The city of Manchester was once the iron lungs of the Industrial Revolution but now, alongside its traditional sectors, it has an evolving economy.
As with the rest of the UK though, the last 18 months have been challenging. While key sectors such as professional services, construction, media, real estate and haulage have all coped fairly well, others such as hospitality and entertainment have struggled.
It would seem that it’s set to boom again though. According to the latest Quarterly Economic Survey from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, performance in Q3 showed that the city’s economy is on the way back.
The Greater Manchester Index, which measures business confidence in the city, now stands at 31.9, a 25.5-point increase on the first quarter, a confidence driven by manufacturing, services and construction sector activity.
However, these are still precarious economic times and the continuance of this recovery, is, in many ways, dependent upon the insurance industry’s ability to support.
“In terms of professional services, Manchester is very strong and has been for quite a number of years,” says Nick Symes, Property Director at Reich Insurance.
“You also have Media City and the spin off industries coming out of that, such as marketing and digital agencies. There has also been recent growth in the number of tech companies and hubs that have sprung up.”
The more traditional sectors are also enjoying growth and the economic prospects look good for Manchester. The insurance industry needs to move fast to support businesses as they pursue new ways of utilising these opportunities.
Martin Kilshaw, AXA’s Manchester Branch Manager says that the branch is in “growth mode”. He’s keen to support these new developments and is looking to risk management, together with new and innovative customer solutions, to ensure that the branch can grow sustainably. He believes that the closer his team can get to the customer, the better they can understand their strategic plans and requirements.
For Martin, the best risk to take on is one where there’s some work to do, where AXA can secure the appropriate rate but with an acceptance of the role that risk management has to play in the long term.
And that methodical, long-term approach has to be applied to the emerging world of sustainable and green construction.
“It’s becoming a lot more prevalent now, not just from the people we insure but also their customers, whose buying habits are changing. We have to come to the table with insurable solutions,” says Martin.
There’s confidence that the industry can do this but only if its constituent parts, particularly brokers and insurers, can work more collaboratively. And of course, this will involve working alongside government and regulatory bodies. It needs to be a team effort.
“Brokers can’t be an expert in everything and nor can we,” he says, “so I’d encourage them to involve us more, as they have done on the cladding issue. I think we have a window of opportunity here to be much more collaborative.”
But the future isn’t the only place where the challenges lie – brokers and insurers are facing real challenges today, even as the economy starts to recover. As it gets harder to find the appetite for today’s risks, the industry is working with government, most notably in the events, care and trade credit sectors.
Martin says “we’ve done a really good job in last two years in managing exposures, which has allowed us to maintain our stance, so we can help with capacity and usually have solutions for our brokers.”
A key reason for that ability is AXA’s focus on risk management, a focus that appears to be shared by the broker market with pre-cover surveys being organised and ensuring underwriters know what they’re looking at.
But while there are issues facing the Manchester market, there’s a huge amount of positivity – it seems growth is a shared target over the next 12 months.
The focus on growing in ‘the right way’, by not compromising underwriting and pricing standards, seems to be consistent across the board – the experience of the last 18 months means that few are willing to leave anything to chance.