C. V. Starr

David S. French, Starr Marine Agency

David. S. French

Starr Marine Agency, Inc.

Would you talk about the impact of the economic downturn on Starr Marine’s business over the past 24 months and the strength of the business going forward?

We saw the bottom of the economy for the marine business in the third quarter, and the accounting for it continued into the fourth quarter of last year. Sixty percent of Starr Marine’s business globally is cargo, so we have a good barometer on the state of the economy based on the shipments being reported by our major clients. At the same time, market pricing hasn’t been particularly strong.

So we had to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace, and we did. We’re going to achieve 26 percent growth in 2010 – up to about $350 million, which we’re doing by continuing geographic expansion.

Another important focus is maintaining clients through service differentiation. Our renewal retention ratio through the year in a competitive marketplace has been about 90 percent.

We provide our clients access to Web-enabled certificates, which are negotiable instruments for our clients. We can provide admitted local underlying policies even if we don’t have a Starr presence in a particular country, as we have established and belong to an international network. We provide global loss control services through our own loss control engineers distributed around the world. Starr Marine takes a proactive approach to subrogation, which results in increased recoveries and lowering the overall cost of insurance.

We try to build high barriers to exit and, with a 90 percent renewal retention ratio, they’ve been very effective.

Where has your focus been in terms of geographic expansion?

We’ve always had a large market share in the U.S. and that continues. Year-on-year, we’ll achieve a 10 to 15 percent growth in that marketplace, but we already have pretty good penetration.

The economic growth this year has largely come from Europe. Two years ago, we established operations in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy. Germany is reporting great exports; their economy is coming back strong.

We’ve also expanded in Latin America. We’ll be making a trip to Brazil in the fourth quarter because there are companies that are very anxious to expand the existing business we already do with them, and we are putting a lot of effort into expanding our business in China.

As the business continues to grow, does that next generation of leaders understand the opportunities that Starr Marine offers for growth?

One of the things that differentiates Starr Marine is that we home grow our team and have great loyalty. Of my regional management team from pre-2006, all eight are still on the team or have retired after lengthy careers with Starr.

The individuals that we look to hire do not necessarily need to have prior maritime industry knowledge, but do need to demonstrate through their academic as well as experiential education that they’re analytical, quick on their feet, and that they can handle a real art form, marine underwriting, which doesn’t come out of a manual.