New Ways to Use Surplus

There is a move toward captives’ strategic use of surplus to fund risk management-based projects, analytics, consulting and more.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Surplus produced by captives traditionally found a use in taking on additional limits, writing new lines of business or funding loss control. But as more captive owners start to write emerging risks such as cyber, supply chain and terrorism, there is a move toward using surplus to fund a variety of risk management-based projects and analytics associated with these risks.


With most mature captives accruing surplus from multiple years of positive underwriting performance — most notably financial institutions, which stood at $40 billion in 2016, according to Marsh — that trend is only going to accelerate.

In the last year alone, surplus use extended to initiatives to determine capital efficiency and optimal risk retention levels in the form of risk finance optimization, quantify cyber business interruption exposures, accelerate the closure of legacy claims and improve workforce and fleet safety/loss control policies.

One major U.S. retailer, whose workers’ compensation program reported deteriorating loss experience at the same time the company was grappling with a large-scale acquisition, used its captive’s $50,000 surplus to fund additional external safety and loss prevention consulting in order to boost its internal resources.

Building on that, the surplus was used in subsequent years to fund additional risk consulting services.

“Surplus has become part of a much larger debate around data, customer information and how that can be used to maximum effect,” said Ward Ching, managing director, Aon Captive & Insurance Management.

“Clients are now asking strategy-related questions about business growth, product-service mix and market penetration, and captives are at the heart of that because they hold much of that data and the analytical capability to achieve a lot of those things.”

Central to Risk Management Strategy

Ellen Charnley, president, Marsh Captive Solutions, said companies increasingly put their captive at the heart of risk management and risk finance strategy, going beyond the financing of traditional property and casualty risks.

Ward Ching, managing director, Aon Captive & Insurance Management

“This means that the captive isn’t simply doing what it maybe historically did 10 years ago, just funding for the retentions and deductibles,” she said.

“Now it’s looking to potentially take on greater risk and to reduce the amount of commercial insurance risk transfer transaction, for example, in buying commercial insurance.

“Also, companies are looking potentially to structure deals whereby there’s much greater retention in the captive and buy higher level coverage to protect the captive through the reinsurance market. That structure is one a lot of companies, particularly the larger ones, are looking for as they get more comfortable in retaining risk, and in that respect, the role of the captive and the risk manager has been elevated.”

In terms of surplus use, Charnley said that captives are increasingly being used to fund analytical work focused on retentions.

“There’s more sophistication with respect to analytics and the captive’s role to play in that,” she said.

“The cost of that analytical project work is now being borne by captives using their potential profits and surplus they have developed over the years.”

Another example, said Charnley, was using a captive to fund an actuary who can understand, predict and quantify a company’s known risks. The surplus can also be used to fund analysis of the company’s existing book of claims in order to speed up claims closure and where necessary, to challenge claims adjustors, ultimately lowering the cost of risk in the long run, she said.


“Predictable risk is always an area for companies to try and improve upon, so through loss control activities, for example, the cost of workplace environmental changes, to try to reduce workers’ compensation exposures and ultimately claims, can be borne by the captive,” she said.

“The captive, in turn, would benefit from a reduction in claims in addition to those of the parent.”

Sean Rider, managing director for consulting and development, Willis Towers Watson’s Global Captive Practice, said he has seen a trend toward using captives to fund more sophisticated analytics around risk finance optimization.

That includes the use of analytics to understand the optimization of their risk financing programs, he said.

“Captives for large global corporates are coming into their own as a repository for retained risk and a hub for executing risk financing programs that rely on the company’s balance sheet to manage the lion’s share of the organization’s risk portfolio,” he said.

Ellen Charnley, president, Marsh Captive Solutions

“To have a rational approach to running such a risk financing program, they need to have a robust analytical basis to their decision making.

“This is further supported by the re-emergence of the integrated marketplace in alternative risk transfer and the refocusing of large corporates in terms of optimizing their risk transfer/retention program.”

Jason Flaxbeard, senior managing director, Beecher Carlson’s Captive Services Practice, said some companies were centralizing their risk by using the surplus from their captive to finance their risk management team. Another use, he said, was paying for risk inspections and engineering visits for those captives that write property.

“We also have some clients who now want to use their surplus to take on enormous chunks of their own risk,” he said.

New Risks

Another area in which surplus is being deployed is in writing non-traditional emerging risks. Nancy Gray, managing director, Aon Global Risk Consulting, said cyber is one such area.

“Going down this route allows companies to potentially increase their retentions and be more flexible in how they want to structure their insurance programs,” she said.

“Clients are now asking strategy-related questions about business growth, product-service mix and market penetration, and captives are at the heart of that.” — Ward Ching, managing director, Aon Captive & Insurance Management

“Increasingly, there is also an opportunity for companies to extend beyond their own P&C risks and take on their customers’ risks through their captive program.”

Courtney Claflin, executive director of captive programs at the University of California, who manages two captives, said the university is using the original captive to fund a grant program for risk management and safety needs.


“We can play a role throughout the university system by creating a grant program to help individual departments or campuses that need funding for specific projects like campus security,” he said.

“The grant program allows them to write a grant proposal to the captive and then we can use the captive surplus to fund that grant.”

Ian Davis, the State of Vermont’s director of financial services, said companies are increasingly looking at new and innovative ways to deploy the surplus capital from their captive.

“The trend I see is that some captives have built up such a large amount of surplus, that they do studies to determine the appropriate use of and place for the capital in their organization,” he said.

