Whitt expects rate increases to last through 2022 as Markel eyes growth opportunities

Markel expects good market conditions to last throughout next year with the insurer identifying a number of areas of potential growth including registered investment advisers, construction and life sciences, co-CEO Richie Whitt has told The Insurer TV.

In an interview for The Insurer TV’s Leading Voices series, Whitt said he expected rates to continue to go up, and highlighted that the increases “picked up a little bit in the third quarter”.

“We expect positive rate increases as we go through 2022,” said Whitt. “I probably wouldn’t have had quite as positive a sentiment for 2022 back in the first quarter, when we did see things come off. But they stabilised and showed they had some staying power in terms of rates I believe in the past few months.”

The executive highlighted factors driving the market including the interest rate environment, uncertainty around inflation and social inflation.

Whitt commented that the conditions for insurance are “still a little bit ahead of reinsurance, but reinsurance has closed the gap considerably during 2021”.

“Insurance companies are going to start to look at whether they can keep more net and I think that does put a bit of a cap on what reinsurers are able to push for,” he said.

Whitt added that the current market conditions are different than in previous cycles because there is plenty of capital.

“In product lines that we are big in, both on the insurance and reinsurance side, professional liability probably leads the way in terms of what you can achieve both in rate and term,” Whitt said. “After that would be general liability.”

The executive said that property rates and terms are also heading in the right direction now, with the line having been a “sore spot in the market” over the past five years.

Whitt also commented that in this kind of market Markel wants to work to develop its multiline capability and “really go deep on industry verticals”.

One vertical he identified as an opportunity was registered investment advisers. Markel has been in that market for 30 years and writes over 4,000 advisers.

“One of the things we want to do right now to continue to take advantage of market conditions is really build out our product suite for registered investment advisers,” Whitt said. “We know those guys well, they have been profitable relationships for us, and we want to go deeper on that.”

Another example of a vertical Markel wants to go deeper on is construction. The insurer already writes over $1bn in premium in construction.

“But again we think there is a multiline opportunity to really wrap those customers with our product suite, help solve their problems but really grow with them,” said Whitt.

The executive also mentioned life sciences as a potential area of growth.

In addition, the executive commented: “We also believe there is an opportunity on a select basis to grow in the retail channel in areas where wholesalers typically have not worked with retailers.”

He said a great example of this is D&O because very little D&O finds its way into the wholesale channel.

“Our goal is to make sure we manage channel conflicts as we do this but we really do believe there is a great opportunity to grow there without disadvantaging our great wholesale partners,” Whitt said.

In its 2020 annual report released in February Markel outlined what it described as “10-5-1” goals.

This meant a target to grow to $10bn of annual insurance premiums in five years and earn $1bn of annual underwriting profit while doing so. The underwriting profit target equates roughly to a 90 percent combined ratio.

In 2020 Markel wrote $6bn of insurance premium.