Specialty Insurance

Rewarding Resilience

A new bond framework can provide dividends for completing infrastructure projects that boost resilience.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 5 min read

Healthy cities, like healthy people, are less risky to insure. So if insurers offer people tools and incentives to meet their health goals, why not do the same for cities and regions?

That’s a simple but clear way of explaining the purpose of resilience bonds, a unique variation of catastrophe bonds being developed through the Re:Bound initiative, the brainchild of Re:Focus Partners, a design and finance firm focused on developing and brokering public-private partnerships for sustainable infrastructure around the world.

Shalini Vajjhala, founder and CEO, Re:Focus Partners

Resilience advocacy is still a relatively nascent trend. In fact, the formal role of chief resilience officer didn’t even exist before 2014. But resilience projects like seawalls and other coastal protections are now finding their way onto the agendas of cities and regions with catastrophe exposures.

In the process of designing some of those projects, the team at Re:Focus Partners noticed a marked disconnect. Founder and CEO Shalini Vajjhala said: “We were creating insurance benefits that weren’t really capturable at the retail level. If you rebuild 63 miles of seawall along Miami Beach you should be reducing risk — that’s the point of the whole project. But it occurred to us that no one was really thinking about this problem this way.”

Vajjhala and her team launched Re:Bound to establish a direct method for tying infrastructure investment to risk transfer vehicles, using catastrophe bonds as a jump-off point.

“Our goal with the program was to test and validate whether we could rework a CAT bond into a new structure so that we could capture the benefits of resilient infrastructure projects in an insurance linked finance mechanism,” Vajjhala said.

Re:Focus teamed up with RMS, Swiss Re, The Rockefeller Foundation and Goldman Sachs to study, develop and validate the framework for the bonds.

Alex Kaplan, senior vice president at Swiss Re, took part in the initiative. “The challenges our cities and communities face globally are changing,” said Kaplan. “This means the solutions our industry can provide must also evolve.”

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Resilience bonds, like CAT bonds, serve an insurance purpose, providing a payout if a catastrophic event occurs and meets the bond’s predetermined triggering criteria, whether that be a certain threshold of losses, a specific storm surge height or a certain wind speed, for example. That financial assurance enables entities or communities to reduce their dependence on federal relief and disaster aid.

But unlike CAT bonds, resilience bonds also benefit their holders when disaster doesn’t strike. Reduced premiums based on lowered risk are tied to the completion of the resilience project during the bond term, creating “resilience rebates” that can applied in a variety of ways depending upon the needs and goals of the entity.

“If you rebuild 63 miles of seawall along Miami Beach you should be reducing risk — that’s the point of the whole project. But it occurred to us that no one was really thinking about this problem this way.” —Shalini Vajjhala, founder and CEO, Re:Focus Partners

At the completion of a resilience project, the bond holder has achieved reduced physical disaster risk while maintaining the financial protection of the bond and earning a return on its premiums, which would continue through subsequent bond issuances — creating a long-term resource for funding continued resilience efforts.

“Resilience bonds could not only support a faster recovery,” said Kaplan, “but would also help to improve national and city preparedness in a very substantial way, and fast-track resilience from idea to reality.”

Modeling for Impact

The framework for resilience bonds, like CAT bonds, relies on sophisticated models, which are broadly understood and deliver a high level of confidence for investors. The difference for resilience bonds is the use of project-based measurements to frame the risk.

Alex Kaplan, senior vice president, Swiss Re

For a flood barrier project, for instance, the same CAT events are modeled both with and without the barrier in place, illustrating how the project will reduce the cost of the risk.

“The key to the resilience bond concept is the ability to … determine in a robust, probabilistic manner, the reduction in risk that results from actions taken to improve resilience,” said Ben Brookes, VP, capital markets, RMS.

Brookes noted that modeling for resilience brought a new dimension to exposure data.

Resilience, he said, “might mean reducing loss of life in the wake of disaster. It might mean protecting complex interconnected lifelines such as health care services, transportation, energy and water supplies. It might mean improving the ability to recover quickly. It might mean reducing the economic impact in terms of city revenues or private business.

“Or it might mean all of these things and more.

“The interplays between these elements can also be critical,” Brookes said.

Shared Exposures

The catastrophe exposures being addressed by any given public sector resilience project typically impact numerous public and private stakeholders in a region, such as utilities, hospitals, universities and mass transportation systems as well as private corporations.

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As such, resilience bonds present partnership opportunities to share the cost of infrastructure improvements as well as the benefits of resilience rebates, while improving the risk profile for all.

Shared risk in the Embarcadero Historic District in San Francisco is a notable example.

“There is $75 billion in assets behind the seawall and all of the major utility lines actually run physically through the concrete wall,” said Vajjhala.

“The wall is not seismically sound anymore.”

A retrofit would generate insurance benefits for the Port, which is the seawall’s managing entity, as well as all of the private properties that could be impacted if that seawall fails, she said.

“Almost every major port city has some variation on that problem.”

The Re:Bound project is exploring infrastructure interventions that work across different perils, including wildfires.

“It’s all about what’s modellable, what creates a meaningful risk reduction, and then how do you translate those risk reductions into a resilience bond structure so that they can be redirected to support the project,” said Vajjhala.

Jamie Rhodes, program co-lead, Re:Bound

She and Re:Bound program co-lead Jamie Rhodes are working with potential sponsors and co-sponsors from around the country to explain the new bond framework and help them determine whether a resilience bond might be an effective complement to a resilience project under consideration.

Vajjhala and Rhodes expect that the first issuance of this type of resilience bond will happen within the next year and a half. They’re excited to be able to bring the concept to reality.

“A large part of what makes our little firm tick is solving problems that are at the intersection of public and private interest — those things that have a lot of people’s attention but there’s no single individual or organization that has the get-up-and-go to tackle on its own,” said Vajjhala.

“We take a great deal of satisfaction in being able to solve these kinds of problems and incubate lines of business that create public value.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at mkerr@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.