Container Shipping

A Sea Change in Risk

Consolidation and related coverage issues have marine risk managers and underwriters scrambling.
By: | March 3, 2017 • 6 min read

It all seemed to happen in a heartbeat: A struggling industry went from bad to worse as one of its largest members filed for bankruptcy. Panic set in among Hanjin Shipping Co.’s customers over goods stranded at sea and litigation lawyers began lining global ports to pick up the pieces.

Suddenly, the risks posed to container shipping by overcapacity, low profitability, and volatile or inadequate pricing crystalized. What, asked other ocean shippers, did this mean for us?

Jim Blaeser pulled no punches when answering that question. In a study in February of last year, his New York employer AlixPartners warned that piecemeal cost-cutting, vessel-idling or slow-steaming in maritime container shipping would do little to curb overcapacity and stem falling profitability and precarious cash flow.

Jim Blaeser, vice president, AlixPartners

In fact, said the company VP, things would likely only get worse unless industry embraced a major alternative: consolidation.

Was AlixPartners’ prediction borne out? Well partly, said Blaeser. “The first three quarters were dismal as we called out; the fourth quarter when results are published in full by the companies should be considerably better. But I think the jury is out on whether carriers will be able to ride that wave into 2017.”

Blaeser said the idea that higher rates sustained into the Chinese New Year will chase the industry’s blues away were “wishful thinking.”

At the same time, Blaeser said, consolidation will place more and different demands on risk managers.

As fewer operators like Maersk and MSC control more capacity, “you’ll need to have a much stronger global reach for corporate control and command to ensure that your risks are understood and that they’re appropriately mitigated.”

By definition, the focus as a risk manager shifts “from your own backyard to a global field of play,” he said.

Consolidate, Communicate … Convert?

Where that field of play looms particularly large is information.

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“Ocean freight information is just terrible across the board,” said Blaeser. That stems in part from merger integration of companies with “three, four, five systems handling different pieces of information,” such as for truck, terminal and vessel operations.

“I would argue that, as consolidation takes root and there are fewer carriers, inherently information has to get better,” Blaeser said. That may happen as rates improve and companies spend more on effective software information management tools.

Rick Roberts, director of risk management at Connecticut’s Ensign-Bickford Industries (EBI), is sufficiently alarmed by this and other news to have begun reviewing his policies and risk management strategies.

But it’s not just the risk posed by overcapacity, it’s the risk of consolidation itself.

EBI transports hazardous military goods to Europe and pet food to South America. Insufficient information and possible changes in global routes as companies merge their respective customer bases, for example, give him pause.

“I see we’re going to have some issues where routes are changing and how long it could take for our products to get places. Maybe it used to take 10 days to two weeks and now maybe it takes a month.”

For his part, Ali Rizvi, senior vice president at Marsh in Houston, said the three biggest challenges shippers face are fuel, crew and ship management. Consolidation obviously allows merged companies to use crew more efficiently and renegotiate bunker fuels, while economies of scale present opportunities for more efficient operations overall.

Ali Rizvi, senior vice president, Marsh

“But does it solve the problem of overcapacity? We don’t think so,” said Rizvi.

What may help is for the number of relatively newer ships that are scrapped each year to continue or even increase. Another crucial step will be to effectively manage both the skill sets and “culture capital” among combined crew and ship management that can be disturbed or disappear outright when companies merge.

“If you’re merging two shipping companies you want to make sure that their respective HR groups have a synergy and understand each other, put together one team that understands the needs of each of their vessels, their routes, their customers and the ports they call in,” he said.

Rizvi said some companies might consider another option: conversion from cargo to other lines of business. Shipyards, for example, said Rizvi, can’t build cruise ships quickly enough to meet demand. Very different from cargo, of course, but if it makes economic sense, why not?

Another opportunity is conversion to LNG, which is expected to thrive over the next several years with rising demand in clean energy resources.

Bigger Ships, More Complex Cargo

But the issue for Joe Sheridan is what happens if more companies like Hanjin go under, specifically claims being filed for warehouse forwarding charges to pay for discharge of cargo at dockside, temporary warehousing and a replacement vessel to get cargo to its original destination.

“That’s where the claims are really going to come into play,” said the marine specialist at Lockton cargo and logistics. How insurance policies are written will be critical to how well container shippers fare going forward, he said.

Some underwriters, for example, attach sublimits to liabilities for a single occurrence. A bigger issue, said Rizvi and Sheridan, is the stipulation in some policies that each bill of lading be insured separately, in which case multiple deductibles would apply in exigent circumstances.

