The West of England protection and indemnity mutual is expanding into the offshore market as it embarks on an ambitious diversification strategy.
The move was approved at a strategy meeting in Shanghai, where members agreed that it is the right time to grow the business, with $306m held in financial reserves — its highest level ever.
The 150-year-old insurer also wants to present an image of a dynamic business to the maritime world. It has moved into new offices in the heart of the maritime insurance cluster in the City of London and come up with a new logo that it said reflects its ambitions.
“Offshore complements and secures areas where we already have experience,” managing director Tom Bowsher said.
“That is what we want to do with our diversification generally — we want to look at products in which we can use our experience and knowledge and further enhance our business.
“We are confident that with the appointments we will announce shortly, we will have a team that can support our growth in the market.”
Other clubs have also traded on healthy free reserves to diversify, with mixed results.
But that has not put Bowsher off.
“The risk is if you go into this without the knowledge and experience,” he told TradeWinds. “We have shown we are making investments in people and making sure we have the right people in place.”
Importance of a member-appointed team
Many of the West of England’s current members are already in offshore and can provide business to back the move.
But Bowsher insisted the critical point is that the club is managed by a team appointed by members, working for its benefit, rather than for a third-party management team.
“Unlike a lot of clubs, we are wholly owned by the association, so the manager’s interests are very in line with our members’ board,” he said. “Therefore any diversification that the club undertakes has to be good for our members.”
Further appointments will be made in fixed premium to grow that business too.
The West of England’s finances were boosted by the sale of its former offices near Tower Bridge in London. It has moved to the centre of the City of London, where the Standard Club, the UK P&I Club, the London P&I Club and the American Club are all located, as well as the big marine broking houses.
To mark the move, it has gone through a rebranding and come up with the logo “WEST”, which is how it would like to be referred to in the future.
“We’ve gone with the word ‘WEST’ as that is how the market knows us,” Bowsher said. “It’s modern, contemporary and clean. We’re thrilled, we’re really pleased with it, and we think it reflects a new future for the club and the way the club is thinking.”