UK must be careful to secure economic recovery, says insurance chief

Richard Pryce, CEO of QBE European Operations

Richard Pryce, CEO of QBE European Operations

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A leading European insurance chief warned that the UK must proceed with caution to secure its economic recovery.

Richard Pryce, chief executive at QBE European Operations, said recent uncertainty in Europe and emerging markets demonstrated a continued “fragile” economic environment.

Last week marked a turbulent time for global stock markets. The FTSE dropped five points to reach a 15-month low before recovering on Friday. On the same day, European stocks rebounded, jumping the most in seven months.

Two high-profile FTSE initial public offerings from Newcastle-based Virgin Money and challenger bank Aldermore were postponed due to the difficult market conditions.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Pryce said businesses “had been feeling a lot better” about the economic situation until recent weeks.

He said: “You had the emerging markets issues, you have the issues around Europe. The environment can still be quite fragile.

“Whilst the UK has navigated out of the financial crisis pretty well, one has to proceed with caution. We have to be very careful about how we play out the next few years.”

Mr Pryce said the UK’s prospects were influenced heavily by fluctuations in Europe and emerging markets, which can make people “get nervous”.

“Confidence is such an important thing in everything you do,” he said.

A loss of economic confidence could put the economy back on a track to crisis, as it did in 2008, Mr Pryce said.

“I think it’s almost better to be a little bit careful and cautious in the short-term and not destabilise what’s been achieved,” he said.

However, he added: “All in all, the UK has done as well as it can in the last few years to work its way out of what occurred in 2008, because we probably had it as bad if not worse than most others.”

QBE European Operations, a specialist commercial insurer that writes just under £3bn in premiums annually, is part of the Australia’s largest global insurer, QBE. The firm wrote premiums of £11.4bn in 2013.

QBE European officially launched its new claims department in Leeds last week. It makes the city home its largest UK claims centre outside of the South-East.

Leeds is one of the company’s eight locations outside of London. Having a regional network of full trading offices is integral to QBE’s strategy. A further strength is the reach of its parent, which gives access to 43 global locations.

With export business a major earner for UK plc, Mr Pryce said QBE’s international network allows them to support companies extending globally.

He said: “One of the services and capabilities we can offer customers is for those that start to either export overseas or set-up offices overseas.

“They need insurers who can help them with insurance in China, or North America, or Australia, or Europe. We’re a company that can do that.”

“One of the future successes for the UK economy is around our export capability,” Mr Pryce added.

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