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Insider in Full: Analysis: Why London’s placement platform landscape is at an inflection point

Recent news that Marsh Specialty UK and Howden have started placing certain North American risks through Whitespace prompted some observers to ask if this signalled a change in the competitive landscape among London’s placement platform providers...

Arguably, it’s just one identifier of a far broader transition that brokers are only just embarking on, which will involve intermediaries investing in their own systems and looking at technology providers that enable digitalisation.

It’s quite possible the moves indicate a gradual shift to Whitespace from PPL among brokers for some classes, as this publication understands that other intermediaries are in exploratory talks with the Verisk-owned platform.

But developments at Howden and Marsh Specialty UK are moreover an indication of e-trading capabilities that are becoming essential to brokers and their wider digitalisation plans.

For Marsh Specialty UK, using Whitespace is one part of a gear shift for its digital trading strategy, which also involves the use of Intuitive, its in-house e-trading platform which enables carriers to trade with Marsh algorithmically.

When Howden announced its partnership with Whitespace, it said the collaboration had reduced a need to re-key data and laid the groundwork for its replacement broking system.

The rather obvious fact to state is that despite changes in the competitive landscape of e-trading platforms, the vast majority of London market volumes are still placed through PPL, and with brokers’ migration plans to PPL’s Next Gen platform announced, that seems likely to remain the case for a while  

But with Whitespace gaining traction with new clients, PPL expected to deliver enhancements to its new Next Gen platform including APIs in Q3, and Ebix Europe working on an imminent launch of its new PlacingHub platform, this crucial part of the London market is evolving this year.

Simultaneously, many brokers are putting huge investments into their own systems and in some cases developing their own platforms, as they look to digitise processes end-to-end.

This all points to an inflection point in the London placement platform landscape, precipitated and fuelled in various ways by the Blueprint Two programme.

WTW’s global strategy

Another indicator of the broader trend is at WTW, where the broker is developing its own global platform, for which the flow of structured data will be essential.

Alastair Swift, head of CRB global lines of business at WTW, said: “We're building this as a cornerstone of our global strategy, not just a London market strategy. We need to be able to connect with multiple different insurers that we deal with in multiple markets around the world, and we need to be able to trade with them digitally.”

"We want to connect our broker platform via APIs directly with insurers. That’s where we see the future of the business"

Alastair Swift, head of CRB global lines of business, WTW

Swift explained that WTW has built a broking platform that will sit across underlying systems, that will start with structured data, and transact data straight through to insurers.

He added: “We feel it's important to structure our data, so that we can use it in the right way to benefit clients and drive efficiencies through the business model. There’s still far too much re-keying that goes on involving data from international operations coming into the London market. We need to eliminate that.”

While this new WTW system will have the ability to trade through PPL, or Whitespace if the broker chooses to, Swift said WTW “doesn’t see the London trading piece as the be all and end all”.

He added: “We want to connect our broker platform via APIs directly with insurers. That’s where we see the future of the business.”

Hugo Wegbrans, global head of broking, explained that WTW is now working to get its data into a globally aligned structured data format, to be captured in the earliest moments of engagement with clients, to then deliver data in a more institutionalised, structured way to insurers.

He explained that WTW is now testing the platform and that there will be regular updates to its functionality, adding: “We’re trying to get to digitization alongside broking into the entire process.”

Essential capabilities, enhanced competition

Brokers highlighted to this publication the increasing importance of APIs and interconnectivity with carriers, and how e-trading partners need to respond swiftly to requests for changes and enhancements.

PPL has set out Next Gen’s capabilities, stating that APIs are on the agenda for Q3. The company also told this publication that it will add enhancements to the platform in the coming weeks using an agile framework for responses to customers.

Some brokers said however that other providers can be more responsive to ad-hoc requests, noting Whitespace’s responsiveness as a key characteristic of the platform.

"Whitespace gives you that whole visibility around the placement process of a risk. You can send quotes through, you can negotiate them, you can discuss terms, and you essentially have a record of all of that in the system to look at"

Freddie Trusselle, partner, marine and cargo team, McGill and Partners

Freddie Trusselle, partner on the marine and cargo team at McGill and Partners, explained that Whitespace also allows the broker to undertake the entire transaction through the platform.

He added: “You can send quotes through, you can negotiate them, you can discuss terms, and you essentially have a record of all of that in the system to look at. Whitespace gives you that whole visibility around the placement process of a risk.”

Trusselle said Whitespace – which declined to comment for this article – also enables brokers to track changes that different underwriters have made to complex submissions.

Responsiveness and the enablement of connectivity from broker to underwriter will be important aspects of third-party providers’ propositions, and the competitive landscape will change further with the imminent launch of Ebix Europe’s PlacingHub solution, which will be positioned as an alternative to Whitespace and PPL Next Gen.

One way in which Ebix Europe said PlacingHub will differentiate itself is through its data-to-data capabilities for complex risks and facilities, particularly those that become more complicated after multiple renewals.

Ebix Europe will be launching a sandbox environment for firms to have an interactive experience of the new functionality, user interface and APIs available.

Although Next Gen was built by Deloitte, Ebix Europe provides PPL’s existing platform.

James Pring, sales director at Ebix Europe, said: “We're still committed to servicing and supporting the legacy PPL platform, maintaining the performance with the same level of staffing, until this is not required.”

Blueprint Two adoption

As intermediaries prepare to adopt foundational elements of the Blueprint Two programme, such as the core data record (CDR), e-trading platforms they use will need to facilitate this transition.

The CDR v3.2 and MRC v3 will be finalised in the coming weeks and there will be a six-month adoption period for the latter.

Adoption of core solutions that enable the Blueprint Two vision will unfold in the coming months, but the sentiment beginning to emerge from brokers is that the (much) longer-term future will involve direct connectivity between brokers and carriers via APIs.

The market is some way off such a reality at scale, but in the interim, competition is likely to heat up on various fronts.

The enablement of frictionless interconnectivity between various broker and carrier systems, particularly on complex risks, could be an increasingly important determining factor for brokers in choosing their e-trading partner.

So too will be how effectively placement platforms help the London market transition from a document-led approach to a truly data-first one.

But given that digitalisation programmes underway at Lloyd’s and within firms are designed to enhance connectivity and remove cost from the value chain, direct exchanges from broker to carrier will likely be a prominent feature of the digital nirvana London is hoping to reach. 


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