Jonathan Swift looks back on how Lloyd's CEO Inga Beale might be remembered using a jukebox stacked with her own Desert Island Disc selection
Late last week Inga Beale confirmed that she planned to step down from the helm of Lloyd’s next year.
Appointed with significant fanfare, not least because she was the first female to take the CEO role at One Lime Street in the market’s 350 year history, how will her five year tenure be remembered?
Well to deconstruct her stint I thought what better way to do it, than remember the highs and lows to some of the tunes she selected when she was castaway on Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs in 2016.
On this 1946 record selected by Beale, Louis Jordan sung about how the titular feathered folk went about their day with regular monotony, singing: “We got things to do; We got eggs to lay; We got ground to dig; And worms to scratch; It takes a lot of settin’; Gettin’ chicks to hatch.”
Well for these birds, you could possibly substitute many parts of the London Market, who go about their work day-in-day out, doing the same things in the same way they have always done. Despite increased pressures from new markets and competitors going paperless.
To address this Beale has spoken repeatedly about the need to modernise the market. An agenda that was there before she joined, but one she really has taken by the horns in terms of electronic placement and £250m Target Operating Model programme.
At the start of the year Beale warned: “Adoption is now vital and it is happening but, in the case of electronic placement, it is not happening fast enough. Unless the market moves together it will not reap the benefits and reduce administration costs.
“Without higher levels of adoption throughout the market we put our investment to date at risk and we are in danger of seeing [these] costs rise even higher. It is for this reason that Lloyd’s is proposing to mandate the use of electronic placement on a phased basis over time.”
And mandate it they did, by requiring all members to process 30% of risks electronically by the end of the year, with future targets to be unveiled before the end of the year.
To use a poultry related analogy, there has inevitably been some resistance from those who think that the change might be going too far, and is akin to Turkeys voting for Christmas.
But to be fair to Beale she has remained steadfast in her determination, telling the Association of British Insurers conference in February: “I believe we have turned a corner. When I arrived four years ago there was scepticism over modernisation. It feels very different now; we have to win over the practitioners that are fearful over what it might do to their jobs. We want to remain a vibrant hub.
“We are investing hundreds of millions of pounds to remove paper from the market to leap frog the rest of the world.”
To counter this positive, I would suggest that Lloyd’s has perhaps been too slow to throw more weight behind the insurtech movement until its Innovation Lab got the greenlight, despite many of its member firms being heavily involved.
But to use another oft-quoted analogy, that of turning around a massive oil tanker, Beale has certainly started to shift things. Let’s just hope they get the vessel in position to take full advantage of the benefits before other nimbler rivals step in.
Beale selected this classical piece by composer Edvard Grieg from Peer Gynt, which is relevant here because of how her job got a little harder on the 24 June 2016, the day after the Brexit referendum.
Speaking to Post in the weeks after she remembered: “I went to bed [before the result came in] because I thought if [the vote] went the wrong way as far as Lloyd’s perceived it, I needed to be fresh as it would be all hands to the pump the next morning.
“So I knew I had to get up early, and yes I was shocked when I saw the result at 5:00am because I had had a business dinner the night before and we were all fairly positive when we left [that Remain would win].”
Given her modernisation agenda, she could probably have done without the Brexit distraction, which saw her drawn into high profile media conversations about what Lloyd’s would do; a path that eventually led to it creating a new hub in Brussels that will start underwriting business on 1 January 2019.
This is an outside factor that Beale really had no control over. Lloyd’s might have, and perhaps could have, been better prepared for Brexit; but that makes it no different to many others, and ultimately its success or otherwise in Belgium will be determined further down the line.
But Beale and her team should receive some praise for their response to the fluctuations in exchange rates that have characterised the recent Brexit uncertainty by reducing market subscriptions by 10% from 2017 to keep the market competitive.
“The road of life is rocky and you may stumble too, so while you point your fingers someone else is judging you.”
Singer Bob Marley’s lyrics are relevant as some of the most vocal criticism about Beale has been voiced by those that perhaps felt most challenged by her public support for diversity. The grey, stale and male brigade that has dominated EC3 for decades.
One of the first observation from these critics was the alleged brain drain that followed her accession with the likes of finance and operations director Luke Savage; performance director Tom Bolt and chief risk officer Sean McGovern all departing. There were also some snide remarks when the executive took on more of a balanced outlook in terms of the gender make-up.
Today, Lloyd’s has a 50:50 gender balance across the executive committee. However, there is still almost double the number of men, 66.2%, than women, 33.8%, in the highest paying quartile and male employees across Lloyd’s are paid 27.7% higher on average than female staff.
So there is still work to be done, and while some of the snipers may think that there were ‘bigger’ problems and issues to fix than diversity and inclusion, they might be missing the bigger picture of remaining relevant to attract the best staff, new investors and customers. And to Beale’s credit, not only has she started to address this within her own team, the likes of the Dive In Festival, spearheaded by cross-market group Inclusion at Lloyd’s, is now a firm fixture in the insurance calendar.
“All I’m askin’ for is a little respect.” Sang singer Aretha Frankin in one of her most famous songs, selected by Beale.
And in terms of external qudos, Beale certainly garnered some significant headlines during her rein in Lloyd’s.
She also topped a list of the leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender executives in the country, compiled by LGBT professional network Outstanding and the Financial Times and won Insurance Personality of the Year at the British Insurance Awards.
However, Beale has not sought to be Ms Popular, and made tough decisions when needed; not least in cutting its headcount by 10%, roughly equivalent to 70 staff, as the corporation sought to tackle its cost base – one of the over-riding themes of her time in charge.
So there you have it, a quick overview of Beale’s achievements that in short illustrate that she has made her mark, not just at Lloyd’s, but the wider insurance market. Not least in reminding the public there is more to that word in business than a bank and black horse.
When she finally confirms her leaving date I am sure many at Lloyd’s will raise a glass to her successes. Although it will have to be outside working hours as a result of one of the most well covered, but ultimately insignificant, legacies in terms of alcohol consumption.
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