Column: Roger's Soapbox

The Legacy of Goldfinger

By: | September 12, 2017

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected].

If someone called you a maverick, your reaction would depend entirely on your point of view. A maverick is often a lone dissenter. A person who pursues rebellious, maybe potentially disruptive, policies or ideas. We all know one. I am one.

Insurance being a conservative profession, mavericks and loose cannons are generally unwelcome guests. The lyric of the theme song for TV’s ‘Maverick’ says it all: “Luck is his companion; gamblin’ is his game.”

Ian Posgate died earlier this year. One of Lloyd’s most controversial (and most successful) underwriters, he was the quintessential maverick. He indeed regarded gambling as his game.

“I was allowed to be a bookmaker on a huge scale,” he once said. “Autocratic. Absolutely outrageous.”

In his obituary, The Times said Posgate “seemed to make the dreary world of insurance sexy.”

No mean trick, that. His career was chequered, but his influence on Lloyd’s was significant. He was known as ‘Goldfinger,’ the man with the Midas touch. He dealt almost exclusively in marine, and at one point controlled a fifth of all marine premiums at Lloyd’s.

Ian Posgate indirectly brought about reform at a global institution that sorely needed it. Not a bad epitaph for a maverick.

Posgate’s most successful line was insuring ships on the Mekong River during the Vietnam War. After losses, incurred primarily in the dry season, He would double the premium (five percent of the monthly cargo value per became 10). Later he found out that the river was just 30 feet wide in the dry season, which made shooting holes in shipping easier than when it rained, and the river widened to three miles.

Goldfinger lived in an age when an underwriter could place policies with more than one syndicate. Talk about your conflicts of interest: the lowest-risk policies were inevitably written for friends, and those less favored often bought the higher-risk policies. This was the Lloyd’s way for a long time.

After Lloyd’s cleaned up its act in the mid ’80s, Posgate joined Alexander Howden, to work alongside Kenneth Grob, known as the Grobfather.

In short: Howden was bought by U.S. insurer Alexander & Alexander; holes were revealed in the Howden financials; Posgate was cleared of misappropriation, but was found to have received “gifts,” including a valuable Pissarro painting. Yes, he took the Pissarro.

Lloyd’s banned Posgate for life, reduced on appeal to six months, but would never again employ him. Nor would anyone else. He was acquitted of all charges, but at that point he retired to the country and farmed cattle, summering on the French Riviera.

They don’t make ‘em like Posgate anymore, because Lloyd’s reformed its tainted self to see him and his ilk off the premises and out of the industry.

Posgate clearly wasn’t John Galt, from Atlas Shrugged. No one is. But Goldfinger was an original at the waning of the age when giants stalked the land of the insured.

Ian Posgate indirectly brought about reform at a global institution that sorely needed it. Not a bad epitaph for a maverick. &

More from Risk & Insurance