Charnley added, “Surplus is another compelling value proposition that captives provide that perhaps otherwise would be lost in the parent company’s balance sheet. Having a separate pot of money that can be used in this way can be a tremendous benefit to a company.” &

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

Risk Report: Marine

Crewless Ships Raise Questions

Is a remote operator legally a master? New technology confounds old terms.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 6 min read

For many developers, the accelerating development of remote-controlled and autonomous ships represents what could be the dawn of a new era. For underwriters and brokers, however, such vessels could represent the end of thousands of years of maritime law and risk management.

Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk

While crewless vessels have yet to breach commercial service, there are active testing programs. Most brokers and underwriters expect small-scale commercial operations to be feasible in a few years, but that outlook only considers technical feasibility. How such operations will be insured remains unclear.

“I have been giving this a great deal of thought, this sits on my desk every day,” said Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk, a major UK underwriter. Johnson sits on the loss-prevention committee of the International Union of Maritime Insurers.

“The agreed uncertainty that underpins marine insurance is falling away, but we are pretending that it isn’t. The contractual framework is being made less relevant all the time.”

Defining Autonomous Vessels

Two types of crewless vessels are being contemplated. First up is a drone with no one on board but actively controlled by a human at a remote command post on land or even on another vessel.

While some debate whether the controllers of drone aircrafts are pilots or operators, the very real question yet to be addressed is if a vessel controller is legally a “master” under maritime law.


The other type of crewless vessel would be completely autonomous, with the onboard systems making decisions about navigation, weather and operations.

Advocates tout the benefits of larger cargo capacity without crew spaces, including radically different hull designs without decks people can walk on. Doubters note a crew can fix things at sea while a ship cannot.

Rolls-Royce is one of the major proponents and designers. The company tested a remote-controlled tug in Copenhagen in June 2017.

“We think the initial early adopters will be vessels operating on fixed routes within coastal waters under the jurisdiction of flag states,” the company said.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.”

Once autonomous ships are a reality, “the entire current legal framework for maritime law and insurance is done,” said Johnson. “The master has not been replaced; he is just gone. Commodity ships (bulk carriers) would be most amenable to that technology. I’m not overly bothered by fully automated ships, but I am extremely bothered by heavily automated ones.”

He cited two risks specifically: hacking and fire.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.” — Rolls-Royce Holdings study

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, asked an even more existential question: “From an insurance standpoint, are we even still talking about a vessel as it is under law? Starting with the legal framework, the duty of a flag state is ‘manning of ships.’ What about the duty to render assistance? There cannot be insurance coverage of an illegal contract.”

Several sources noted that the technological development of crewless ships, while impressive, seems to be a solution in search of a problem. There is no known need in the market; no shippers, operators, owners or mariners advocate that crewless ships will solve their problems.

Kinsey takes umbrage at the suggestion that promotional material on crewless vessels cherry picks his company’s data, which found 75 percent to 90 percent of marine losses are caused by human error.


“Removing the humans from the vessels does not eliminate the human error. It just moves the human error from the helm to the coder. The reports on development by the companies with a vested interest [in crewless vessels] tend to read a lot like advertisements. The pressure for this is not coming from the end users.”

To be sure, Kinsey is a proponent of automation and technology when applied prudently, believing automation can make strides in areas of the supply chains. Much of the talk about automation is trying to bury the serious shortage of qualified crews. It also overshadows the very real potential for blockchain technology to overhaul the backend of marine insurance.

As a marine surveyor, Kinsey said he can go down to the wharf, inspect cranes, vessels and securements, and supervise loading and unloading — but he can’t inspect computer code or cyber security.

New Times, New Risks

In all fairness, insurance language has changed since the 17th century, especially as technology races ahead in the 21st.

“If you read any hull form, it’s practically Shakespearean,” said Stephen J. Harris, senior vice president of marine protection UK, Marsh. “The language is no longer fit for purpose. Our concern specifically to this topic is that the antiquated language talks about crew being on board. If they are not on board, do they still legally count as crew?”

Harris further questioned, “Under hull insurance, and provided that the ship owner has acted diligently, cover is extended to negligence of the master or crew. Does that still apply if the captain is not on board but sitting at a desk in an office?”

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Several sources noted that a few international organizations, notably the Comite Maritime International and the International Maritime Organization, “have been very active in asking the legal profession around the world about their thoughts. The interpretations vary greatly. The legal complications of crewless vessels are actually more complicated than the technology.”

For example, if the operational, insurance and regulatory entities in two countries agree on the voyage of a crewless vessel across the ocean, a mishap or storm could drive the vessel into port or on shore of a third country that does not recognize those agreements.

“What worries insurers is legal uncertainty,” said Harris.

“If an operator did everything fine but a system went down, then most likely the designer would be responsible. But even if a designer explicitly accepted responsibility, what matters would be the flag state’s law in international waters and the local state’s law in territorial waters.


“We see the way ahead for this technology as local and short-sea operations. The law has to catch up with the technology, and it is showing no signs of doing so.”

Thomas M. Boudreau, head of specialty insurance, The Hartford, suggested that remote ferry operations could be the most appropriate use: “They travel fixed routes, all within one country’s waters.”

There could also be environmental and operational benefits from using battery power rather than conventional fuels.

“In terms of underwriting, the burden would shift to the manufacturer and designer of the operating systems,” Boudreau added.

It may just be, he suggested, that crewless ships are merely replacing old risks with new ones. Crews can deal with small repairs, fires or leaks at sea, but small conditions such as those can go unchecked and endanger the whole ship and cargo.

“The cyber risk is also concerning. The vessel may be safe from physical piracy, but what about hacking?” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]