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Risk Manager Profile

Insuring the Towers

Shari Natovitz lost hundreds of former colleagues on 9/11. Now she manages risk for a vital piece of New York’s skyline.
By: | May 1, 2016 • 10 min read

Shari Natovitz, the director of risk management for Silverstein Properties, is a Jersey girl. She grew up in Fair Lawn, N.J., which is less than 20 miles from Lower Manhattan.

Children in her family were not coddled.

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B-plus on your English paper? Not good enough.

A-minus in Trigonometry? Meh.

“You had to bring home an A,” Natovitz remembers as she spoke with R&I on the 46th floor of 7 World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan on a windy March morning.

“My brother and I were in the same elementary school, about two and a half years apart. I remember sitting in front of this little black and white television, with our macaroni and cheese, and ‘Jeopardy’ would be on.”

The dynamics of the house were such that the two siblings would play along, competing against one another for allowance money. The home was devoid of gender bias.

“I grew up playing baseball, softball and football out in the street. My mom ran track and field, so I ran track and field,” Natovitz said.

These days, Natovitz manages a $100 million-plus insurance program for one of the highest profile projects in the nation, the resurrection of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.

In place of the seven buildings that were either destroyed or heavily damaged by terrorists in 2001, a new set of towers is rising.

Natovitz manages risk for four of them with one assistant; not to mention her responsibilities for additional Silverstein Properties holdings.

Is she intimidated by the scope and responsibility of her job? No, she is not.

Natovitz says she has the background and the passion to meet those challenges.

“Her demands are very high and she wants everyone else to be prepared.” —Tim Egan, senior vice president, property broking, Willis Towers Watson

Before joining Silverstein, Natovitz spent decades as a construction broker with Marsh, its predecessor Johnson & Higgins, and later with USI. It was at the conclusion of bidding on the broking work for part of the WTC rebuild — when Natovitz was the East Coast construction practice leader for USI — that Silverstein offered her the job of risk manager.

“I have an extremely strong brokerage background and believe in transparency and negotiations to secure a mutually acceptable outcome. Because I grew up in the Johnson & Higgins system, it was a much more consultative than transactional approach, which was really what was needed to organize this and set a solid foundation for the transition to risk manager,” she said.

The passion stems from the fact that Natovitz, like many insurance veterans, lost friends and colleagues in the inferno of 9/11.

“I was a Marsh/J&H person for 20 years and left the company in late 2000, and was a part of the construction group. The construction group was meeting at the North Tower that day,” she said.

Marsh & McLennan lost 295 people in the attack.

“For me, it became very personal and life-affirming.  It wasn’t a job, rather a mission, and a tremendous desire to be a part of and contribute to the rebuild,” she said.

The Program

Managing risk for the rebuild of the World Trade Center is, perhaps needless to say, complex and demanding. When Natovitz took the job in 2005, she had several obstacles to overcome. Perhaps the most forbidding barrier was that insurance carriers were reluctant to offer cover.

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“What did surprise me when I got here, stunned me, were the number of markets in 2005 that did not want to do business with our company; absolutely floored me,” she said.

A number of factors played into that reluctance.

Discord over who should rebuild the towers and how they should be designed generated headlines in many New York newspapers.

“They weren’t flattering headlines. They weren’t truthful. Not unusual in the world, but frustrating,” she said.

“What did surprise me when I got here, stunned me, were the number of markets in 2005 that did not want to do business with our company; absolutely floored me.” — Shari Natovitz, director of risk management, Silverstein Properties

There was also the fact that the WTC was twice a target for terrorists. First came the 1993 attempt to bring down both towers by exploding a truck bomb in a garage of the North Tower.  Then there was the 2001 attack via two hijacked commercial jetliners that did bring them down.

Thus, two terror attacks on one site’s loss run.

“Nobody else in the U.S. had that experience,” she said.

Natovitz said that going forward she and her brokerage team needed to showcase the re-engineering and security of the new structures — including life safety — that made this a different and more robust project.

The coverage of the Silverstein buildings lost or damaged in the 2001 attack was also in dispute at the time and wouldn’t be settled until 2007, with a number of carriers eventually agreeing to pay the company $4.55 billion.

Natovitz also began her task dealing with four different insurance brokerages. Within a year or two, banking on her own deep experience as a broker, she had seen enough to put the entire program in the hands of Willis, now Willis Towers Watson.

“Willis didn’t get anything they didn’t deserve,” she said.

Insuring the safety of those building the World Trade Center towers ranked high in the minds of the Silverstein Properties risk management team.

Insuring the safety of those building the World Trade Center towers ranked high in the minds of the Silverstein Properties risk management team.

Natovitz said she was impressed by the way Tim Egan — a WTW senior vice president, property broking — solved problems for her on a property placement for 7 World Trade Center.

“That made me feel like they were the broker who best understood the market challenges and lack of  market identity and could best lead us through that,” she said.

The insurance program for the operational buildings was fragmented.

The coverage for each property was being placed separately, under the name of each building, as opposed to one comprehensive program.

“There was no understanding of the collective premium that was being put in the marketplace. This not only affected the quality of coverage, but also the buying power,” she said.

