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What Property Underwriters Can Learn From Life Insurers

Property risks, like people, may seem similar on the surface. But asking the right questions reveals their unique characteristics.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 3 min read

Before two 35-year-old men purchase $500,000 life insurance policies, a prospective insurer asks each of them many questions. Knowing the average lifespan is 76.7 years, the underwriter will collect dozens of additional data points to differentiate each of the men from the ‘average’ risk.  They consider elements of each individual’s lifestyle (e.g., does he smoke, exercise, take medications?), occupation and finances. The insurer will learn the candidate’s and his family’s complete medical history. Each man will undergo a clinical exam by a medical practitioner.

Now consider that these two men instead are risk managers looking to purchase $100 million in property catastrophe insurance for their company’s headquarters. A prospective underwriter has exponentially more capital at stake. Yet very few questions are asked. The workup will likely consider only the building’s construction (concrete versus steel), size, and location, and potentially some ‘secondary’ characteristics of the building.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Property risks may seem very similar on the surface. But in actuality, seemingly comparable structures can perform very differently in a flood, hurricane or earthquake.


These 6 buildings all fall into a similar underwriting classification of tall buildings, with some differences because of construction type, age, and location.  But the actual performance of each of these buildings under severe perils will likely be different due to their specific design and construction characteristics that cannot be discerned in the standard information provided with typical property insurance submissions.

Photographs purchased from stock.adobe.com

 

The Need for Informed Underwriting

Akshay Gupta, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance

At Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance, we believe that property underwriters should compile much more relevant information on a risk. For example, structural and geotechnical engineering details for earthquake exposed risks.

When more questions are asked and more relevant information is acquired, underwriting is more informed and everybody wins: Properties engineered to specifically withstand severe hazards can be differentiated from the ‘average,’ and priced accordingly.  (For instance, beyond the automatic discounts applied for retrofitting in an earthquake zone.) When the true exposure is understood, informed decisions can be made on limits purchased, and in some cases measures can be taken to mitigate future losses.

Watch video:
Seemingly similar buildings have markedly different performance rates in a catastrophe because one of them is retrofitted.

This video shows two model residential dwellings undergoing earthquake simulation testing in Japan. While the two structures seem identical on the surface, they have markedly different capacities. Imagine the difference at the skyscraper level.

Video provided by the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention and E-Defense Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center, also available at www.bosai.go.jp/hyogo/ehyogo/research/movie/movie-detail.html#10

Sanjay Godhwani, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance

From an underwriting standpoint, it’s sometimes as simple as asking more relevant questions to determine how the building would perform in the face of various natural hazards. For example, to assess performance in a flood event, we would want to know the finished floor elevation of the building, presence of a basement, and values and type of assets in the basement. For the earthquake peril, we would want to understand, among other design and construction details, retrofit details to properly credit the building for what has been implemented. To understand how a building would perform in a hurricane, we inquire about the exterior envelope (e.g., cladding, windows, roofing) as well as design, condition and retrofits.

When more science and engineering are correctly integrated into property underwriting, all property risks benefit. At BHSI, our informed approach to property underwriting enables us to deploy our market-leading capacity in ways that provide our customers with stable, sustainable solutions for the long-term.

This article was produced by Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.



Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance (www.bhspecialty.com) provides commercial property, casualty, healthcare professional liability, executive and professional lines, surety, travel, programs, medical stop loss and homeowners insurance.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

As a professor of business, Jack Hampton knows firsthand the positive impact education has on risk managers as they tackle growing risks.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Ellen Thrower, president (retired), The College of Insurance, introduced me to the importance of insurance as a component of risk management. Further, she encouraged me to explore strategic and operational risk as foundation topics shaping the role of the modern risk manager.

Chris Mandel, former president of RIMS and Risk Manager of the Year, introduced me to the emerging area of enterprise risk management. He helped me recognize the need to align hazard, strategic, operational and financial risk into a single framework. He gave me the perspective of ERM in a high-tech environment, using USAA as a model program that later won an excellence award for innovation.

Bob Morrell, founder and former CEO of Riskonnect, showed me how technology could be applied to solving serious risk management and governance problems. He created a platform that made some of my ideas practical and extended them into a highly-successful enterprise that served risk and governance management needs of major corporations.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

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From a background in corporate finance and commercial banking, I accepted the position of provost of The College of Insurance. Recognizing my limited prior knowledge in the field, I became a student of insurance and risk management leading to authorship of books on hazard and financial risk. This led to industry consulting, as well as to the development of graduate-level courses and concentrations in MBA programs.

R&I: What was your first job?

The provost position was the first job I had in the industry, after serving as dean of the Seton Hall University School of Business and founding The Princeton Consulting Group. Earlier positions were in business development with Marine Transport Lines, consulting in commercial banking and college professorships.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Creating a risk management concentration in the MBA program at Saint Peter’s, co-founding the Russian Risk Management Society (RUSRISK), and writing “Fundamentals of Enterprise Risk Management” and the “AMA Handbook of Financial Risk Management.”

A few years ago, I expanded into risk management in higher education. From 2017 into 2018, Rowman and Littlefield published my four books that address risks facing colleges and universities, professors, students and parents.

Jack Hampton, Professor of Business, St. Peter’s University

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

The Godfather. I see it as a story of managing risk, even as the behavior of its leading characters create risk for others.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Jameson’s Irish whiskey. Mixed with a little ice, it is a serious rival for Johnny Walker Gold scotch and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Mount Etna, Taormina, and Agrigento, Sicily. I actually supervised an MBA program in Siracusa and learned about risk from a new perspective.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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Army Airborne training and jumping out of an airplane. Fortunately, I never had to do it in combat even though I served in Vietnam.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

George C. Marshall, one of the most decorated military leaders in American history, architect of the economic recovery program for Europe after World War II, and recipient of the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize. For Marshall, it was not just about winning the war. It was also about winning the peace.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Sharing lessons with colleagues and students by writing, publishing and teaching. A professor with a knowledge of risk management does not only share lessons. The professor is also a student when MBA candidates talk about the risks they manage every day.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

Sensitizing for-profit, nonprofit and governmental agencies to the exposures and complexities facing their organizations. Sometimes we focus too much on strategies that sound good but do not withstand closer examination. Risk managers help organizations make better decisions.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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Developing executive training programs to help risk managers assume C-suite positions in organizations. Insurance may be a good place to start but so is an MBA degree. The Risk and Insurance Management Society recognizes the importance of a wide range of risk knowledge. Colleges and universities need to catch up with RIMS.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber risk and its impact on hazard, operational and financial strategies. A terrorist can take down a building. A cyber-criminal can take down much more.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

My family members think I’m a professor. They do not seem to be too interested in my views on risk management.




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]