Lloyd’s of London is to reopen the doors to its famous underwriting room in September, with strict new rules in place for the brokers who work at the insurance market.
Lloyd’s is one of the last face-to-face financial markets, with around 7,000 people using the building on an average day. But since its doors closed in March, all of the market’s complex insurance contract negotiations have taken place online and over the phone.
In a letter to the chief executives of companies that work in the market, Lloyd’s boss John Neal said on Wednesday that the Richard Rogers-designed building in Lime Street would reopen on September 1. However, it will operate at just 45 per cent of its normal capacity and there will be glass screens around the boxes — the desks where underwriters and brokers discuss insurance policies.
Lloyd’s is also planning to open what it calls a virtual underwriting room. “This online environment will combine the best features of 1 Lime Street with digital technology to create efficient, smart and collaborative ways of doing business,” said Mr Neal.
There will be a “connectivity bar” on the ground floor of the building to help people who are struggling with the new digital system, and also “digital booths” where brokers or underwriters can hold virtual meetings in privacy.
Many of the people who work at Lloyd’s say that the crisis is an opportunity to fundamentally change the way the market operates, with some suggesting that the underwriting room could eventually disappear as business moves increasingly online. Shifting away from a physical trading floor would, they say, help to cut the high cost of doing business at Lloyd’s.
But any move to abolish the room would meet some stiff resistance from those who say that extremely complex insurance policies benefit from the sort of face-to-face discussion that is common at Lloyd’s.