She was also impressed with the assertion that $6 billion in needed builders’ risk capacity could be developed and had confidence in the plan put together by Neil Kent, a WTW builders’ risk placement leader.

A prior broker told Natovitz, a Maryland resident, that she didn’t understand the New York market (she had worked for her first 10 years in the New York market) and stated that the capacity needed to protect the project was unobtainable.

A year and a half into her new position, the redesign of the Freedom Tower and responsibility for it — which formerly fell into Natovitz’s risk management portfolio — transferred to the Port Authority.

Natovitz met with Silverstein Properties management to explain why they needed their “own dog in the hunt” for limited capacity. That preferred bloodhound was what we now know as Willis Towers Watson.

With her WTW team, Natovitz set about creating an owner-controlled insurance program, known as an OCIP, for the construction of 2 WTC, 3 WTC and 4 WTC and a builders’ risk and terrorism program that required $6 billion in capacity, which was a hard sell.

The solution to the builders’ risk capacity challenge was to break the risk into three $2 billion risks, and pull the terror and fire following risk out and put that in a captive.

“We knew that $6 billion of construction capacity was not available in the market. But we knew that there was $2 billion available in the market,” WTW’s Kent said.

The captive option for terrorism needed to be explained to management.

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“Among the real estate community there was a lot of differing opinions as to whether it was a viable risk transfer option,” Natovitz said, “but over the past 10 years, it has become an option that many have adopted to address capacity/aggregation issues.”

Be on Your Toes

Neil Kent and Tim Egan said Natovitz expects everyone that works with her to be very well-prepared.

“I think she reads everything and knows everybody,” said Kent.

“Her demands are very high and she wants everyone else to be prepared,” Egan said.

Tim Egan, senior vice president, property broking, Willis Towers Watson

Tim Egan, senior vice president, property broking, Willis Towers Watson

“This is a very important project to everybody, and I think everybody feels the same way. She’s done a lot of things to bring this project to the front and center,” he said.

“Certain risk managers, when you deal with them, you learn from them how they see this. I don’t think there is a better example of that than Shari in that respect,” Kent added.

Natovitz and her risk management partners at WTW are also very conscious of the importance of maintaining long-term relationships with carriers.

Throughout the recent coverage history of the WTC, from the terror attacks through the rebuild, transparency and buy-in from senior insurance carrier management occupied a place of utmost importance.

“The key to all of this was never operating in a vacuum with the marketplace,” said Ray Blackton, an executive vice president with Willis Towers Watson.

“When Shari first took the job, one of her big concerns was that her company was not really known by the markets or had a misconception of the markets. Our first plan was high-level meetings with the most senior people of the organizations before any submission ever went out on the Trade Centers,” Blackton said.

There are now more than 50 carriers/carrier profit centers, including the domestic and international markets, on the Silverstein Properties program overall.

“Everybody’s a key to the placement, but Lexington, Munich Re, Zurich, Swiss Re and Starr really provide a significant part of the capacity, along with XL Catlin and Chubb,” she said.

Through high-stakes insurance settlement litigation, political squabbling and the flooding from Superstorm Sandy, keeping an eye on the long-term and the value of respectful relationships remained of paramount concern.

“We have enjoyed a great working relationship with Shari over the years,” said George Stratts, president, property and special risks for AIG.

Neil Kent, builders’ risk placement leader, Willis Towers Watson

Neil Kent, builders’ risk placement leader, Willis Towers Watson

“And as with any good relationship or partnership, it’s honest, it’s open. And one of the things that I think we have appreciated from Shari is seeing both sides of an issue. How do you see multiple points of view so that we arrive at the best answer for all parties?” he said.

That came into play when there were World Trade Center construction delays. The delays meant that Silverstein was paying insurance premiums for two years when there was no exposure.

Natovitz went to her brokers and asked them to approach the markets to adjust the premium for the two years without any exposure and move the term forward to represent the new schedule.

“I knew this would be a difficult request, but wanted to work out a solution to continue coverage with the same carriers for the completion of the project without the financial burden of paying for an extra two years with no construction taking place.

“In addition, we were now only going to build two of the three towers,” she said.

“The carriers were very fair in their responses and almost one-third of the casualty program was returned, with the knowledge that the coverage would be placed with those same insurance partners down the line. We have continued the placement through 2019 with these partners,” Natovitz said.

New York’s Brilliant Place

No American citizen could look out from the 46th floor of  7 World Trade Center and not be moved.

The view is stunning. The human drama that unfolded over time in New York and that’s reflected in its skyline is profound.

Then there is our more recent history. Brutal attacks of terrorism, grief and a remarkable recovery.

“I can always say I worked on the World Trade Center project when it was being built and operational,” said WTW’s Tim Egan.

“I think it’s the most important thing I’ve done in my career,” he said.

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“When you get to the core of what we do as risk and insurance professionals, it’s making good and helping restore and being part of that restoration process,” said AIG’s Stratts.

“That rebuilding process has been a way to affirm what we do as a profession and also honor the suffering that took place,” he added.

“Everybody who is on this placement through not even two or three degrees of separation knows somebody whose name is on that memorial,” Natovitz said.

“This is part of reinvesting and honoring them in the future.” &

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 Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

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In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

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Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

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How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

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One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]