Reps & Warranties

Reducing Friction for M&As

The reps and warranties market is growing rapidly, but some newer players may have taken on more risk than they realize.
By: | February 20, 2018 • 6 min read

Strong demand and booming capacity are driving the market of representation and warranty insurance, which is used by companies to transfer to underwriters risks of future liabilities originated from the acquisition of another firm.

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In the past few years, the number of carriers who offer this coverage has increased from half a dozen to more than four times as many. As a result, terms and conditions have become much more favorable to insurance buyers, while premium rates have gone down consistently.

Even so, they remain significantly higher in the United States than in Europe or the UK.

More importantly, however, in the current market, it is possible for companies to buy coverage for virtually any kind of liabilities arising from an M&A deal. This includes tax liabilities and risks that, not long ago, markets were leery of, such as intellectual property infringements, Medicare and Medicaid billing, product recall, product liability and even environmental risks.

On the other hand, the explosive pace of growth in this market also means higher loss ratios and raises concerns that some new arrivals in the segment may not be fully prepared to face the challenges of the product.

“There are more underwriters who want to get involved in this segment than there are people with the skills required to underwrite the risk,” said Emily Maier, group leader of Transaction Solutions, Woodruff Sawyer & Company.

Emily Maier, group leader of Transaction Solutions, Woodruff Sawyer & Company

For a couple of decades, R&W coverages were mostly a tool deployed by private equity investors to unblock M&A deals by taking off the table the risk that liabilities unknown at the time of the transaction would cause significant losses to the buyer in the future.

It has gradually replaced, in a growing number of transactions, a demand that sellers deposit a share of the price paid into an escrow account — for several years — to show their confidence in the veracity of the R&W included in the sales and purchase agreement (SPA).

The insurance coverage makes the deposit unnecessary, liberating sellers to fully dispose of the capital raised immediately as they see fit.

As a result, in a competitive M&A market, investors have increasingly purchased the coverage to make their bids more attractive to sellers of coveted assets. It also helps to reduce the risk of friction between the new owners and the talent acquired along with the physical assets.

Jonathan Gilbert, senior managing director, Crystal & Company, estimates that, while not long ago one out of every 20 transactions was covered by R&W insurance, today the ratio reaches between 75 percent and 80 percent of the total.

A large majority of policies are purchased by buyers, who can have additional forward coverage, which is not the case with sellers.

Buyers can also insure any amount they want, while sellers can only insure up to the limit of liability. But Maier has spotted a growing number of sellers purchasing the coverage as well, as its scope of use expands.

“I have seen sell-side policies where the seller is much smaller than the buyer, and so it does not necessarily have as much bargaining power,” she said. “There are also situations where international buyers come from a jurisdiction where the market is not as familiar with this product and do not feel comfortable with it.”

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Demand has attracted a growing number of insurers and MGAs to the markets, and prices have fallen accordingly.

Brian Benjamin, global head of M&A Insurance, XL Catlin, estimates that rates dropped 10 percent in 2017, reaching between 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent of the primary limit in the American market, which is one of the most expensive in the world. Not long ago, rates between 4 percent and 5 percent of the purchased limit were standard in the market, he said.

Rates are higher in America due to factors such as the higher risk of litigation, lower disclosure of data requirements imposed on sellers and more expensive claims than in other markets.

Policies offer a mix of first-party and third-party liability coverages, and third-party liability risk tends to be higher in the U.S., Benjamin remarked. On the other hand, he noted U.S.-based coverages tend to be broader in scope, with narrower and less frequent exclusions than in other markets.

Maier has noticed that the market is taking almost all kinds of liability risks, as carriers compete to offer more attractive terms and conditions.

“I have not seen a lot of requests from clients that have not been met from carriers,” she pointed out.

Soft conditions are also bringing retention levels down, Gilbert added. “Previously, insurers would often require a retention equal to 1.5 percent to 2 percent of deal value. Now it has fallen to 1 percent, especially for larger deals,” he said.

“There are more underwriters who want to get involved in this segment than there are people with the skills required to underwrite the risk.” — Emily Maier, group leader of Transaction Solutions, Woodruff Sawyer & Company

Some exclusions can be added to the coverage, and among the most common are forward-looking warranties. Carriers do not like to cover purchase price adjustments and any known issues such as pending litigations or product recalls that are already expected.

Other thorny issues include the underfunding of pension plans, wage and hour disputes and union activity. On cross-border deals, transfer pricing liabilities also tend to be excluded.

A key element to the underwriting process is the due diligence that buyers are supposed to perform on their targets before closing a deal, as carriers base the wording of the policy on the analysis their clients have done on the risks represented by the transaction.

Insurers may refuse to provide the coverage if the due diligence is poorly done, or they can come up with a high number of exclusions if they see material gaps in the information provided.

“We would rather write good deals at a more competitive price rather than increase price and write bad deals. We believe that the market has under-priced certain metrics,” said Bryce Guingrich, managing director of R&W, Vale Insurance Partners.

Maier, however, notes that some underwriters are less demanding regarding the due diligence of deals in a quest to attract customers.

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Studies by AIG and UK brokers Paragon reveal that the frequency of claims in R&W policies is firmly on the rise. Rob Brown, the global practice leader of M&A insurance at Lloyd’s insurers Neon, believes some of the new entrants into the market have underestimated the level of losses that carriers can suffer in this line.

Another development is that capacity is increasingly being offered in new jurisdictions. Buyers must also keep in mind considerations such as the local expertise that they want the underwriter to offer them and the jurisdiction where the insurance premium will be taxed.

The insurance contract is likely to stay open until the negotiation is concluded. That can mean an eleventh-hour rush to finalize the coverage, requiring an intense time commitment from brokers and underwriters.

“Timescales are very tight, and they require people who can understand the transactions and respond to situations very quickly,” Brown said. &

Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now 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]