Professional Liability

Private Label Coverage

Discerning insurance buyers and their brokers increasingly seek specialist wordings from a professional liability community that is desperate to differentiate.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 8 min read

In an increasingly interconnected business environment, it is no wonder many companies are taking a closer look at the changing nature of their liabilities — and seeking tailored coverages to ensure none of their unique exposures slip through the cracks.

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Growing demand from clients and brokers in a tough environment is forcing underwriters to innovate in order to win business and squeeze extra margin from their books. The result is a proliferation of specialist professional liability policies that runs the full gamut of industry sectors, from health care to construction.

The move towards specialization has developed to the extent that now it is possible for various stakeholders within the supply chain of the same industry to each enjoy their own tailored coverages. There are no doubt more niche products to come.

“The trend is being driven by both a willingness from underwriters to look for margin where they can, and also demand from insureds,” said James McPartland, class underwriter, professional indemnity, at ArgoGlobal.

“We now live in a much faster-paced world than even 10 to 15 years ago. The way businesses interact and bring products to market is very different now, and companies can significantly change from month to month.”

Uniquely positioned with their fingers on the pulse of their clients’ evolving risk profiles, brokers play a huge role in identifying coverage needs and driving the development of bespoke wordings.

James McPartland, class underwriter, professional indemnity, Argo Global

James McPartland, class underwriter, professional indemnity, ArgoGlobal

“Agent feedback is crucial; they are the catalysts of change,” said Greg Leffard, president of professional liability at the Hanover Insurance Group.

“As businesses change, exposures change, and so should our coverage.”

He added that brokers see the development of new products as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors just as carriers do.

“It is easy to compete on price, but agents want more than that. They want private label coverages, available only to them.”

“It starts as one client with a specific need, then before long three have asked the same question in a different way and we know there is a trend and we have to find a solution,” said Elisabeth Case, commercial E&O product leader for Marsh, who added that newcomers to the PL space are often the underwriters willing to concede the most ground in the design of new products.

“We have carriers we know are willing to go the extra mile, both in the U.S. and London. It really does come down to individuals at certain organizations trying to keep their companies at the forefront, or trying to build a book. There are new entrants in the PL and cyber liability space coming into the marketplace all the time, so they often have to offer something unique to get their foot in the door.”

According to Cynthia Evanko Olinger, senior vice president of construction at JLT Specialty USA, modifications to standard PL coverage can often be obtained from underwriters “for little or no premium.”

Whereas a decade ago a $2.5 million PL line for accounts “meant you were a player,” now it is common for insurers to put down $5 million or $10 million. — Brian Braden, vice president, professional risk, Crum & Forster

“We argue, for example, that the technology services are part of the core business that the underwriter is insuring, and our request to affirm coverages for these services should have no premium impact,” she said.

Brian Braden, vice president, professional risk, at mid-market underwriter Crum & Forster, noted, however, that the most flexibility is often likely to be given on larger risks due to the negotiating power of big brokers who control a lot of premium dollars.

“Those changes are usually advantageous to the client and a little adverse to the carrier. Sometimes we follow those changes on an excess basis, but if we’re writing primary we won’t,” he said.

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He added that underwriters are offering bigger lines. Whereas a decade ago a $2.5 million PL line for accounts “meant you were a player,” now it is common for insurers to put down $5 million or $10 million, he said.

“Plus there are many more players, which drives the price down.”

Hanover’s miscellaneous PL group writes over 100 different classes of business, each with its own unique exposure.

“This creates challenges to ensure we provide appropriate protection for all the various sectors, as well as competitive coverage in the marketplace at a reasonable price,” said Leffard, while McPartland noted that the cost of doing business is increasing and pricing new bespoke coverages can be “haphazard” due to the lack of historical data.

As McPartland pointed out, not all clients are interested in a new bespoke PL product, as such products are often purchased out of regulatory or contractual obligation.

“When you strip a PL policy back, 99 percent of all claims would be covered under the negligence clause. Add-ons enhance the product to make it more attractive, but the fundamental driver of purchase is price, and people are prepared to move business around a lot quicker nowadays,” he said.

McPartland added that while brokers could until recently rely on existing clients to remain loyal at renewal, clients are now more interested in what the broker can do for them going forward than what they’ve done for them in the past.

