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OBERTS, JUDY GREENWALD and STACY SHAPIRO
Despite the moniker, most direct reinsurers accept business not only from ceding companies but also from reinsurance intermediaries.
Swiss Reinsurance America Corp., for example, obtains some broker-originated business in specialty lines, but in alternative risk programs, including captives and risk retention groups, "brokers are the critical source of business in terms of distribution," said Heidi Hutter, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Swiss Re America in New York.
Employers Reinsurance Corp. also deals with the broker market, though "it doesn't grow more than the rest of the business," noted Kaj Ahlmann, chairman, president and CEO of Overland Park, Kan.-based Employers Re.
Broker-marketed business has "had nice growth like the rest of ERC," he said, adding that most of the business is generated in short-tail lines. "Long-tail business is not something we do a lot of in the broker market," he said.
Reinsurance intermediaries say the business they place with direct writers in the United States is limited and often comes at the request of the ceding companies. They typically receive commissions or fees for placing such business.
Outside the United States, however, the lines are more blurred.
Many reinsurers that are considered direct writers always have been broker-market reinsurers in certain parts of the world, brokers say.
Historically, it was thought direct reinsurers had an advantage over broker market reinsurers because of their larger size, but broker markets offered the ability to diversify risk that is attractive to many reinsurance buyers.
However, as the reinsurance market becomes more complex and more competitive, all players are looking for additional ways to generate new business, resulting in even grayer lines between the once-distinct distribution points.
"Everybody is in everybody else's business," said John Berger, president and CEO of F&G Re, a Morristown, N.J.-based unit of USF&G Corp. "People don't care how they get business anymore. They just want to get business in."
Salvatore D. Zaffino, chairman and CEO of broker Sedgwick Re in Stamford, Conn., noted that "most direct writers have never had a hard and fast rule of only dealing directly with ceding companies. Direct writers have, for many years, accessed the broker market, either through broker market subsidiaries or affiliates."
Sedgwick Re "from time to time, places business with direct writers as an accommodation to ceding companies who wish to have the intermediary oversee administrative matters relating to the reinsurance placement," Mr. Zaffino said.
E.W. Blanch Co. also places, "to a limited amount," business with direct writers, said Chris L. Walker, president and CEO of the Bloomington, Minn.-based reinsurance intermediary. This occurs when ceding companies want their coverage to be placed with a direct writer and at the same time want one broker to oversee the program, he said.
"They want that relationship, and we honor that request," he said.
Reinsurance brokers say there is more opportunity for them to place business with direct writers outside the United States.
Direct writers outside the United States have woken up to the fact that reinsurance intermediaries have significant chunks of business that shouldn't be ignored, "and they wish to be a part of that chain," said David Spiller, managing director of Benfield Greig Group in London.
Direct writers have worked with Greig Fester for many years outside the United States, and that is growing, said Mr. Spiller, the former CEO of Greig Fester International, a unit of Greig Fester Group Ltd., which is merging with Benfield Ellinger Ltd.
"Are the direct reinsurers working more closely with reinsurance brokers? The answer generally is yes" outside the United States, agreed John Pelly, chairman and CEO of Willis Faber Global Reinsurance, a unit of Willis Corroon Group P.L.C.
For many years, direct writers have been increasing their market share over reinsurance brokers, but in the past three years that trend has halted, said Mr. Pelly. In today's competitive
market, many ceding companies "are looking for independent, non-affiliated advice that comes from the heart, and an information bank that is notconnected to the result of that advice."
"Traditionally in the U.S., there were six major direct reinsurance companies. Now there are four whose mainstream business is as direct underwriting companies, but internationally we can do a huge amount of business," said Peter T. Pruitt, chairman and CEO of Willis Faber North America Inc. in New York.
The distinction between the direct writer and broker market "is getting grayer all the time."
Many observers say it is only a matter of time before the distinction between distribution lines dissolves.
"As risk transfer alternatives become more complex and the line between traditional resinsurance and alternative risk transfer options becomes more blurred, the historical demarcation between direct writers and broker markets will similarly break down," predicts Sedgwick Re's Mr. Zaffino.
"I think the lines are breaking down a little bit," agreed Steven Bolland, senior vp with reinsurance intermediary Gill & Roeser Inc. in New York. "The directs aren't always as direct as they say they will be," while brokers sometimes have certain clients with security requirements that call for them to work with the larger direct market, he said