Supply Chain Risks

The Risks of Reshoring

Manufacturing’s return will require re-evaluating insurance programs, challenging underwriters to analyze new risks.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 6 min read

President Donald Trump pledged to create millions of jobs in the American economy. To achieve this goal he wants to convince companies to bring back the bulk of their supply chains to the United States.

But promoting the reshoring of manufacturing will be a hard task and, in order to accelerate this process, Trump looks set to experiment with policy measures that should have significant effect on the operations of multinational companies. The government can, for instance, implement tax reforms to reward companies that invest in America, or impose punitive tariffs on goods imported from suppliers located abroad.

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Trump can also use his well-known persuasion skills to shame firms into creating jobs at home, rather than elsewhere in the world. The latter strategy may already have borne fruit earlier this year with the likes of Ford Motor Co. and Carrier, which shelved plans to expand their production lines in Mexico, opting to invest in Michigan and Indiana instead.

Either way, the government appears to mean business.

“It does the American economy no long-term good to only keep the big box factories where we are now assembling ‘American’ products that are composed primarily of foreign components,” Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, told the “Financial Times” in January. “We need to manufacture those components in a robust domestic supply chain that will spur job and wage growth.”

“Costs have gone up significantly since the big outsourcing wave started some 15 years ago, and the economic advantages have narrowed.” – J. Paul Dittmann, executive director, Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee

If the administration manages to deliver on its promises, companies will have to review the way they deal with supply chain risks. Experts have warned, for example, that workers’ compensation issues could become a more important factor across their supply chain, and insurance programs could become more expensive as insurance coverages tend to be more comprehensive, and premiums higher, in America than in developing nations. But opportunities could also arise, for example in terms of lower transportation costs and proximity to the final consumer.

In fact, although the subject has gained plenty of attention due to the Trump government’s protectionist views, the reversal of the globalization of supply chains has been going on for some time already, said J. Paul Dittmann, the executive director at the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee.

“It is a trend that is already very strong and seems to be growing,” he said. The reasons for this movement are manifold. Higher geopolitical risks have increased the threat of disruption of supply chains around the world in ways that companies did not anticipate some years ago. Dealing with corrupt authorities in the developing world involves plenty of risks of falling afoul with American courts, and economies like China offer less of a cost advantage these days, as income and wage expectations are beginning to catch up with developed economies.

“Costs have gone up significantly since the big outsourcing wave started some 15 years ago, and the economic advantages have narrowed,” Dittmann said. “Many companies have been over-optimistic in their cost analysis, and they often do not fully understand the inventory impact of long distance outsourcing.”

Restructuring Supply Chains

SCM, a think-tank that publishes an annual study on the subject, observed that local-for-local supply chain management strategies have gained popularity among companies since 2012.
Furthermore, the argument that focuses on jobs creation was also played by the Barack Obama administration, and the Economic Development Agency has funded reshoring initiatives for several years already.

That said, Dittmann warned that the movement back to the United States must be a natural one, driven by economic factors, and not by government arm-twisting.

If the authorities want to give the phenomenon a boost, it should address tax and regulatory constraints to the operation of companies in the country, he said.

“To force supply chains into a certain region does not make a lot of sense, and it could put American companies into a position of disadvantage,” he said.

Protective measures could drive production costs up, as wages in America remain much higher than in countries that are vital supply chain markets, such as Mexico or China.

Experts have stressed that industries like consumer electronics, high tech and footwear could suffer considerable impact if restrictive actions are taken against China, while the automotive sector is exposed to any new tariffs on imports from Mexico.

Furthermore, tit-for-tat reactions from foreign governments could restrict the access of American companies to export markets, and retaliation from China would be bad news, for example, for the aerospace industry.

The rise of protectionism, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe and other parts of the world has actually been highlighted by the latest annual report on the matter by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply as a major factor behind an increase in supply chain risks.

Logan Payne, assistant vice president, global client services group, Lockton

The moving of supply chain links from emerging economies to the U.S. should also have a significant effect on the insurance programs of international companies.

It will require them to restructure their programs in order to reflect a broader American footprint, replacing local coverages purchased in foreign markets with others purchased in the U.S., and sometimes acquiring policies that are not really needed in other markets.

That’s the case, for example, with workers’ compensation policies, said Logan Payne, the assistant vice president in Lockton’s global client services group. “In some countries, workers’ compensation is covered by social security systems, while here it is necessary to purchase a separate insurance policy,” he said.

Working mostly in the United States also means that a higher share of a company’s activities will be exposed to a legal system where jury awards are much higher than elsewhere. Therefore, liability programs could become more expensive as local policies purchased abroad are replaced with American ones, Payne said.

The concentration of the supply chain in a single region also means a concentration of business interruption risks. As such, it increases the risk that production will suffer major disruption, if a large event hits one of the supply chain’s links.

On the other hand, risks linked to the shipment and transportation of goods and raw materials should be less of a worry, Payne said.

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“With a more regionalized supply chain, where supplies are much closer and there is less need for transoceanic cargo shipment, transportation is one area where insurance costs should be reduced,” he said.

An additional complication is that decisions about supply chains, more than ever, now entail a significant level of reputational risk.

“The basic message is to be more national, don’t just be global,” Richard Edelman, CEO of marketing firm Edelman, told Reuters during the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“Let’s try and pre-empt that tweet by having a long-term discussion about the supply chain.” &

Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]