Bill Cotter is a man on a mission, albeit one that he refuses to rush

The executive vice president of Allied World Assurance Company’s (AWAC) Asia-Pacific division relocated from Hong Kong to Australia earlier this year to oversee the build-out of a new branch office in Sydney.

Situated in the iconic Australia Square building in the city’s CBD, the office opened in May, but Cotter told StrategicRISK that there is much left to do – and he’s taking it slow.

“Right now we’re in the process of hiring people for the Sydney office,” he said.

“The key issue is not to be rushed, make sure we’re getting the right people; people who a lot of brokers and customers will feel very comfortable transacting with and who know their business.”

Cotter said that is was critical that his team was made up of people who understood risk, especially “the risks within the local markets that they are operating in”. People want to do business with “people who they know and trust”, he added.

“In Asia in particular, we’ve built our team around folks who are committed to the region,” he said.

“We haven’t gone into setting up Asia with people who just come over for two or three years to get their ‘Asia experience’ then go back home. We’ve been very focused on people who have dedicated their careers to the Asia market, whether they be local staff or expatriates.

“That’s an area where we really have differentiated ourselves and we’ve been able to put a value proposition forward on good people.”

Regional strategy

The new branch office would initially offer general insurance products in lines of business including general casualty, healthcare provider facility liability, professional liability, mergers and acquisitions, and trade credit insurance, Cotter said.

“Right now, the market has a lot of insurance companies, a lot of competition and a lot of capacity, so our strategy is to build a value proposition where we recognise that we need to be competitive on premium rates but more importantly differentiate ourselves in other areas,” he said.

“Our goal is to help our trading partners understand that when discussing Allied World, we are talking about more than price. We are talking about exceptional coverage, product innovation, new services and added value.”

AWAC focussed on specialty liability products that were “not necessarily price or capacity driven, but rather where we can bring real value and expertise”, Cotter explained.

“The key thing is to not try and be a jack of all trades and a master of none, but to be the opposite: stay within a specific number of products and geographic locations and try to be really good at what it is that you do,” he said.

‘More sophisticated’

Cotter has been responsible for AWAC’s Asia-Pacific insurance operations since opening the firm’s Hong Kong branch in 2008, but he first came to the region in 1997 with AIG.

Since then, Cotter said clients in the region had become “more sophisticated”, and brokers now needed to become “more educated in areas such as directors’ and officers’ liability and shareholder activism”.

“We are making sure that we’re spending time with our trading partners to develop products that help them sell,” he said.

“It’s important that they can talk about the various things you can do to provide better coverage and better protection for our mutual clients. We can listen to our clients and work together to try to find a solution that’s beyond how it’s always been done.”

Cotter points the launch of Allied WorldWide in July 2013 as an example of an innovative product with great potential in the region. It is a platform designed to improve the buying process that multinational companies face when purchasing insurance protection for worldwide locations.

Cotter said it offered key types of coverage to address a variety of needs, was flexible and customisable, and aligned with local legislation, customs and regulations.

“Allied Worldwide is a relatively new initiative for the corporation, but already we have Asian clients that have worldwide operations that require underlying policies or locally admitted policies,” he said.

Main markets

Earlier this year, vice-president and head of professional lines at AWAC in Asia-Pacific Benjamin Howell told StrategicRISK that Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore were four of the company’s main markets in the region, along with Japan and to a lesser extent Thailand.

Cotter said that these countries, as well as Indonesia, India, South Korea and Taiwan, were “areas where there is a lot happening with potential clients for us”.

“Our goal in these countries is to establish Allied World as a specialty carrier of choice,” he said.

“We want to be known for our exceptional service and for developing innovative products specific to the unique risks of these markets.”