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Property Perspectives: Helping businesses make the right moves insuring commercial property
June 13, 2019
Mark Flanagan is a Master, in more ways than one. First off, Mark is a designated Master-level chess player and the Bermuda Chess Champion for 2018. As part of the Bermuda national team, Mark competes globally. For example, in 2016, he joined the world’s top chess players for the Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan. In addition to competing in tournaments, Mark and his fellow Bermuda Chess Association members regularly teach the next generation of players on the island to analyze complex positions and find effective solutions to problems.
When Mark isn’t advocating for the game of chess, he’s championing AXA XL’s global property insurance capabilities. As Head of Property in AXA XL's Bermuda Insurance operations, Mark oversees the underwriting of AXA XL's excess property offerings serviced from Bermuda.
Here he discusses how his Bermuda-based team, along with his strategic and analytical abilities, help clients make wise moves in their property protection.
How did you become involved in the Bermuda insurance market?
Flanagan: After graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in economics and accounting, a friend of mine recommended applying for a graduate underwriting position with FM Global that, I recognized, would allow me to develop a broader set of analytical skills and, with significant client interaction, also soft skills. And it did. I progressed over a short period of time to be responsible for underwriting a portfolio of large commercial property risks, with a specialty focus on heavy-industry occupancies, whilst leading account teams consisting of underwriters, engineers and support staff. Alongside on-the-job-learning, I continued my higher education to gain a better understanding of loss prevention, with a post-graduate Master of Science in Energy focused on fire safety and systems reliability, and a more rounded understanding of how insurance businesses operate by attaining a MBA.
The formation and operation of insurance companies really piqued my interest. In 2009, it led me to Bermuda with an opportunity to oversee the formation and management of a portfolio of captive insurance companies. I joined what was then known as XL Insurance Bermuda Ltd in 2012 as a Senior Property Underwriter. In 2013, I was extensively involved in re-engineering XL’s Bermuda Property portfolio to a large-limit, high-excess capacity platform. I was promoted in 2016 to lead the Bermuda Property team.
How have you found working in the Bermuda Property market?
Bermuda is a fascinating island and market. It has a culture where almost everything seems to be connected with the insurance or reinsurance industry in some fashion. If you have an interest in product innovation and thought-leadership within the industry, Bermuda is at the forefront. It is a dynamic market where the world’s most complex risks are constantly being tackled with new solutions, such as Insuretech, blockchain and alternative capital.
Specifically on the property insurance side, the market has a highly respected pool of underwriters supporting established, well-rated companies. The Bermuda market has a long history of meeting companies’ insurance needs. It has become the market of choice when it comes to insuring low frequency / high severity risks. And that’s why it is also such an important underwriting hub for AXA XL’s excess property offering.
AXA XL has a number of access points for North American Property risks. How does it work?
On North American Property programs where AXA XL Bermuda property participates, our teams in the US, Canada and London tend to focus on the primary layers of the given program, with my team in Bermuda focusing on deploying a large limit in the layers excess of a $100 million attachment. This strategy has allowed our Bermuda Property underwriting team to create a niche where we are seen as the access-point of choice for high-excess placements.
What kinds of companies are you seeing seeking excess coverage?
We work with a variety of Fortune 1000 companies. More recently we have started to also consider risks domiciled outside of North America. Our clients tend to represent industries such as healthcare, real estate and hospitality. However, we also provide property risk-transfer solutions to a significant number of manufacturing and industrial clients. It really is a broad portfolio of risk types. The key is that our clients are large companies with large exposures, which are often exposed to natural catastrophes and man-made risks such as fire. AXA XL will often partner with such clients across multiple lines of coverage in order help them to manage their risks so they can focus on their day-to-day business without interruption. AXA XL in Bermuda forms a significant part of this risk transfer offering with excess limits of up to $500 million. Historically, some of the worst industry losses were recorded in 2017 and 2018. Many events caused loss far beyond industry expectations. As a result there has been subsequent disruption within the property insurance market. Our clients wish to mitigate or even avoid the interruption of unexpected losses. As such, excess property capacity has become a critical safeguard against such catastrophic events.
Given recent losses from Natural Catastrophes, are you seeing any trends?
From my perspective, I’m seeing two positive trends. First, while severity and frequency of weather-related losses have ticked upward, so has our clients’ risk quality. Our clients are continuously looking at ways to protect their physical assets and ensure business continuity. They are investing in precautions to minimize potential damage in order to minimize the interruption to their businesses. In many cases these efforts are supported by AXA XL’s property risk engineers.
Another positive trend we are seeing is greater interconnectivity between our clients, brokers and AXA XL. In the past, many considered excess property insurance as an afterthought when property programs were being placed. The stability of the Bermuda property insurance market through 2017 and 2018 has increased the market’s credibility and led many of our clients and broking partners to change their mindset in considering Bermuda first during the placement planning phase. This is apparent in the recent increase in submissions and client visits to the island.
Have your chess skills contributed to your success as an excess property underwriting manager? Absolutely! As much as chess can be a fun game, I’ve always used it as a tool to generate analogies, solve problems and interpret how the world works. Specific to property insurance, every risk presents an abundance of concerns and considerations much like a position on a chess board. I use the same analytical and strategic skills, and the same thought process honed through playing chess, to evaluate and interpret a client’s risks. I can then arrive at the best solution.