Risk Scenario

The Fury of Anais

A major hurricane strikes the Eastern Seaboard, bankrupting a city's hopes of recovery.
By: | September 23, 2014 • 9 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

Anais Rising

Buddy Welch, an analyst with the National Hurricane Center at Florida International University in Miami, is finishing his second cup of coffee on the morning of August 22, 2017 as he monitors a tropical wave formation off of the western coast of Africa.

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Buddy looks over to his colleague Jonathan Schell.

“Hey Jon, will you come look at this a second?”

“Sure, what is it?” Schell says before walking over to Buddy’s desk and looking over his shoulder.

“Look at that,” Welch says, pointing to the satellite images on his monitor.

“That’s a very strong wave,” Schell says, watching the evidence of the strong tropical wave moving off of the coast of Africa.

“Could be the strongest thing we’ve seen all summer,” echoes Buddy.

“By far,” the two scientists say at the same time.

“We’ve got very warm water in the Atlantic right now,” Jonathan adds.

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He and Buddy continue to monitor the tropical wave for signs of strengthening and possible convection. Forecast models indicate that conditions are ripe for the wave to organize quickly into a tropical storm and thereafter, a hurricane.

The tropical wave does become a tropical storm, dubbed “Anais,” and bolstered by unusually warm ocean water, it intensifies as it moves across the tropical Atlantic toward the Caribbean and the United States.

On August 26, Anais is upgraded to a hurricane in the tropical Atlantic, east of the Eastern Caribbean.

As the hurricane moves through the Caribbean, past Hispaniola, the National Hurricane Center notifies residents and emergency managers up and down the Eastern Seaboard that Anais poses a very real and severe threat.

Several days later, on the 1st, Anais buffets the Bahamas with high winds. It spares the Bahamas a direct hit and instead veers north- northwest and, now classified as a Cat 4, with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, takes dead aim at the coast of North Carolina.

Ray Bonner, risk manager for the City of Norfolk, Va. is one of those who takes heed.

Bonner immediately convenes Norfolk’s crisis management team, which is more sophisticated than many because it has a “business resilience” subcommittee that is dedicated to coordinating with municipal officials in the event of a natural catastrophe. The committee’s mandate is to help businesses open as soon as possible in the aftermath of a major storm.

“This hurricane could hit every coastal city from Wilmington, N.C. to Boston,” Bonner tells his assembled crisis management team.

“We can’t be sure that we’ll get much help from neighboring emergency responders if that’s the case,” he tells the committee.

On Labor Day, September 4, Anais strikes Wilmington, N.C. as a Cat 4. The storm cripples the Wilmington power grid and causes 13 deaths.

All Fall Down

Despite the damage done by Anais in Wilmington, Bonner and other members of Norfolk’s crisis management team are frustrated by what they see as a lack of sense of urgency in some quarters to evacuate as necessary and take proper precautions. Perhaps distractions due to end-of–summer Labor Day plans are partially to blame, they reason.

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Well before the hurricane made landfall, Bonner and risk managers from other East Coast cities got on a conference call to discuss the storm’s potential impact and how each city might coordinate with the other to assist in recovery.

“This could end up being every bit as bad as Hurricane Sandy,” said Elizabeth Acres, the risk manager for Boston, Mass.

“Or worse,” said Jay Baker, the risk manager for New York City.

“You ever heard of the Norfolk/Long Island Hurricane of 1821?” Baker says.

“No,” says Acres and others simultaneously.

“I’ll send you the link,” he says. “Path of Anais looks very similar to the path of that 1821 hurricane.”

On September 5, Anais, still a Cat 4, hits Norfolk. Without losing strength, the hurricane continues north, striking Cape May, N.J., New York City and Connecticut in turn.




The storm is every bit as damaging as Hurricane Sandy was, and causes historical levels of wind and flood damage throughout the Washington, D.C. to Boston megalopolis.

Back in Norfolk, Bonner, along with the city’s emergency response coordinator Jim Christopher, is touring flooded sections of the city on September 7 in a zodiac that’s equipped as an emergency response boat.

They’re touring one of the city’s business districts, which is still inundated with three feet of water. The zodiac reaches the end of a block and Christopher eases off on the throttle.

The two men stare at the devastation in the deserted business district in silence. They can see dresses and hats floating, half-submerged in the gray flood waters, through one of the few intact store windows.

“I don’t see when these businesses can re-open,” Bonner says.

“I don’t see when we even get into these shops to have a look at them,” Christopher says.

***

On September 12, Bonner again gets on a conference call with his fellow risk managers from cities in the Northeast. Accompanying them on the call is Ray Harbridge, a Northeast Regional Director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Boston’s Elizabeth Acres leads the dialogue with Harbridge.

“Ray, can you update us on the timeline for any funding assistance we might get from Washington?” Acres says for openers.

“We have no answers in that area Liz,” Harbridge says.

“We’re dealing with an unprecedented level of damage to the six largest cities in the East,” Harbridge said.

“First impressions are that we have millions of people affected,” he said.

“And that’s not even getting into the business impact,” Bonner said.

“That’s correct,” Harbridge said.

“We’ve got to concentrate on housing and medical care for those most vulnerable and those displaced,” he said.

