LLOYD'S OF LONDON by Godfrey Hodgson
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An absorbing inside look at the world's most famous insurance market--where (at least in theory) every imaginable calamity is ""systematically reduced to manageable routine""--which should dispel readers' notions that the insurance business is boring. Journalist/author Hodgson (America in Our Time) opens with nuts and bolts, helpful for those who aren't in the business: the organization of syndicates of underwriting members of Lloyd's (the ""Names""--most uninvolved in the day-to-day business, but all with unlimited personal liability), each syndicate led by an ""active"" underwriter; types of insurance, from marine insurance (where Lloyd's still derives at least a third of its annual $5 billion premium income) to such exotic specialities as political risk and kidnap-and-ransom insurance; and the fundamental economics of underwriting (the double-profit possibility, from underwriting itself and the investment of premium until claims, if any, are paid). Lloyd's, Hodgson stresses, is a place of paradoxes: very British, but heavily dependent on the US insurance industry, particularly as a source of reinsurance business; very conservative--""it is possible to succeed at Lloyd's if your family did not have a great deal of capital, but it is neither easy nor especially common""--but famous for its willingness to take risks that others won't touch (nuclear power plants, offshore drilling rigs); proud of its ""utmost good faith"" tradition, but rather often plagued by scandal. Cons and scams are not unknown in the insurance business, especially in shipping. The late 1970s, for example, saw a ""veritable epidemic"" of marine fraud, including a number of deliberate scuttlings of ships (well-insured, of course) in the South China Sea, one of which was alleged by the insurance claimants to have sunk with ""a most improbably large proportion"" of the world clove harvest aboard. If nothing concrete can be proved, Lloyd's often pays even where fraud is strongly suspected, to maintain the confidence of policyholders generally. Smarter crooks operate on the ""supply side""--not by filing false claims but by diverting premium. This type of fraud, within Lloyd's itself, has surfaced in several recent episodes, such as the well-publicized Alexander Howden affair: the big US broker Alexander & Alexander acquired Britain's Alexander Howden group, only to find that a large chunk of its premium income had apparently been siphoned off to Panama and Liechtenstein companies controlled by AH insiders, to the detriment of outsider Names in the syndicates AH managed. Since the late 1970s, says Hodgson, much has gone ""spectacularly wrong"" at Lloyd's, but as a collective entity it remains a daring and innovative force. Clear, fair, comprehensive, and entertaining.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking