7 Critical Risks Facing the Marine Industry

Onboard fires, cyber attacks and the risk that distracted captains will run vessels aground are all leading to increased cargo marine losses.
By: | January 7, 2019 • 5 min read

Dislocated insurance markets, aging cargo fleets and yacht losses that pile up by the hundreds when hurricanes strike are just some of the critical risks that assail the marine industry.

Advertisement




Here are a few to keep an eye on in coming months and years.

1) Aging Fleets

Commercial insurance brokers need to pull out every maneuver at their disposal to find coverage for cargo fleets that in some cases are decades old and in need of replacement. Aging steamships and other vessels mean increased claims on hull programs, and higher premiums from increasingly skittish marine insurance markets.

2) Losses of Yachts in Hurricanes

The sloops, sail boats and yachts lost in Hurricanes Irma and Maria number in the hundreds. The Virgin Islands were particularly hit hard. With so many boats lost, many of them of high value, several insurance markets have abandoned this space altogether.

3) Autonomous Vessels

Remote controlled and autonomous ships represent a sea change in how ocean-going vessels will be insured and risk managed. Experts interviewed by Risk & Insurance® for a March 2018 piece on this topic had a number of questions and concerns about this technology development. Rod Johnson, a director of marine risk management for RSA Global Risk, said he thinks the insurance industry is in denial about how rapidly its forms are becoming irrelevant in this rapidly changing environment.

Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk

“The agreed uncertainty that underpins marine insurance is falling away, but we are pretending that it isn’t,” Johnson said. “The contractual framework is being made less relevant all the time.”

Rolls Royce is one of the major proponents and designers of autonomous sea vessels. The company tested a remote-controlled tug in Copenhagen in June, 2017. But how autonomous vehicles can be rescued and repaired while underway is a primary fear.

Given all the unknowns, Thomas Boudreau, head of specialty insurance for The Hartford, suggested remote ferry operations could be the most appropriate use.

“They travel fixed routes, all within one country’s waters,” he said.

Fully autonomous vessels are expected to be in commercial operation by 2025.

4) Trade Protectionism

While global merchandise trade is expected to remain strong in 2019, there are increasing concerns from cargo operators and insurers about the negative impacts of trade protectionism. Sean Dalton, head of marine underwriting, North America, for Munich Reinsurance America Inc., and the IUMI Cargo Committee Chair, referred to the issue during an IUMI (International Union of Marine Insurance) meeting in Cape Town in September of 2018.

5) Underwriting Losses in Marine

The marine cargo market, according to IUMI, is the largest commercial marine line of business as measured by premium income. IUMI’s 2017 statistics showed global cargo premiums amounted to $16.1 billion, the marine insurance organization reported in a Sept. 19, 2018 press release. But for years, for a variety of reasons, the cargo line has been an unprofitable line of business. Loss ratios and expense ratios are rising, which is a concern for insurers.

Advertisement




In a 2017 interview with Patrick Hickey, executive vice president, marine for Aspen Insurance, R&I questioned Hickey on the disturbing trend of higher marine losses, in particular, an increasing instance of vessel groundings.

“This is a very interesting, and disturbing trend, where human error is most likely the root cause,” Hickey said. “The question is what is driving it? I believe it is multi-faceted; however, there is evidence that we have become overly dependent on electronic navigation and enhanced technology to make decisions for us. Accordingly, we are losing critical human interaction and judgment to avoid these incidents,” Hickey said.

Given the size of container ships, Munich Reinsurance America’s Dalton also pointed to container ship fires as a disturbing loss trend. “The fire on board Maersk Honam, which tragically killed five crew members, is the most recent example of this issue and the loss is likely to generate the largest general average claim in history,” Dalton said.

6) CATS and other Outliers

There may be no more perfect example of a perfect storm for marine and cargo underwriters than the explosion at the port of Tianjin in 2016. But Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria all caused large cargo losses.

Pat Hickey, EVP, head of U.S. marine, Aspen Insurance

“Tianjin was perhaps the perfect storm,” Aspen’s Hickey said in 2017. “However, we need to consider the underlying exposures and regulations that could contribute to a future event. The vast increase in the size of cargo vessels quickly translates to a greater exposure per vessel and significantly greater exposure at port facilities,” he said.

“While steamship lines and ports do an exceptional job of quickly and safely moving freight, a relatively simple error of misdeclared cargo (e.g. hazardous materials) could end up causing a catastrophic loss. It would be naive for us to suggest that ports operating 24/7 with increase accumulation exposure are not at risk,” Hickey said.

Insured losses from the Tianjin explosion were estimate by Swiss Re and others at some $3.3 billion.

7) Cyber Threats

In an August 2016 article in Risk & Insurance, freelance writer and editor Gregory DL Morris reported on the slow uptake of cyber insurance by marine risk managers. Although a future that would include autonomous vessels is being contemplated, and electronic navigation, for better or worse, is increasingly used by oceangoing vessels, cyber coverage is lagging. That, despite the risk that a hacker taking control of a massive marine vessel, say a tanker loaded to the gills with flammable substances, is a dreaded fear.

Advertisement




“So far the consensus has been that a marine underwriter can understand cyber more easily, and add that to the policy form, than a cyber underwriter can understand the marine industry,” said Christine Marciano, president of boutique brokerage Cyber Data Risk Managers.

For Andreas Schlayer, a senior cyber underwriter for Munich Re, there is little material difference between a hack and a malfunction in terms of potential P&C losses.

That being said, the risk is real and any cyber losses at sea could well be under-reported, experts said.

“There have not been a huge number of instances or losses,” Marciano said.

“Physical losses from cyber perils may be happening more than we know and just not reported,” she said. “Marine companies are not obligated to report.”

They may not be, yet. But the losses that are bedeviling marine cargo underwriters need to be addressed.  If that means more transparency on the risks of autonomous vessels and cyber losses at sea, then so be it. There is too much risk out there to digest, otherwise. &

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

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.

Advertisement




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.

Advertisement




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?

Advertisement




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.

Advertisement




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.

Advertisement




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]