Commercial lines president on "expertise" in 2024

Lifts lid on plans for the world's growth engine

Commercial lines president on "expertise" in 2024

Insurance News

By Kenneth Araullo

2023 saw its share of challenges, pain and ever-evolving risks. Many industry stakeholders would agree that now, more than ever, it is integral to have a strong and flexible strategy for the next 12 months.

Many insurers in the region are placing a huge emphasis on climate risks, especially after the recent COP28 meeting. Cyber is also a big discussion point, bolstered by the continued proliferation of generative AI.

While these risks and talking points are important, for Paul O’Neill (pictured above), the game plan for a new year should always start with the right talent on board. O’Neill is with Japan’s global speciality insurer Sompo International and is president of commercial lines for insurance in the Asia Pacific. 

“I think that that whole underlying expertise aspect for the future is exactly what we want to offer,” O’Neill said in conversation with Insurance Business Asia. “We want to be a company that attracts top talent and that is continuously looking to provide products that address the growth and exposure that we see in an area like APAC, which is not just flourishing because of economic potential, but also growing from underlying increased exposures, the impact.”

“A very interesting journey”

O’Neill, who is about to celebrate his first year at the firm, also reflected on what he said has been a “very interesting journey.” He attributed this to the full support he received, backing that allowed him to get on and do – something both “appreciated and exciting.”

“By the end of this year, I believe we will be well positioned to provide solutions that meet the needs and exceed the expectations of the APAC market,” he said. “How we do this is by retaining top talent and putting a solid infrastructure in place – both of which have been priorities for me since joining in January.”

O’Neill expressed confidence in making more headway for the company’s plans in Asia. By the end of next year, he wants a full complement of people on board. In Singapore alone, this feat is already completed two thirds of the way.

Infrastructure is also important. O’Neill touted Sompo International’s wholesale insurance unit out of The Lion City. This division links with the well-established Global Markets business, as well as the commercial insurance business across Asia.

“So, the combination of expertise and infrastructure has given us a strong platform in which to do our job successfully, which is to provide solutions that will make our clients’ experience seamless while differentiating Sompo International from other insurers in the region,” he said.

Addressing the pains of 2023

Speaking about the challenges in the past year, O’Neill brought it back once again to the talent, or lack thereof, an issue that he suggested will continue in the coming years.

“The most important challenge is getting the right people – the right talent – on board,” he said. “That is something I cannot overemphasise being that the talent pool available in Singapore, and in the market overall, is not limitless.”

He said it’s very important to find and retain talent that fits in the organization and its culture.

O’Neill stressed that the way forward will be the creation of an environment where this talent can continuously learn, collaborate and grow. His job, he says, is to provide the vehicle that attracts and nurtures that talent for a successful future.

“The other challenge, I would say, is making sure that we're abreast of emerging risks and increasing exposures,” O’Neill said. “I truly believe that the APAC market is effectively the engine of the globe. There are many things happening here, and with our product and market expertise, we can help brokers and clients navigate through whatever risks they are facing – today and into the future.”

2023 versus 2003

Comparing the market to 20 years ago, O’Neill said that the world-scale clients in Asia have grown exponentially. He highlighted the macro-economic view which showcases this growth, as well as interesting developments relating to underlying exposures, including geopolitical issues, mostly those revolving around China and Taiwan.

“Energy transition is another area we need to focus on in the region that is impacting many of our clients,” O’Neill said. “COP28 just happened, which put even more of an emphasis on how we partner with clients, that have a very heavy reliance on coal, to work through that transition.”

Appealing to the industry at large, O’Neill also highlighted that organisations need to find solutions that are beyond traditional risk transfer.

“Our experienced underwriters, risk control specialists, actuaries and claim teams have been through a myriad of market cycles and we bring that expertise to our broker partners and clients,” he said. “It's really about recognizing how we deal with those exposures, many that have changed throughout the year geopolitically, particularly in what that means to things like crude price and supply chains.”

O’Neill said all of these exposures are interrelated and can be “incredibly impactful” to an organization’s financial health without an experienced insurer partner.

“The demand for capacity for these products is very real”

O’Neill shared some insights into different industries where Sompo sees opportunities.

“Much of the business we’ve been recruiting for in Singapore – beyond property and casualty –include energy, crisis management, political and financial risks and marine and aviation,” he said. “The demand for capacity for these products is very real.

O’Neill said focus areas include the energy transition and developing holistic solutions around products.

O'Neill's remit also includes an existing commercial book of business, which he sees as integral to Sompo International’s strategy of addressing risks across different lines of business and clientele.

“What we want to be able to do in 2024 is combine the expertise, the wholesale business that we're writing in Singapore, with the commercial business that we have throughout other countries in the region,” he said. “We want to complement that expertise with our local offering to provide a commercial business offering that does not just address complex risks, but also mid-market and SME business.”

Tackling cyber challenges

Throughout 2023, cyber managed to rival climate risks as the top global threat. O’Neill observed that the uptake of cyber products presents an opportunity, one not just found in the US but other parts of Asia as well.

“Sompo International is not a new entrant into the cyber market,” he said. “We have been developing our cyber portfolio for over a decade.”

O’Neill said having a “robust offering” that is priced properly, fairly and enables keeping on top of exposures and accumulation, is important.

O’Neill said cyber’s major challenges largely come down to pricing and the way underwriters deal aggregation and accumulation. However, this challenge also presents an opportunity for the industry to cooperate and collaborate.

“I think cyber is one of those exposures where we as an industry can really share best practices and data with clients so that they can understand how to identify their exposures, how to evaluate them, and then look at the products available to decide how much they want to transfer,” he said.

O’Neill also described cyber as a continually and quickly evolving exposure.

“Bad actors are forever changing the risk landscape,” he said. “That’s an exponential concern from a client's perspective: ‘what is my exposure?’ I think we've got a big part – not just Sompo International, but the insurance industry – to play in that space.”

Welcoming “an exciting year”

Looking forward to 2024, O’Neill expressed happiness in having what he said is “one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

“My job is to build an environment for people to be successful,” he said. “So, it's an absolute joy to work in an organization where I'm given the opportunity to find the right talent and expertise.”

With offices around the region that he can work closely with, reliable boots on the ground, and a planned hub to further complement its offerings, O’Neill is confident in Sompo International’s offerings. He welcomes the new year.

 “We're in Asia, for me, it’s very straightforward,” he said. “We have global and we have local, we just need to maximize how we deliver that.”

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