A life in insurance: interview with AM RE’s Simon Barder
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
AM RE’s Simon Barder has been in this industry for nearly 50 years, working in several countries. He sat down to tell Intelligent Insurer about what he has seen and learned in that time.
Entry to Insurance
It was early in the morning for Simon Barder, chief underwriting officer at AM RE, when he came to the Re/insurance Lounge, the on-demand platform for interviews and panel discussions with industry leaders, to speak with Intelligent Insurer.
Barder is now based in Dallas, Texas, after stints living and working in London, Toronto, Charlotte, and New York. AM RE is itself something of a family business, started by Barder and his wife Shevawn, and now including their son George and daughters Mandy and Olivia in its staff.
The family link is not a new facet to Barder’s story. He comes from a long line of people in the insurance business.
“I’m third generation,” he said. “My grandfather went into Lloyd’s in 1919, immediately after World War 1. He came out of the army, from the tanks in northern France, and through a family friend got a job working in an underwriting box at Lloyd’s of London.
“It flowed from there. He became the underwriter on that syndicate about 20 years later, and after World War 2, he formed a partnership called Barder & Marsh, and brought my father and uncle into the business.”
The younger Barder went into the business in the early 1970s.
“It was an exciting experience and I never considered doing anything else. I started as a broker but my background has always been in underwriting, so I switched to that after six months,” he recalled.
After 25 years at Lloyd’s, during which he was the underwriter on his syndicate, Barder left and decided to go into reinsurance. He worked for Cologne Re, Gen Re, and Gerling, before starting Marine Re with his wife Shevawn in 2000. That was eventually acquired by Ironshore and, after some time away from the industry, he founded AM RE in 2014. The company was originally based in New York, but has since come to be headquartered in Dallas.
What changes have occurred in the industry?
After nearly five decades in the industry, Barder has seen a lot. The changes along the way, he admitted, have been substantial. One thing that has altered over time has been the wording on insurance contracts. In the 1950s, he explained, policy wordings in casualty lines had been written with sudden and accidental incidents in mind, even if they did not explicitly say as such. When the cases around asbestos exposure surfaced in the 1980s and 1990s, those wordings were found by lawyers to be wanting.
“That taught me that attention to detail, over coverage in particular, is absolutely vital. You might think that something in a contract said something, but it’s best now to get legal advice. That’s become a big part of the industry. Wordings back in the 1950s and 1960s were often just a paragraph. Today, they can be 30, 40, or 50 pages,” he said.
Barder has also seen the internationalization of the insurance market, a development which he claims to have seen decades ago. In order to maintain risk choices and selection, he thought it prudent to go to the domestic markets in different countries and take a more proactive role there.
“Most insureds are supportive of their home markets. That’s not a surprise: if you’re American, you’d like to buy insurance in America. If you’re German, you want to buy it in Germany,” he said.
“London and Lloyd’s has had a monopoly of having capacity to write international business for 300 years. I could see in the 1990s that this was beginning to change. In those days, if you looked at the top 20 cities in the world, not many of them had insurance markets. That’s all changed now.”
How does AM RE use data?
Another thing that has changed over the decades is data, which has increasingly become the industry’s lifeblood. It has long been a focus at AM RE. Barder said that it is key when primary business is being written. When he was a primary underwriter, he learned that a single poorly written risk may not wipe you out, but a series of them would.
“It’s about attention to detail in what people call ‘attritional business’,” he said. “It’s the nickels and dimes that kill you slowly if you don’t get it right, so we developed a database from the start to analyze the pricing of all the primary risks we’re going to write.”
That database is still used today after being in continual development for decades.
“When statistics and figures come in, a lot of that is entered into the system automatically. We have that capability, but I still insist on a manual look at it in the first instance,” Barder explained.
“The monthly or quarterly results have to be entered only once. But once they’re in, they’re distributed around our system straight away so that immediately the analytics are looking at it.”
After a career spent in many countries (Canada and Germany were also mentioned during the interview), Barder seems content to be in Dallas. The company moved there at the end of 2019, and he is energized by the young people filling its offices. As the interview wound down, it was just after 09:00 in Texas. The day’s work had barely begun.
To view the full Re/insurance Lounge session click here