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Protecting Museums in the High-Value World of Fine Art

The art world is growing more valuable, more complex, and ultimately riskier.
By: | March 1, 2018 • 5 min read

Over the last few years, fine art has shifted from primarily an expression of creativity to a new global asset class. And as a growing number of non-traditional collectors now look to fine art — both classic and contemporary — as a way to diversify investment portfolios, valuations have skyrocketed.

At the top end, a Picasso or Monet can fetch as much as $250 million from a willing buyer. Even new artists can now demand seven-figures. A whole collection can be worth billions.

“The total value of a Francis Bacon show last year was around $2 billion,” said Richard Northcott, Director of Fine Art & Specie, Ironshore. “The value of art has shot further and further skyward.”

But more money also introduces more risk.

At a time when traveling exhibitions and the lending of artwork between museums and collectors have grown more common, higher dollar values generate greater liability exposure through every step of a transaction — including the transportation, storage and display of fine art.

“Almost all museums have exhibition programs and museums are continually lending works of art from their collections to each other,” Northcott said.

With values at elevated levels, it’s potentially ripe ground for litigation. Lawyers and legal counsels for institutions have noticed.

“The input of non-art professionals like attorneys in constructing loan agreements has resulted in increasingly complex contracts,” Northcott said.

To protect themselves from taking on more liability than they’re covered for, museums need the insights and skill of an insurer with expertise in fine art, and similarly qualified brokers.

Bespoke Contracts Seek Absolute Liability

Richard Northcott
Director of Fine Art & Specie

“Ten years ago, there were one or two standard loan agreements used by almost every institution. Now it’s not unusual for every museum and most private collectors who lend art to have their own specially-designed contract,” Northcott said. “As the values keep going up, people ask for more and more complex stipulations.”

Standard loan agreements of the past typically included a clause requiring a boiler-plate fine art insurance policy. Coverage for acts of terrorism, war, wear and tear and gradual deterioration, for example, were typically excluded from standard museum policies. Now some lenders want those perils covered under their loan agreement.

Upping the ante even further, some lenders now ask borrowers to accept “absolute liability” in their contracts.

“There is no technical insurance definition of ‘absolute liability.’ Lenders want borrowers to take blanket responsibility for a work of art and accept liability for whatever happens while it’s in their care,” Northcott said.

“Whatever happens” can encompass a wide and unpredictable scope of scenarios; potentially everything from physical damage from any cause to a change in market value during the loan period. Today, those risks can even include cyber breach as contemporary artists experiment with digital mediums.

“Because ‘absolute liability’ has no legal definition, it would all be down to what an aggressive lawyer would argue in court on the lender’s behalf,” Northcott said. “A museum putting on a show for a high-profile artist could have hundreds of millions of dollars of value at risk. The biggest fine art exhibitions now can be worth well over a billion dollars. Very few museums have the financial capacity to take on that liability.”

As a result, some museums are forced to turn down lending agreements and refrain from borrowing works of art because the liability is too great a burden.

“To avoid rejecting an agreement, and missing out on an opportunity to feature a fine work of art, the museum registrar needs a thorough review of both the proposed agreement and their insurance policies,” Northcott said.

Closing the Coverage Gap

Northcott and his team carefully analyze each loan agreement to determine how much liability the borrower is being asked to take on. No two contracts are alike, and each one needs to be picked through with a fine-toothed comb.

“We’ll compare the agreement against the borrower’s insurance coverages to see where they fall short,” Northcott said. “Then we’ll examine whether we can extend the policy to include some or all of the additional liabilities.”

Ironshore’s flat management structure and a culture of cooperation makes it easy for different underwriting units to work together to build the bespoke solutions necessitated by complex lending agreements.

“I spend an increasing amount of my time talking to my colleagues in the War and Terrorism departments, the Political risk department, and other parts of the company to access their capacity,” Northcott said. “I’ll communicate the risk to them, and usually we can work together to craft terms and conditions that address the client’s exposure.”

Ironshore also has the ability to write on admitted or locally licensed paper in territories across the world that work best for the client, based on the locations of borrower and lender — a critical factor when so much art lending takes place across borders. Barriers like differences in language, law or contract vernacular, as well as the various insurance statuses available today, may pose challenges to international loan agreements. Ironshore’s global resources ensure a good fit can almost always be found.

“We have paper in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and we can tap into our Lloyd’s syndicate. In most circumstances, we can find a way to tailor a solution to a museum’s unique circumstances,” Northcott said.

Face-Time Fosters Industry Expertise

It takes in-depth knowledge of the art world to understand the unique risks and the circumstances of each individual loan agreement. Ironshore’s underwriters put in the time on the road to meet with their museum clients and their brokers and get to know their unique needs.

“The more clients I meet with, the more I really understand what’s going on in their institutions and what issues they’re concerned about. That allows me to tailor solutions to their specific needs and goals,” Northcott said.

Where underwriters provide the safety net up front, the claims team props institutions back up when some damage does befall a piece of fine art. Ironshore’s in-house claims teams work together with each business unit, so they have a complete understanding of how policies are written and can align their response appropriately.

“Our claims team will come to us and ask what our intent was when we wrote a particular policy. We are available to assist in claims exceeding $25,000 and on all complex or difficult cases. That close relationship and open communication provides a high-quality claims response to what are often quite complex and emotionally charged fine art losses,” Northcott said.

As the art world grows more valuable, more complex, and ultimately riskier, insurers with industry expertise and a high-touch approach to underwriting help museums minimize their exposure, and enable more fine works of art to be shared around the globe.

For all disclaimers and to learn more, visit http://www.ironshore.com/international/fine-art-and-specie/c53.


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


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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.


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.


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.”


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.


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]