High Net Worth

The Ultra-wealthy Prep for Doomsday

The world's richest citizens are searching out top-notch security measures and infrastructure to prepare against natural and man-made disaster.
By: | March 28, 2018 • 5 min read

From natural disasters and climate change to terrorism and the threat of global conflict, it can seem as if the world is on the edge of more perilous times. While most people can do little more than review their insurance policies and go about their lives, some of the ultra-wealthy are going to great lengths to prep for potential disaster.

Growing Fears About Mega Disasters

An article in The New Yorker last year suggested that hundreds, if not thousands, of ultra-wealthy Americans are prepping for doomsday scenarios. Many high net worth people are looking beyond insurance to protect themselves from man-made and natural disasters, said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer, Vault Insurance.

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“I think there are more things going on these days that make people think. For some, it’s a hurricane or the protection of a collection. For others, it’s survivalist-type stuff,” Bitterman said.

There was a time when “prepping” was limited to offbeat conspiracy theorists who played weekend warrior in the woods. But it has partly gone mainstream in recent years due to news, political events, disasters and the growing popularity of post-apocalyptic shows like “The Walking Dead.”

A recent survey by Finder.com revealed more than one in four Americans, roughly 68 million people, have purchased some sort of survival gear due to recent political events or disasters. One interesting discovery: Preparedness increased with income level. Those with higher household incomes spent a proportionately higher percentage on things like supplies and home renovations to withstand disasters.

Beyond basic supplies, the high net worth are acquiring properties in more isolated places, such as rural Montana, New Hampshire and Maine, Bitterman said. Others have been eyeing remote islands in the Caribbean and New Zealand — a remote location with a high level of political stability. PayPal founder Peter Thiel recently acquired a 477-acre estate in New Zealand and was granted citizenship there.

“And the beauty is, for these people buying blue-chip properties in exotic locations around the world, they’re not going to lose money, so they end up with a fabulous vacation home, and the ability to disappear if they need to,” Bitterman said.

Luxury Bunkers and 5-Star Shelters

Along with acquiring secure getaways in remote locations, the high net worth are also constructing secure infrastructure to withstand the most extreme disasters. In September 2017, billionaire Richard Branson and his family safely and comfortably rode out one of the strongest hurricanes on record inside of his wine cellar on Necker Island.

Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer, Vault Insurance

In places like Florida, deca-millionaires are constructing hurricane-proof rooms in their homes or their own properties, Bitterman said. While standard shelters can be had for as little as $7,000, niche contractors are also constructing elaborate luxury bunkers that can run into the millions of dollars and can even withstand a direct nuclear attack.

Vivos offers a number of shelter solutions, including the 40-foot Quantum shelter, which can be buried underground and can accommodate up to eight people with enough room for a year’s worth of food.

The company is also developing survival communities in places like Indiana and South Dakota. Vivos’ Europa-1 facility offers 5-star amenities and what it says is the “ultimate life assurance solution for high net worth families.” The shelter is carved out of solid bedrock in a mountain, can withstand a close-range nuclear

blast and features three miles of tunnel chambers with gyms, theaters, a bar and enough space to accommodate a community of 500 residents. Private apartments in the luxury survival community start at $2.5 million (€2 million).

“I think there are more things going on these days that make people think. For some, it’s a hurricane or the protection of a collection. For others, it’s survivalist-type stuff.” — Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer, Vault Insurance

The richest of the rich are also constructing custom facilities on their own properties. And until the need arises to live in them, many are using them to store collections of art, vehicles and other items.

“There are people going to incredible lengths to consolidate storage of their collections in one facility. Some even have hundreds of cars, and so they create spaces protected from whatever catastrophe in that area might be,” Bitterman said.

The Digital Threat

Terrorism also remains a significant threat.

After 9/11, many ultra-wealthy people in Manhattan began to rethink their ability to evacuate the island in the event of an emergency. While many of these people already had access to helicopters, it was little help when air traffic was instantly grounded after the attacks. To this day, some wealthy Manhattanites still have alternative transportation methods in place to quickly vacate the island if necessary.

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“People that didn’t keep cars in the city were buying garage space and cars. Several clients we had bought or rented boats, because if something like that happened again, they wanted to be able to get out of the city quickly,” Bitterman said.

