I couldn’t believe my eyes recently as I watched some of the brightest people on American television whiff on a quiz show query about the world’s oldest and most famous insurance market.
The venue was TV’s “Jeopardy.” If you’ve ever seen this long-running program, to compete one needs a very wide and deep knowledge of history, the sciences, the humanities and even pop culture. I don’t recall ever seeing “insurance” as its own category (although that would be a hoot and perhaps a topic for another blog), but one “Final Jeopardy” answer in a recent episode that was a slam-dunk for me turned out to be beyond the reach of those on this particular episode.
The clue read as follows: “Still in existence, it began in 1688 in a British coffee shop popular with maritime folk, and it soon got involved with their business.”
None of the three contestants could identify the correct question: “What is Lloyd’s of London?” Two cited tea-making companies, and the third guessed it was Mermaid Tavern, where Shakespeare supposedly held court (unless, prompted by the recently released film “Anonymous,” you, too, doubt the literary contribution of the Bard).
The blind spot was costly. One contestant bet everything she had, going from the leader’s spot with $13,200 to last place with $1. One of the other two paid dearly as well. The third also got it wrong, but only wagered a few hundred dollars, leaving her as the last contestant standing.
Having covered the insurance industry for more than 30 years, first as a journalist and now as a researcher, I screamed out “Lloyd’s” at the TV the moment I heard the clue, only to be stunned by the blank looks on the poor contestants’ faces. Had they been given a sharper hint (rephrasing the answer as “soon got involved insuring their business”), perhaps one or more of the players might have come up with the correct response.
But then again, perhaps not, since even though Lloyd’s generates about one-third of its premium volume in the U.S. market, not many “civilians”—those not involved in the industry on a daily basis—know how critical Lloyd’s is to our economic well-being.
In fact, to this day, my civilian friends might have heard of Lloyd’s, but believe it’s an insurance company of some sort (rather than a market of individual syndicates) and have little grasp of how much business Lloyd’s does in this country beyond the popular media stories about coverage for some prominent body part of a famous actress.
That’s really a shame, because those who make their living in or around insurance know what a huge player Lloyd’s has been in the U.S. market, and realize how difficult life would be without its underwriting skill and capacity.
Lloyd’s doesn’t advertise to the mass consumer market the same way other insurance providers do, mainly because they don’t have to. They have all the name recognition and credibility they need among the brokers and buyers who look to cover their risks in the Lloyd’s market.
But all things considered, the identity of Lloyd’s should not stump the average American, let alone a high-brow “Jeopardy” contestant. It just goes to show how little the public knows about insurance.
Indeed, it might be beneficial for the industry to put more effort into teaching everyone about how the industry actually functions, who the key players are in covering our risks, and—most importantly—the critical role insurance in general, and Lloyd’s in particular, plays in keeping our economy running, especially in the worst of times, from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to 9/11.