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The Royal Gazette: Abir proposes ideas on economic recovery

ABIR in the News

The Royal Gazette
Published 28 April 2020
Written by Jonathan Kent, Business Editor

Abir proposes ideas on economic recovery

Bermuda’s largest international reinsurers have proposed a slate of ideas designed to help get the island’s economy up and running again in the post-Covid-19 environment.

Suggestions by the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers include a partnership between businesses and eateries to help jump-start the food and beverage sector, a call on international business executives to “join the national effort to rebuild the economy” and tweaks to immigration policies and processes to attract new business and incentivise job creation.

It also suggests the appointment of a full-time, economic recovery project manager “as an in-kind donation from a global company with world headquarters in Bermuda”.

John Huff, the Abir chief executive, said the proposals came about from members and through extensive consultation with the wider business community here. Abir’s membership numbers more than 25 companies, which employ about 1,550 people on the island and control about 35 per cent of the global property and casualty reinsurance market.

“We’re so fortunate in Bermuda to have so many global leaders that are committed to the island,” Mr Huff said in an interview. “Now’s the time for us to tap into their willingness to help contribute and lead.”

Many Abir leaders stood ready to help the Government as required as it meets the challenge of reshaping the economy for the new normal, he said.

“This is going to be an interesting and exciting time, and also a competitive time, as people around the world deal with the virus and tackle the next step of re-energising their economies.”

With regard to that competition, one of Abir’s 12 proposals is to “be ready to compete with global jurisdictions prepared to exploit recovery efforts to build their own markets and lure our companies and talent”.

Bermuda needs to be mindful of the cost of doing business and “reopen and enhance immigration policy and processes to address the backlog and support recovery — doing so will add jobs and payrolls to our economy”, Abir suggested.

Mr Huff said: “The emphasis is on the metrics for reopening, such as jobs and investment in Bermuda. So we’d like to strengthen the policies and processes in place to create more investment on the island.

“When you look at immigration, there are policy issues and process issues and we’d like to encourage discussion of those issues.”

On the reopening of the economy, Abir said its members could voluntarily stagger the physical return of staff to allow the island’s retail economy a head start, if needed.

Also, it could play a role in building a restaurant-business partnership “to stimulate this jobs-rich sector through support of catering, kerbside and takeout”.

Mr Huff praised the work of the Government in “managing the unmanageable” and thanked them for their “thoughtfulness, leadership and transparency”, with regular press conferences and updates keeping the community informed in real time.

He said the island’s flagship industry was far from immune to the impact of the crisis.

Yesterday, one of the island’s largest employers in the industry, Aon, announced that most of its worldwide staff would be taking a 20 per cent pay cut.

Evan Greenberg, Chubb’s chief executive, said Covid-19 stood to be “the largest event in the history of the insurance industry”.

“You’ll see companies reporting their first-quarter financials and you’ll see there’s no part of the economy that’s not impacted by Covid-19,” Mr Huff said.

He added that the industry was dealing well with working remotely.

“We went through the April 1 Japanese renewals, essentially in a virtual format, and now we’re preparing for a very important June 1 renewal for Florida business, which will also be largely in a virtual format.”

While videoconferencing technology was a great help, “the jury’s still out” on whether a larger share of business will be done virtually when the crisis passes, he said.

He added: “Insurance is a relationship business, the question is whether we’re seeing a transition to a virtual relationship.”

Several industry events have been cancelled, including the Rims annual conference and the traditional reinsurance get-together in Monte Carlo in September. “I think people support that and appreciate that now is not the time for such events,” Mr Huff said.

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