Insurance Executive

Greenberg Settles Case with New York AG After 12-Year Fight

Starr's CEO and Chairman decries the breadth of New York State's prosecutorial powers.
By: | February 14, 2017 • 3 min read

AIG’s former CEO and CFO settled a civil accounting fraud case last week that spanned 12 years, stretching back to the administration of former New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

In settling the case with current NYAG Eric Schneiderman, former AIG Chairman and CEO Hank Greenberg and Howard Smith, AIG’s former CFO, agreed to payments totaling $9.9 million; $9 million on the part of Mr. Greenberg and $900,000 on the part of Mr. Smith.

The case was mediated by noted attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who also mediated between British Petroleum and claimants in BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill and who will also be managing the claimants’ fund connected to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

As part of the settlement, there was no admission of wrongdoing on the part of Greenberg, now the chairman and CEO of the Starr Companies, or Smith.

In a statement released Feb. 9, the New York Attorney General’s office said the $9.9 million represented bonus payments Greenberg and Smith received between 2001 and 2004. Despite the terms of the mediated settlement, the AG’s statement implied that the agreement amounted to an admission of fraud by Greenberg and Smith.

Both men strongly dispute that characterization of the settlement.

At a press conference in New York on February 13, Greenberg’s attorney David Boies, described the payments as nothing more than a “nuisance settlement” given the fact that the NYAG’s office had originally sought some $5 billion in damages.

“The New York Attorney General’s case had totally collapsed at trial,” said Boies.

In all, the civil actions initiated by Spitzer in 2005 amounted to nine separate charges.

One of the last two actions to reach settlement is related to a loss portfolio that AIG received as a reinsurer from Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Cologne Re Dublin in the fourth quarter of 2000. Unbeknownst to Greenberg and other executives at AIG, a portion of the portfolio had already been reinsured elsewhere.

Thus, AIG’s acceptance of the portfolio resulted in an erroneous increase in its loss reserves, since the transaction involved little or no actual risk. An innocent accounting error that they were not aware of, not fraud, Greenberg, Smith and their attorneys argued.

“Nowhere in the agreed statement by Mr. Greenberg is there any reference to any accounting being fraudulent, let alone that Mr. Greenberg was aware of any fraud,” Boies said on Feb. 13.

“There was nothing in those transactions that we knew were wrong when they were done,” Smith added.

The second case, known as the Capco transaction, involved allegations that AIG attempted to confuse investors by equating underwriting losses with investment losses.

“The New York Attorney General’s case had totally collapsed at trial.” — David Boies, attorney for Hank Greenberg

Greenberg’s conflict with Spitzer is a long and painful one and can reasonably be said to have had a substantial impact on the nation’s and the world’s economy.

Under pressure from Spitzer, Greenberg was forced out as Chairman and CEO of AIG in 2005, having spent 40 years with the company.

At the time of Greenberg’s forced resignation, AIG had a presence in more than 130 countries and $180 billion in market capitalization. Three years after Greenberg’s removal, the company’s insurance of credit default swaps resulted in an almost catastrophic failure.  The rest is, literally, history.

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AIG required an $85 billion two-year government loan, which it has since paid back; but it had to sell off key assets to do so.

“AIG is currently a shadow of what it had been,” Greenberg said in a statement released on Feb. 13.

“It was an international asset and no longer is,” Greenberg said.

“It employed over 100,000 people and now it is about half of that.”

Greenberg is pursuing a defamation case against Spitzer for comments Spitzer made about him after leaving the AG’s office in 2006. Spitzer lasted a year as Governor of New York before allegations that he consorted with prostitutes drove him out of that office.

Greenberg also spoke out at the press conference in opposition to New York’s Martin Act, which gives state prosecutors broad powers to prosecute business leaders without having to prove fraudulent intent.

“That law should be changed, it should be knocked out,” Greenberg said.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Liability

Fresh Worries for Boards of Directors

New cyber security regulations increase exposure for directors and officers at financial institutions.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 6 min read

Boards of directors could face a fresh wave of directors and officers (D&O) claims following the introduction of tough new cybersecurity rules for financial institutions by The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS).

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Prompted by recent high profile cyber attacks on JPMorgan Chase, Sony, Target, and others, the state regulations are the first of their kind and went into effect on March 1.

The new rules require banks, insurers and other financial institutions to establish an enterprise-wide cybersecurity program and adopt a written policy that must be reviewed by the board and approved by a senior officer annually.

The regulation also requires the more than 3,000 financial services firms operating in the state to appoint a chief information security officer to oversee the program, to report possible breaches within 72 hours, and to ensure that third-party vendors meet the new standards.

