Sponsored: Lexington Insurance

Market Changes are Coming

Recent catastrophes combined with pre-existing soft market conditions stand to spark rapid market changes. Best-in-class insurers will emerge stronger.
By: | January 8, 2018 • 5 min read

The third quarter of 2017 showed no mercy. Hurricane by hurricane, wildfire by wildfire, natural disasters destroyed countless properties and disrupted business operations from the Caribbean to California.

In the past, outlier CAT seasons such as this produced significant changes in both risk transfer markets as well as approaches to risk mitigation and claims management.

“Quarter after quarter of consecutive reductions have left us at the lowest pricing point in the market in the last 18 years. This low point coupled with significant catastrophe losses likely signals an inflection point,” said George Stratts, President and CEO of Lexington Insurance Company, AIG’s excess & surplus lines insurer. “We’re at a point where the market is most vulnerable to dramatic shifts.”

Though no two CAT seasons are the same, there are some historical examples that provide insights into how the current market may respond.

“Market conditions now are very similar to what we experienced in 1999. At that time, we were experiencing a prolonged soft market. Then a series of catastrophes occurred in the following years, including the 9/11 attacks and the devastating hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005,” Stratts said.

Fast forward to today, and the situation looks very similar. Guy Carpenter’s Global Property Casualty Rate-On-Line Index reflects the current low pricing point; in 2017, the index value was at its lowest point since 1999.  Then the tumultuous third quarter of 2017 heaped significant losses on the industry.

While no one can predict how the 2017 CAT season will impact the market landscape or price of risk transfer, it seems clear that changes are coming. This is, after all, the first time that alternative capital is being tested in a major way. How that capital responds and whether it returns remain to be seen.

But it’s not just about risk transfer. Increasingly, companies are just as concerned about their carrier’s ability to mitigate their risk. Regardless of how the risk transfer market responds, best-in-class carriers who have developed the analytical tools and engineering expertise to educate clients about their risks are the ones who survive and thrive through market disruption.

What’s Next for Risk Management?

George Stratts, President and CEO, Lexington Insurance Company

One proven maxim is that a more granular view of risk is a better view of risk. In the past, the carriers who invested time and resources to develop their own view of risk were better prepared to respond to catastrophic losses.

After Hurricane Andrew, for example, carriers were challenged to reevaluate their coastal property exposure, adopt more stringent underwriting, and focus on building resilience. Leveraging data, analytics and machine learning to build on old approaches will be the way forward.

“The first generation of widely-used catastrophe models established a technical baseline in the marketplace, which provided a guide to price the volatility of some of the risks we assume and better account for them in a long-term, sustainable way,” Stratts said.

“But as we move forward, broad-based market changes become much more nuanced and tailored to individual risk characteristics. Have carriers developed their own proprietary views of risk based on their experience, the experience of their portfolio, and insights garnered via data analytics and engineering? That’s what we’ll learn in the year ahead.”

Lexington invested in building out catastrophic risk capabilities, leading to CAT models that were adapted to the carrier’s own book of business and exposure and much more detailed than industry standard models.

In addition to fine-tuning existing tools, best-in-class carriers develop their own analytical tools to better evaluate risk.  Lexington did this for one of the most difficult areas of risk to insure – flood.

Lexington dug deeper than standard flood maps and again built a more granular view of its flood exposure. In many cases, it was able to inform clients of exposure that they hadn’t been aware of because they were located outside of a flood zone as demarcated on standard maps. Or, the carrier determined that some locations were actually at a decreased level of risk.

Lexington demonstrated the success of its proprietary flood models in the response to Hurricane Harvey.

“As the events of Harvey were unfolding, the early message from many markets and modeling firms was that they couldn’t accurately estimate the loss because flood is so tough to model. But we were able to tell pretty quickly the impact on our portfolio, which meant we could respond to claims much faster,” Stratts said.

Claims Commitment

In the end, businesses need an insurance partner who help them rebuild. Risk engineering and analytical tools can help build resilience, but the strength of the claims team is what gets companies back on their feet.

“The commitment I see from our claims people to be able to take on Harvey, then Irma, then Maria, then the wildfires in California, all while traditional loss activity hasn’t stopped, is incredible. They haven’t skipped a beat,” Stratts said.

Paying claims quickly is even more urgent following natural catastrophes because businesses can’t begin repairs without access to working capital.  Recognizing that need, AIG developed its ‘Property Claims Promise,’ which assures policyholders that they will receive a payment of up to 50 percent of the agreed total loss estimate within seven working days after coverage is confirmed. The funds can assist with cleanup costs, property repairs, and extra expenses incurred during the rebuilding process.

One of AIG’s larger clients in Houston, for example, sustained damage to over 600 of their 2400 locations when Hurricane Harvey hit, with two locations being a total loss. After an adjuster met with the client in the days following the storm, AIG saw no reason to wait for a formal report of damages and issued a $15 million advance within two weeks of Harvey making landfall.

Experience is vital as well. AIG has been through Hurricane Andrew in 1991, the tragedy of 9/11, and the catastrophic hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, among others. Through the influx of alternative capital and the challenges of prolonged soft market, AIG and Lexington have been constants.

“It’s one thing to offer capacity and to knowingly write catastrophe risk, it’s another thing to be able to respond when catastrophe happens,” Stratts said.

Emerging Stronger

Being prepared to respond and come back stronger takes continual self-improvement and a dedication to getting the details right.

Post-event, Lexington conducts a comprehensive review of its loss response to determine what went well and what didn’t.

“We call it ‘loss lessons learned.’ It’s a multi-disciplinary approach where we examine a loss through six lenses: underwriting, risk engineering, analytics, claims, operational response and communications,” Stratts said. This exhaustive process pulls in people across the organization to gain a holistic view of the loss to reflect the way clients experience it.

“Those functions might be separate within any given company, but a client sees it all at once — the property damage that may reveal engineering flaws, the claims process, the impact on the insurance contract, etc.,” Stratts said. “Getting a holistic view of our response helps us to create and fine tune comprehensive solutions. We plan to conduct such a review for our losses following the catastrophes in late 2017.”

Through its experience, risk expertise and claims commitment, Lexington is positioned to not just transfer clients’ risk, but to truly partner with companies to build resiliency no matter what lies ahead.

To learn more, visit http://www.lexingtoninsurance.com/home.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Lexington Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG Company, is the leading U.S.-based surplus lines insurer.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]