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LONDON-Stephen Wenman sees the timing of his appointment late in April as chief executive of Archer Group Holdings P.L.C. as a challenge.
Taking over one of Lloyd's of London's largest managing agencies in a soft insurance market provides the sort of backdrop that "gives you the most to do" and makes the job most interesting, Mr. Wenman said.
Other elements of this backdrop include the acquisition of Archer last November by Stamford, Conn.-based Chartwell Re Corp. and the release last month of Lloyd's preliminary 1994 results showing that the performance of Archer syndicates that year ranged from among the best to the very worst of Lloyd's 179 syndicates underwriting in 1994.
As a result, Mr. Wenman said one of his objectives is to "create the environment for underwriters to work to the best of their ability."
Ways he plans to do this include providing the best information technology systems available; providing regular communication throughout the organization; and attracting the best people, including underwriters, to the agency.
According to Mr. Wenman, the third step is not just a matter of offering more money, though compensation is a factor. It also requires recognition of individuals' skills and providing the means to do a good job, such as good communications and technological support, he said. It also means "looking beyond our own doorstep" and finding talent not just from within the Lloyd's market and not necessarily among individuals having a conventional underwriting background.
He has initiated weekly meetings with Archer syndicate underwriters and their deputies to discuss ideas that would help further these aims and another of his objectives: to bring in new classes of business.
Mr. Wenman is reluctant for commercial reasons to elaborate on new business, though he said he is looking at least one area that could offer a product before the end of the year.
Borrowing a term from Britain's passenger rail service, which offers cheap "Away Day" travel to various parts of the country, Mr. Wenman said he aims to introduce a similarly named outing for Archer's underwriters.
However, these Away Day meetings, while intended to provide a relaxed environment, will not be pure social occasions. They will be primarily strategy meetings to examine ways to further Mr. Wenman's objectives.
His ultimate objective is not so much to move Archer up from being the fourth-largest managing agency at Lloyd's as to make it "the most profitable."
When approached by Chartwell Re to take over at Archer, Mr. Wenman was involved in various projects ranging from corporate finance work to the chairmanship of a couple of companies outside London, and was not looking for a full-time job.
Prior to this he had spent all of his previous working career as an insurance broker, most recently having founded in the late 1980s Special Risk Services Group, which specializes in professional liability coverages, banker's blanket bonds, and directors and officers liability cover. Not long after Minet Group acquired Special Risk Services Group in September 1995, Mr. Wenman left the company.
Although he had been offered a role in the newly acquired group as a division of Minet, and is a personal friend of Minet Chairman Peter Christie, it is Mr. Wenman's belief that it is not usually a satisfactory arrangement for the head of a company to stay on after its takeover.
Ownership by Chartwell, whose board Mr. Wenman will join, has brought Archer stability and some considerable resources, he said. One way it will do this is through the about (British pounds) 27.5 million ($47.1 million) of capacity it will provide to Archer syndicates in 1997.
As well as providing this "exciting opportunity" to increase its business, ownership by Chartwell Re gives Archer greater freedom to do as it wants, because it is no longer a listed company, added Mr. Wenman.
Commenting on the performance of Archer syndicates in 1994, the latest completed year under Lloyd's three-year accounting system, Mr. Wenman said several syndicates had "really good" results and most others did "quite well."
Of the exceptions, the worst was syndicate 657, a non-marine syndicate that produced a 41.4% loss on capacity of (British pounds) 42.9 million ($73.5 million).
The account was left open because the losses, mainly from U.K. employers liability coverage, are as yet unquantifiable. Mr. Wenman acknowledges that the losses were the result of poor underwriting, but said that David Lowe, the syndicate's underwriter in 1994, left the agency by mutual agreement last year.
The other Archer syndicate left open for 1994 is life syndicate 240, which had a small loss for the year.
However, Mr. Wenman emphasized that Archer syndicate investors and policyholders have the comfort of knowing Archer was the first syndicate manager to arrange for well-known actuaries, in its case London-based Bacon & Woodrow, to publish an assessment of key syndicate results.