Our story of 40 years service to the City and the insurance market
Considering that insurance has thrived in this City for well over three hundred years, it is perhaps surprising that the industry had not spawned a Livery Company centuries ago.
In fact, the Insurers’ Company set something of a record in moving from incorporation as a Guild Company to the achievement of Livery status within the space of three months, the formal letters patent being granted on 18 September 1979 and presented by the Lord Mayor, Sir Kenneth Cork, on 19 October 1979 to create the Worshipful Company of Insurers.
The Company was formed in 1979 following an initiative by Sir Kenneth Cork who, during his year as Aldermanic Sheriff in 1975, came to recognise the desirability of the City’s important financial services sector being represented by livery companies able to play a full part in the governance and development of the City.
Several livery companies were formed in response, including the Insurers, Chartered Surveyors, the Chartered Accountants (Sir Kenneth’s own profession) and the Actuaries. These were the first new livery companies created since the 1950s and it started a revival of interest in the livery among a wide range of trades and professions. Sixteen other companies have been formed in the intervening years, including the Arbitrators, Information Technologists, World Traders, International Bankers, Tax Advisers, Security Professionals, Educators and Art Scholars.
City livery companies are numbered in order of precedence, mainly linked to their date of formation. When the order of precedence was first established in 1515 the Mercers’ Company, whose origins date from the 14th century, took first place. The Insurers Company is number 92.
There are now 110 Livery Companies, with others in the process of formation.
Industry leaders respond to the Lord Mayor
Sir Kenneth Cork’s belief that the businesses which generated income within the City should become more closely involved in what we now call the City Civic found a receptive audience among the leaders of the insurance industry in the mid-1970s.
When Sir Kenneth became Lord Mayor in 1978 he quietly initiated a livery recruitment campaign. He let it be known to leaders in the financial, insurance, actuarial and property sectors that if they had in mind the preservation of the power and authority of the City and the Corporation, the creation of new liveries representing these key professions and business sectors would not be resented by the older generation of companies, something that was perceived as a stumbling block at the time. He had been laying the groundwork for this since his initial proposal three years earlier.
This was well received in the insurance market as it had been felt by many industry leaders that the impact of their industry on the major City institutions such as the banks, the stock market, the legal profession and property owners had not been fully recognised in the conduct of City affairs. Around the same time, proposals began to emerge from the Labour government which might have led to changes in the authority of the Corporation of London, possibly diminishing London’s established reputation as the centre for international insurance activities. Greater cohesion across the City was called for in response.
The momentum towards creating a livery company for insurers started to gather pace in late 1978 when a former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Murray Fox, a chartered surveyor by profession, called on Bill Harris, then chairman of the British Insurance Association – one of the predecessors of the Association of British Insurers – to tell him that the Chartered Surveyors had formed a company as a necessary preliminary to an application for a grant of livery. There was little doubt that the inspiration for Sir Murray’s call came from the Lord Mayor.
Following that visit, Bill Harris talked over the prospect with other insurance leaders, including Donald McMurdie, Secretary-General of the Chartered Insurance Institute. This led to a meeting at which Sir Murray Fox explained the relationship between the livery companies and the City Corporation to 20 senior insurance figures.
From Company to Guild to Livery
The idea quickly found support from all sides of the insurance business, although there were some objections along the lines of “who wants yet another luncheon/dinning club”. On 24 October 1978 a City “Company” was formed by 20 people, each of whom was encouraged to enroll five more members. This “Company” then applied to become a “Guild Company” and on 28 June 1979 the Company of Insurers was approved as a Guild Company. It immediately submitted a petition to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen of the City of London for the grant of livery status. This was granted on 18 September 1979 when the Guild Company became the Worshipful Company of Insurers. Letters patent were presented by the Lord Mayor on 19 September 1979.
The Insurers’ Company thus achieved livery status within three months of its incorporation as a Guild Company, and it probably holds the record of all companies in achieving livery status in the shortest time.
At the first meeting of the Guild Company on 28 June 1979 there were 74 Founder Members present and a further 27 prospective members on a waiting list; by June 1981 membership had increased to 182. Initially, total membership was limited to 200, but in 1985 in order to cope with the demand for membership from within the industry an appeal was made to the Court of Common Council to increase the number to 400 and this was granted. This has subsequently been raised again to 500.
Bill Harris – as William Cecil Harris was universally known – was elected as the Founder Master. He had recently retired as Chief Executive of the Phoenix Group, although he continued to serve on the board until 1984 by which time he had completed 55 years service with the company. He served as Master for two years, the only person to do so until David Sales in 2020 to 2022.
Broadening the membership
The initial membership was inevitably drawn from among the established great and good of the insurance industry but the need to widen the appeal of the Worshipful Company has never been far from the minds of the Court.
Early on there were discussions on whether to introduce a special mechanism to encourage younger insurance professionals to join but a decision was deferred and although in 1987 it was decided that a broad age spread would be desirable to ensure continuity it was not until 1990 that younger professionals were encouraged to apply. Nowadays, there is a vibrant section – iEngage – that runs events, mentoring and social events for young insurance professionals.
