2018 Vermont Report

A Perfect Landing

The U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association creates a captive in Vermont.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 7 min read

We live in a busy, hectic, noisy world. Many of us wish we could get away from the distractions and experience peace and tranquility. Some of us make it happen through meditation, running, art or camping. But for one group, shutting out the noise takes them to a whole new level — literally. They are members of the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.

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Hang gliding and paragliding have been called the purest form of flying. Enthusiasts say that without a motor — just the glider, one’s body and the wind — one experiences a thrill, a sense of peace and a oneness with nature.

“It’s a feeling like no other feeling in the world,” said Tim Herr, secretary and risk management officer, Recreation Risk Retention Group Inc., (RRRG).

“To take flight is a surreal experience, especially the first time you do it. It’s the purest form of flight. There’s no noise, no pollution and you feel like you are one with nature. I am up there with only the wind and sometimes a bird. To fly that close to a hawk or an eagle — they join you — it is incredible. When I am up there sometimes, I still can’t believe I am up there,” he said.

Herr started hang gliding in the 1980s and still recalls the early years when hang gliders were made from bamboo and plastic. Today, he runs the RRRG, which is the captive that allows the Association to be self-insured.

Back then, he said, “there were injuries due, at least in part, to subpar equipment and the lack of historical information on what works and what doesn’t when flying, landing and dealing with weather conditions.

“We realized we needed an association to help people stay safe.”

The U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association was born. The association developed best practices and standards that include location rating, education for members and instructor certification. They even worked with glider manufacturers to improve the safety and quality of gliders.

Another thing they realized they needed: liability insurance. They wanted coverage not only for their pilots, of course, but also coverage for spectators, vehicles on the ground and land and landowners. The landowners especially wanted to be named as insureds in the coverage. They were nice enough to let the gliders on their land, but understandably, they didn’t want the risk associated with the gliders should property damage or an injury (or worse) occur.

Becoming Self-Insured

Typically, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates anything that flies. However, Herr said the FAA granted gliders an exemption from regulation with the caveat they were “on their own” in terms of safety and insurance. “Undertake at your own risk” became the unwritten regulation.

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Even though there was no regulation mandating liability coverage, the gliders knew it was in everyone’s best interest to secure it. Protecting people first, then property and lastly, the up-and-coming sport’s reputation was paramount.

Previously, the association was able to obtain coverage through a well-respected international insurer. But when that longtime carrier was no longer able to write coverage for the association, the group knew it would need to be creative and resourceful in obtaining coverage.

It wasn’t easy.

“It was hard to find someone to write for this small- to mid-market,” Herr said. “But that changed when we went to Vermont to investigate captives. We looked at Vermont and learned about options and risk retention groups. It was the best option, especially since we needed to cover members in many different states across the country.”

The Vermont Captive Experience

In 2016, the Association formed a captive, domiciled in Vermont, that fell into a category known as risk retention groups (RRG).

A typical captive is formed when a single company funds itself and insures itself, benefitting from any derived revenue. With a risk retention group, many people, companies or organizations pool their money and insure themselves collectively. The key requirement is that they are like entities — in this case hang gliders and paragliders — but it could be schools, members of the same profession or like organizations.

The Association’s RRG is specifically for recreational organizations. RRRG’s purpose is to insure its members and protect free flight everywhere. They were joined in their RRG by The Foundation for Free Flight, The Professional Air Sports Association and several hang gliding and paragliding flight schools across the nation.

“We looked at Vermont and learned about options and risk retention groups. It was the best option, especially since we needed to cover members in many different states across the country.” — Tim Herr, secretary and risk management officer, Recreation Risk Retention Group Inc.

Vermont was a good fit for the Association. The state is filled with recreational opportunities and outdoors enthusiasts, so people appreciate the desire for a sport such as gliding.

Tim Herr, secretary and risk management officer, Recreation Risk Retention Group Inc.

The state of Vermont is also a leading domicile for captives. They’ve been hosting captives for more than 35 years as a global leader in captive insurance.

According to Sandy A. Bigglestone, director of captive insurance, Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, “Vermont is number one in gross written premium, number one in assets under management, and third in active captive insurance companies in the world.

“Vermont is home to 48 of the Fortune 100, and 18 of the companies that make up the Dow 30 have Vermont captives.”

But it was the ease of working with Vermont, their expertise and their staff’s experience that helped to make it a natural choice.

“Working with Vermont was wonderful,” Herr said. “They understand the small niche insurance market. The first meeting is always filled with trepidation, but we showed them our plans and they understood what we needed and wanted to do.”

The Association needed to raise capital to the tune of $3 million in just nine months, which they were able to do through a fundraising campaign and surplus loans from members. With the funding secured, they moved on to reinsurance and other issues and were able to get RRRG off the ground by 2016.

RRRG now has 29 member groups covering the flights of more than 9,000 USHPA members, 83 USHPA chapters, and more than 30,000 hang gliding and paragliding students annually.

“In Vermont, we had the support we needed,” Herr said. “They have a deep history with captives. They’ve done this before, and it is not a drawn-out process.”

Expert Advice

During the process, the Vermont captive experts offered the Association some crucial advice that has since enhanced member safety as well as the Association’s ability to self-insure: Create an active risk management program.

The Association was diligent in putting a risk management program together.

Today, every chapter of the Association must write and submit with its membership application a plan detailing how it will manage risk.

This must be completed and reviewed before any organization is granted entrée to the Association or can obtain liability insurance through the RRRG.

“We have a laundry list of things they must do,” Herr said.

That list includes things such as: devise a plan to protect spectators, conduct pilot training on-site, note wind and geographic dangers and publish site guides that detail site conditions and how to safely fly at their locations.

Additionally, the Association developed safety features accessible on their website, including two pre-flight safety apps available as interactive PDFs or on iTunes.

Learning Opportunities

Leaders in captive organizations say education is an important part of the process. Understanding legislation and regulations in each domicile helps find the right fit.

Organizations such as the Vermont Captive Insurance Association (VCIA) offer online education and training for industry newcomers and seasoned professionals. Topics ranging from “the advantages of captives” to tax implications are covered, as well as accounting and auditing for captives.

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Additionally, they provide a “Captive Service Directory,” a list of VCIA members who provide services to the captive industry, such as consultants, attorneys, managers, brokers, underwriters and more.

The National Risk Retention Association, a nonprofit trade organization dedicated to protecting the rights of owner insureds, offers resources for their members, as well as an annual conference.

Its executive director, Joe Deems, said there are many good states that are domiciles and clearly Vermont is among them.

“Vermont built a good department. They were one of the first states to become a domicile. They are diligent, and they have a good staff with bright people. If Vermont approves you to be an RRG, then you have the necessary nuts and bolts to make it work,” he said. &

Mercedes Ott is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]