An Insurance Exchange of the Americas styled after the high-risk ventures of Lloyd's of London will open next year in Miami as another step in the consolidation of South Florida's international character.
The Miami-based exchange is aimed at capturing some of Lloyd's $12 billion in annual business, particularly in Latin America, where oil wells and skyscrapers will be among the costly insurance risks associated with future industrialization and modernization.
Like a stock exchange for insurance syndicates, an insurance exchange permits members to pool their resources to provide policies they could not afford to underwrite individually, such as for an oil tanker carrying $200 million in cargo.
For 300 years, Lloyd's of London, composed of abut 350 insurance syndicates, has filled this function virtually alone. But Miami financial leaders believe that escalating high-risk insurance needs, including those related to the development of Latin American nation, will provide a market that even Lloyd's can't handle.
"Lloyd's won't lose business," contended Stephen Arky, a Miami lawyer helping to organize the exchange. "There just will be so much more."
The fledgling Insurance Exchange of the Americas got off to an encouraging start last week with the hiring of a top figure at Lloyd's as the new chief executive officer.
Alan Teale, 50, will join the exchange June 1 after 28 years with the British insurance establishment. He is chief executive of the British Insurance Brokers' Association, which represents more than 97 percent of all brokers in the United Kingdom. In that capacity, he has been a member of most of Lloyd's operating committees, including the board of the Lloyd's Policy Signing Office, which runs the insurance exchange on a daily basis.
"We were told that he was the most knowledgeable person in the world" about Lloyd's, Arky said.
Conceived in 1979, Florida's exchange is scheduled to open in mid-1982. It was made possible by legislation introduced by state Rep. Bill Sadowski, a Miami lawyer. He proposed the idea after reading about the formation of the New York Insurance Exchange, which opened its doors last year.
Until recently, state legislatures, which regulate the domestic insurance industry, have not provided for insurance exchanges in the United States. Domestic insurance companies have opposed increased competition that would come with the exchange system. With inflation and soaring fuel prices, the costs of insurance risks have exploded in a relatively short time. The idea of an exchange in which costs are shared consequently has become more palatable.
So far only the New York exchange has opened in the United States.
Miami financial leaders say an insurance exchange is a logical step in the changing economic character of South Florida.
"This is a key element in Miami's development into an international financial center," said Lester Freeman, executive vice president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. "We've had it on our list for a number of years."
In the past two decades, the Spanish-speaking proportion of Miami-Dade County's 1.6 million population has risen to 41 percent, strengthening the area's image as the gateway to and from Latin America.
Yet image reflects reality. The Miami Free Zone cargo facilitiess have nearly 200 companies catering to international trade. More than a hundred multinational businesses have offices here. In the past five years, 57 new international and domestic banks with activities limited to international business have opened branches in Miami. These banks have helped turn the city into a haven for wealthy Latins wishing to deposit a nest egg against political instability in their own countries.
"When we began opening the banking facilities, people said, Why Miami? Why not New York? Well, obviously the Latins like it here," Arky said. "They like the climate and we're bilingual."
Politically, "it makes sense to have an insurance exchange in Miami," said Sadowski, who introduced the bill. "The focus and attention of this community is much more to the south and east than to the north. We have Latin American citizens who come here with all their money. The exchange would be an ideal investment for them.
"In the next 15 to 20 years, as the countries in Central and South America mature, there will be a tremendous need for insurance," he said. "Even if we pick up only a portion of that business, we will be doing very well."
Backers of Miami's exchange saidd they could not predict the scope of services or the extent to which underwriters would insure policies in politically unstable nations such as El Salvador.
"The decisions about where the exchange will do business will be up to the underwriters," Arky said. "That's not in our discussions now because it's not our money. But Lloyd's has never been unwilling to write insurance even in areas undergoing guerrilla warfare. They just charge more."
Because the Miami operation will be a carbon copy of Lloyd's according to the organizers, they hope to attract trained Lloyd's underwriters. And they are counting on the climate to lure the underwriters from the cloudy British Isles to sunny Miami.
"The source of the best underwriters is Lloyd's," Arky said. "We can't expect the top ones to come, but those in their 30s and 40s might find the climate and the lifestyle desirable, as well as the declining personal income taxes in the United States.
"Lloyd's has been about to maintain that talent because there has been no alternative for them. The key to the success or failure of the exchange is the underwriter who has tremendous authority."
As in Lloyd's, each underwriter will head a syndicate of investors. When a broker brings a risk to the exchange, an underwriter will contact underwriters of other syndicates to opportion the risks. The underwriter will assign the risks and the amount charged for the insurance. In doing so, he alone binds his syndicate.
Florida's relatively regulation-free environment will differ from New York's where a broker must be refused by several domestic insurance companies before he can approach the exchange, Arky explained. "That's very cumbersome," he said.
The Lloyd's system has been successful because of the "highly unregulated atmosphere" in which the company has operated, according to Sadowski.
Unlike personal property, automobile or life insurance, which have state-regulated rate structures, the value of high-risk policies is not so easy to compute because there is no measurable standard. So these "surplus lines insurance" policies at premium risk -- for example, for a high-rise office building with 5,000 occupants or for the hands of a physician -- typically are negotiated by the insurer and the client. Lloyd's has received most of this business because of the flexibility and reach of its exchange made up of syndicates.
"This system wouldn't work with a lot of regulation," Sadowski contended. Rather than regulating rates for the new exchange, Florida's insurance commissioner will be responsible primarily for ensuring that member syndicates are solvent and for reviewing applications to make sure that, as Arky put it, everyone in the exchange "has clean hands."
Organizers are concerned about possible attempts to launder drug money through the exchange, Sadowski said. "But I don't think our risk is any greater that anyone else's. Obviously credibility is the key."
To ensure the exchange's financial health for the first two formative years, the Southeast First National Bank of Miami and the Banco de la Nacion Argentina loaned a total of $450,000 last week. The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce donated another $50,000.
Organizers are soliciting individuals and firms as founders at $5,000 each. Soom applications will be ready for brokers and underwriters syndicates. Once approved, a syndicate will have to pay at least $1.5 million to join.
State law requires a minimum of six syndicates to start operation, but Arky says "between 15 and 50" syndicates day be formed by the start of business.
"I've talked to people in Latin American who say this will be so desirable that 50 syndicates will be ready," he said. "If they're right, we're going to have to take reservations and start turning them away."