Brokers

Can Brokers Keep Pace?

The rapid rate of change in our ever-more-connected world challenges brokers to anticipate new risks.
By: | October 15, 2016 • 6 min read

Technology and globalization offer opportunities for innovation, expansion, increased efficiency and improved customer service. But they also involve a rapid pace of change — and evolving risks — that keep every company on its toes.

“Changing global landscape, economy, regulatory environments, technology … this is changing the way companies manage both their financial and human resources,” said Tim DeSett, executive vice president of risk practices, Lockton.

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“For brokers, this is really a transformational opportunity.”

The traditional role of the broker is transactional. A company hires a broker to buy insurance. But that model has been changing for years, with brokers becoming consultants and risk advisers in addition to procurers of policies.

“The traditional ways are shattered,” said Mary Ann Cook, senior vice president, risk and insurance knowledge group at The Institutes, a leading education provider for the industry.

“Those brokers that come to terms with that more quickly will be the ones out in front.”

But if brokers are to be effective risk consultants, they have to be a half-step ahead of the pace of change, anticipating the challenges their clients will face and understanding what mitigation strategies best fit their long-term goals and capabilities.

That takes a mix of forming key relationships and expertise within a client’s industry, and gaining a deep understanding of data.

Broker as Expert Consultant

“The best brokers are businesspeople,” said Brian Elowe, managing director, global risk management, Marsh.

“In a fast-paced world, I don’t see how you can be an effective adviser to a client without specializing in their industry. Client organizations have higher expectations that they won’t have to train their broker, but that the broker will bring insights to the table.”

To best understand a client’s risk, it is incumbent upon brokers to familiarize themselves with every aspect of the client’s business, from macro industry trends, to the regulatory environment, to the strength of its competitors in the market, and down to the nuts and bolts of their operations and financial standing.

Mary Ann Cook, senior vice president, Risk and Insurance Knowledge Center, The Institutes

Mary Ann Cook, senior vice president, Risk and Insurance Knowledge Center, The Institutes

Today, brokers also have to take into consideration a broad range of issues like the impact of increasingly unpredictable weather, migration patterns and political climate, impending local regulatory changes, and the now eternal question of data security. Conversations with experts are often the easiest and most reliable way to stay updated on broad trends.

The Institutes, in the course of assembling its seminars and educational materials, seeks input from policymakers and legislators, regulatory bodies, the NAIC, various conference attendees, social media platforms and multiple advisory groups.

Additionally, “belonging to industry associations is a great way to ensure you’re around the conversation of what those businesses are facing, and what strategies they’re developing in response,” Elowe said. “Our account executives are really experts in health care, technology, real estate or whatever sector they’re serving.”

Marsh works with several organizations to put together its annual global risk report, which is presented at the World Economic Forum each year.
Elowe described the process of consulting with leading economists, often working with the world’s top universities, as “an opportunity to challenge our thinking and get a better idea of the conversations we should be having with our clients.”

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That in-depth understanding is critical if brokers want to get the attention of the C-suite.

“To have a conversation at that level, we need to translate our risk management initiatives into language that relates to the company’s goals and objectives, and what global resources are available,” DeSett said.

“To do that, we have to know what they’re saying to Wall Street and to their shareholders.”

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The broker’s role as a consultant also involves adjusting to greater demand for alternative risk transfer strategies that don’t involve insurance. Emerging exposures like cyber, climate, political and reputational risks are often difficult to insure in the traditional market, pushing more risk managers to look for creative ways to retain it themselves.

“As a broker, it’s about ensuring capital efficiency and helping clients set up internal finance mechanisms to prepare for risks that may not be insurable,” Elowe said.

“Pooled risks and captives are situations where a broker wouldn’t be involved in a transaction, but would fill a role providing guidance to clients on how to utilize those models,” said Cook of The Institutes.

Leveraging Analytics

Big Data and predictive analytics also are useful tools in identifying emerging risks and vulnerabilities, but could also be a stumbling point for brokers as technology continues to evolve.

“Big Data is an incredible asset and opportunity to leverage, but takes a lot of energy to manage and can also be a distractor,” DeSett of Lockton said.

“Predictive analytics is a tool that should be a part of a broader strategy of measuring potential outcomes of potential risks.”

Tim DeSett, EVP, Risk Practices, Lockton

Tim DeSett, EVP, Risk Practices, Lockton

To paint a picture of just how rapidly data has grown as an asset for businesses, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimated that U.S. retailer Wal-Mart’s data warehouse in 1999 held about 100 terabytes of stored data; by 2009, nearly every sector in the U.S. economy was gathering and storing at least twice that amount.
Fifteen of 17 U.S. sectors have more data stored per company than the U.S. Library of Congress, it said.

McKinsey also projected 40 percent growth in global data per year, although with only 5 percent global growth in IT spending, according to its 2011 report, “Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity.”
The insurance industry in particular not only has access to large amounts of data gathered from policyholders, but also the analytical talent to process it in its field of actuaries.

The study by MGI analyzed nine occupations that require the skills needed to execute big data analytics and in what industries they could be found, based on reporting by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Insurance carriers employed more of these individuals than any other segment included in the study, which also included telecommunications and internet service providers. In 2009, insurance carriers employed about 18,400 people considered to have “deep analytical talent;” the runner-up, scientific research and development, employed 13,000.

The report concluded that the financial services and insurance industry is “positioned to benefit very strongly from big data as long as barriers to its use can be overcome.”

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Brokers have the opportunity — the obligation, even — to tap into carriers’ wealth of data and analytical talent.

“It will be critical to partner with a carrier willing to work with brokers on the analytics side,” Cook said.

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“The data wars are coming. Brokers have to be able to capture it and work with it better; don’t defer an obligation to help clients build out an insurance program today that is comprehensive, flexible and integrated with data analytics.”
DeSett said, however, that barriers to effective use of data analytics are significant. The ability to store large amounts of data and run analytical software requires heavy investment in technology updates and training.

Aggregating large amounts of data is a useful tool for spotting trends, Elowe said, but it remains difficult to “get out in front” of emerging issues. Even those organizations with access to data and the talent to utilize it will struggle to keep up with new analytical tools and techniques.

For now, brokers’ predictive capabilities may be behind the pace. But this may be an even stronger reason for brokers to, as Elowe advocated, “Get a higher level of understanding of the business first, risks second.” &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at 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]