The old adage that you only know your real friends in times of adversity is trotted out frequently but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Matthew Wilson and John Neal – Lloyd's

The past 12 months have brought adversity to the doors of two London market leaders: Brit CEO Matthew Wilson and Lloyd’s CEO John Neal.

Both men experienced shocking, life-changing setbacks and both were forced to step away from EC3 and focus on what really matters beyond our professional lives: health and family. Anyone with experience of how our comfortable existences – out of nowhere – can be suddenly turned upside down will appreciate those dark thoughts doubting whether life will ever return to normality. In all likelihood, both would at times have experienced similar thoughts.

Remarkably, Neal made a swift recovery from his traumatic cycling accident and returned to Lime Street in late June. A testament to his personal courage, he has even climbed back into the saddle. Many lesser mortals – having experienced similar trauma – would never cycle again. Yesterday, he was able to unveil the market’s healthy H1 underwriting results (91.4 percent combined ratio).

But Wilson’s adversity in 2021-22 was, sadly, much more severe as he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive blood cancer. At a particularly bleak moment, he was warned there may only be one week left. Terrible news for anyone, let alone a 52-year-old loving father of two teenagers

It was also felt widely in the London market, where he is a popular and admired figure. As CEO of Brit Insurance – Lloyd’s second-largest insurer – he led a company that achieved the rare feat of scale and innovation. A passionate supporter of the London market, he consistently gives his time to market boards, committees and causes.

To those in the industry who know and admire him, it seemed so unfair that he was marked out by the cruel hand of fate.

So, the announcement earlier today that Wilson has recently staged a recovery that few would have predicted possible a few months ago is wonderful news. 

Prem Watsa

We could have finished the comment here. But The Insurer would like to praise the London market and wider insurance industry for the support it has offered both men throughout their ordeals. There are many examples. Prem Watsa, the head of Brit owner Fairfax Financial, made it clear he would do anything to support Wilson. The Indian-Canadian entrepreneur does not court publicity but he deserves praise for all he had done on Wilson’s behalf.

Another example was a dinner hosted by a number of senior Lloyd’s and London market figures for Wilson in late July to remind him how much support he has in the industry. Later this year (18 November), the Matthew Wilson Multiple Myeloma Fund is hosting an event at the Natural History Museum, London to raise money for Blood Cancer UK. Details are here. It is an excellent cause, and we have no doubt the market will come together to generously support it.

Lloyds is the heart of the London insurance market and has been trading for almost 350 years. Despite that, it is not an institution that is easy to describe to anyone unfamiliar with it. Arguably, one could say the same for “Society”. We all know what one is, but at what point does a group of individuals become one?

Well, we’d argue that the many acts of support and kindness shown to Wilson and Neal this year show the Society of Lloyd’s very much at work. And like both their recoveries, it should be celebrated…