Companies will have until September 1 to comply with most of the new requirements, and beginning February 15, 2018, they will have to submit an annual certification of compliance.

The responsibility for cybersecurity will now fall squarely on the board and senior management actively overseeing the entity’s overall program. Some experts fear that the D&O insurance market is far from prepared to absorb this risk.

“The new rules could raise compliance risks for financial institutions and, in turn, premiums and loss potential for D&O insurance underwriters,” warned Fitch Ratings in a statement. “If management and directors of financial institutions that experience future cyber incidents are subsequently found to be noncompliant with the New York regulations, then they will be more exposed to litigation that would be covered under professional liability policies.”

D&O Challenge

Judy Selby, managing director in BDO Consulting’s technology advisory services practice, said that while many directors and officers rely on a CISO to deal with cybersecurity, under the new rules the buck stops with the board.

“The common refrain I hear from directors and officers is ‘we have a great IT guy or CIO,’ and while it’s important to have them in place, as the board, they are ultimately responsible for cybersecurity oversight,” she said.

William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting, Argo Pro

William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting at Argo Pro, said that unknown cyber threats, untested policy language and developing case laws would all make it more difficult for the D&O market to respond accurately to any such new claims.

“Insurers will need to account for the increased exposures presented by these new regulations and charge appropriately for such added exposure,” he said.

Going forward, said Larry Hamilton, partner at Mayer Brown, D&O underwriters also need to scrutinize a company’s compliance with the regulations.

“To the extent that this risk was not adequately taken into account in the first place in the underwriting of in-force D&O policies, there could be unanticipated additional exposure for the D&O insurers,” he said.

Michelle Lopilato, Hub International’s director of cyber and technology solutions, added that some carriers may offer more coverage, while others may pull back.

“How the markets react will evolve as we see how involved the department becomes in investigating and fining financial institutions for noncompliance and its result on the balance sheet and dividends,” she said.

Christopher Keegan, senior managing director at Beecher Carlson, said that by setting a benchmark, the new rules would make it easier for claimants to make a case that the company had been negligent.

“If stock prices drop, then this makes it easier for class action lawyers to make their cases in D&O situations,” he said. “As a result, D&O carriers may see an uptick in cases against their insureds and an easier path for plaintiffs to show that the company did not meet its duty of care.”

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One area that regulators and plaintiffs might seize upon is the certification compliance requirement, according to Rob Yellen, executive vice president, D&O and fiduciary liability product leader, FINEX at Willis Towers Watson.

“A mere inaccuracy in a certification could result in criminal enforcement, in which case it would then become a boardroom issue,” he said.

A big grey area, however, said Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader for cyber risk at Starr Companies, is determining if a violation is a cyber or management liability issue in the first place.

“The complication arises when a company only has D&O coverage, but it doesn’t have a cyber policy and then they have to try and push all the claims down the D&O route, irrespective of their nature,” he said.

“Insurers, on their part, will need to account for the increased exposures presented by these new regulations and charge appropriately for such added exposure.” — William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting, Argo Pro

Jim McCue, managing director at Aon’s financial services group, said many small and mid-size businesses may struggle to comply with the new rules in time.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve and a lot of work in terms of preparedness and the implementation of a highly detailed cyber security program, risk assessment and response plan, all by September 2017,” he said.

The new regulation also has the potential to impact third parties including accounting, law, IT and even maintenance and repair firms who have access to a company’s information systems and personal data, said Keegan.

“That can include everyone from IT vendors to the people who maintain the building’s air conditioning,” he said.

New Models

Others have followed New York’s lead, with similar regulations being considered across federal, state and non-governmental regulators.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Cyber-security Taskforce has proposed an insurance data security model law that establishes exclusive standards for data security and investigation, and notification of a breach of data security for insurance providers.

Once enacted, each state would be free to adopt the new law, however, “our main concern is if regulators in different states start to adopt different standards from each other,” said Alex Hageli, director, personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“It would only serve to make compliance harder, increase the cost of burden on companies, and at the end of the day it doesn’t really help anybody.”

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Richard Morris, partner at law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP, said companies need to review their current cybersecurity program with their chief technology officer or IT provider.

“Companies should assess whether their current technology budget is adequate and consider what investments will be required in 2017 to keep up with regulatory and market expectations,” he said. “They should also review and assess the adequacy of insurance policies with respect to coverages, deductibles and other limitations.”

Adam Hamm, former NAIC chair and MD of Protiviti’s risk and compliance practice, added: “With New York’s new cyber regulation, this is a sea change from where we were a couple of years ago and it’s soon going to become the new norm for regulating cyber security.” &

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]