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The dangers of a polar crossing are a good metaphor for a prolonged soft market

Greetings from the Northwest Territories of Canada – or 40,000 feet (or 12,192 metres) above them, to be more precise.

As an habitué of the insurance-themed New York-London route, the flightpath from London to San Francisco takes some getting used to.

Everyone knows that to get to California you go west. But that’s not how you do it on this flight.

This trip takes you north and little else. You fly over Glasgow and the Outer Hebrides. Yes, granted Glasgow is a little west of London but its northerliness is its prime descriptor in relation to the UK’s capital.

By the time you have made a dent in your first movie you are directly over the steaming volcanoes of Iceland.

Lunch and it is Greenland. Here the Skymap on the back of the seat in front of you reveals a vast expanse of land where the only signs of civilisation are visible at its coasts.

It sports places named in alternate multiples of consonants and vowels. Ittoqqortoormiit, then Uummannaq and Qaanaaq speckle the map as if compiled from the discarded tiles of a very drunken and creative Scrabble game.

The North Pole is not that far away on our right.

After a read of the paper and the in-flight magazine you soon know you’re in America. The Skymap is showing the north-south borders as mostly straight lines drawn seemingly at random. Meanwhile the east-west ones are the geometrical curves of longitudinal parallels.

This place has been carved up by cartographers in smoke-filled rooms. Only the occasional wiggly river border pays tribute to physical rather than political geography.

Another movie and then it dawns on you that something magical has happened.

You’re getting near your destination but instead of heading mostly north you have somehow spun through almost 180 degrees and are heading mostly south.

How on earth did that happen?

Did the plane bank sharply to the left while you were sleeping off your stiff aperitif and lunchtime wine? The pilot didn’t say anything. There was no announcement and no hint from the crew’s behaviour that there was something strange going on.

It was magic. The magic is that we just flew pretty straight – it was the earth that did the bending.

As with polar crossings so with insurance markets and their killer cycles.

Sometimes you just have to keep going and you eventually arrive somewhere better. But you have to go through some pretty inhospitable places to get there and you certainly don’t get to fly over them.

I left London in the grip of an unseasonal cold snap made even less palatable by a stormy low-pressure system, but despite this none of us on board would be anywhere near properly dressed for the arctic spring that is developing on the ground below us. There are bears down there and they are hungry.

If we had to make this trek on foot it would have taken its toll on us. Not all of us would have made it alive.

The privations and dangers of a polar crossing are a good metaphor for the pains of the most prolonged soft market any of us has ever known.

But the path to success is unwavering. You forge ahead as straight you can and, like the curves of the Earth, eventually the trend starts to bend in your favour and the climes become more temperate and forgiving.

The team and I are soon set to land in the legendarily temperate northern California.

We are here to put on an InsurTech show. The spectacle will see us place the old-fashioned specialty, wholesale and reinsurance head of our market right into the tech lion’s mouth.

The global insurance hub is visiting the world’s tech hub and it promises to be an exciting clash of civilisations.

We shall leave you to your polar crossing and report back from the promised land.

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