Political Risk

Enabling Expansion

Political risk and trade credit insurance offer protection against uncertainty and pave the way for global growth.
By: | April 28, 2016 • 6 min read

Despite the rising tide of political and economic turmoil in the world, the cost of buying political risk coverage and trade credit insurance is declining even as demand is sharply increasing.

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“The pricing has become much more competitive,” said New York-based Lila Rymer, head of U.S. underwriting for political risks and trade credit at Beazley. “A lot of new entrants and more capacity in the market has driven this competition.

“So it’s a very good time for clients to consider buying political risk and trade credit insurance because the terms are quite favorable,” Rymer said.

New York-based Stuart Barrowcliff, senior underwriter, political risk for XL Catlin, added that capacity is growing because it is a way for insurers to diversify and expand offerings beyond P&C “where there’s obviously lots and lots and lots of capacity and tremendous pressure on premium.”

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Lila Rymer, head of U.S. underwriting for political risks and trade credit, Beazley

A report by Marsh noted that political risk insurance capacity has steadily increased over the past decade, particularly since the financial crisis. In some cases, market capacity for a single policy now exceeds $2 billion, nearly double the available capacity just six years ago, the report said.

Likewise, the increase in trade credit insurance in that period has grown considerably, driven by — among other things — E&S insurers entering the market, as well as banks, other financial institutions and Lloyd’s syndicates making major inroads in this market.

“You also see some of the private equity companies, hedge funds and others who are looking at putting together funding vehicles to invest in trade finance assets and they can come to the trade credit insurance markets to sit behind them,” said Jeff Abrahamson, Baltimore-based global head of supplier trade credit for XL Catlin.

Comprehensive Coverage

In years past, companies and financial institutions might typically buy stand-alone political risk coverage, said Owings, Md.-based James Daly, president and CEO of Euler Hermes Americas.

James Daly, president and CEO, Euler Hermes Americas

James Daly, president and CEO, Euler Hermes Americas

“But the trend today is to purchase comprehensive coverage, which includes protection against both trade credit losses and political risks,” Daly said.

“Traditional trade credit insurance adds another layer of comfort, protecting against bad debt losses when a customer simply does not pay its bills.”

Political risk insurance protects foreign assets held by multinational corporations, financial institutions, investors and project contractors against the risks of confiscation, expropriation, contract frustration and nationalization, Daly said.

“In addition to providing protection for trade transactions, it may also cover production facilities, equipment, offices, refineries and other fixed assets and equity investments,” Daly said.

Political risk circumstances usually include war, terrorism, riots and actions by local governments, such as changes in export or import regulations that affect the outcome of a transaction.

“Traditional trade credit insurance adds another layer of comfort, protecting against bad debt losses when a customer simply does not pay its bills.” — James Daly, president and CEO, Euler Hermes Americas

Fredrik Murer, New York-based head of Americas, political and credit, for Chubb, noted that political risk and trade credit insurance offer balance sheet protection in an uncertain world.

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“Tremendous volatility entered world markets when the commodity super cycle burst,” said Murer.

“The rapid drop in oil prices created upheaval in country and corporate balance sheets alike, creating both political and credit risks in the process.

“Foreign exchange fluctuations add to the stress on U.S. dollar payment obligations. What started as an economic risk may quickly become a political or credit risk as countries act to protect their local interests.”

Corporations and banks are the major buyers of trade credit insurance.

“Banks might buy an annual trade credit policy that we have the option of renewing,” said Beazley’s Rymer.

“When a company is selling goods to a buyer, for example a Brazilian buyer, a bank might purchase the receivables from the supplier. If the supplier is due to get paid in 60 days, the supplier might say, ‘I want to be paid tomorrow.’

“By selling the receivables to a bank, the bank can cash out the supplier up-front and then the buyer owes the money to the bank.”

Rymer added that when banks invest in bigger projects in emerging markets, say a mine or an oil field, they are likely to seek political risk coverage or more comprehensive credit insurance on the investment they’re making.

XL Catlin’s Abrahamson said that other clients are non-bank financial institutions that are providing working capital for corporate clients.

“Banks are using trade credit insurance as a real driver on the trade risk receivables side,” he said.

“A lot of banks will finance receivables for their customers and procure insurance on that financing. This can help them more efficiently utilize their capital.”

Growth Strategy

For corporations, maintaining trade credit insurance and often political risk coverage along with it has become an increasingly important way to expand their business.

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“It’s not just about mitigating risk, but very often trade credit insurance helps companies grow their business, so they can increase their lines of credit and expand the business they are already doing,” said Rymer.

“It might help a company access financing through their lending bank. By having trade credit insurance on their buyers they’ll be able to get bigger lines of credit from their lending partners.”

Or if a company is internally very comfortable with a certain limit to a buyer where they see an opportunity to grow, they can credit insure those receivables, which may enable them to extend a bigger line of credit to that buyer and grow overall sales, she said.

Chubb’s Murer noted that political risk coverage and trade credit insurance provide a company with more certainty.

“With this insurance, if the unexpected happens you know there’s a level of protection against an outcome that can be catastrophic to your continued operations,” he said.

Gregg Badger, COO, Ronald A. Chisholm Limited

Gregg Badger, COO, Ronald A. Chisholm Limited

“A company can invest and grow its sales base with more certainty and lenders can benefit as they support the continued expansion of their corporate customers.”

Added Gregg Badger, COO for international food merchant Ronald A. Chisholm Limited, “If we did not have trade credit insurance and political risk coverage we would be hard-pressed to do any borrowing against our non-North American receivables.”

Badger said that 60 percent to 80 percent of Chisholm’s business is outside of North America and the company needs that working capital to keep it operating and growing. Chisholm actively does business with hundreds of companies in 50 to 60 countries, he said.

When the company’s salespeople are out looking for new customers and trying to open up new markets, one of the first steps they take is to see whether the customer they’re calling on is creditworthy, i.e., insurable or whether it’s on open credit or on secured terms, Badger said.

Managing the risk of accounts receivable, customers and processes allows the company to assure its banking syndicate that the receivables are insured, he said.

Steve Yahn was a freelance writer based in New York. He had more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. Comments can be directed to [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]