Q. ARTes – what’s the story behind the name?
CT. Picking a name for a company is one of the hardest things you can do, especially when you’ve got multiple opinions. The criteria we set was that we didn’t want anything Latin or that could be mistaken for something else when typed into a browser. It had to be clean and different but capable of being played with when it comes to branding.
The company isn’t simply a way to make money – it’s going to provide security for our families and the people we employ – so in the end my daughter was the inspiration behind the name. ‘ART’ is her initials – Annabelle Rose Thomas – and ARTesmae is the kennel name under which we breed our dogs, so ARTes is a shortened version of this.
Q. You launched in December last year – how’s business?
CT. There are challenges with any new portfolio, but because of the way we’ve set up ARTes and the way in which we select the people we work with, we’re not starting from scratch. We’re dealing with established businesses who have their own established portfolios and processes, and one of the criteria for us selecting a portfolio is to make sure the people we’re partnering with know what they’re doing.
The challenges we’ve faced relate to the ever-changing market space for London’s capacity. I guess this is the same as our clients are finding – there’s an inconsistency with risk appetite, so when you’re trying to construct a capacity matrix, the market can move very quickly.
We’re looking for specialist portfolios of risk that require bespoke insurance solutions. As a recent example, we're about to launch a new Australian material damage and third party property damage product which will be unique to that market. But most importantly, we’re looking to deliver long-term profit on those portfolios. And we’re also looking for long-term partners, both in distribution and capacity, who understand that you’re going to have good years as well as bad years.
We’re attracted to specialist, niche business from various markets that might have a reputation for being brought into London under distress, and we’re also looking at challenging business that other people might shy away from because it requires expertise and specific knowledge.
Although we’re saying what we’re doing is new, it’s not – we’re actually going back to the original concept of the MGA. And we’re doing our best to deliver that, rather than be a generalist fighting for market share. In essence we’re trying to revive the concept of the MGA in its original form.
Q. What challenges did you face when setting up ARTes, and how did JPO and Asta help in meeting those challenges?
CT. I think the biggest challenges were identifying what we were bringing as a company, what made us different from anyone else, and who our competitors were. And bearing in mind that we started up during a hardening market with a distinct retraction of capacity, how were we going to go out and communicate to the potential capacity providers? And why they should support us in a market where they’re making quite a lot of hay writing open market business.
The one thing that we knew we wanted to do, and were very clear on, was to have class-leading governance and structure, which is where Asta came in. And thankfully, we had connections with them within the founding members of ARTes. But we were selling them a concept because up until the time we approached them, their preference was to take a financial interest in the MGA they were supporting.
But we weren’t looking for investments – we were looking for insurance services, oversight and governance. And Asta are known to be the best in the game. In terms of the challenges around capacity, the biggest one was identifying capacity in the market that wasn’t a mono-line provider; our products require support from DUA teams who can offer capacity on multiple risk codes. It wasn’t a challenge to secure the capacity once we identified the correct market because we were always confident with the data, our structure and the product we were presenting.
Q. How is ARTes different from other MGAs?
CT. As I’ve said, we’re creating sector bespoke insurance products, and everything is about creating equilibrium between the distributor, the capacity and ourselves. This is key to everything we do. But beyond that, we’re like a bespoke tailor of insurance products – it’s not an off-the-peg solution, we bespoke it totally to our clients (both distribution and capacity) requirements.
And we’re not traders, we’re builders. We’re not looking for opportunistic underwriting, we’re looking to build sustainable portfolios. Uncorrelated sustainable portfolios.
Q. How much of a challenge – or opportunity – is ESG to the ARTes business?
CT. We’ve made a conscious decision not to involve ourselves in any kind of soft rock mining, so we’re not going to look at anything to do with coal. And neither are we looking to oil and gas exploration. Although the sectors we’re insuring could be looked at as polluting because a lot of them use diesel equipment, they’re essential sectors if we’re going to build our way towards net zero. And ironically, a huge amount of the crane contractors are the guys that erect wind farms, so there’s an offset there.
We’re totally focused on the environmental side of things, as we are on the S [Social] and G [Governance] for example we are passionate about ensuring equal rights of anyone who comes to join and work with us.
We’ve structured the company so people can have the flexibility to make choices in their life, where they don’t feel pressurised to be in London every day just to try and get ahead. We judge people on their output, not on whether they’re sat at a desk in the City.
Q. One aspect of ESG is social value and community involvement. Is there anything you’re working on as a company, in terms of charity or community?
CT. There are different charities that our people have close to their hearts. A key one for me is Haven House Hospice – they’ve really helped my family and our daughter. We have a very close relationship with them, and I’d love to work with them in the future.
