2016 Power Broker

Power Brokers of Negotiation

In a record year for M&As, the 2016 Power Brokers excelled at marrying risk management cultures and firming up carrier relationships.
By: | February 22, 2016 • 7 min read

Spurred on by low interest rates and an appetite for scale, business leaders in 2015 sought to create market heft through mergers and acquisitions.

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Winners of the 2016 Risk & Insurance® Power Broker® award were right there with them; marrying risk management cultures, ironing out coverage gaps and redundancies, and getting the insurance carriers to behave on price.

Alex Michon, a Sacramento, Calif.-based senior vice president with Aon, is a 2016 Power Broker® in the health care category. In a health care system merger that came out of the gate as a fire drill and then dragged on for months, Michon was reminded of a key M&A consideration: the human cost in acquisitions is often underestimated.

That’s something commercial insurance brokers need to keep in mind if they are going to build productive relationships and achieve the goals of both the buyer and the seller. Many times the risk manager for the acquired company is losing his or her job. Yet they still have to perform at the top of their game to bring off the deal.

“I think the human cost is usually under-represented in terms of the stress that these people are going through,” Michon said.

In these cases the broker can be a friend to the risk manager, who might not be first in the thoughts of finance executives or other company leadership. The risk manager might be driving in to work every day, knowing that a merger is underway and be unable to tell colleagues about it; even though hundreds of jobs may soon be on the chopping block.

“We are one of the few people who can openly talk to them,” Michon said.

In most cases, Michon said, the risk manager will perform admirably, giving the brokers and carriers all the information they need to be able to write the risk of the combined companies.

But Michon has seen cases where risk managers became so concerned with their futures that they put most of their energy into job hunting.

That tension can also impact dialogues with brokers who are working on a target company account, according to Arthur J. Gallagher’s Amy Sinclair, a 2016 Power Broker® in the pharmaceutical category and a veteran of many merger deals.

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“Employees of the target company are concerned about redundancy at the acquisition partner,” Sinclair said.

“There is a good chance they may no longer have a job once the transaction closes,” she said.

Smaller brokerages that don’t have a lot of experience with M&As may dig in their heels a little bit.

“Generally speaking, brokers for the target and acquisition partner work well together,” Sinclair said.

“Regardless of what side of the transaction you are on, you still want to provide the best service to your client. It is not in anyone’s best interest to withhold information or to be uncooperative,” she said.

Carrier Relationships

The broker’s burden of relationship maintenance in the case of an acquisition also extends to those that underwrite the risks — the carriers. There is a lot of work to be done to convince the carrier that the risk they know won’t change when one company acquires another.

Herman Brito Jr., assistant vice president, Marsh

Herman Brito Jr., assistant vice president, Marsh

Marsh’s Herman Brito Jr.,  a 2016 Power Broker® in the marine category who places cargo and inland marine policies, played a part in two blockbuster deals in 2015; the acquisition by General Electric of the French electric railcar maker Alstom and the marriage of global food giants Kraft and Heinz.

Marsh was new to the Heinz account when the Kraft merger loomed. Pre-merger, Brito convinced Heinz to ditch its captive for global cargo exposures and transfer the risk to AIG. Even though Marsh wound up with both accounts, the rules of broker-client confidentiality meant that Brito couldn’t call his colleagues in Chicago — where Kraft is based — and check up on Kraft’s loss history.

Brito is a big fan of AIG’s multinational placements, calling them “best in class.” His challenge was to make sure that Kraft benefitted from the same aggressive terms he was getting for Heinz post-merger. As the cargo broker, Brito knew that the carriers had bigger concerns about things such as combined property exposures than what he was placing.

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“Not only am I asking you to make it clear and concise for Heinz/Kraft, let’s make it easy on ourselves by implementing a mergers and acquisitions clause and a multi-year rate agreement,” Brito told the underwriters.

“It took a tremendous effort to change the structure that was in place in August 2014, and to obtain the coverages implemented in May 2015, but when claims occurred they started to see the benefits in certain coverages and why we pursued those,” Brito said.

“I think the human cost is usually under-represented in terms of the stress that these people are going through.” — Alex Michon, senior vice president, Aon

The General Electric/Alstom merger was another kettle of fish.

“GE’s acquisition of  Alstom was the hardest acquisition I have ever done,” Brito said.

The reason?

General Electric has a highly centralized risk management department, four risk managers handling the entire global program. Alstom had up to 30 risk managers, many of them with local authority.

Another difference was that General Electric has a huge retention and Alstom had more of a “trading dollars” philosophy, spending so much on premium against so much in expected losses.

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Brito needed to convince the carrier that when GE bought Alstom, the cargo risk management programs would become one. Initially, the insurer wasn’t buying it. But eventually Brito convinced the underwriters that once the companies were married, Alstom’s standards would come up to GE’s.

Part of Brito’s job was to make sure he was available at any hour of the day to answer questions from Alstom risk managers around the globe and help them buy into the GE program.

“If you demonstrate that you are willing to have conference calls at a time that is most convenient in India, people are more willing to do what you are asking them to do,” Brito said.

The GE/Alstom deal closed in November of 2015. Brito was still spending a lot of time on it when we spoke to him in January.

Odd Couples

Marrying risk management cultures in a merger is a must; having the tools and the drive to convince carriers to take on the combined risk is crucial; and so is conducting enough due diligence to manage risk and provide adequate employee benefits when two very different company cultures get together.

Consider the challenges faced by Eric Wittenmyer, a 2016 Power Broker® in the health care category.

Eric Wittenmyer, senior vice president, Aon

Eric Wittenmyer, senior vice president, Aon

Wittenmyer, a senior vice president with Aon based in Chicago, was tasked with ironing out employee benefits for a large hospital system merger involving thousands of employees. One of the organizations classified hundreds of their employees as executives, eligible for a special category of benefits. The other organization counted slightly more than a dozen executives in a similar category.

“What we did was a tremendous amount of benchmarking, and an awful lot of cost modeling,” Wittenmyer said. That science determined that the hospital with the smaller group of employees classified as executives was closer to the norm.

Then came the art. That was figuring out how different employees perceived the value of certain ancillary benefits, such as life insurance and disability benefits.

Once that was determined, the in-house benefits team, with Wittenmyer’s guidance, offered one-time cash payments to employees who felt they were having a guaranteed benefit taken away, while still offering them access to an employer supported program; just not one in which the employer paid for the whole nut.

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“So once we had done all of the plan design work, we had to manage significant transitional coordination issues,” Wittenmyer said.

Because coverage of certain benefits for the merged entities was taking effect on a staggered schedule, with some benefits being in place Jan. 1, for example, and others March 1, Wittenmyer had to earn the trust of underwriters who were being asked to stay on certain programs for a few months — some of them involving high potential life insurance pay-outs — without the corresponding premium income.

In the end, Wittenmyer was able to convince the carriers to work with him, with no price increases, because of the attractive size of the merged accounts.

“I think everything was as transparent as it could be and the vendors understood that,” Wittenmyer said.

See the complete list of 2016 Power Broker® winners.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at dreynolds@lrp.com.

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 riskletters@lrp.com.