Women were admitted to the Livery in 1982 and the first three were clothed in October of that year. From inception it was the aim of the Company to develop a membership representing all sectors of the business and this policy has been maintained throughout the last 40 years. The establishment of iWIN – the Independent Women in Insurance Network – in 2013 during Bronek Masojada’s term as Master was another milestone in the development of the Company further enriching its membership by introducing greater diversity. The progress of women in the WCI was further enhanced in 2019 when Rosemary Beaver became the first female Master of the Company.
Governance and Livery events take root
The governance follows the usual pattern of a Court comprising Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden and Assistants who may number 24. At the early meetings, decisions had to be taken on all manner of subjects relating to the new Company such as, for example, in what form the records should be kept: some of them seem rather quant even at just four decades distance. A minute of a meeting on 19 July 1979 states “that the high cost of using leather-bound minute and other books could not be justified, particularly as the calligrapher’s art appeared to be disappearing”; a loose-leaf lockable system was thus chosen although the Livery Roll is kept in a more permanent bound form. These records are now being digitised to make them more accessible for future generations wishing to research the history of the Company.
Initially, there were only three formal functions - an Election Court luncheon following the Court meeting when the Officers were elected, an Installation dinner to introduce the new Master and the annual Banquet to include members’ spouses. An additional opportunity for a social occasion came when the annual church service at St Lawrence Jewry following the Installation Court meeting was introduced (after which, in the early days, there was a buffet luncheon in the old Insurance Hall in Aldermanbury). Livery luncheons for members and their guests, the first of which was held at Grocers Hall on 15 January 1981, proved very popular and soon there were two every year.
A summer Master’s Event has been a frequent feature of the social programme, taking place in a wide variety of venues, including above Tower Bridge, on HMS Belfast, at the British Museum and the National Liberal Club. The inaugural Banquet was held at the Mansion House on 28 April 1980 by courtesy of the Lord Mayor, Sir Peter Gadsden, and succeeding Lord Mayors have honoured the Company by repeating the invitation.
Administration and premises
The Company was fortunate in the early years to have the very able service of Jo Craig as Clerk following his retirement from the CII (and he became the first Honorary Liveryman when he ceased to be Clerk in 1983). Oliver Sunderland, a business associate of Sir Kenneth Cork and Clerk to the Chartered Surveyors Company also volunteered his services as Deputy Clerk which were gratefully accepted; the Company benefitted also from advice obtained from the Coopers’ Company and its Clerk.
In September 1985, owing to increased administrative duties due to the growth in membership, Vernon Webb became Clerk and he was employed for a four-day week instead of the original three days. He guided the Company through many years of development until his retirement in 2011 when he was succeeded by Sarah Clark. In early 2020 Victoria King stepped up from Assistant Clerk to take the administrative reins.
The Chaplain to the Company has always been the incumbent at St. Lawrence Jewry-by- Guildhall. The first was the Rev Basil Watson who retired in 1988 and whose spiritual and spirited encouragement in the earliest years will long be remembered. He was succeeded by the Rev David Burgess and, in turn, his successor was Rt Rev David Parrott. David himself is due to retire this year.
The motto Omnium Defensor was suggested by Founder Member Allan Grant. The reason was that as “omnium” is masculine, feminine and neuter, it could mean protector of “everybody” and “everything”; thus Protector of All is perhaps the best interpretation, with its unmistakable insurance connotation.
The Company’s Arms were designed by June Craig, wife of the first Clerk, and they were approved by the Garter King of Arms subject only to one or two minor alterations. As a result of Mrs Craig’s excellent work the Company obtained their Grant of Arms much earlier than if application had been made through the College of Arms, and were able to have the Arms installed on the Guildhall ceiling in 1980; had this opportunity been missed it would have been several years before they would have been displayed there.
The City of London is adorned by many great Livery Halls, most owned by the long-established livery companies. The new Insurers Company was fortunate that from its initiation it worked closely with the industry’s professional body, the Chartered Insurance Institute. This meant that it was able to find office premises in the CII headquarters in Aldermanbury, immediately behind the Guildhall. This also gave it access to the Insurance Hall, the venue for many WCI events over the years.
When the CII sold Aldermanbury to the City Corporation in 2017, the WCI moved with the Institute to new offices in Lombard Street. It is currently in the process of making new arrangements to adapt to the new era of flexible working.
Insurers making a mark in the City
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s many of those industry leaders who took the initiative to establish the Company as founder members served as Masters, helping the Insurers to become an integral part of the Livery scene.
Before the company was founded, anyone from the insurance industry wanting to become part of the Livery movement or serve in some capacity in the City had to join one of the older established Livery companies: several served the City with distinction. In 1984 Sir Alan Traill, a Lloyd’s underwriter and a member of the Cutlers Company, became Lord Mayor and in 2005 marine insurance broker Sir David Brewer succeeded to the mayoralty. Both accepted invitations to become Honorary members of the Worshipful Company of Insurers.
