Cyber Risk

Cyber Risks and ILS

The race is on to develop a CAT bond-like vehicle that could build an extra layer of protection against cyber threats.
By: | October 15, 2016 • 8 min read

As losses with cyber risks pile up, the insurance industry is looking for alternatives to offer capacity to buyers. Could capital markets hold the key to provide broader coverages and higher limits?

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The answer may well be yes.

The race is on among underwriters and their advisers to develop CAT bond-like vehicles that could enable them to build extra layers of protection against cyber threats and to expand insurance and reinsurance capacity.

With pension funds and other institutional investors showing ever more appetite for insurance-linked securities (ILS), conditions appear to be set for a new market to flourish that could also extend in the future to corporations and government entities with a high exposure to cyber events.

Bill Dubinsky, head of insurance-linked securities, Willis Capital Markets & Advisory

Bill Dubinsky, head of insurance-linked securities, Willis Capital Markets & Advisory

“Many investors are looking for ways to take more risks,” said Bill Dubinsky, head of insurance-linked securities at Willis Capital Markets & Advisory. “Cyber risk is something that could work for them because a lot of it is catastrophic and it is generating real growth in insurance and reinsurance needs.”

The drivers behind the growth of ILS markets are the same that are pumping record levels of capital in the reinsurance industry.

As they look for alternatives to low-risk fixed income securities, institutional investors have taken a favorable view of CAT bonds and other ILS products, which offer solid rates of return and low probabilities of losses (although they tend to be huge when they take place).

But the development of a bond market to transfer cyber risks stumbles on difficulties that also affect the insurance industry in its dealings with a fast changing, hard to predict threat.

Cyber risks have fundamental differences with the catastrophes that constitute the traditional focus of ILS securities, which means that a lot of work still needs to be done before the new asset class takes flight.

“I do not think it is something that will happen quickly, but it is a natural evolution for the market,” said Ben Brookes, vice president of capital markets at RMS, the risk modeling firm.

Cyber Risks Are Unpredictable

One of the main challenges is that cyber risks are unpredictable and evolve all the time, and the same goes for the losses that they can generate.

“The scope of the coverages has continued to expand. Insurance contracts today have a much broader coverage than five years ago,” said Michael Carr, technology practice leader at Argo Group.

“For example, the privacy coverage has gone from just security-type triggers, such as hacking or malware, to any sort of privacy violation. In the area of business interruption, policies now also cover losses caused by failures of third-party software or even by failures of the insured’s own IT department.”

Companies use insurance coverages to protect their networks, physical structures and supply chains against cyber attacks, but they are also exposed to third-party liabilities, which should soon become the most important source of losses caused by cyber events.

The unpredictability of the peril frightens off investors who look at ILS investments as a source of portfolio stability in volatile times. Liability risks with a long tail are very likely to be the toughest one for asset managers to swallow.

So the first challenge that cedants and their advisers need to tackle before a cyber ILS market comes into shape is to develop reliable ways to measure, aggregate and model cyber risks, so that investors will feel more comfortable taking them in.

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A very solid understanding of how the risk evolves is important as — different from hurricanes and floods — hackers learn from past experience, and they adapt their attacks accordingly.

“There is no standard way to quantify cyber exposures at the moment,” said Thomas Harvey, the product manager of emerging risks at RMS. “The human factor and the various motivations behind attacks add a huge element of complexity to the modeling of cyber risks. Also, the balance between attack and defense is shifting all the time.”

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But he sees progress in this issue, as access to data on cyber attacks — for a long time a scarce commodity — is gradually becoming more available to the parties involved. Reporting rules in the U.S. are playing a large part in promoting the sharing of information, and the E.U. will make reporting on cyber attacks mandatory by 2018, Harvey said.

Big Data Models Cyber Risks

Some kinds of losses, such as extortion, which companies do not like to make public, present particular challenges, but modeling firms are negotiating with insurers and reinsurers to have access to all kinds of data about cyber events. Participants in the market have realized that sharing knowledge is good for everybody, Harvey said.