“We are having to work harder to retain our business. The book churns quicker and as a result our modeling becomes more volatile and pricing gets more difficult.”

Niche Demand

Nevertheless, said Leffard, many professionals are becoming more knowledgeable on the benefits of insurance and the true cost of a claim.

“Mature businesses are willing to pay more for a solid form compared to a basic form that just meets contractual business requirements,” he said.

Faye Chapam, medical malpractice underwriter, Argo Group International Holdings

Faye Chapman, medical malpractice underwriter, ArgoGlobal

“Established marketing firms, advertising and public relations agencies, technology firms and home inspectors are also good examples of sophisticated, educated insureds. They are more likely to understand their professional liability exposures and ask for the right coverages.”

The health care sector is ripe for specialist PL covers. According to Faye Chapman, medical malpractice underwriter at ArgoGlobal, quasi-medical practitioners including beauticians and masseurs are seeking PL cover due to the increasingly invasive nature of treatments (such as injectables and laser treatments), which goes beyond the scope of some general liability underwriters’ appetites.

Practitioners offering one-on-one patient treatment may also require abuse of patient cover, she said, though there is some debate within the insurance industry over whether abuse would fall in a liability or medical malpractice policy.

Meanwhile, medical devices including implants present another potential liability exposure as practitioners could find themselves facing a claim if they recommend the use of a substandard or dangerous product.

Chapman noted that insurers are offering extended reporting periods, effectively transforming covers from claims-made to occurrence basis policies, across a number of specialist health sector products.

More broadly, fundamental business themes demand that old coverages be revisited across almost every sector — most notably concerning the proliferation of cyber risk and the evolving use of technology.

“Professionals such as lawyers, accountants and even engineers and architects who are holding personally identifiable information are beginning to realize that negligence could be deemed to be the main trigger for a breach of privacy,” said McPartland, noting that cyber liabilities are increasingly being written into PL, professional indemnity (PI) and errors & omissions (E&O) policies.

Braden said cyber liability risk has “changed the landscape” on a number of products. “Our tech product, for example, used to just be E&O coverage for tech professionals, but over the last four or five years if you don’t offer full first-party coverages including credit monitoring, notification costs, extortion and business interruption, you are dead in the water.”

“It’s an exciting market,” said David Smith, professional indemnity underwriting manager (UK & Ireland) for Lloyd’s underwriter Hiscox, which writes 20 profession-specific PI products.

“In the past it was traditionally professions such as surveyors and architects that bought PI cover, but in recent years we’ve seen the evolution of people being asked to buy PI for their contracts with third parties and interest from a host of new professions — and we see that trend continuing.”

Smith noted that many of Hiscox’s PI products now cover insureds against claims arising from their own websites, such as the unlicensed use of images, in addition to third-party damage.

Elisabeth Case, commercial E&O product leader, Marsh

Elisabeth Case, commercial E&O product leader, Marsh

“Ultimately, what clients will start to want more is an all-in-one E&O and cyber liability policy with potentially some physical loss/damage related to a cyber event if the systems they rely heavily on to deliver their products or services are interconnected to others,” said Case.

Similarly, advances in electronic technology are changing the way many professions operate, and are creating new exposures that need to be written into specialist PL products.

Car parts, for example, increasingly include tech components, which is making auto suppliers seek cover against component malfunctions that could lead to manufacturer recalls, noted Case.

“We are getting lots of requests from various types of manufacturers who have both a manufacturing and design element, who are sometimes confused about what type of cover they should buy.

“People mistakenly think they need an architects and engineers policy if their engineers are designing products, but in fact they need manufacturers’ E&O,” she said.

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The tech industry itself is a complex area when it comes to PL. “Tech clients are very specialized and there are sub-sectors of the tech world that need even further differentiating,” said Case, noting that FinTech companies are often unable to find E&O solutions that cover their entire exposures, so Marsh is creating bespoke coverages by aggregating multiple policies in order to obtain adequate coverage.

McPartland predicted the next area for specialist PL cover could be 3D printing.

“This printing will speed up repair processes but it is also an opportunity for people to make mistakes,” he said. “If someone prints the wrong valve for an oil rig, for example, it could result in a significant oil spill. It’s an area to watch over the next 18-24 months.” &112016_02_riskfocus_sidebar

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. 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]