In 2023, five members of the WCI are currently members of the Common Council of the City of London: Dominic Christian, Henry Colthurst, Tim McNally, David Sales and Irem Yerdelem. Susan Langley, Bronek Masojada, Jennette Newman serve on the Court of Aldermen, along with Nicholas Lyons who is Lord Mayor of the City of London for 2022-23.
Philanthropy at the heart of the livery
From the start, philanthropy was a central element of the Company’s activities. With an eye to the future of the profession it established an Education Fund which, among its many initiatives, enabled a Chair in Risk Management to be established at the University of Nottingham. A second fund with broader objectives was also set up, allowing the WCI to engage with a much wider range of worthy causes.
During the last decade it become increasingly difficult to manage the two separate funds in a way that enabled the WCI to channel the generosity of its members to the good causes it wished to support. Thus, after thorough consultation and debate, The Worshipful Company of Insurers Charitable Trust was launched in 2018, effectively amalgamating the two earlier funds.
The financial contributions and volunteer time given by our members now enables the Insurers to support charities based in the City and surrounding regions – charities helping vulnerable young people without family support who are seeking education, training and employment, the homeless, those reaching the end of their earthly lives in hospices, newly released prisoners and our injured servicemen. During the 2020-21 pandemic it was also able to support health service workers and charities reaching out to those most impacted by the virus and its economic consequences.
The WCI believes in developing sustainable engagement with the charities its supports and many of its members take on the role of charity liaison.
Supporting the services
Many older livery companies have long established links with the armed forces. In keeping with this worthy tradition, early in its existence the company forged a relationship with the Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry, which has strong ties with the insurance market, London and the home counties.
The Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry has a long and proud history with links to serving squadrons from the Army Reserve: C (KSY) Squadron The Royal Yeomanry (RY) based in Croydon and 265 (KCLY) Support Squadron based in Bexleyheath.
The Company is now also affiliated to the 71st Signals Regiment and has been granted an exclusive affiliation to HMS Audacious, an A-class nuclear submarine which is home to 98 crew. Our involvement includes trips to the yard to see her when she is on land.
The most recent affiliation is with the Royal Air Force 1034 Surbiton & Esher Cadet Squadron, joining our other cadet forces link with the Middlesex & North West London ACF, 21 Company.
New century, new ideas as the company develops
At the turn of the century, the company started to look to the future. It reached out to the new generation of industry leaders, bringing them into the governance structures of the company. It also recognised that the industry itself was undergoing fundamental changes and that many people from non-insurance disciplines saw themselves as much part of the insurance industry as those from the traditional employers of insurance companies, Lloyd’s syndicates, brokers and loss adjusters. Consequently, membership was opened to a much wider constituency. This also led to a series of initiatives to ensure the Company continued to play a key role in the ever-changing landscape of the modern insurance industry.
Key among these was the iNED (Insurance Non-Executive Directors) initiative under the chairmanship of Terry Hayday during Rick Hudson’s term of office as Master in 2012, and which continues to thrive today running regular forums and engaging with regulators and market experts. This was followed by iWIN a year later. Fittingly, this initiative was launched by Master Bronek Masojada in the year in which Fiona Wolff served as Lord Mayor. Barbara Merry served as its first Chair.
Building a profile in the City
In 2005, Roger Taylor’s year as Master coincided with Sir David Brewer’s year as Lord Mayor and Roger was appointed to the Lord Mayor’s Committee which is the formal body responsible for the Lord Mayor’s Show and the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. This was an honour for the Worshipful Company as the committee tends to comprise representatives from the long-established livery companies.
The WCI wanted to support Sir David in the annual Lord Mayor’s procession but was fearful it would incur a huge cost for a float. An imaginative compromise was reach when the WCI rented an open coach with some black horses from a funeral director in Essex at a fraction of the cost of a float. The Master was joined by his wife, Wendy, and David Bland and Graham Doswell, who were the Senior and Junior Wardens.
The Company regularly participated in the Lord Mayor’s Show with representatives walking with the Modern Livery Companies but in 2018 the WCI decided to establish its own presence as it sought to raise its profile ahead of the celebration of its 40th anniversary. A large group marched in the procession with a huge balloon and banners proclaiming “London Insures the World”.
Royal Charter and 40th Anniversary
The work done from 2011 to 2014 by Tony Ablett, Rich Hudson, Graham Dickinson and Roger Taylor led to a major update of the structure and management of the Company which in turn paved the way for the Grant of a Royal Charter on 1 September 2015. This was celebrated at grand dinner in the Guildhall.
The 40th anniversary of the Company’s foundation in 2019 was marked in several ways. The huge balloon made a return to the City streets in the Lord Mayor’s Show, a celebration lunch was held in Guildhall and the Company installed Rosemary Beaver as its first female Master.
It also established 40th Foundation Fund which aims to build up the sort of large capital endowment enjoyed by many of the longer established companies, enabling the WCI to plan ahead with even greater confidence.