Lloyd's 'had to' open Europe office following Brexit: CEO

Jean-Baptiste OUBRIER
 

Lloyd's of London's decision to open a European subsidiary was inevitable following the trigger of Brexit, with the only difficult choice being its location, chief executive Inga Beale told AFP Thursday.

Lloyd's, which insures against catastrophes such as earthquakes, shipwrecks and revolutions, announced it was to open a Brussels office one day after British Prime Minister Theresa May activated the two-year countdown to the nation's EU divorce.

"The decision to actually set up a subsidiary was not the difficult decision, because we have to do that," the British businesswoman told AFP at London's Lloyd's headquarters.

"We would no longer be able to provide insurance for our customers in the EU. Only the location was a difficult decision."

However, the CEO explained that "we still see, very much, the City of London (LSE: CIN.L - news) as our core headquarters" given that a lot of the firm's business will be with the US, Asia and Latin America.

Lloyd's, which employs 700 people in the British capital, will start work at the Brussels office from January 1, 2019.

The new office is likely to require around 20 staff, Beale said, adding that "some jobs may be transferring from London", but that most of the Brussels team would be made up of new hires.

The business repeatedly warned before last year's shock referendum that it could move operations to elsewhere within the EU in the event of Brexit, with many other institutions in London's crucial financial sector making similar claims.

Britons voted on June 23 in favour of quitting the bloc, with May finally triggering the two-year divorce proceedings on Wednesday, following nine months of legal and political wrangling.

Lloyd's currently enjoys "passporting" rights -- which allows EU member states to trade across national borders, providing a gateway to access the rest of the bloc. It also benefits from trade agreements.

Beale said the insurance giant began the search for a new base immediately after the vote, with many cities in the frame.

"We wanted to list all the detailed criteria about what was important to us, that's why it has taken so long," she said.

"There was so many equal jurisdictions in terms of various aspects, but Brussels has got a very good reputation for regulation... and we also can have access to very good multilingual talent in Brussels," she explained.

Brussels also scored highly on transport links to London and the rest of Europe and Belgium was very unlikely to leave the EU, added the CEO.

Beale was appointed as the CEO of the venerable finance institution in December 2013, becoming the first female CEO in the insurance market's 328-year history.

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