Many are also going to great lengths to reduce their exposure in the event of a massive cyberattack, Bitterman added.

The U.S. Director of National Intelligence said the public and private sectors in the U.S. remains at a high risk of attack from state and non-state actors. The ultra-wealthy are also significant targets for identity theft and hacking of personal or financial data then held for ransom.

Vault has partnered with security firms specializing in serving the needs of the high net worth. They come into a home and review phones, computers and all electronic devices to ensure clients have the highest level of security. These companies also review security cameras, which can be hijacked to spy on the residents.

And in the event of an attack, they can act quickly to reduce the damage: “There are just more things of concern, and they’re going to great lengths to limit catastrophe when something goes wrong,” Bitterman said. &

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Emerging Multipliers

It’s not that these risks are new; it’s that they’re coming at you at a volume and rate you never imagined before.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 3 min read

Underwriters have plenty to worry about, but there is one word that perhaps rattles them more than any other word. That word is aggregation.

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Aggregation, in the transferred or covered risk usage, represents the multiplying potential of a risk. For examples, we can look back to the asbestos claims that did so much damage to Lloyds’ of London names and syndicates in the mid-1990s.

More recently, underwriters expressed fears about the aggregation of risk from lawsuits by football players at various levels of the sport. Players, from Pee Wee on up to the NFL, claim to have suffered irreversible brain damage from hits to the head.

That risk scenario has yet to fully play out — it will be decades in doing so — but it is already producing claims in the billions.

This year’s edition of our national-award winning coverage of the Most Dangerous Emerging Risks focuses on risks that have always existed. The emergent — and more dangerous — piece to the puzzle is that these risks are now super-charged with risk multipliers.

Take reputational risk, for example. Businesses and individuals that were sharply managed have always protected their reputations fiercely. In days past, a lapse in ethics or morals could be extremely damaging to one’s reputation, but it might take days, weeks, even years of work by newspaper reporters, idle gossips or political enemies to dig it out and make it public.

Brand new technologies, brand new commercial covers. It all works well; until it doesn’t.

These days, the speed at which Internet connectedness and social media can spread information makes reputational risk an existential threat. Information that can stop a glittering career dead in its tracks can be shared by millions with a casual, thoughtless tap or swipe on their smartphones.

Aggregation of uninsured risk is another area of focus of our Most Dangerous Emerging Risks (MDER) coverage.

The beauty of the insurance model is that the business expands to cover personal and commercial risks as the world expands. The more cars on the planet, the more car insurance to sell.

The more people, the more life insurance. Brand new technologies, brand new commercial covers. It all works well; until it doesn’t.

As Risk & Insurance® associate editor Michelle Kerr and her sources point out, growing populations and rising property values, combined with an increase in high-severity catastrophes, threaten to push the insurance coverage gap to critical levels.

This aggregation of uninsured value got a recent proof in CAT-filled 2017. The global tally for natural disaster losses in 2017 was $330 billion; 60 percent of it was uninsured.

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This uninsured gap threatens to place unsustainable pressure on public resources and hamstring society’s ability to respond to natural disasters, which show no sign of slowing down or tempering.

A related threat, the combination of a failing infrastructure and increasing storm severity, marks our third MDER. This MDER looks at the largely uninsurable risk of business interruption that results not from damage to your property or your suppliers’ property, but to publicly maintained infrastructure that provides ingress and egress to your property. It’s a danger coming into shape more and more frequently.

As always, our goal in writing about these threats is not to engage in fear mongering. It’s to initiate and expand a dialogue that can hopefully result in better planning and mitigation, saving the lives and limbs of businesses here and around the world.

2018 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Critical Coverage Gap

Growing populations and rising property values, combined with an increase in high-severity catastrophes, are pushing the insurance protection gap to a critical level.

Climate Change as a Business Interruption Multiplier

Crumbling roads and bridges isolate companies and trigger business interruption losses.

 

Reputation’s Existential Threat

Social media — the very tool used to connect people in an instant — can threaten a business’s reputation just as quickly.

 

AI as a Risk Multiplier

AI has potential, but it comes with risks. Mitigating these risks helps insurers and insureds alike, enabling advances in almost every field.

 

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]