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Executive Spotlight

8 Questions for Richard Northcott

This Ironshore executive didn’t get into fine art on purpose, but has developed expertise in its beauty and its risks.
By: | May 4, 2018 • 6 min read

Ironshore Director of Fine Art & Specie Richard Northcott took an indirect path to insurance, as many in the field do. But in the process, he found his niche and built decades worth of knowledge in the world of fine art.

In this Q&A, Northcott describes the evolution of his experience in the high-stakes world of fine art and delves into emerging risks facing museums and other art professionals.

R&I: How did you get into the world of fine art?

Richard Northcott: I found myself like so many people in our industry falling into insurance. I actually graduated back in 1989 with a degree in agriculture. But three years of studying agriculture at university taught me that in the UK, unless you own your own farm, it’s hard to build a successful career. So I started looking for graduate jobs.

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There was an advert in the Times newspaper in London for a graduate trainee at a small Lloyds broker. They only employed about 30 people. I turned up for the interview. I spent 40 minutes talking to one of the company directors about cars because he’d just bought a new car and cars were my hobby. When I got home after the interview and told my mother, she said “Richard, how could you?”

But something must have gone right because they called at 9 a.m. the next morning and said, “When can you start?” I walked into a broker not even knowing that they did fine art insurance.

R&I: How steep was the learning curve?

RN: In those days they would start you off with the most basic tasks. I spent 3 days in the post room, 4 months doing processing, and then moved to the claims department for about a year. Then finally they promoted me into the placing department as a fine art broker, and that’s where I really started learning their trade.

I walked into a broker not even knowing that they did fine art insurance.

The company was sold and I ended up running a department called the Specialties Division in the larger group which was a multi-specialty unit, but fine art was always at its core. I’ve grown up in the broking community. I’d been a broker for 22 years.

R&I: How did you move from brokering to underwriting?

RN: In 2011, I was approached by an underwriter that I did a lot of business with, who shared with me that he was leaving his company and had offered to help his employer find a replacement. He asked if I was interested, and I jumped at it.

One of the first things I did when I became an underwriter was to go through the portfolio of business that I inherited and make some quite severe changes. We got rid of about $10 million of premium in a year, business that wasn’t in my appetite, in my experience or simply was not profitable. Then we set about rebuilding the portfolio of business in the shape that I wanted.

Today we have a book of business that’s 65 percent fine art, about 25 percent general specie, about 5 percent classic cars and motor sport, about 3 percent cash in transit and about 2 percent jewelry.

R&I: What’s your favorite aspect of underwriting fine art insurance?

Richard Northcott, Director, Fine Art & Specie, Ironshore

RN: The most enjoyable part of my job as a broker was going out and meeting clients, and I really wanted to maintain that client contact as an underwriter. I spend a fairly substantial part of my time out on the road meeting with customers, going to see some of these wonderful art collections and museums around the world and talking to the registrars, and the curators, and the risk managers of these institutions about what their issues and concerns are.

R&I: What are the top issues museum risk managers are facing?

RN: Art is becoming more valuable. A Picasso or Monet can sell for as much as $250 million at auction. Whole collections can be worth billions. Last year, for example, I saw a Francis Bacon show that was valued at around $2 billion.

Increasing values also increase exposure. Museums commonly organize exhibitions and art shows. Every time you are moving, storing and displaying art, the risk of damage or deterioration increases, and sometimes the financial loss potential is very significant.

Art is becoming more valuable. A Picasso or Monet can sell for as much as $250 million at auction. Whole collections can be worth billions. Last year, for example, I saw a Francis Bacon show that was valued at around $2 billion.

We’re seeing clients and their attorneys take note of that. They are getting involved in the drafting of loan agreements, which have become increasingly complex as drafters seek to shift the lion’s share of liability onto borrowers.

R&I: How exactly are loan agreements changing?

RN: A decade ago, loan agreements were pretty standard. Most included a clause requiring the borrower to carry a boiler-plate fine art insurance policy. Those policies typically exclude coverages for acts of war or terrorism, confiscation, general wear and tear and deterioration. Now lenders sometimes want borrowers to carry those coverages. Some lenders of contemporary art also ask for cyber coverage, since modern artists increasingly experiment with digital medium, which could expose them to a systems breach amongst other risks.

The biggest and most concerning change, however, is that lenders are increasingly asking for borrowers to accept ‘absolute liability’ in contracts.

R&I: What is absolute liability?

RN: By asking borrowers to accept absolute liability, they hold them responsible for anything that happens to a piece of art while it is in the borrower’s care, including while it’s in transport and on display.

That could encompass a wide range of circumstances and scenarios. Borrowers could even be on the hook for a loss of market value that occurs while they are responsible for the art. They could be liable for any natural deterioration that occurs. They might end up having to pay for things totally outside of their control if they accept absolute liability in a loan agreement.

There is no technical legal or insurance definition of absolute liability, so it could all come down to what a lawyer can argue in court.

R&I: How can museums protect themselves?

RN: Museums could have many millions of dollars at risk if they put on a high-profile show, and most won’t have the financial capacity to take that on. Before signing any loan agreement, they should contact their brokers and insurers to verify their coverage and limits and identify any gaps between the liability they are being asked to accept, what insurance coverage they have in place and what amount of financial risk they are willing to shoulder.

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Because each loan agreement is different, every one deserves a careful and detailed review. I see two to three loan agreements in a week, and I’ll pick apart each one with a fine-toothed comb and compare the contract with the museum’s insurance policies. Then I’ll see if there’s any additional coverage we can provide to close the liability gap.

At Ironshore, we’re lucky to have a flat management structure, so I can easily walk down to see our terrorism or political risk underwriter to determine if there are some terms and conditions he can offer for our clients. I can quickly find out if there’s extra coverage and capacity we can offer. Most of the time, we can help museums fulfill the obligations that the lender is asking them to accept by crafting bespoke solutions.

*Please visit www.ironshore.com for all disclaimers.

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]