And I’m very keen to forge links with recruiters who can help us find work for people who don’t necessarily come from the easiest of upbringings, because that’s what happened with me. With this in mind I’ve strong connections with Christ’s Hospital, who are a charity school. 80% of the kids there are on bursaries and come from under privileged backgrounds, the ethos is something I’d like to replicate at ARTes as much as I can.
A word on the Governance side of ESG. Having Asta onboard from early on gave us a huge amount of credibility when we were talking to capacity providers and Lloyd’s. I know Chaucer sponsor us through the coverholder process, but having Asta there was a fantastic feather in our caps.
Q. Are there any other challenges that you see in the future?
CT. Tech is the obvious one, and it’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I think the insurance industry is behind the curve compared to the rest of the financial services sector, but the set-up we’ve adopted ensures we’re working with market leading tech companies who can offer us solutions to make us more efficient.
Another challenge is the fact that there are a lot of people doing jobs that could be automated. I don’t know how insurance companies are going to manage this because at some point someone’s going to say, “It’s more efficient to be using this system and that algorithm than the people we’ve got...”
My concern is that a lot of people are sleepwalking into redundancy. I think this is a huge problem, so the challenge is that companies need to think about how they need to redeploy these people, their skills and experience. We’re constantly thinking about this, and that’s why we’ve outsourced so much of our back office so we can focus on underwriting and people using their experience and skills to build our company and drive us forward.
Q. Where do you see ARTes in five years’ time? Syndicate-in-a-box or syndicate?
CT. I don’t think that’s necessarily the correct route for us – as much as Lloyd’s is a fantastic platform to seek capacity from with the global licencing, financial strength and brand, we need the autonomy to be able to seek capacity from alternative areas.
I know you can have a Syndicate-in-a-box alongside your MGA, but I think it becomes just a little bit too complex. I like maintaining control over who we talk to, and I can’t have all of my eggs in one basket and then be told what we can and can’t do.
Potentially we’re looking at sectors that are challenging, and if I’m putting in a business plan and Lloyd’s are saying, “We don’t want to do this because of historic losses that haven’t been caused by us...” that’s a barrier to entry for us.
Ultimately we aim to step away from being an AR of Asta and become an independent FCA registered MGA supported by Asta. Hopefully with four, five or even six more underwriting teams. And you never know, maybe some representation in another part of the world.
Q. Post Covid there has been a gradual move back to life in the office. What’s your view on that and how beneficial is flexible working to the future of business?
CT. Although I think it’s important for teams to be back in an office environment a few days a week, let’s not forget how far we’ve moved as an industry to allow flexible, remote working, using tech and empowering people to manage their own time and workflows.
Each person has their own particular challenges in their lives. For me, sometimes I have to set up my office at my daughter’s hospital bedside for a prolonged period of time. With the support and flexibility of my amazing colleagues and ARTes’ business partners, and with planning, communication and efficient use of tech, anywhere can be your office.
So, a shout out to all those who have challenges in their personal lives. Don’t be silent, communicate with your employer and manage expectations. To all the employers, listen to your staff, empower them to work effectively for you wherever that may be – the results can be amazing!
Also, a huge thanks to the amazing nurses and doctors of the NHS at The Royal London who have supported us through this process and given me the confidence to be able to work as Annabelle was treated.
Q. What advice would you give to someone starting their career in insurance?
CT. Be open-minded. And if there’s something that you really want to do, go for it. As an industry, we tend to pigeon-hole people and trap them in a certain area. But I don’t think that’s necessarily what’s best. You have to show flexibility and guide people rather than force them.
I think subject matter experts are really important, especially when you’re dealing with some of the portfolios we’re looking at and the sensitivities within those portfolios. You need people with instinct as well because it’s a vocational job. It’s not something you go to university to study. But you do need particular skill sets and expertise to suit the particular portfolios that we’re looking at.
At ARTes we’re trying to look at ourselves as portfolio managers. I’m not saying you’re an underwriter, or a broker, or an analyst, or an underwriting assistant... yes, we probably will have titles, but I want people who transcend those skillsets. I want people who can think outside the box.
Q. What’s your great passion?
CT. Two things, two passions. I really love driving, and I really like diving. But the problem is that neither of them are family activities. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist, but that got lost along the way. But I take any opportunity to be in the sea or in my car on a lovely drive. And my daughter shares the driving passion with me.
Q. Who do you admire the most?
CT. That’s easy. My wife. I admire her more than anyone – we had a life-changing event with my daughter, and my wife had her own career. But she pivoted and carried our family through that event and then supported me while I was setting up ARTes when she was pregnant with our second. She was amazing, and she inspires me like no one else I know.
Q. And what would you like to tell your thirteen-year-old self?
CT. “Stop caring what people think about you and follow the things that inspire you.” But if I’d listened to myself then I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now. I don’t have any regrets about the decisions I’ve made. I want to be able to say to my kids, “There are no regrets, only opportunities. You have the choice to do what you want.”