Head of Singapore, Nigel Cross gives us an insight into the Miller Singapore office and our offering in the wider region.
Tell us about yourself
I began my insurance career as a broker in London in 1991, relocating to Asia in 1995 where I’ve spent the majority of my time in Singapore, with three years in Hong Kong.
I joined Miller in 2009 as Head of the Singapore office, having previously led the Benfield facultative business in Asia Pacific, producing and placing major risks, predominantly in the property and energy sectors.
My role is to develop Miller’s strategy, leading business development and client management initiatives for the region.
Tell us about Miller Singapore
Miller established its office in Singapore in 2008, although it has been handling business from the region for over forty years. This was a significant investment at the time and has successfully developed into one of Miller’s key growth areas.
We currently have a team of thirty in Singapore, having grown consistently over the last nine years through attracting individuals with specialty broking experience in the region, as well as enabling some of our bright young talent to transfer over from our London office. Alongside developing our broking teams, we have significantly invested in our claims and operational side of the business - finance, credit control and compliance - to ensure that our clients and underwriting markets receive the highest level of value added service.
How would you say Miller differs from other brokers in the region?
Miller has three core values - we work as one team, we do the right thing and we deliver on our promises - which are reflective of the way we do business, be that interacting with clients, underwriters, colleagues or other stakeholders. I strongly believe that these values bring a consistently high quality and integrity of service to our clients.
In practice, our ‘one Miller’ culture is evidenced by the fact we interact with colleagues across our international offices on a daily basis to ensure that our clients in Asia receive full access to the range of Miller’s intellectual capital and capabilities, as well as the global markets. In our experience, clients value this seamless approach, unencumbered by internal divisions or silos and we believe this truly sets us apart from other brokers in the region.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the Asian insurance landscape over the last 20 years?
When I first moved to Singapore the market was much smaller, in every sense. Large individual risks were predominantly placed by London brokers into the established markets, such as London and continental Europe. Singapore was very much a follow market. Clients in Asia now benefit from a more significant and sophisticated regional market where there is a greater understanding of local and regional challenges and opportunities.
Technology has evolved dramatically. The whole risk transfer process was far more cumbersome and time consuming, with significant data and risk information having to be handled in hard copy format via courier services. Some companies previously still used telex for daily communication! Information between clients, brokers and underwriters can now be shared in real time in large volumes and we are all contactable around the clock. Analytics and catastrophe modelling were virtually unheard of, let alone made available to clients to help them better understand their exposures and make decisions around optimisation of capital adequacy and protection.
Financial capital and capacity has increased significantly. Twenty years ago, it was extremely rare for any underwriter in Asia to be able to commit USD100m capacity to any one risk. This level of capacity is now almost a starting point for most serious players in many sectors such as property and energy. Capacity can now be deployed in a more efficient manner to respond to growing demands and increasing asset values and exposures.
There has been tremendous development in human capital in the Asian insurance markets and Singapore is at the forefront of this. Underwriters, brokers and others service providers have all invested heavily in the range and skill sets of their people, ensuring a much broader and deeper level of specialist knowledge. In the mid 1990’s, the profile of a large professional reinsurer’s regional head office in Singapore would consist of a handful of treaty underwriters and perhaps one facultative underwriter. Claims handling, catastrophe modelling, risk engineering and the like would normally have been managed remotely.
That same professional reinsurer would now typically have a very different profile, with much more scale and diversity of talent and with capability across most functions within the region. A number have also established a quite distinct and sizeable entity to handle their large corporate risk business, as well as treaty and facultative reinsurance. This development in human capital has given clients in the region greater access to broader and enhanced levels of knowledge and service than was the case previously.
There have been numerous other changes in the landscape over the past twenty years, including the variety and complexity of risk, the pace of change and development, increased focus on quality of capital, merger & acquisition activity, the regulatory environment and the development and opening of economies and markets such as China, India, Vietnam and Myanmar, which all looked very different twenty years ago.
One key factor that has always been prevalent is competition. Whilst there has always been competition in the market, it is now much more acute. Clients can benefit from a variety of choice, with many service providers able to offer greater depth in specialist expertise and solutions than previously available.
How can the developing countries of South East Asia benefit from insurance?
Insurance is in many ways an intangible product and rarely afforded the importance that it deserves. As the economies in South East Asia continue to evolve, insurance will play a vital role in supporting these developments. With the rapidly moving world today, risks are often becoming much more complex and with new exposures in need of addressing. Insurance is as relevant in challenging economic times as it is in the so called boom years.
The quality of the support and advice that clients receive is now more vital than ever. Miller is perfectly positioned to assist clients in Asia. We do not try to be all-things-to-all-people; we focus our attention on areas in which we specialise and truly understand the needs of our clients.
Talk us through the life-cycle of working with your clients in the region
We adopt a long-term view when working with clients, be that developing relationships with new clients or strengthening those with existing clients. For us, it is vital to truly understand what our clients are trying to achieve in the first instance, and we then work closely with them to establish if and how Miller can best assist in this process.
One example of our approach is a relatively new placement where we worked closely with an existing insurance company client of ours to jointly secure a new major corporate client for them, with Miller acting as the exclusive reinsurance broker. It was very much a strategic partnership, with the opportunity clearly identified many months in advance and a well-considered plan put in place to understand how best to assist the insured prospect.
Miller took a consultative approach during joint meetings with the prospect and our client, and the key concerns of the insured quickly became clear. Having listened to this feedback, we proposed a comprehensive service level agreement as well as a reinsurance marketing strategy. The service agreement covered all the areas raised by the client as well as some further key deliverables. We were then able to put together a comprehensive and competitive reinsurance placement proposal with improved terms, wider coverage as well as introduce a number of international underwriting markets who had previously declined the risk.
Having successfully secured the business, we have continued to serve the insured in conjunction with our insurance company client by delivering on all the items contained within the service level agreement.
Whilst premium level will always be a key factor in the decision making process, the feedback from our client was that it was Miller’s focus on a high standard of personalised service that really made the difference. In one sense it is not too complicated, but it often amazes me that some of our competitors apparently do not always get these basics right.
What do you see as the biggest challenge and greatest opportunity in the next 5-10 years?
As much as there have undoubtedly been quite a few changes in our industry and the wider financial sector over the past 20 years, I believe the changes over the next 10 years will be even greater. I feel that our greatest challenge will be to remain relevant to our clients in what will become an increasingly fragmented and ever-changing market place. We will face a number of challenges around distribution, new products, technology, capital application, competition, regulation and many others. We need to embrace and tackle these challenges face on, which if successfully managed will create opportunities for Miller.
At the forefront of these opportunities are our clients. As some in our industry seem intent on commoditising clients and their business, Miller’s focus will be on continuing to offer an unparalleled level of service that allows us to grow over time with existing clients and hopefully those who choose to engage with us in the future.