“You won’t hear me complaining about market conditions. Yes, it’s a tough market but being in it is a choice,” says Mr McConway.
Five consecutive years of profits from hull underwriting provide a healthy cushion for this bullish assessment, but he says this is simply proof that the company’s diversification strategy was the right one.
The adjunct to this position is that rather than stay at home and moan about prospects, insurers should be prepared to get out and chase business.
Marine is a major profit generator for Royal & SunAlliance, doubling in importance in five years and generating underwriting business worth £400m ($795m) last year.
This has not stopped the company looking beyond the UK for new customers. To date it has expanded into Scandinavia, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia, allowing it to write business across complementary markets.
The UK is still the source for 60% of its hull, cargo and freight business, with the sector accounting for almost 400 staff worldwide.
Spreading risk also creates space for acquaculture and the burgeoning leisure sailing market but not the energy sector which it exited in 2003.
And despite a strong position in its well-established markets there is still room for expansion within these areas.
“European business tends to stay in Europe and we realise we have to go and get it. You can’t stay at home in your ivory tower. That is what has driven our expansion in the last few months,” Mr McConway says.
Most recently, the company has entered the market in Germany, the Netherlands, France and Belgium, recruiting locally rather than sending personnel from London. “Getting the right people and investing in them is vital. A good team is the only way to beat the market,” he says.
It is one facet of an ‘intellect-driven’ approach to the challenges of increasing fleet and vessel sizes at a time when crews are in desperately short supply.
Declining to explain the company’s pricing formula in detail, he says it is ‘more than a matter of vessel age’ and that an owner’s commitment to training and crew development will always be reflected.
“It is not a generic approach. Writing these kind of hull risks is about finding a balance among these issues and looking for the best way to do the business — but not for forever and a day,” says Mr McConway.
Unsurprisingly, having dealt with the doomsayers, he is upbeat regarding this year’s prospects, saying it would take “a serious downturn to affect the marine insurance market”, given current levels of demand.
Cargo business is equally dynamic and he suggests a little recession could even be a good thing. In a downturn, manufacturers will seek to lower their cost base, promising “more shipping into developing regions, greater productivity and more shipping to export markets”.