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When Disaster Strikes, Parametrics Speed Recovery

Parametric insurance is a critical tool to have in the event of a natural catastrophe.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 6 min read

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When natural catastrophes bring communities to a standstill, they need to start rebuilding and recovering fast to return life to normal. But only 30 percent of the total costs of natural disasters around the globe are insured. Who pays for the other 70 percent?

Overwhelmingly, the burden is borne by governments, who pass along the expense to their citizens by raising taxes, reallocating other budgetary items to repair and recovery efforts, or posting debt post-event.

“We argue that these are really inefficient ways to pay for things that we know are going to happen,” said Alex Kaplan, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships at Swiss Re.

Alex Kaplan

Alex Kaplan, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships, Swiss Re

Even when insurance does kick in after a catastrophe, it takes time to assess the damage, value the loss, process the claim and deliver payments. That’s time that communities don’t have when they’re rebuilding.

Coverage gaps present another obstacle. There will inevitably be losses not covered by traditional insurance, and not reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Overtime pay for emergency personnel, for example, is not an insured loss. Nor is the intangible loss of tax revenue that can plague a city for years after natural disaster forces residents out.

“Look at New Orleans. Eleven years after Katrina, they’re still at 85 percent of their pre-Katrina population. That’s not just a loss of individuals and culture; it’s a loss of the tax base. It translates into lesser sales tax, lesser property tax, and lesser lodging taxes. All of a sudden, all of the things the city was attempting to do in its long-term planning can’t happen the way they were designed to,” Kaplan said.

The public sector is also challenged by a lack of liquidity. Governments don’t have cash on hand to spare to fill in these gaps. To rebuild quickly and efficiently, they need payments fast.

“If we can create a mechanism that not only compensates governments for economic loss, but does it exceptionally fast – very differently from how insurance typically operates —it can be incredibly valuable for recovery,” Kaplan said.

Enter parametric insurance.

The Power of Parametric

“Parametric or index-based insurance means that the policy is built around and triggered by characteristics of an event, rather than characteristics of a loss,” said Megan Linkin, Ph.D., CCM, Natural Hazards Expert and Vice President, Global Partnerships, Swiss Re.

Data from third party sources, like the National Hurricane Center or U.S. Geological Survey, would determine what those characteristics are. If a hurricane or an earthquake meets those thresholds for severity, payout from the policy begins automatically.

“One major benefit is that, because you’re relying on third party data and event criteria, the whole claims settlement process can be avoided. No one has to evaluate your losses to initiate payment,” Linkin said.

“That’s the novelty of it — to have this massive event and not have to send in an army of claims adjusters. If the trigger is met, the money flows,” Kaplan said.

Because parametric coverage is event-dependent, its structure is flexible. In order to fit parametric insurance into their budget, insureds can adjust the triggering criteria in the policy, deciding for themselves the level of intensity that will trigger a payout.

Insureds must still provide a proof of loss as a result of a triggering loss. Designating an event as the policy trigger allows payments to begin immediately, but a threshold loss, as determined on a contract-by-contract basis, remains a criterion of the policy.

Parametric coverage can be a lifesaver for communities vulnerable to severe storms and earthquakes that perhaps lack the resources to purchase high limits of traditional insurance.

The CCRIF SPC— an insurance pool comprising several Caribbean countries (formerly the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk and Insurance Facility) — is one mechanism through which those governments can purchase parametric earthquake and hurricane policies collectively. CCRIF has been critical in helping those nations recover from devastating hurricanes and earthquakes.

After an earthquake rocked Haiti in January, 2010, payments from a parametric earthquake policy purchased through CCRIF made up 50 percent of every dollar the government received within the first 10 weeks. Hurricane Matthew provides another recent example.

“Matthew triggered parametric coverage placed through CCRIF, and the facility is in the process of making a $20 million payment to the government of Haiti as a result,” Kaplan said. “Haiti will receive assistance from every corner of the globe to help them recover, and that might come in the form of tents, blankets, water and housing units. But sometimes what you really need is the flexibility of cash, because you don’t always know what you’ll need.”

Coverage for Corporations

SwissRe_SponsoredContentParametric insurance also holds benefits for private corporations as a backstop against gaps in traditional insurance or unforeseen losses.

As the economy becomes more globalized, supply chains become more far-flung and complex. If an earthquake knocks out a supplier in Japan, for example, a quake-centered parametric policy could act as a form of contingent business interruption when traditional insurance limits are maxed.

The 2011 Thailand floods affected a number of suppliers for Japanese car companies and U.S.-based technology companies like Apple. These corporations may not be able to take out insurance policies on the manufacturing facilities they rely on overseas, but a parametric policy that responds to natural disasters that disrupt those facilities could protect them from business interruption exposure.

“You may have a lot of holes in traditional policies, a lot of exclusions or sub-limits, and some losses that you just can’t foresee,” Kaplan said. “The parametric structure effectively acts as a safety net to catch those losses that fall through.”

Parametric policies can be built around a variety of natural events, from earthquake and hurricane to heavy rainfall and flooding. Swiss Re’s Index-Based Named Windstorm Insurance (STORM), as its name suggests, centers on locations exposed to high wind speeds.

Each STORM contract is customized to the needs of the buyer. Rather than offering an “off the shelf” product based on a wind measurement from a single point, Swiss Re’s experts assess the client’s exposure at the geographical expanse of the hurricane’s wind field. This allows a more granular view of their exposure. Clients can then carve out their highest risk element and move them to a parametric policy with coverage tailored to that exposure.

“We have the ability at a very granular level to determine the wind speed at a given location, whether it’s one location or a thousand. We can then assess what kind of damage can be anticipated on the ground. The index, based on aggregated exposed asset values in target zip codes, can be calculated in less than 10 days, and the payout met in about the same amount of time,” Kaplan said.

Parametric products can complement traditional insurance policies to provide additional limits when they’re needed most. After a natural catastrophe, both public and private entities need funds fast, and they may not be able to rely on their property and business interruption policies — or government assistance — to cover all the losses.

Parametrics at a Glance

  1. Parametric insurance is triggered by an event that meets certain conditions — not by a loss.
  2. After a natural disaster, parametric policies fill the gap between insured losses and FEMA reimbursement.
  3. Corporations can also purchase parametric policies as a backstop to fill coverage gaps.
  4. After a triggering event, payouts are automatic and insureds can use the funds however best suits their needs.

To learn more about Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, visit http://www.swissre.com/corporate_solutions/solutions/parametric_products/.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Swiss Re Corporate Solutions offers innovative, high-quality insurance capacity to mid-sized and large multinational corporations and public entities across the globe.

More from Risk & Insurance

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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]