Insurance Executive

Six Questions for Michael Sillat

Ethos Specialty Insurance is launching into the competitive, but potentially lucrative program business as an MGA. R&I queried Michael Sillat, the CEO of this Ascot Group subsidiary, on his hopes for the launch.
By: | March 12, 2018 • 6 min read

R&I: The program business, as we know, is a growth area in insurance. Why are you enthused to be heading up an MGA in 2018 and beyond?

Michael Sillat: It is very much an opportune time to enter into the MGA space, especially if you can do so with some compelling advantages in terms of the business partners supporting such a venture. Ethos is a subsidiary of the Ascot Group Ltd. (AGL) which is owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). Ethos operates as a separate entity to the other AGL businesses, namely Ascot Underwriting Limited (Syndicate 1414 at Lloyd’s) and Ascot Reinsurance Company Ltd. (Bermuda), we have very strong capital backing and that’s quite important when you’re building out an underwriting infrastructure and need not only the time but also the resources to build that foundation properly and for scale.

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Ethos is independent and while we sit alongside the Ascot Syndicate and Ascot Re, we are not mandated to trade with each other, in fact, and Ethos was founded with the express intent of engaging third party capital providers for capacity, which we are doing today. That being said, when we are in the London marketplace or any of our carriers are seeking to buy reinsurance, we are happy to show either AGL entity the business just as we would any other capacity provider, whether it be directly or through the many intermediaries we have great relationships with.

R&I: What sectors or types of businesses are attractive to you from an underwriting perspective?

MS: The best way to answer that would be to look at what we have already built in terms of business units. Currently we are engaged in three verticals: M&A transactional Liability Insurance, E&S Primary, and Excess Property and Specialty Business. The M&A line is led by Navine Aggarwal, who has with him a team of 9 underwriters. This team is in the market writing R&W business and select specific tax liability and contingent liability products.

On the property side, we have a senior leader, Michael Carr. As Michael executes his property strategy, it will consist of a bifurcated approach between shared and layered and middle market business, written both on a primary and excess basis and covering myriad classes of property business.

Every one of our staff was chosen for a specific reason. They come from either a long standing career in the MGA world, or a successful career within the insurance carrier space, whether it be underwriting, actuarial experience or administration.

Our third business unit, headed by Joe Calise, focuses on a wide array of unique opportunities in the specialty sector. Products in this sector can range from niche single-peril or single-class products to large scale programs requiring specific underwriting expertise. When fully built out, this business unit will cater to a wide variety of products that will serve to address the “specialty” needs of our clients.

R&I: It’s an interesting time to be starting up any insurance business, with price increases starting to filter into the mix for the first time in a long time. How is the pricing dynamic influencing your thinking at this time?

MS: Pricing is no doubt an important component of underwriting, but we feel even more important is risk selection and the intelligence we utilize in allowing the underwriter to being as well informed about the risks being contemplated as possible. For this, technology and utilization of third party data is critical and something we have taken great advantage of.

Looking ahead, as prices fluctuate, we plan to be in lines of business where our infrastructure and underwriting strategy can produce profits in any pricing environment. To that end, if we feel a market is getting to a point where it isn’t sustainable and able to return the underwriting results we seek, then we will not waver in exiting that space. Conversely, when a market hardens, we will be there to provide capacity, and that’s important for our clients to know now and in the future.

All in all, however, we take a long-term view in terms of our pricing strategy and are pleased that as we enter into the market and start building books of business in 2018, we are well positioned in terms of the current market cycle supporting our underwriting efforts as we grow our portfolios.

R&I: One might conclude from the company’s name that you will be an E&S player. Can you help us understand how much admitted business you will be doing?

MS: Certainly, we are primarily engaging in the E&S sector as you can see from the products mentioned as we enter the market place. But by no means will that mean we will exclusively stay in that insurance sector. Our growth strategy is twofold: We will, on the one hand, seek to employ individuals and teams to build out an organic strategy pursuing lines of business we will have strategically decided to enter.

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While many of those could be in the E&S space, they don’t have to be. We could and likely will engage a line of business or an individual that will require an admitted market. That could be in the SME space or middle market space. On the other hand, the AGL group has an M&A team that focuses on potential acquisitions of MGAs. With few exceptions, we can consider MGAs from all walks of life, and as such, it could be quite possible that some of these MGAs deal in the admitted market.

Essentially, whether it be via organic growth or through acquisitions, we do see ourselves engaging in the standard markets as well as the E&S sector and are prepared in terms of our operating systems to handle that business just as much as we are already executing within the surplus lines arena.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you face in launching this business?

MS: Our biggest challenge is that we are a new MGA, and as such, we have to earn our way into the marketplace. That comes through taking the right amount of time and investing the required resources to build a strong and capable infrastructure. We have, today, completed that and are operative with a scalable underwriting and admin system as well as a team of senior leaders covering underwriting, actuarial, human resources and finance. Now, we need to earn the trust of our clients and execute a comprehensive marketing/PR strategy so that we can not only introduce our products to the marketplace but also identify the clients and capacity providers that we seek to partner with as we begin underwriting.

R&I: How do you feel your career prepared you for this moment? Why do you know in your gut that you’ll be successful?

MS: I direct your attention to the team that has been and continues to be assembled. Every one of our staff was chosen for a specific reason. They come from either a long standing career in the MGA world or a successful career within the insurance carrier space, whether it be underwriting, actuarial experience or administration. These are people that have seen the soft and hard market cycles; they make decisions that come from a wealth of experience; and most importantly, at Ethos, they foster a culture of “we,” and in doing so, our teams are constantly communicating and learning from each other’s specific skill sets.

In all my years in this business, if you can get that part right and bring the right people together, success is almost assured. &

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 [email protected]