The Venerable Lloyds of London

By Henry J. Pratt
   To top things off for the famous and exotic, Lloyd’s of London insured the shapely legs of Marlene Dietrich, the velvet eyes of Elizabeth Taylor, and even the sensitive nose of a perfume sniffer worth his weight in gold.    More than 100 years ago, Lloyd’s reputation as a sound, reliable insurance operation was solidly demonstrated to Americans after San Francisco’s disastrous earthquake in 1906. Lloyd’s was one of the few catastrophe insurers who gave the quake victims or their survivors fully-responsive and prompt claims service.
   When you talk about large, interesting and world-wide insurance operations, you can’t help thinking first of Lloyd’s of London. The respected name in British marine insurance history recently opened its doors for public viewing.
   You can now visit Lloyd’s new, modernistic head-quarters on a free public tour. A glassed-in elevator whisks tourists to the visitor gallery, where you can learn all about the fascinating history of Lloyd’s, which dates back to 1688.
   Established by Edward Lloyd, the original headquarters was a coffeehouse close to the docks and waterfront shipping operations in London. The coffeehouse was used frequently by financiers, shippers and other marine businessmen.
   Right away, Lloyd practiced getting reliable shipping information direct from the “horse’s mouth.” He regularly sent his dependable messengers down to the ships to bring back accurate and current reports on various shipping events.
   Over a cup of joe at Lloyd’s, it wasn’t surprising to find house regulars discussing ship schedules, cargo loadings and unloadings, marine trends, sales techniques and related information. It wasn’t long until Lloyd’s coffeehouse gained a reputation as a place for one to keep reliably informed.
   This marine information was valuable to those Lloyd’s customers involved in underwriting insurance for the shipping trade. At that time, Edward Lloyd was not concerned specifically with insurance underwriting, but through his Lloyd’s News he assisted others who were. His publication provided readers with shipping and general news during the 1690s.
   The News didn’t survive very long, but a second publication started by successors of Edward Lloyd did. Still being published today, Lloyd’s List was founded in 1734.
   During its history of more than 300 years, Lloyd’s has occupied eight different sites in London. A sky-scraper on Lime Street is the current site, and it includes a uniquely-designed visitors’ area. Public displays trace the history of Lloyd’s, while they also explain what, for many, is the mysterious business of underwriting insurance—especially the kind that insures against fires, earthquakes, environmental oil spills, athletes’ arms, and the eyes and legs of Hollywood stars.
   Lloyd’s second building location years ago included dining tables that doubled for use as insurance underwriter desks. The site had a rostrum used for making major announcements, like the “Now hear this” first word about a disastrous fire, earthquake or other major catastrophe somewhere in the world.
   The marine insurance field by the mid-1700s had become more specialized and controlled than ever before. In response to the South Sea Bubble fraud in which investors lost a fortune, the British Parliament set up restrictions and tight controls over who could henceforth become an insurance underwriter.
   It wasn’t long after that a group of underwriters founded their own center—their own prestigious society, as it were. This new center marked the creation of the famous Lloyd’s of London as it is known today.
   In order to join the society, individual insurance underwriters had to be willing to put their entire fortunes on the line to meet claim demands on the policies they issued.
   One can apply to Lloyd’s for practically any kind of insurance. Who knows but the athletes, owners and families themselves just how many football quarterbacks, baseball pitchers and boxers have had their golden arms insured by Lloyd’s.
   The firm’s fame and fortunes have grown beyond marine and shipping insurance, and now includes fire, property and other disasters. In fact, about the only kind of insurance that you can’t get today through Lloyd’s of London is long-term life insurance.
   One estimate shows Lloyd’s generates a yearly income of one billion pounds. In a single day alone, more than 20 million pounds in premiums are apt to be generated. In the syndicated insurance system that Lloyd’s pioneered, there are now over 30,000 underwriters in more than 70 countries with the London firm.
   One of the Lloyd’s visitor center’s most dazzling exhibits, the Nelson Collection of Silver, harks back to the years when England was achieving world supremacy as a naval and trading power. Numerous gleaming bowls, platters and other interesting trophies were presented by Lloyd’s of London to Navy officers who successfully protected merchant vessels insured by Lloyd’s underwriters.
   Visitors to Lloyd’s can also see the multi-level offices occupied by the working underwriters. You can see flickering computer screens, copiers working overtime, messengers on the run, and insurance underwriters talking and writing fast and furious.
   Now hear this: Lloyd’s of London is hectic these days, but you, too, will find it one heck of an interesting place to visit if you ever get to England.

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