Remembering Mark Brockbank, one of Lloyd’s most influential underwriters

Former Lloyd’s underwriter and insurance entrepreneur Mark Brockbank has passed away. He was a Lloyd’s underwriter for only 20 years but his achievements and legacy remain to this day…

The 1990s was a decade that saw Lloyd’s transformed from a market underpinned by the wealth of middle England to one capitalised by investment funds and (re)insurance titans. It was also a decade that saw a new generation of young and ambitious Lloyd’s marine underwriters emerge such as Mark Brockbank, Stephen Catlin and John Charman.

This trio, in particular, earned their reputations as smart and nimble risk pickers, but they were also entrepreneurial business builders and at the same time unafraid to challenge conventions or be outspoken.

All three were also quick to see how the impending introduction of corporate capital in the mid-90s would rapidly change the London market forever, creating new permanently capitalised global businesses that specialised in writing the world’s most complicated risks.

Mid Ocean sale

By the end of that decade the trio had built successful Lloyd’s businesses and sold them to Bermuda-domiciled companies (in Brockbank’s case Mid Ocean, which itself was later subsumed by XL Group).

In 2000 – while still in his forties – Brockbank retired and was effectively absent from the industry thereafter, other than as an adviser and non-executive director to WR Berkley.

Many regarded his exit then as premature and a great loss to the industry. Last week, he was sadly lost to his family and friends as he passed away at a mere 70 years of age.

Brockbank began his career in 1974 when he joined the then blue-chip London broker Willis Faber & Dumas (now WTW). Specialising in marine hull, this formative posting provided an opportunity to form strong bonds with many of the leading European ship-owning families who quickly warmed to his intelligence and problem-solving aptitude.

But these attributes also swiftly marked him out as a rising star amongst Lloyd’s mariners. In 1980, two of them – Raymond Brooks and Terry Dooley – persuaded Brockbank to change tack and become the deputy underwriter for their Syndicate 861.

It was the first step of an underwriting career which saw him in two decades build one of the largest Lloyd’s insurers, give birth to the £7bn UK motor colossus Admiral and also inspire a cadre of underwriters who worked with him and continue to shape and lead the London market today.

Dr Deductible

By 1983, Brockbank was the active underwriter of Syndicate 861 and shortly after the Lloyd’s agency was renamed Alston Brockbank Ltd (before later becoming the Brockbank Group).

By the late 1980s, Brockbank was firmly established as one of the most influential Lloyd’s underwriters. He was also soon to earn the nickname Dr Deductible after responding to the enervating losses in marine hull by driving through wholesale changes which included the imposition of much-needed higher retentions.

It sent shockwaves through what is – even now – a traditionally minded corner of the specialty insurance world and is still remembered by many older hands.

“My combined ratio went from 150 percent one year to 85 percent the next,” recalls one marine underwriter from the era who cited both Brockbank and Catlin as driving the change. “It was necessary as the market was really struggling.”

Another veteran says it was Brockbank’s high standing among the continent’s ship owners that was critical to getting their support. “Mark was so respected and liked by many of the European shipping families and businesses.”

But Brockbank also proved he was just as much a business builder as he was a shrewd underwriter. In 1990, for example, he created a direct motor insurer underwriting through a new Lloyd’s Syndicate 253.

That business was Admiral, which is now one of the largest UK motor insurers with a £7bn valuation and a consistent track record of superior underwriting and canny reinsurance buying. In an act of remarkable corporate self-harm, in 1999 Brockbank Group’s new owner XL sold the business for a mere £80mn to the Admiral management team which Brockbank had constructed. According to Forbes, Admiral’s former CEO Henry Engelhardt’s net worth was $1.3bn at the last count.

The American Engelhardt may be the most high-profile of former Brockbank colleagues to make their own mark in the industry, but there were many others.

Take the Lloyd’s (re)insurer Ascot, for example. It was built by a team of former Brockbank Group underwriters led by Martin Reith, who joined Mark in 1984 fresh from university and worked closely with him until his retirement.

“Mark was a brilliant man. A clear thinker, a superb underwriter and blessed with tremendous vision and conviction,” recalls Reith.

Other talented underwriters and future industry leaders – the likes of Nick Metcalf, Gilles Bonvarlet, David Gundlach (the founder of UK motor insurer Hastings Direct), James Gerry, Jon Tay among many others – saw their careers launched at the Brockbank Group.

Brockbank was also a deeply private person who in his professional life had to confront attitudes towards sexuality far less liberal than today. For those who worked closely with him, these only inspired a greater conviction of loyalty.

Outside of Lime Street, Brockbank was a great lover of the arts including opera, ballet, antiques and 20th century British paintings. After retiring he divided his time between Monaco – where he and his husband Marco Orsini transformed one of the principality’s few original Belle Époque into a celebrated modernist masterpiece – and Mykonos.

To those who worked with him in the industry, he will be sorely missed.