Markel International’s CUO bullish on growth in 2024; focus on casualty

Markel International CUO Nick Line has told The Insurer TV that opening an international casualty account in 2024 was an obvious opportunity for the group, adding there was a “clear gap in our armour” when it came to that class of business.

The CUO for the international arm of the New York-listed business noted that while there are challenges within the class, particularly in the US, “it's part of Markel's DNA to write casualty business”.

Speaking exclusively to The Insurer TV in a wide-ranging interview, Line said his role was very much focused on growth.

“At Markel International, our role is to grow our footprint and our premium and we've been able to add premium during this year across the entire portfolio, as well as making some really big investments to ensure that we can continue to do that.”

He added: “When we see an opportunity, we gather as much talent as we possibly can. There's a clear gap in our armour, in terms of international casualty. So, we're looking forward to getting up and running with that next year.”

The executive noted that its growth plans are not limited to casualty, highlighting Markel International’s recent launch in Australia, where the carrier now has locations in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, led by former head of long-tail lines at Axa XL Rory Morison.

“We've also made some really serious investments on the technology side and data process efficiency,” Line added. “I’ve been here a long time, I've seen a lot of IT projects, but the work we're doing now has got more structure and more rigour around it than I've ever seen.”

However, Line observed various challenges in 2023 which he believes will continue into next year, including the impact of geopolitical events, war exclusions, state-backed cyber attacks and inflation.

“These are all things that we could have just sort of walked away from and been a bit too scared about. But I'm really proud of the way that Markel has stepped up in the market and stood our corner, as it were.”

With Markel International having started negotiations early for the 1.1.2023 renewals, Line said that “by the time we got to November-December, there were really no big surprises”, despite the seismic shifts in market dynamics surrounding attachment points and terms and conditions.

He predicted a much more orderly 1.1 in 2024, with little by the way of hiccups.

“Again, we've started talking to people pretty early and I'm expecting things to be much more sensible,” he said.

Wider opportunities

Markel’s international outfit is leaning into growth for 2024, with attractive rates across numerous classes including specialty, marine and energy, as well as political risk and renewables.

“We have to support the construction and operation of the assets that the world needs to move to a low-carbon economy. It's a huge opportunity there,” he affirmed.

One of the benefits of the wider Markel group, according to Line, is diversification, with wholesale teams across London, Asia Pacific and the US, along with more bespoke SME underwriters in Canada, the UK and Europe, writing a broad range of business.

“When our broker partners come in to visit us, we've got a huge range of products to help them provide to their clients.

“In terms of what we favour, I don't have any favourites, they are all positive business. We've done a lot of work over time to optimise our book, and I'm very happy with everything that we're doing at the moment.”

However, the executive flagged concerns in classes such as political violence and cyber.

“These are two very current, fast-moving classes which are both subject to big individual losses, and they're also subject to accumulations of systemic risk.

“They're also subject to what we think of as ‘PEST risk’ – the political, economic, social and technological. And these are risks that we could run away from.”

However, this isn’t his underwriting style.

“I generally believe, as an insurance market, our duty is to understand the dynamics of these risks, and put together products with pricing that works for everyone.”

Looking ahead to 2024, the executive expects further growth for Markel International amid a beneficial rating environment, although he still sees inflation as causing concerns.

“I think we might have it under control, [although] there's still a few bumps in the road going on at the moment. So, what we'll find out next year is really the impact that central bank actions have had on the economy, societies, families and businesses.”

But clearly in growth mode, Line seems bullish on the wider opportunities.

“Once we understand something, we're willing to put our capital at risk in those areas.”

Focus on talent

Talent acquisition and retention is a key part to this and central to Markel’s success, according to Line, who speaks passionately on the subject.

“I love being asked about talent, because it gives me an excuse to talk about the culture at Markel – we have a wonderful culture here and I really believe that's what attracts people and it's why they often stay for a long time.”

He added: “Part of our ethos is that we like to see people reach their full potential. I get huge satisfaction when I see people surprised at what they can achieve if we give them training, support and empowerment. People want to make their own decisions. They don't want to be referring stuff up the chain, up the hierarchy – especially underwriters. And I'm really passionate about the fact that autonomy boosts morale and often leads to better decisions at the front line.”

Importantly, Line believes this approach gives customers and clients a better service as well.

“The human element won't ever go away. We say this is a people-led market, relationship market. And as much as we automate stuff and technology changes, we still need people. We still need people to make them work, to work within the company, and outside the company between companies,” he concluded.

Watch the 18-minute interview with Markel International’s CUO Nick Line to hear more about:

  • Casualty and long-tail lines as an area of growth despite challenges
  • The importance of a well-diversified portfolio
  • Risk landscape in 2024
  • Attracting and retaining talent