Posted on 08 Dec 2011
William R. Berkley, chairman and chief executive officer of W. R. Berkley Corp., said smart insurance companies should be making strong moves to position themselves as the market continues to show signs of hardening. He told attendees of Goldman Sachs U.S. Financial Services Conference that while other companies may be making moves to simply hold steady, other companies, including his, are taking advantage of the cycle by acting like "contrarians."
"When everyone else has problems and is more worried about problems than future opportunities, you have to have the courage to move ahead. You have to be a contrarian," Berkley said.
Berkley said companies should continue to maintain their focus on providing great service and building relationships, so the "business sticks to you."
Berkley has been one of the most outspoken industry professionals saying the long-awaited turn in the property/casualty market has arrived. In October, Berkley said his company posted a 14% increase in third-quarter net premiums written; Berkley said it was the third quarter in a row of increasing rates.
During his Dec. 6 remarks in New York, Berkley said he predicted at the outset of 2011 there would be a price increase of between 5% and 8% this year, and he said he continues to think those numbers will hold up. "But we're really just in the beginning of that happening," Berkley said. "And along with price hardening, terms and conditions are changing which lets the business you write become more profitable."
That said, the time is ripe for growth because "at exactly the time you want to grow, the opportunity is there because no one else wants to take advantage of those opportunities," Berkley said. "They're all overcome with fear and greed has been thrown aside. When everyone else is greedy, we're afraid. When everyone else is afraid, we are greedy."
Berkley said his company has found success by way of its overall strategy. "We have lots of capacity to expand," he said. "We continue to have strong earnings, and we have avoided volatility. We don't like classes of business that have high volatility. We believe that earnings should be predictable. And if you're going to get away from that predictability they need to be willing to pay for that."
Another thing that has benefited his company is its reputation as a "cautious underwriter" that focuses solely on property/casualty coverage. "We're not a financial services company," he said. "We're excited and we think there are lots of opportunities."
Berkley also cautioned businesses to maintain a focus on adequate reserves. He said "inadequate loss reserves are the cornerstone of why companies get are unable to take advantage of the cycle."
That echoes comments he made in October on a conference call addressing the company's third-quarter financials. "For those companies who are adequately reserved, the opportunities will be fabulous," he said.
W. R. Berkley Corp. estimated third-quarter catastrophe losses would be between $50 million to $60 million, before tax. The loss estimate is net of reinsurance recoveries and is inclusive of reinstatement premiums.