Captives

Lane Shift for Trucking Risk

A shrinking insurance market drives interest in captive solutions for the transportation industry.
By: | March 3, 2017 • 6 min read

Today there are more vehicles on America’s roads than before, driven by a trucking industry that grew exponentially to meet increased consumer demand.

Add in the advanced average age and subsequent deterioration in truckers’ health, the increased use of cell phones and more highway construction projects, and that resulted in a huge increase in accidents in recent years.

The number of crashes involving large trucks alone climbed by 9 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

As a result, commercial auto insurance rates spiked, some by as much as 30 percent in 2016, and they are expected to climb further this year.

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Fitch also reported last year that the commercial auto sector is a “chronically underperforming segment” due to overly aggressive pricing and a steep rise in claims severity, prompting many insurers to pull out of the market.

All of these factors, when added to already tight margins and other economic pressures including driver costs, forced many trucking firms and companies with large vehicle fleets to turn to captives to spread their risks and reduce insurance costs.

Captives also provide access to ancillary lines of coverage and limits, return of underwriting profits, improved risk management practices and the ability to manage marketplace fluctuations.

Collateral Squeeze

Geoff Welsher, managing director at Marsh, who runs two offshore captives, said that the increased interest in captives for commercial auto insurance is driven by a combination of some insurers pulling out of the market and others increasing rates.

Of most interest, he said, were group captives specializing in trucking companies, which provide a greater level of investment in claims management and loss control than traditional insurance coverage achieves.

Gary Osborne
President
USA Risk Group

Many of these captives also put a larger percentage of their premium toward staff training and employ full-time risk control specialists, he said.

“In a group captive environment, there are all manner of board and safety meetings and benchmarks against which companies can measure themselves,”
he said.

Rob Kibbe, executive director of Aon Risk Solutions’ transportation practice, said that these kinds of captives appeal most to companies seeking a return on their investment in safety technology.

He added that they also allowed owners to control their own rates and achieve greater risk rewards than with traditional coverage.

Todd Reiser, vice president and producer in Lockton’s transportation practice, said that the choice of captive depended on a range of factors including fleet size, ownership and corporate structure, tax considerations, credit capacity, estate planning and the number of owner-operators within the fleet.

“Single-parent captives allow for tax benefits, estate planning solutions, more efficient use of capital and the ability to write certain coverages in the captive independent of insurance market conditions,” he said.

“Risk retention groups and group captives, on the other hand, allow the members to share in certain risks, purchase reinsurance and potentially

limit the collateral obligations of traditional insurance.”

Chad Kunkel, executive vice president of group captives, North America at Artex, which manages more than 20 group captives or program solutions in the U.S., said that group captives are best suited to transportation companies wanting to lower their risk management costs.

“Good prospects for group captives are financially sound companies with above-average loss experience, good risk management practices and premiums beginning at $250,000 for workers’ compensation, general liability and auto lines of coverage,” he said.

“Group captives also offer another benefit — group purchasing power — which helps lower the overall cost of insurance for each member.”

Gary Osborne, president of USA Risk Group, said that RRGs are the most popular forms of captive because they allow owners to write insurance in all 50 states while only having to form in one.

Self-insurance also helps firms to reduce their collateral requirements and thus free up capital to invest in other parts of the business, he said.

Increased Interest

Such is their popularity, Kibbe said, that Aon almost doubled the number of captive formations in 2016 from the previous year and is continuing to see interest.

Most of the companies entering into captives are either smaller middle market trucking firms joining or forming their own group captives in order to take higher retentions, or large firms looking to reserve properly, said Sean Rider, executive vice president and managing director of consulting and development at Willis Towers Watson.

Vermont is one of the most popular states for setting up a captive, with more than one-quarter of active captives domiciled there writing some form of auto liability.

In total, Vermont houses six registered risk retention groups, two industrial insured group captives and four “pure” captives for trucking firms.

David Provost, deputy commissioner at Vermont’s Captive Insurance Division, said these ranged from auto wholesalers to large trucking companies with their own or several captives, as well as group companies that insure either their members or the association, or those operating as commercial trucking insurance companies for their truckers.

“Some of these larger trucking companies have to post multimillion dollar policies and prove that they have the financial assurance to operate a trucking company, so it’s often beneficial for them to do that with a captive,” he said.

Technological Advances

Safety technology also helps businesses to mitigate these risks by monitoring driver speeds, behavior and work practices.

In recent years, telematics has been one of the most effective ways to improve safety and bring down premiums, typically by 5 percent to 15 percent, according to industry estimates.

While take-up is relatively tepid largely due to budget constraints, with only 30 percent to 40 percent of all commercial and government vehicles fitted with the devices, the fuel, labor and maintenance costs savings can be substantial.

What’s more, from December this year, most trucks will be required by federal law to carry electronic monitoring devices to ensure truckers don’t exceed limits on time spent behind the wheel.

“The most significant development in the transportation sector has been cameras and monitoring of vehicles’ activity,” said Daniel Bancroft, transportation practice leader at Willis Towers Watson.

“Studies we have conducted have proven that they can reduce frequency of accidents by up to 50 percent.”

Osborne of USA Risk Group said that this was borne out by the National Independent Truckers Insurance Co., which consistently achieved a below 50 percent loss ratio for the last 10 years as a result of using cameras in all of its vehicles.

“The adoption of technology allied to greater control over the claims process through the use of captives has enabled companies to determine which claims to settle quickly and which ones to contest,” he said.

Aon’s Kibbe said that training has also played a part.

“Clients have been investing heavily in those aspects as well as dealing with driver fatigue, which has helped massively,” he said.

Willis Towers Watson’s Rider added that middle market trucking firms entering a group captive also had access to more sophisticated loss control safety, engineering and behavioral analysis and services than they would necessarily on their own.

Because a captive’s insureds put more resources into loss control and safety, they have had a bigger impact on reducing frequency, leading to better underwriting results, said Lockton’s Reiser.

“Technology plays a large part in safety and loss control for commercial fleets and is becoming more of a factor in the underwriting process,” he said. &

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him 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]