The 2021 Executives to Watch: Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance’s Chris Colahan
In 2018, Chris Colahan arrived back in London from his native Australia to lead BHSI’s major expansion across Europe. In three years, the carrier opened offices in Dublin, London, Manchester, Madrid, Paris, Cologne and Munich.
That in-country capability put BHSI in a strong position to capitalize on firming markets even before the global pandemic.
It all looks practically prescient, but Colahan stated frankly, “We were not smart enough to see any of this coming. Our approach was simply to build capable and empowered teams, to give them our brand and our balance sheet, and set them out into the market,” he said.
“There are moments of dislocation in every market every 10 years or so. It was always our intention to step into those. We were very fortunate to build those teams and get the licenses going into 2020. With that core, we were able to carry on and run the business — even in a year where our team has spent most of its time working from home.”
Some of the growing demand has come from the pandemic, but primarily the credit goes to selection of particular lines, notably executive and professional, property and casualty, marine and health care.
“Those have all seen varying degrees of growth,” said Colahan. “The largest has been in executive and professional lines, especially directors and officers, all across Europe.”
The driver for that has been the increase in securities class action litigation, especially from the U.S.: “Any company with exposure to the U.S. has seen a premium increase.”
With barely a pause, Colahan is already looking to new frontiers: “I see plenty of opportunity to open new offices, both in countries where we currently operate, and in new countries. Our geographical expansion will be slowed down by COVID-induced travel restrictions, but when they ease, we will be looking [to] expand our footprint further.”
Colahan credits BHSI’s depth of resources as the support for growth.
“Our financial strength means we don’t have to buy reinsurance, which is a huge advantage,” he said. “That also means our claims decisions are our own. We can also be innovative with coverage in things like policy duration and price certainty.”
Certainty is also somewhat of an innovation in Colahan’s life.
After starting his career as a lawyer and switching to banking, he and his then-girlfriend, now wife, moved from Australia to London with no money and nowhere to live. He took the first job he could get, which was in insurance. Colahan worked for Royal & Sun Alliance two years each in London, Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong, then back to Singapore.
In 2014, he went back to Sydney to start BHSI Australia. The hometown boy made good before returning to London in 2018. That was a very different arrival than the first.
Given his peripatetic life, Colahan is happy to settle in. “Given the size and the economics of the market, this is a job that I could do with a high level of satisfaction and stimulation for the rest of my professional life.” &
For the full list of Insurance Executives to Watch in 2021, view here.