Continued reliance on megaships with their massive cargo loads and numerous clients poses an obvious challenge here, said Sheridan.

“If you go out and put a $10 million limit on one cargo account and a $20 million limit on another, you don’t know how many cargo accounts you have exposure to on one vessel because these ships are so big. There’s no way they can determine that.”

Bottom line, there’s an array of marine cargo insurance policies out there written along a broad spectrum of terms and conditions and it will be up to individual underwriters to determine how  language changes or stays the same going forward.

Some underwriters and clients weren’t really hit very hard after Hanjin went under while others were, said Sheridan. But changes are definitely afoot.

“They’re asking, ‘Is this something that could happen again?’ I’ve been in this business for over 20 years and I’ve never seen anything happen of this scale and magnitude. Our argument is that shippers should take a hard look at these policies before these things happen.”

Still at Sea Over Low Demand

Blaeser was happy to see consolidation continue apace since his company’s report a year ago, notably the joint announcement that Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Nippon Yusen and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha are merging their container shipping businesses this July to begin operations in April 2018.

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Overall, the industry will enjoy stable business from higher, compensatory freight rates as fewer hands control the capacity side, said Blaeser, while “the benefits to the manufacturers and retailers that rely on their services will be decreased volatility and more reliability in terms of services.”

“But with consolidation we’re still not out of the woods,” Blaeser added. “If fewer hands don’t manage the global fleet in a tighter manner, then those benefits won’t happen.”

Non-market forces, too, “have weighed on the market to the detriment of the ocean carrier business,” said Blaeser. Governments, in particular Asian governments, have backed companies unable to make it on their own — neglecting one crucial economic factor: global demand.

“If governments, be they American or European or wherever, reverse track on their trading policies then that will inevitably hit demand ferociously,” Blaeser said. “Where demand might be threatened, the industry absolutely has to take it seriously.” &

David Godkin is a freelance magazine writer based in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Insurance Executive

A Leader for Turbulent Times

Lloyd’s CEO Inga Beale is tasked with guiding the venerable insurance market through Brexit and the demands of the fiercely competitive global specialty business.
By: | July 6, 2017 • 12 min read

Underwriters at Lloyd’s are accustomed to taking on complex, even daunting, risks. The company’s leader looks at the world today and sees plenty of opportunity, but also much to be concerned about.

“Political instability is something that troubles me more than anything else because I think there is now more uncertainty across the world than there has ever been,” said Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyd’s of London.

“It feels that all of the norms that I grew up with are being challenged — openness, globalization, acceptance, inclusion — on a global scale.”

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Appropriately, we’re sitting around a table in Beale’s modern glass-fronted office at the top of the Lloyd’s Building — itself a vision from the future — to talk about Brexit and Lloyd’s newly announced Brussels subsidiary.

Add to the mix Donald Trump and the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea, the bombing of Syria and a spate of terrorist attacks across Europe, and it’s clear we are living in the most dangerous period certainly since the Cold War, or possibly ever, believes Beale.

That belief received even more chilling reinforcement when terrorists detonated a bomb at an Ariana Grande performance in Manchester, England on May 22.  Twenty two people, some of them children, were killed and more than 50 wounded in that attack.

Three years ago, it was Beale herself making world headlines with her appointment as the first female CEO in Lloyd’s 329-year history. But now Brexit and other seismic disruptions to world order have taken center stage.

Lloyd’s announced at the end of March that it would establish a new European subsidiary in Brussels in time for January 1, 2019 renewals so it can continue writing risks for all 27 European Union (EU) and three European Economic Area states after the UK exits the EU.

Currently, it uses its passporting rights to serve EU customers from London, but the expected loss of those rights after Brexit necessitated the establishment of a new subsidiary.

For now though, it’s business as usual, said Beale, with the UK remaining a full EU member for at least two more years. She added, with a reassuring smile, that there will be no immediate impact on existing policies, renewals or new policies written during that time.

“We were campaigning very much to remain in the EU before the referendum because we knew what the likely impact [of leaving the EU] would be on Lloyd’s,” said Beale, whose impressive resume includes stints with GE Insurance Solutions, Zurich and Canopius.

“We rely very much on our licensing network, and being part of the EU means that from London we can write insurance and reinsurance for all of the EU countries with our passporting authority.

“But with the UK exiting the EU, it now means that we lose those licensing powers to offer insurance with immediate effect. To counteract this, we have determined to set up a subsidiary within the EU, meaning that about five percent of our global revenues will have to go through this subsidiary because it is insurance business offered to our EU-based clients.”

