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Benfield hopes to speed move toward technology.

The advance of technology in the London insurance market has been a ragged process at best.

Ambitious announcements have been followed by stagnation and failure. The most dramatic reversal was the decision by Lloyd's earlier this year to withdraw support from Kinnect, its electronic initiative, after an investment of 70 million [pounds sterling] (about $133 million).

But U.K. reinsurance broker Benfield Group Ltd. is moving ahead quickly on technology, according to Rupert Swallow, the group's head of global operations. By the end of this year, Swallow said, Benfield expects to be sending out sales messages electronically for most of its London-based business.

By that time, Benfield also hopes to see the beginnings of "peer-to-peer type technologies" in such markets as Bermuda, Swallow said in an interview in his London office.

Swallow described Benfield as "an out-and-out niche, big-ticket specialist intermediary."

"We're in a very interesting period of change,' Swallow said. "And broadly speaking, I think we're seeing people coming together and willing to drive that change."

Swallow's message to the underwriters is: "'This isn't exactly a revolution that's going on here. It's more an evolution. And all of those of you who are ready and have the technology, just come and see us and we're ready to link up with you.'" Swallow denied that peer to peer really means "big to big."

While large organizations are best placed to provide the necessary "critical mass" in the early stages, the barriers to entry would be low, Swallow said.

"People will just have to pick up the implementation guidelines and go ahead," he said. Swallow acknowledged that the organizations involved in this effort are competing against one another in the day-to-day business arena.

"None of this is altruism," he said. "Of course there are vested interests. Of course there are agendas at play."

Benfield's goal, Swallow added, is to be "on the leading edge of technological evolution."

Swallow pointed to the central role of ACORD, the nonprofit global standards body, as a safeguard against the possibility of competitive excess. ACORD "may be the magic elixir that is making this whole thing go," he said. In Swallow's view, Bermuda is well placed to move into the next stage of technology. He noted that the Atlantic island nation has become an outpost for names well known in London: Amlin, Hiscox and Catlin.

Inertia has been the main barrier to the improvement of technology in the London market, Swallow said. The prevailing view, he said, has been: "If it ain't broke...."

"But there are enough people around now who do think it's broken and do think that there's a better way," Swallow said. "And there is a cadre of people now who believe that change is better than the status quo."

Swallow said he doesn't see technology as a threat to the face-to-face nature of the London market.

"It's a sales business," Swallow said. "Name me any sales business anywhere in the world that is not driven by personal relationships."
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Title Annotation:Technology; Benfield Group Ltd
Author:Chordas, Lori
Publication:Best's Review
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:496
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