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Ryan sees benefits in insurance sector acquisition spree

Ryan sees benefits in insurance sector acquisition spree

CHICAGO — Ongoing consolidation and investment in the insurance industry will create diversified insurers with multiple platforms, provide new sources of capital to support commercial risks and help improve distribution networks, said Patrick G. Ryan, chairman and CEO of Ryan Specialty L.L.C.

The accelerated consolidation of the past several years runs counter to other capital management strategies in the insurance sector and is allowing insurers who are making the acquisitions to target growth areas, he said at insurance brokerage Hays Cos.’ annual symposium in Chicago on Wednesday.

In recent years, U.S. insurers have concentrated on buying their own stock back, and institutional investors have pressured companies to return capital to shareholders through increased dividends, too, he said.

But “three visionary insurance leaders” in the past two years have focused on growing their business through strategic acquisitions, Mr. Ryan said.

First, in 2016, Evan Greenberg, then head of Ace Ltd., led the purchase of Chubb Corp. and rebranded the combined insurers as Chubb Ltd., Mr. Ryan said.

Chubb has a well-known brand and strengths in various areas, such as high-net worth and commercial middle-market insurance customers, and Ace had expertise in larger risks, Mr. Ryan said.

“Blending (Chubb) with Ace has made it much more formidable and truly one of the global leaders in the insurance industry. They’ve got scale, but they’ve got a huge amount of scope,” he said.

Secondly, when Brian Duperreault took over the leadership of American International Group Inc. last year, he made clear that he wanted to grow the company, Mr. Ryan said, and earlier this year AIG announced the purchase of Validus Holdings Ltd.

“AIG buying the much smaller Validus got AIG back into the reinsurance business,” he said, and expanded the insurer’s operations in Bermuda and London. “It’s the indication of what I think is a very important part of our future, and that is diversified multicapital platforms.”

Similarly, Axa S.A.’s purchase of XL Group Ltd., announced earlier this month, gives the French insurer a specialty platform in Bermuda, the United States and London, Mr. Ryan said.

“These people are saying: ‘We need to have diversified and multiple places where we put our capital’” to access insurance buyers in various markets, he said.

In addition to consolidation among established insurance sector companies, outside investors are becoming more interested in the sector, Mr. Ryan said.

For example, private equity investors and pension and hedge funds are attracted to the insurance brokerage business, and in recent years they have moved from investing in the firms to buying them and rolling the acquisitions up to build larger brokerages, he said.

“They see this great renewal stream of capital,” Mr. Ryan said.

Investors are also investing in managing general underwriters and managing general agents, he said. “Capital providers want to be in specialty lines, but they don’t have the talent and they are worried about the mobility of underwriters,” so they supply capital to insure risks but “outsource” the underwriting to MGAs and MGUs, he said.

And in the wholesale brokerage sector, consolidation is increasing because retail brokers want to reduce the number of wholesalers they use in an effort to reduce costs and uncertainty, he said.

Finally, the insurance sector is also seeing significant investments in technology companies trying to enter the sector, with more than $2 billion a year invested in insurtech ventures. But “nobody has come up with a disrupting strategy,” Mr. Ryan said.

While technology is leading to improvements in claims administration and streamlining personal lines business, the investments are not aimed at excluding commercial insurance agents and brokers, he said.

“I think it’s great that the direction we are seeing in insurtech is designed, at this point at least, to preserve for the most part what I think is the greatest asset of the insurance industry in this country, which is the distribution system,” Mr. Ryan said.


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