Beale and her team also negotiated that most of Lloyd’s underwriting business will remain in London, as will the majority of the transactions and decision-making powers. Meanwhile, the manpower needed to run the new Brussels operation will be in the “tens rather than hundreds,” she is quick to point out.

“It’s not a huge raft of people having to move over,” she said.

“Lloyd’s will continue to do 95 percent of its business as it has always done — it’s only the other five percent that will have to go through a separate legal entity, and we’re not anticipating any further changes to our business model as a result.”

Beale, whose dual role is both supervisor and advocate for the market’s 100-something member underwriting syndicates, says that the franchise board chose Brussels over other locations including Luxembourg, Dublin and Malta because of its “robust and quality” regulatory regime.

“At the time, I didn’t even know that reinsurance existed, but once I discovered it I absolutely loved it.” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

It also provides access to a multilingual talent pool, is near to London, and, most importantly she stresses, is located in a member state with a “very high certainty of staying in the EU.”

“We want people who reflect our customers,” she said.

“The London insurance market is littered with people from all over the world because London is such a global insurance hub, so we need experts here who speak the language and understand the different cultures.”

North American Footprint

Despite its large European market, it’s the other side of the pond where Lloyd’s really thrives. Approximately 46 percent of its business comes from the U.S., mainly California earthquake and East Coast hurricane risks, she said.

Lloyd’s also remains the No.1 excess and surplus lines insurer in the U.S. and the largest non-U.S. domiciled insurer, she added.

“We have done really well in terms of growing our E&S market share over there,” she said.

“That’s our sweet spot; those non-standard risks that are hard to place.”

By contrast, Beale said that reinsurance has become a much more competitive market with new entrants offering alternative types of reinsurance putting a squeeze on prices. As a consequence, Lloyd’s has focused more on insurance, she said.

“We have also done well in Canada and with our delegated authority through our Managing General Underwriters and Managing General Agents,” she said.

“It’s this very local and specialist distribution channel that has been our success story across North America.”

In January, Beale was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire — the female equivalent of being knighted — and is also the Association of Professional Insurance Women’s Insurance Woman of the Year for 2017.

“What concerns us most is not individual risks such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but rather assessing the aggregation of our exposures to financial and liability-type risks with no geographical boundaries.” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

As the person directing Lloyd’s, she is also acutely aware of the shift in power towards emerging economies, with McKinsey recently reporting that 67 percent of commercial insurance growth will come from those markets by 2020.

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In response, Lloyd’s has focused its efforts on Asia and Latin America, transferring more than half of its managing agents to its Shanghai and Beijing platforms; and it was recently granted final approval to open a reinsurance office in Mumbai, she said.

“That’s where the future’s going to be,” she said.

“We know that a lot of the business is no longer coming to London in the traditional way, hence we have set up a Singapore platform and platforms in China, and opened up an office in Dubai as well as in India to be closer to our clients and brokers there.”

Lloyd’s profits last year were flat at $2.7 billion, while GWP was up $3.9 billion.

The market made a profit despite taking a $2.7 billion hit for major claims — the fifth highest such total since the turn of the century — primarily due to Hurricane Matthew and the Fort McMurray Wildfire in Canada.

Although natural disasters are Lloyd’s bread and butter, its real strength is in insuring complex risks, from cargo ships and satellites to political and terrorism risks.

Lloyd’s Role in Cyber

It’s the aggregation of those harder-to-quantify risks such as cyber security that concerns Beale most. Expected to grow to $7.5 billion in global premiums business by 2020, cyber is a big focus for Lloyd’s. It has a 25 percent market share and aggregate limits of approximately $650 million per risk, she said.

“What concerns us most is not individual risks such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but rather assessing the aggregation of our exposures to financial and liability-type risks with no geographical boundaries,” she said.

“We saw that with the financial crisis and the collapse of Fanny and Freddie, and its impact on Greece, but now it’s cyber.

“We have interviewed numerous risk managers and they are telling us that they are only insured against less than 10 percent of the risks that their businesses face on a daily basis. Our challenge is to make sure that we are continuing to adapt as fast as their businesses do and that we are delivering the relevant products that they need.”

Another area where Lloyd’s has seen an uptick is political and terrorism risk, said Beale.

The U.S. standoff with North Korea, Brexit and a swath of ISIS terrorist attacks across Europe have only exacerbated the problem, heightening fears among those countries’ citizens and tearing whole communities apart.

