By JONATHAN KENT, a business reporter and editor based in Bermuda
Hiscox CEO Charles Dupplin is something of an art connoisseur, and his influence shows at his company's head office in Hamilton, Bermuda. Paintings adorn the walls, many of them on loan from local art gallery Masterworks, and colorfully drawn 1950s Bermuda tourism ads are also dotted around the place.
Typifying this trait are two Bermuda maps, rare 17th-century prints, that the specialty insurer and reinsurer acquired in March from The Map House, London's oldest specialist antiquarian map seller. They now hang on the boardroom wall, framed and sealed under glass that will protect the precious parchments from the ravages of ultraviolet light.
When Hiscox clients fly in for a meeting, the beautifully drawn maps, remarkably accurate and detailed for the 1600s, provide a pleasant distraction.
"Not all insurance is interesting, so it's good to have some interesting props," Dupplin said.
That remark is an insight into the character of the 48-year-old Scotsman, who is profiled in depth in the June print issue of Risk & Insurance®. He pursues a remarkable range of interests and has managed to avoid the tunnel vision that characterizes some who make it to the C-suite. Besides his penchant for art, he's an organic farmer, a knowledgeable stamp collector, a qualified barrister, a father of three, an accomplished archer and an occasional bodyguard of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (as a member of the Scotland-based Royal Company of Archers).
Having moved from London to lead Hiscox Bermuda's reinsurance platform two years ago, his unusual breadth of knowledge and experience has not gone unappreciated. One of those to have become acquainted with him is Sir Richard Gozney, who, as the Governor of Bermuda, is the U.K.'s top representative in the British Overseas Territory.
"Charles Dupplin stands out as a polymath in an era of specialists," Sir Richard told Risk & Insurance®. "Whether he is helping to organize a charity cricket match, planning to bring the Royal Archers to the Americas, or working quietly behind the scene with senior philatelists, he brings a commitment and energy with which his professional colleagues are doubtless familiar from his day job. He's a great asset to Bermuda."
AN ART ASSET
Dupplin's knowledge of stamp collecting may have saved his company a lot of money, especially in the case of Alfinsa and Forum Filatelico, two Spanish firms at the centre of an alleged stamp fraud. In 2005, as head of Hiscox's fine art division, Dupplin visited Forum's offices, where he spent half a day speaking with some of its staff and examining some stamps the firm held. He felt the stamps were worth nothing like the prices at which Forum was selling them to customers. As a result, Hiscox withdrew its insurance from both companies. In 2006, the companies' offices were raided by Spanish police, and five years later, one of the biggest fraud cases in Spanish history, affecting about 350,000 investors, is still dragging through the courts.
Dupplin, who has been with Hiscox for 21 years, said that the firm kept files on a variety of elaborate frauds in the arts world and that--fingers crossed--it had never yet been caught out by one.
"One has to have a lot of expertise about the art market," Dupplin said. "Too much expertise in art itself is almost a disadvantage, because then you spend all your time wondering whether it is a particular style of Leonardo or whatever, and not enough into the business of trying to accept premium and to structure things properly for your clients."
A FARM HAND
Dupplin hails from rural Perthshire, in eastern Scotland, where he grew up in a farming family. He remains true to those roots, having bought a 200-acre farm in 1991 adjacent to his father's land. The produce includes organic carrots, pedigree Suffolk sheep that thrive on the bountiful grassland, and barley for the whisky industry.
Dupplin may be the only Bermuda reinsurance CEO who can shear a sheep.
"I farm in conjunction with my father and a family friend, and between us we have a largish chunk of land," he said. "We sell as a unit to the supermarkets."
Margins have traditionally been tight, with Mother Nature having a big say in whether the enterprise makes a profit from one year to the next. But in the past year, Dupplin has seen a dramatic shift from the norm.
"Everything's gone up with wheat prices," he said. "It means for the first time, we had a good year last year, although inputs have also gone up. That's allowed us to pay for reinstating fences and other things that we haven't been able to do for years."
Diversification--much as with an underwriting portfolio--has been key to the farm's survival, he reckons.
ON THE FUTURE OF BERMUDA
Dupplin finds that small-island life in Bermuda has more in common with Perthshire than London, something he believes has helped him, his wife Clare and daughters Alice, Catriona and Auriol to adjust easily.
"We were made to feel welcome very quickly in almost every way," Dupplin said. "There was none of the London thing where, 'I don't want to invite you around for dinner because I haven't known you for 10 years.' Ten minutes will suffice. We've made lots of friends as a family since we've been here."
Dupplin is bullish on the future of the Bermuda insurance market and marvels at the concentration of industry talent and support service expertise on the island. But he regards the impact of the new insurance regulations due to be introduced in the European Union in 2013 as largely unknown. The Bermuda Monetary Authority is striving to gain recognition of equivalence with the Solvency II standards, which will require insurers to hold more capital and to bolster corporate governance.
"Solvency II adds some wonderful spice to life as there is great uncertainty about it and lot of hot air is being expended, wondering how the cards are going to fall on the table," Dupplin said.
"The change will probably result in the barrier to entry to the market becoming higher. If you're an incumbent, that's quite good news, because you can't have a series of poorly thought-through companies entering the market after a big event," he added.
Hiscox was very satisfied with Bermuda as a domicile, he added, and he had no desire to join those who had shifted their domicile to Europe in recent years.
He explained: "Some of the jurisdictions that those companies have gone off to look much less appealing today."
June 1, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications