Insurance Industry

Chubb Brings Ground Zero Flag Back Home

The iconic flag’s inclusion at the 9/11 Memorial Museum helps to commemorate the 15-year anniversary of the 2001 attacks.
By: | September 12, 2016 • 5 min read
Topics: Brokerage | Claims

Hours after the World Trade Center towers fell, newspaper photographer Thomas E. Franklin hitched a ride on a rescue tug boat to Manhattan and stood on the West Side Highway.

Across the wide road, atop the towers’ smoldering rubble, three dusty firefighters were affixing an American flag to a pole jutting skyward.

Franklin pointed his telephoto lens and snapped a picture that would appear not only on the front page of his paper, “The Record” of Bergen County, N.J., but in newspapers around the world.

The breathtaking image aptly captured a moment of unimaginable loss, resilience and hope, and echoed the famous photo of the flag being raised on Iwo Jima in World War II.

The flag at Ground Zero, which had been purchased at a boat show 10 months earlier for $50, was the centerpiece of one of the most memorable photos from one of the worst days in American history. In a snap, it became an invaluable national treasure.

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But hours later, the flag disappeared. And no one seemed to know who removed it or where it went.

After a few twists and turns, and 15 years, the iconic 4-by-6-foot American flag finally returned to New York City, courtesy of an insurance company.

“The raising of this American flag was a powerful symbol of hope, strength and resilience at one of the most trying moments in our nation’s history,” said Evan Greenberg, chairman and CEO of Chubb, at a ceremony on Sept. 8.

Chubb got involved when a claim was filed after the flag was initially lost.

“As we prepare again to pay tribute to those who were lost, this flag is a timely reminder of the spirit of our heroes and the resolve of a great city and great nation.

“Chubb is honored to donate the flag to its new, permanent and proper home in the 9/11 Memorial Museum,” Greenberg added.

Flag on Yacht Caked in Debris

When the World Trade Center’s twin towers came under attack, the flag was flying on the Star of America, a charter yacht docked nearby. The 130-foot-long, three-level boat with ivory-colored suede ceilings was owned by Shirley Dreifus and her late husband Spiros E. Kopelakis. It was insured by Chubb.

Evan Greenberg, right, chairman and CEO, Chubb, and Brad Meltzer, author and History channel host. Photo credit: Jin Lee, 9/11 Memorial

Evan Greenberg, right, chairman and CEO, Chubb, and Brad Meltzer, author and History channel host. Photo credit: Jin Lee, 9/11 Memorial

New York firefighter Dan McWilliams spotted the flag flying on the debris-caked yacht about 5 p.m. the day of the attacks, according to news stories published at the time. McWilliams removed the flag along with its pole from the deck, carried it toward West Street and with help from firefighters Billy Eisengrein and George Johnson, hoisted it.

While they have never met in person, the key players in the photo were linked again six month later when Dreifus and Kopelakis tracked down the three firefighters through a lawyer and asked them to sign affidavits stating that yes, they did remove their flag from their yacht.

The “New York Times” reported in March 2002 that Dreifus made the request as a legal formality that would allow her and her husband to donate the flag officially to the city, and perhaps claim a charitable deduction on their taxes.

The now-historic flag was invaluable. Chubb paid the full limit of the owners’ rental insurance to cover the claim.

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But, what no one knew at the time was that the wrong flag was recovered.

When Dreifus prepared to formally donate the flag, a size discrepancy was discovered: While the yacht’s flag measured 4-by-6 feet, this flag was 5-by-8 feet. Dreifus started a website in an effort to get the historic flag back.

After the mystery was featured in an October 2014 episode of “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” on the History channel, a man who wished to remain anonymous turned over the true original flag to police in Everett, Wash.

Police contacted representatives involved in the  documentary and together they began a forensic investigation that overwhelmingly determined that the flag was the Ground Zero Flag.

The story of the flag’s recovery and journey back to New York was retold in a television movie, “Ground Zero Flag Found,” which aired Sept. 11 on the History channel.

“We had always hoped this special flag and its story would be shared with our millions of annual visitors coming from around the world, and for that, we are thankful to Shirley Dreifus, the City of Everett, History, A&E Networks, and Chubb,” 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels said in a statement.

“In the darkest hours of 9/11 when our country was at risk of losing all hope, the raising of this American flag by our first responders helped reaffirm that the nation would endure, would recover and rebuild, that we would always remember and honor all of those who lost their lives and risked their own to save others”

Shirley Dreyfus, left, Howard Bergstein, president, Erich Courant & Co.; and Marlene Cuadrado, personal lines manager, Courant

Shirley Dreifus, left, Howard Bergstein, president, Erich Courant & Co.; and Marlene Cuadrado, personal lines manager, Courant

On Sept. 8, Chubb joined with the flag’s original owner, Shirley Dreifus, and donated it to the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum in honor of Dreifus’s late husband.