“We would love to get to a stage where a client can track something being quoted or a claim being paid, just like you do with a package being delivered [to your home].” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

Just witness the anguish of the victims and families in the Manchester concert bombing.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in demand for these types of products because of the political instability everywhere at the moment, particularly for companies that are trading cross border with countries where governments can suddenly intervene at a moment’s notice,” she said.

“Similarly, businesses are looking to protect themselves against the ever-growing threat of terrorism, which is where Lloyd’s can step in to give them the confidence to keep on trading.”

Reforming Lloyd’s

Within Lloyd’s itself, Beale has been at the forefront of trying to modernize the aging institution. Despite its modern metallic and glass exterior, inside Lloyd’s there’s still very much what some might term a stuffy “old boys’ club” culture.

Men are required to wear a tie and women weren’t allowed into the underwriting room until 1972. Brokers still walk around with leather slipcases crammed full of paper.

The Lloyd’s headquarters on Lime Street.

Beale’s predecessor, Richard Ward, tried to modernize Lloyd’s but left plenty for Beale to address in that respect.

Beale committed $700 million over the next five years to upgrade Lloyd’s aging computer and IT systems, with the end goal of achieving one-touch data capture to speed up the premiums and claims process.

“It’s about following that data all the way through the process from the client to the intermediary and the underwriter, and the processing of the premiums and claims,” she said.

“We would love to get to a stage where a client can track something being quoted or a claim being paid, just like you do with a package being delivered [to your home].”

Another area Beale is keen to shake up is diversity within Lloyd’s itself. Currently the market is two-thirds male, while only 11 percent of the whole London insurance market are non-UK nationals — a damning statistic that Beale is all too aware of.

“The Lloyd’s market doesn’t reflect the demographics of the whole of London and we are very conscious that we’re not tapping into all of the available talent that’s out there,” she said.

“We need to cut out the old ideas, try to challenge the unconscious bias and create an environment that is welcoming for people who are a bit different.”

Beale has also been pushing the [email protected] initiative, currently in its third year, and in September Lloyd’s will host the third annual Dive In festival to promote diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry.

In addition, 95 percent of the Lloyd’s market has already signed up to its Diversity & Inclusion charter to improve diversity, she said.

“To attract the best talent we need to modernize and look at how we can change our working practices and hiring decisions for the better,” she said.

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“There’s a vast amount of work that we are actively doing to encourage people to be more open and seek more diverse talent.”

On a personal level, Beale readily admits that she was late to the leadership game, and it was only her mentor, Annette Sadolin at GE, who convinced her to take her first promotion.

That lack of confidence is something that, as a leader, Beale has witnessed in her own team and she is keen to help overcome.

“Annette became very much a mentor for me throughout my career, so whenever I have had to make key decisions I would always ask her view,” she said.

“The key lesson that I have learnt from her is that things move so quickly and you need to take opportunities when they come along that give you exposure to something new, even if they don’t seem like a natural career path at the time.

“For me, being a leader is all about inclusion and being passionate about the people you work with because you need to inspire and motivate them. But there is also nothing more rewarding than watching people progress their careers.”

A Truly Global Journey

Beale, who initially harbored ambitions of being an architect, admits that she “fell into reinsurance,” starting as a trainee international treaty reinsurance underwriter at Prudential Assurance Company in London in 1982. But once she had a taste there was no turning back.

“At the time, I didn’t even know that reinsurance existed, but once I discovered it I absolutely loved it,” she said.

“I fell in love with the global nature of the risks that came to London; one day you could be looking at a piece of business from Chile, the next from Australia.”

But, back then, working in a male-dominated industry where she was the only woman among 35 men, Beale struggled to fit in. So she quit and went travelling for 10 months.

It was during her time as a receptionist at the BBC in Sydney, Australia that Beale worked under her first female boss, a formidable woman, she said.

Inspired by her boss’s strong work ethic, Beale decided to return to the insurance business.

She soon landed a job with GE Insurance Solutions in Kansas City, where she held various underwriting management roles, before being appointed president of GE Frankona and head of continental Europe, Middle East and Africa for GE Insurance Solutions in Germany.

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After 14 years at GE, Beale moved to Switzerland with Converium as group CEO in 2006.

Two years later, she joined Zurich Insurance Group as a member of the group management board in Zurich before being appointed global chief underwriting officer, prior to her appointment as group CEO at Canopius in 2012.

The breadth and depth of her experience makes Beale a natural fit for the demands of the Lloyd’s top job.

There’s no doubt she’ll be drawing upon every ounce of that expertise and experience to keep Lloyd’s at the cutting edge of this harrowing new world we live in.

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]