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Brokerage

Diligence Can Help Ward Off Agency Fraud

It's incumbent upon risk managers to understand exactly what their agents are doing — or not doing — on their behalf.
By: | May 16, 2017 • 4 min read

Insureds could find themselves on the hook for massive bills totaling thousands or even millions of dollars if their policies are rescinded or voided because a broker misrepresents them or fails to secure adequate coverage.

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That was the situation one of claims manager Beth Ossino’s clients found themselves in after their property burnt to the ground and her firm, Golden Bear Insurance company, discovered only after the event that all of the information on the application was incorrect, apart from the name and address.

“When we went out there, we found there were all of these issues with the property that we had no prior knowledge of, that meant we would never have insured it if we had known about them,” she said.

“Initially we thought that the insured must have falsified their application and then burnt the house down, and so we took it to the district attorney and presented it as a case of insurance fraud.

“They sent out an investigator to the insured’s agent’s office and the customer service representative who dealt with them basically admitted that she had made everything up in the application.”

As a result, the broker lost its binding authority and it was reported to the California Department of Insurance, said Ossino, claims manager with Golden Bear.

Thankfully, though, it was a happy ending for the client as Golden Bear covered all of its losses. However, there have been cases where the carrier didn’t pay out when the insured lied on the application, or the broker failed to secure adequate coverage, she added.

Vet Partners Thoroughly

Ossino said it is imperative that risk managers and their organizations educate themselves thoroughly and do their research when they are selecting a broker or seeking coverage for a particular risk.

Beth Ossino, claims manager, Golden Bear Insurance Co.

“Any time you do business with somebody new, you should thoroughly vet them first, make sure they have the proper license and ensure that they haven’t had any disciplinary action taken against them,” she said.

“Most of that information is available online through your local department of insurance website where you can check the status of an agent or broker.”

Christopher Boggs, Big “I” Virtual University executive director, said that it is a risk manager’s job to analyze and present their exposures, and then work with the agent or broker to draw up the appropriate coverage.

“It’s the risk manager’s job to check the policies against the exposures and program developed,” he said. “Confirm the policies are what you requested. Don’t assume. As a matter of fact, reviewing and understanding policies is the risk manager’s job.”

One major obstacle for many risk managers, said Boggs, is not being able to verify that the company is being properly represented to the carrier. If an organization has concerns, Boggs recommends calling a meeting with the underwriter.

“Unless they are in the room or on the call, there is no real way for them to know,” he said. “The policy is the contract between the insurance carrier and its insured. If the agent or broker hasn’t, doesn’t or won’t bring the policy — there is a problem.”

“It’s the risk manager’s job to check the policies against the exposures and program developed. Confirm the policies are what you requested. Don’t assume.” — Christopher Boggs, executive director, Big “I” Virtual University

In some cases, when a misrepresentation is made, Boggs said that an errors and omissions claim may have to be made by the insured or the carrier.

“An unintentional error is wholly different,” he said. “Some carriers might reform the policy in the event of a mistake.

“If it’s fraud, it depends on the relationship between the parties. A material misrepresentation, concealment or fraud will void coverage.”

Andrew Barile, founder/president/CEO, Andrew Barile Consulting Corporation

Andrew Barile, founder, president and CEO of Andrew Barile Consulting Corporation, said that risk managers need to make sure they fully understand the agreement they are entering into before signing it and that the brokers have given them the necessary information to know what they are covered for.

“Agreements now extend much further than just the simple one-page broker of record letter,” he said.

“Another area that can result in denial of claims is where the insured themselves fails to sign the application, so it’s imperative they get their broker to sit down and go through the agreement with them thoroughly so that they fully understand it.

“A lot of litigation occurs when the insured doesn’t follow the specific guidelines in the application forms.”

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For their part, retail agents and brokers looking to place a risk that they are unfamiliar with should enlist the help of a wholesale broker that has intimate knowledge of that line of business, said Ossino.

“Particularly if their client has something unique to their business, they should seek out an agent or broker that has written similar policies and is aware of the specific exposures to ensure they secure adequate coverage,” she said. “They also need to keep abreast of the latest emerging risks pertinent to that business.”

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]