Kafka and insurance…or, I’ll have a manuscripted poem with my policy…

Readers will, no doubt, be familiar with at least a couple of the works of Franz Kafka- The Trial and The Metamorphosis- but may not realize that he spent much of his short working life in insurance- in particular for the “Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute” of the then Kingdom of Bohemia, from which he retired because of ill-health in 1922. Workers’ Compensation insurance is not exactly a new concept!

We mention this because the world of (re)insurance is often regarded as a soulless, dispiriting space. This is unfortunate, because its existence underpins much of what enables modern societies to function. In essence, the industry has to try to navigate through chaotic systems and manage the risks that flow from them, often with imperfect information. Its existence underpins the ability of economies to create value, because risks of loss are mitigated through the medium of (re)insurance.

Much closer to our Greenwich, CT base, Wallace Stevens, a highly-regarded, Pulitzer Prize-winning 20th Century American poet (“Money is a kind of poetry”), spent his career at The Hartford, even turning down the offer of a professorship at Harvard. Make of that what you will, but clearly Stevens’ poetic abilities were in no way constrained by being a lawyer in the insurance industry. As research, we read perhaps his most famous poem (from the collection “Ideas of Order”) entitled “The Idea of Order at Key West” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43431/the-idea-of-order-at-key-west). Even the title creates an interesting juxtaposition, given the poem’s focus on “The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea”.

Perhaps equally surprising is the fact that Dashiell Hammett (creator of Sam Spade) was a private investigator for insurance companies- “I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble” makes one wonder about his investigation techniques.

The fundamental point of these three facts (which are referred to in Mihir Desai’s’s “The Wisdom of Finance”) is that while, as with much of finance, (re)insurance is somehow perceived as being separate from the real world, with an often poor reputation, in reality its existence helps rebuild shattered businesses and lives by providing protections, and solutions to needs. One has only to consider Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” to understand the consequences of the lack of a decent Marine policy.

So, next time you feel like complaining about the cost of your insurance protection, bear in mind that, without it, you would not be willing, nor would even be permitted to run a business; and that in the commoditized NatCAT area it is still probably far cheaper than it should be!

Of course, there is an art to understanding and addressing a client’s needs; and at Awbury we believe strongly that being creative in designing and executing on carefully crafted solutions is an essential part of our franchise. We may not be poets (and shall refrain from subjecting you, Dear Reader, to any specially-composed doggerel), but we know that what we do requires imagination and creativity.

And we shall finish with a quotation from Kafka: “Start with what is right, rather than what is acceptable”.

The Awbury Team


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