Representatives from Erich Courant & Co., the insurance brokerage which handled the renters insurance claim on behalf of the owners, were also at the ceremony with their client.

“Never in my life have I handled a claim of this cultural magnitude,” said Howard Bergstein, Erich Courant’s owner and president.

“The photograph of this flag being hoisted by firefighters caused this flag to become an iconic symbol of American patriotism and unity. We are at once thrilled to be a part of it and also hope never to be part of something so devastatingly tragic ever again.”

It was “a once in a lifetime claim in terms of its cultural significance,” he said.

“Have I ever had another claim where the client was paid the full amount of their coverage because the lost product was deemed to be invaluable?

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“No, I never have been in that situation,” he said, noting that “the notoriety, the excitement of the flag’s recovery, the history, the sentiment,everything that has accompanied this claim has been extraordinary and I am hoping we never have to deal with something arising out of a tragedy again.”

The museum where the flag is now on display honors the 2,983 people killed in the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as well as the car bombing at the WTC on Feb. 26, 1993.

It displays more than 10,000 personal and monumental objects linked to the events of 9/11, while presenting intimate stories of loss, compassion, reckoning and recovery that are central to telling the story of the attacks and aftermath.

Chubb has played an ongoing role in the museum since conception. ACE, which merged with Chubb to form the current company, was a founding member of the 9/11 Museum & Memorial. Additionally, Chubb North America’s general counsel, Kevin M. Rampe, sits on the 9/11 Memorial’s board of directors.

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Lead Story

Improving the Claims Experience

Insureds and carriers agree that more communication can address common claims complaints.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 7 min read

Carriers today often argue that buying their insurance product is about much more than financial indemnity and peace of mind.

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Many insurers include a variety of risk management services and resources in their packages to position themselves as true risk partners who help clients build resiliency and prevent losses in the first place.

That’s all well and good. No company wants to experience a loss, after all. But even with the added value of all those services, the core purpose of insurance is to reimburse loss, and policyholders pay premiums because they expect delivery on that promise.

At the end of the day, nothing else matters if your insurer can’t or won’t pay your claim, and the quality of the claims experience is ultimately the barometer by which insureds will judge their insurer.

Why, then, is the process not smoother? Insureds want more transparency and faster claims payment, but claims examiners are often overburdened and disconnected from the original policy. Where does the disconnect come from, and how can it be bridged?

Both sides of the insurer-insured equation may be responsible.

Susan Hiteshew, senior manager of global insurance and risk management, Under Armor Inc.

“One of the difficult things in our industry is that oftentimes insureds don’t call their insurer until they have a claim,” said Susan Hiteshew, senior manager of global insurance and risk management for Under Armour Inc.

“It’s important to leverage all of the other value that insurers offer through mid-term touchpoints and open communication. This can help build the insurer-insured partnership so that when a claim materializes, the relationships are already established and the claim can be resolved quickly and fairly.”

“My experience has been that claims executives are often in the background until there is an issue that needs addressing with the policyholder,” said Dan Holden, manager of corporate risk and insurance for Daimler Trucks North America.

“This is unfortunate because the claims department essentially writes the checks and they should certainly be involved in the day to day operations of the policyholders in designing polices that mitigate claims.

“By being in the shadows they often miss the opportunity to strengthen the relationship with policyholders.”

Communication Breakdown

Communication barriers may stem from internal separation between claims and underwriting teams. Prior to signing a contract and throughout a policy cycle, underwriters are often in contact with insureds to keep tabs on any changes in their risk profile and to help connect clients with risk engineering resources. Claims professionals are often left out of the loop, as if they have no proactive role to play in the insured-insurer relationship.

“Claims operates on their side of the house, ready to jump in, assist and manage when the loss occurs, and underwriting operates in their silo assessing the risk story,” Hiteshew said.
“Claims and underwriting need to be in lock-step to collectively provide maximum value to insureds, whether or not losses occur.”

Both insureds and claims professionals agree that most disputes could be solved faster or avoided completely if claims decision-makers interacted with policyholders early and often — not just when a loss occurs.

“Claims and underwriting need to be in lock-step to collectively provide maximum value to insureds, whether or not losses occur.” – Susan Hiteshew, senior manager of global insurance and risk management for Under Armour Inc.

“Communication is critically important and in my opinion, should take place prior to binding business and well before a claim comes in the door,” said David Crowe, senior vice president, claims, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“In my experience, the vast majority of disputes boil down to lack of communication and most disputes ultimately are resolved when the claim decision-maker gets involved directly.”

Talent and Resource Shortage

Another contributing factor to fractured communication could be claims adjuster workload and turnover. Claims adjusting is stressful work to begin with.