For example, the Association of British Insurers, ABI, made an appeal in May for the creation of a database with mandatory information about cyber incidents.

“We are confident it is possible to develop a mechanism to model cyber risks,” Harvey said. “Demand for it is strong, as there is a huge amount of risks that the insurance and reinsurance markets want to take on.”

But the uncertain nature of cyber risks also raises the question of what losses would trigger a contract. They could be either single, large events, or an aggregation of claims, according to Brent Poliquin, assistant vice president for insurance-linked securities at AIR Worldwide, the catastrophe modeling firm.

There are many ways that originators of insurance contracts can lose money because of cyber risks, some of them still unknown by the market, which make it much harder to pick a trigger than property destruction resulting from earthquakes or floods.

Separating cyber events from terrorism could be a difficult thing to do on some occasions. Hackers form a heterogeneous group, ranging from religious fundamentalists to corporate spies, government agents and activists, and as a result they can have many different targets and kinds of attacks in mind.

To make matters more complex, the main source of cyber events is usually found within the company, as employees are often at their origin, either maliciously or by accident.

The trigger issue should be an especially difficult one for reinsurance companies, which make use of ILS contracts to spread their own risks and reduce their regulatory capital reserves. If investors have doubts over the trigger events, or fear that contracts could end up in the courts, they will show little interest for them.

In Dubinsky’s view, one of the keys to tackle this issue will be to focus on proportional agreements, instead of the excess of loss deals that prevail today in the ILS market. By doing so, investors can share on the expertise of underwriters to deal with a complex and evolving risk.

Appetite for Cyber Risk

Even after the technical challenges are overcome, however, the appetite for cyber risk bonds may not be as strong as it has been for other ILS securities.

For instance, some investors consider that, differently from natural catastrophes, cyber risks may have a high level of correlation with other securities such as equities and bonds.

The reasoning is that, in the case of a large cyber attack against vital infrastructures, the economic effects could make the stock and bond markets stumble at the same time.

“Asset managers who focus on ILS portfolios should find cyber risks products appealing due to the very low correlation with natural catastrophe risks that they have in their portfolios,” Poliquin said.

“But there may be a challenge related to the root sources of capital that flow to these asset managers, such as pension funds. From their standpoint, they may potentially discourage an allocation of capital to cyber risks bonds because they could have a higher correlation with other investments that they are making.”

Paul Traynor, managing director, BNY Mellon

Paul Traynor, managing director, BNY Mellon

But demand for ILS products has been so strong that, in Dubinsky’s view, investors could be interested despite the correlation issue.

And, when a cyber ILS market becomes a reality, even individual companies with large exposures to the risk might be able to tap capital markets for further protection, in a similar fashion that corporations do today with CAT bonds.

In fact, Paul Traynor, a managing director at BNY Mellon, highlighted that an example of how the market could work was provided by Crédit Suisse, which issued in May a $222 million CAT bond to boost its coverage against operational risks like fraud and cyber crime.

“Take the case of a large financial corporation that has invested very heavily to protect itself against cyber risks, but for regulatory reasons, still has to put operational capital aside to cover that risk,” Traynor said.

If investors believe a cyber risk instrument is a sound investment, the corporation may get capital support from such a transaction.

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This is a solution that could gain steam not only among banks, but also in other highly regulated industries such as telecommunications and health insurance, he said.

Traynor also thinks that the development of a cyber risks ILS market could go a long way toward helping underwriters make available more capacity for a segment where demand is booming, even if evaluating exposures remains a challenge.

“For regulatory reasons, it is very difficult for insurers to offer sizable cyber covers if they cannot model them,” he said. “What they can do is to structure a special purpose vehicle to keep some of their cyber risk exposure and move most of it to capital markets, where entities that are not as regulated as insurers are can take it in.”  &

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 and 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]