“I know you’ve got plenty of worries on your end, but you’re going to have to rely on your own resources for the foreseeable future. I really don’t know when we see a way clear of all this,” he said.

“Let’s face facts folks,” New York’s Jay Baker said after Harbridge, extremely pressed for time, hung up.

“We still haven’t received federal reimbursement for Hurricane Sandy damage and expenses in some cases, and we’re five years out from that.”

“We’re going to be at this a long time,” Boston’s Acre said.

“You can take that five years from Sandy and double it,” Baker said.

Bankrupt Hopes

Ever since he heard the first indication from the National Hurricane Center that Anais should be watched, back in late August, Ray Bonner’s mind had been turning on something.

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When Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey and flooded Lower Manhattan in 2012, it caused a permanent shift in Bonner’s thinking.

Before Sandy, the idea that a major hurricane would come near enough to cause substantial damage in New York was thought to be a “Black Swan” event, something with an extremely low possibility, albeit having potentially devastating consequences.

After Sandy, Bonner began to think about ways to mitigate the costs of a major hurricane strike. He’d begun discussions with the City’s budget director and its finance committee on the possible purchase of layers of reinsurance that could help the city defray not only the costs associated with hurricane clean-up and repair, but the lost property tax and business income tax revenue should the region’s homes and businesses take a big hit.

Presentations Bonner made on the Norfolk/Long Island Hurricane of 1821 to city finance officials left them unmoved, though. It wasn’t that city leaders were callous to Bonner’s concerns. But pressing matters like negotiations with unionized police and firefighters took up most of their attention.

Norfolk’s finances were basically sound. Bonner’s attempts to sway city leaders to a different way beyond floating bonds and raising taxes on the back end in the event of a catastrophe just couldn’t gain any traction. City officials felt that they had things under control and didn’t want to start piling on new expenses like insurance premiums.

Six months after Anais struck, analysts released data that showed the storm caused $40 billion in wind damage and $70 billion in storm surge damage to cities and towns from Wilmington, N.C. to Boston.

What Bonner considered a real threat after Sandy struck turned out to be true after Anais. Norfolk city finances, which had previously been solid, began to deteriorate.

Twenty percent of the Norfolk/Virginia Beach region’s housing stock was rendered uninhabitable by Anais. Reductions in property tax revenue, coupled with business tax revenue reductions, were creating budget deficits in Norfolk and in every other city that was hit by Anais.

That public sector pain was being repeated in the private sector. Loss of mortgage interest and principle payments, a lynchpin of the banking system, led to the failures of dozens of regional banks and severe limitations on the revenue of the larger banks.

In 2021, four years after Anais hit, the Rand Corporation released a study, titled “The Anais Effect” which estimated that the economic damage from Anais restricted growth in the Northeast by seven percent from 2017 to 2021.

Rand Corp. researchers estimated that by 2027, 10 years after the storm, an “Anais Recession” — the first ever regional economic recession connected to a natural catastrophe — would limit growth on an annual basis in the Northeast by five percent.

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Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ recommendations on urban and corporate resilience, and a reminder about the company’s global expertise in the areas of Nat Cat modeling and disaster preparedness. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.

The 1821 hurricane struck the mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States at a time in history when human population and concentration of value were dramatically lower than present day. In fact, only 136,000 people lived in Washington and New York at the time. If a major catastrophic event like the 1821 Norfolk Long Island Hurricane was to happen today, it would cause 50% more damage than Sandy and potentially cause more than $100 billion in property losses stemming from wind damage and flooding from storm surge.

That’s just one part of the story, however. Taking into consideration lost tax revenue due to destroyed homes and business, lower real estate values and other economic considerations, the broader economic impact would grow to over $150 billion. That’s well above the aggregate losses of all storms which recently impacted the Eastern United States, including Hurricane Sandy.

With an eye toward a future event that could dwarf Sandy in terms of insured and economic losses, Swiss Re has published a new report that analyzes the 1821 hurricane and how a repeat event would impact the region today. Download the report at: http://media.swissre.com/documents/the_big_one_us_hurricane_web2.pdf

To prepare for such a future event, large scale urban resilience must be at the forefront of the risk management community. Of course, protecting lives should be the highest priority for city authorities seeking to improve their disaster preparedness. Beyond that, municipalities and businesses – large and small – must work together to ensure critical infrastructure and supply chain redundancy. This can be accomplished, in part, by more fully understanding the geographic hazards via advanced modeling techniques using Swiss Re’s CatNet® tool.

CatNet® – Advanced Modeling

Combining satellite imagery with Google MapsTM and Swiss Re’s proprietary historical data, CatNet® allows risk management professionals to analyze worldwide natural hazard exposures. CatNet® features:

  • Natural hazard atlas
  • Country-specific insurance data
  • Disaster statistics

This allows risk managers to prepare local, regional and cross-regional risk profiles to assist management in disaster preparedness. The result is a more informed viewpoint about a company’s or city’s insurance considerations and potential enterprise risk management gaps. An organization’s disaster preparedness can be further enhanced by partnering with local authorities, businesses and municipal leaders to ensure community-wide resilience.




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. 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]