From quills to qwerty: Lloyd’s underwriters adapt to home working

FILE PHOTO: The interior of the Lloyd's of London building is seen in the City of London financial district in London, Britain, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of London’s underwriters took their stamps and fountain pens home last week, which they use to sign insurance contracts, but they won’t need them.

Working at home due to the coronavirus lockdown, they have abandoned the normal tools of their trade and are turning to email and other electronic systems to agree terms with the brokers who put business their way.

It’s a huge change from a normal day at Lloyd’s of London [SOLYD.UL] in the heart of the capital’s financial district, where underwriters receive queues of brokers at their desks to haggle over terms, before sealing the deals with an old-fashioned company stamp and an ink signature.

Each deal can require up to 20 signatures and stamps.

With the closure of the underwriters’ floor, the world’s leading commercial insurance market, Lloyd’s – which started life in Edward Lloyd’s’ coffee house in 1688 – has gone fully online for the first time.

The lockdown could prove a watershed moment. If the shift goes off without any major hitches, it will likely smooth the way for the market to go far more digital, underwriters and brokers said.

So the mass working from home is effectively a test of the business’s prospects for long-term survival as it looks to cut costs and modernize in the face of overseas competition.

“Edward Lloyd’s coffee shop was a social environment where merchant traders could gather – today you have the internet, you have mobile phones,” said Bruce Carman, chief underwriting officer of insurance firm Hive Aero, who has worked in the Lloyd’s market for more than 30 years.

“The speed of trade should be far quicker than someone traipsing around the marketplace in leather shoes.”

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