W.R. Berkley Corp.’s president and CEO chided the property/casualty insurance industry for being slow to change and embrace technology to improve efficiency and meet customer demands.
“We continue to be quite surprised by what one might refer to as the resistance that the insurance industry, particularly the commercial lines [property/casualty] space, continues to have towards change,” W. Robert Berkley said in brief comments on the matter during the company’s 2016 Q4 investor call on Jan. 31.
Berkley said he took particular issue with the P/C industry’s “struggles around embracing analytics and technology, as well as what would seem to be a lack of recognition for the change in consumer behavior.”
Technology and the related disruption it causes has been an industry focus for some time now. Industry conferences, such as the PCI Annual meeting on Oct. 24, 2016 in Dallas, have focused on encouraging insurers to embrace the change that technology and more technology-adept rivals bring to the table with the argument it makes good business sense to do so. Sean Kevelighan, CEO of the Insurance Information Institute, has argued for industry collaboration as a way to face disruption caused, in part by technology and technological changes.
Taxes were also a big point of discussion during the call.
W.R Berkley noted early talk from President Donald Trump and the Republican-led congress about a lower corporate tax rate, and pointed out that “we and others would benefit.” He noted, however, that it is unclear how tax reform might impact any insurance companies that do business in the U.S. that aren’t domiciled here.
“Many companies in the U.S. P/C market have benefit from being outside of the U.S. [under the current domestic tax structure],” the younger Berkley said, noting that they might not benefit from doing so going forward. The elder Berkley said he expects the overall U.S. corporate tax rate to go down, with the “continued, same amount fo competition at the lower tax rate.”
Berkley’s legendary chairman also commented on the possibilities of a border adjustment tax plan, which would tax imports but not exports. The idea has gained some traction among Republicans in Congress. If it comes to pass, he said that P/C insurers domiciled outside of the U.S. that do business domestically would likely act logically.
“If you go to a border adjustment plan, it is most likely that, in our opinion, most of the major foreign insurers would open U.S. subsidiaries and that would take care of the problem,” William R. Berkley said.
W. Robert Berkley also sounded off on a number of other issues. They include:
- Interest Rates. “There is good reason to believe we will see [interest rates] moving up from where they are today,” W. Robert Berkley said.
- Berkley One. The high-net-worth personal lines division was first announced in December, with a scheduled launch in the second-half of 2017. W. Robert Berkley said its debut will involve “a gradual build as the business “builds momentum over some number of quarters.”
“This is not a situation where one flips a switch, so to speak, and all of a sudden a large business pops out of a box,” he said. “It will ultimately take quarters, and ultimately, years, as it develops out.”
- Reinsurance. “The reinsurance market remains irrational as ever, from our perspective,” W. Robert Berkley said. “Quite frankly, it is a bit disappointing. Every now and then you see some green shoots popping through, and in relatively short order it would seem as though somebody comes along and stomps those out.”
W.R. Berkley reported nearly $154 million in net income during the 2016 fourth quarter, up from $109.7 million. Higher catastrophe losses help knock its reinsurance combined ratio up to 103.4 for the quarter, compared to 96.5 in the 2015 fourth quarter. Its insurance combined ratio, by contrast, came in at 93.9, versus 92.7 a year ago.