AXIS Capital Holdings Ltd. plans to expand the insurance side of its business to make up for lower earnings from the reinsurance segment.
“I wouldn’t be surprised now over the next couple of years if we would see the proportion of insurance on a gross basis grow from 54 percent” to as much as 60 percent, Albert Benchimol, chief executive officer of the Bermuda-based company, said in an interview last week. In primary coverage, “there are still opportunities to write at adequate pricing,” he said.
Reinsurance prices dropped during each of the policy renewal periods in January, April and July, according to broker Guy Carpenter & Co., a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos. This year is poised to be the seventh in the past 10 in which rates slump.
Reinsurers provide backup coverage to primary carriers, taking on risks for some of the costliest natural disasters. The coverage has become cheaper to purchase as investors such as pension funds take weather-related bets to diversify holdings and counter low bond yields.
Reinsurers have been offering more generous terms and conditions to clients, a trend that may spread to new classes next year, according to carriers and brokers who gathered at the industry’s annual meeting in Monte Carlo last week.
“In a number of lines of business, pricing has come down to the point where people are now saying ‘No thank you’,” said Benchimol.
The growth in primary insurance at AXIS could come from acquisitions, according to Benchimol.
“We have the size, we have the scale, the financial resources,” he said. “If there were something interesting, we would not shy away.”
Benchimol is expanding in businesses such as health-care liability, weather and commodities markets, as well as accident- and-health insurance where he plans to write as much as $300 million of premiums this year. The primary insurance operation accounted for $2.56 billion of gross premiums last year, while the reinsurance business contributed $2.14 billion, AXIS said in a filing in February.
–With assistance from Zachary Tracer in New York