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Adjusters normally deal with a high volume of cases, and each case can be emotionally draining. The customer on the other side is, after all, dealing with a loss and struggling to return to business as usual. At some TPAs, adjuster turnover can exceed 25 percent.

“This is a difficult time for claims organizations to find talent who want to be in this business long-term, and claims organizations need to invest in their employees if they’re going to have any success in retaining them,” said Patrick Walsh, executive vice president of York Risk Services Group.

The claims field — like the insurance industry as a whole — is also strained by a talent crunch. There may not be enough qualified candidates to take the place of examiners looking to retire in the next ten years.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the claims industry is a growing shortage of talent,” said Scott Rogers, president, National Accounts, Sedgwick. “This shortage is due to a combination of the number of claims professionals expected to retire in the coming years and an underdeveloped pipeline of talent in our marketplace.

“The lack of investment in ensuring a positive work environment, training, and technology for claims professionals is finally catching up to the industry.”

The pool of adjusters gets stretched even thinner in the aftermath of catastrophes — especially when a string of catastrophes occurs, as they did in the U.S in the third quarter of 2017.

“From an industry perspective, Harvey, Irma and Maria reminded us of the limitations on resources available when multiple catastrophes occur in close succession,” said Crowe.

“From independent and/or CAT adjusters to building consultants, restoration companies and contractors, resources became thin once Irma made landfall.”

Is Tech the Solution?

This is where Insurtech may help things. Automation of some processes could free up time for claims professionals, resulting in faster deployment of adjusters where they’re needed most and, ultimately, speedier claims payment.

“There is some really exciting work being done with artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies that could yield a meaningful ROI to both insureds and insurers,” Hiteshew said.

“The claim set-up process and coverage validation on some claims could be automated, which could allow adjusters to focus their work on more complex losses, expedite claim resolution and payment as well.”

Dan Holden, manager, Corporate Risk & Insurance, Daimler Trucks North America

Predictive modeling and analytics can also help claims examiners prioritize tasks and maximize productivity by flagging high-risk claims.

“We use our data to identify claims with the possibility of exceeding a specified high dollar amount in total incurred costs,” Rogers said. “If the model predicts that a claim will become a large loss, the claim is redirected to our complex claims unit. This allows us to focus appropriate resources that impact key areas like return to work.”

“York has implemented a number of models that are focused on helping the claims professional take action when it’s really required and that will have a positive impact on the claim experience,” Walsh said.

“We’ve implemented centers of excellence where our experts provide additional support and direction so claim professionals aren’t getting deluged with a bunch of predictive model alerts that they don’t understand.”

“Technology can certainly expedite the claims process, but that could also lead to even more cases being heaped on examiners.” — Dan Holden, manager, Corporate Risk & Insurance, Daimler Trucks North America

Many technology platforms focused on claims management include client portals meant to improve the customer experience by facilitating claim submission and communication with examiners.

“With convenient, easy-to-use applications, claimants can send important documents and photos to their claims professionals, thereby accelerating the claims process. They can designate their communication preferences, whether it’s email, text message, etc.,” Sedgwick’s Rogers said. “Additionally, rules can be established that direct workflow and send real time notifications when triggered by specific claim events.”

However, many in the industry don’t expect technology to revolutionize claims management any time soon, and are quick to point out its downsides. Those include even less personal interaction and deteriorating customer service.

While they acknowledge that Insurtech has the potential to simplify and speed up the claims workflow, they emphasize that insurance is a “people business” and the key to improving the claims process lies in better, more proactive communication and strengthening of the insurer-insured relationship.

Additionally, automation is often a double-edged sword in terms of making work easier for the claims examiner.

“Technology can certainly expedite the claims process, but that could also lead to even more cases being heaped on examiners,” Holden said.

“So while the intent is to make things more streamlined for claims staff, the byproduct is that management assumes that examiners can now handle more files. If management carries that assumption too far, you risk diminishing returns and examiner burnout.”

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By further taking real people out of the equation and reducing personal interaction, Holden says technology also contributes to deteriorating customer service.

“When I started more than 30 years ago as a claims examiner, I asked a few of the seasoned examiners what they felt had changed since they began their own careers 30 year earlier. Their answer was unanimous: a decline in customer service,” Holden said.

“It fell to the wayside to be replaced by faster, more impersonal methodologies.”

Insurtech may improve customer satisfaction for simpler claims, allowing policyholders to upload images with the click of a button, automating claim valuation and fast-tracking payment. But for complex claims, where the value of an insurance policy really comes into play, tech may do more harm than good.

“Technology is an important tool and allows for more timely payment and processing of claims, but it is not THE answer,” BHSI’s Crowe said. “Behind all of the technology is people.” &

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