History – Liability Matters and The Liability Company
Interested in how The Liability Company came into being?
The late Ken van Sweeden and I met back in 1995 when he was heading up financial lines at AIG and I was heading up the casualty business at Gen Re. Aside from our reinsurance relationship we became good friends and probably spent way too much time at lunches that would often continue into the evening. Yes, that was back in the day when deals were done in person at a dining table rather than via Teams. A lot of what we spoke about related to how we’d someday like to make a deep impact on the specialist insurance world.
A lot of folks don’t know this, but Ken launched the first Directors and Officers policy into the SA market in the early nineties. Today D&O has proved to be an invaluable insurance product for business leaders across most industry sectors. I’d like to think I was first out of the gates with Employment Practices Liability (labour dispute insurance) in the late nineties too – although some would argue that the cover has never really gained a foothold in our country, so perhaps that’s not as impressive.
Ken and I worked together at various junctures in our careers, but we lost touch around 2010. In 2016 I was doing a talk on D&O at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton. Ken was in the audience and came up and chatted to me afterwards. We moved our conversation into the restaurant for dinner and after reminiscing for a while, turned our conversation to the UMA space. Coincidentally both of us had been thinking about starting a specialist underwriting business. We were both gainfully employed in the corporate world at that stage and whilst the notion of independence was enticing, for me the risk of leaving a secure job for the entrepreneurial space was just too high. I stayed put for the time being and so did Ken, although in 2019 he took the plunge and started his own UMA once again. That was the birth of Liability Matters.
At the outset, Liability Matters was really an extension of Ken’s personality – he sought to share his insights and experience in Directors & Officers, Professional Indemnity and Liability business with the broking fraternity and their clients, in his usual respectful and approachable way. The name “Liability Matters” described how Ken felt about specialist insurance business. If you chat to a broker that knew Ken, most will use the word “gentleman” when describing him. I can attest to this, as well as him being one of the people that were really woven into the fabric of specialist insurance. This is also one of the reasons why it was such a shock when he passed away so tragically and suddenly during the pandemic in 2021.
Recovery after tragedy
In July 2021, Debbie Fleischer, a casualty insurance veteran in her own right, parachuted into the business. As Ken had largely worked alone, she had to pick the baton up off the floor and run the rest of the race, without any handover. Any of the readers of this piece that have at some point taken on a new job, after the predecessor has already left, can attest to how difficult a task that is. Ken had already gained some traction in the local market, and it was up to Debbie to build onto that. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our RI Brokers at Resilea and our reinsurers at Swiss Re and R&V who agreed to keep supporting Liability Matters during a time of great uncertainty. One also cannot ignore the financial backing and strategic support provided by Ken’s co-founder in the business, Allen McDonogh, that continues even today.
Early in 2022, Debbie brought in Muhammad Wozny to provide underwriting support and the two managed to grow the business and maintain profitability with very limited resources over the next year. Perhaps this is also an opportune moment to express our gratitude to the Liability Matters broker partners who have continued to support our business through the proverbial “thick and thin”.
A new era
I joined the business in July 2023 and have effectively taken over the majority shareholding in Liability Matters, with Debbie and Allen being the other co-owners of the business. We’ve also set up a staff share scheme to help retain our best talent in future.
Why am I here? Well, I spent much of the last 10 years working in a large corporate and I really felt like I needed to flex those creative muscles in my own business. I simply love the liability insurance space and feel strongly about the impact that AI and digital technology can play in this space. When I resigned from my job in July 2022, I had initially set out to do a start-up, but finding a business like Liability Matters, with all the regulatory boxes ticked, a solid reputation, and all the systems in place, was just too good an opportunity to pass.
As we approach the end of the third quarter of the year, I am really stoked to be able share some exciting developments with all of you. Firstly, we are officially adopting our new company name and branding. As of today, Liability Matters will be known as The Liability Company. We’re not doing away with Liability Matters and you’ll see that we use this as our brand tagline. We continue to do what we do at The Liability Company, because liability really matters to us. We’re also growing our team and as at the time of writing (Oct 2023) have increased our team from 2 to 5 people with many more to come.