Lloyd's plan to aid Merrett

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AN initiative to prop up the ailing Merrett underwriting agency group at Lloyd's of London has been launched by the insurance market's authorities.

According to Lloyd's officials a series of meetings will take place with agents today 'to see what steps mght be taken to ensure continuity for policyholders'. Lloyd's fears that any collapse of the Merrett group will leave thousands of policy-holders unpaid if they have made insurance claims against syndicates managed by the group.

Lloyd's confirmed yesterday that a steering group is likely to be formed of market representatives, headed by Richard Keeling.

This unusual step, set in motion by Peter Middleton, Lloyd's chief executive, and Richard Keeling, deputy chairman of Lloyd's, who works with the Murray Lawrence agency group, has been initiated after a series of deals sought by the Merrett group foundered, leaving it tottering on the edge of collapse.

If the Merrett group was to fall, it would mean the demise of what was once one of the largest agency groups at Lloyd's. In the mid-1980s, it looked after the affairs of 10,000 underwriting members.

The crisis has been prompted by a loss of confidence in the Merrett organisation by thousands of underwriting members in the wake of large losses suffered by the group.

In the last few months 1,500 underwriting members have left syndicates under the management of the Merrett group, reducing its numbers to just 3,500 next year.

Amid a market-wide whispering campaign and adverse publicity, Stephen Merrett, who runs the group, was forced to stand down as deputy chairman of Lloyd's in September. He later announced that his group intended to forge a link with Travelers, one of the largest US insurers, but the deal fell through. A link with AJ Archer, another large agency group at Lloyd's, foundered last week.

The Merrett organisation has held talks with numerous other agencies in an effort to ensure that its syndicates, which are still trading, will have appropriate management.

These initiatives have also foundered and a number of senior executives are believed to have found positions elsewhere. Dennis Purkiss, group chief executive, is believed to have resigned to join a leading insurance company. Ken Barrett and Stewart Laderman, leading underwriters, are also understood to have accepted positions outside the group.