our customers and key stakeholders. It is not about going backwards but finding a way ahead professionally and personally. To this end, the 2020 IUMI Conference theme of "Navigating changing climates: Delivering expertise to shape the future" could not be more appropriate.