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Fossil fuel protest targets reopening of Lloyd's underwriting floor

LONDON (Reuters) - Lloyd’s of London reopened its underwriting floor for the first time in nearly six months on Tuesday, with the first day back marked by a protest over the underwriting of coal and tar sands.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past Lloyd's building in London, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the first shutdown in the history of the 330-year old commercial insurance market’s “underwriting room” in mid-March.

Brokers and underwriters met in the room to agree complex insurance deals, covering anything from oil rigs to footballers’ legs.

Industry sources say the enforced working from home has catapulted Lloyd’s towards greater use of electronic trading, although some trades still require face to face contact.

“The tacit knowledge exchange that comes from being together is crucial to that ability to trade risks the rest of the world can’t,” Christopher Croft, CEO of insurance broker trade body LIIBA, said.

“Insure Our Future” protesters outside the building, meanwhile, said Lloyd’s has one of the worst climate records among global insurers.

Lloyd’s is insuring the proposed Adani Carmichael mine in Australia and the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada.

Lloyd’s said it did not set underwriting policy for its 90-plus syndicate members but was “committed to building consensus” among members to drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The transition back-to-office work involves yellow signs on the Lloyd’s floor indicating a one-way system and plastic screens between desks.

Visitors are banned, and brokers and underwriters will only be allocated floor time for a day or two a week, depending on the type of insurance they write.

The floor has a maximum capacity of 45% of its previous occupancy, and glass lifts visible on the outside of the market’s City tower will take at most three people.

The building’s barber shop and cafe will stay closed.

Lloyd’s is also piloting a virtual underwriting room, which it said would be open to a greater number of firms later this year.

Insurers and brokers are also returning to work across the City of London this month.

Broker Gallagher said its London office would open on Sept. 21, although regional offices were already open, and brokers could meet clients at Lloyd’s before then.

Insurer Aviva, said only 5% of its staff were at the office nationwide but it expected that to double to 10% in September, and increase further from October.

A survey by tech firm Culture Shift showed 62% of insurance employees found working from home had improved their work-life balance, with nearly half “dreading going back to the workplace”.

Reporting by Carolyn Cohn in London and Muvija M. in Bengaluru; editing by Barbara Lewis

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