2017 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

U.S. Economic Nationalism

Nationalistic policies aim to boost American wealth and prosperity, but they may do long-term economic damage.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 9 min read

“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first — America first.”

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This key phrase from President Trump’s inaugural address sums up the various anti-globalization policies he intends to implement as the nation’s 45th president, which include reducing international trade, rolling back regulation enforcement and restricting immigration — all in the hopes of making America more economically independent.

But it remains indisputable that globalization has already become entrenched in the way companies do business. As one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the United States’ economy is inextricably linked to the rest of the world.

What will economic nationalism look like within U.S. borders if these policies come to fruition, and what does that mean for risk managers of multinational companies?

Tariffs, Trade and Supply Chains

The strategy to bring jobs back to the U.S. is two-pronged: Reduce international trade through import tariffs and revitalize American manufacturing.

“Import tariffs would be enormously disruptive to supply chains,” said Bill Reinsch, a distinguished fellow with the Stimson Center, which conducts nonpartisan policy research.

“The rhetoric we’ve been hearing today shows no understanding of the complexity of international trade or the complexity of manufacturing,” said Jack Hampton, professor of business at St. Peter’s University.

“Look at Boeing Corp., with something like 50,000 suppliers. Look at the automobile industry, and all of the parts that go into making a car.

Jack Hampton, professor of business, St. Peter’s University

“Even if you walk into your local barber shop, you’ll look around and notice how many products in there come from overseas. It’s not just big companies that will be impacted by trade restrictions. Smaller, local businesses will suffer most. They’ll have to change their whole model of how they work.”

Imposing high import tariffs and pulling out of international trade agreements like NAFTA would raise costs and could force companies with global supply chains to find new vendors. In the short term, extra expenses will be passed on to the consumer, making everything from computers to cardigans more expensive.

For companies, the search for new suppliers always introduces some risk. Shortening supply chains and relying primarily on domestic suppliers can reduce some of that risk, said Louis Gritzo, vice president and manager of research, FM Global.

But, there’s a trade-off in how much capacity a domestic partner can provide and how fast. Shortening the supply chain must happen at a very well-managed pace or there will be a capacity issue, Gritzo said.

“A risk manager would be wise to not look at that first or second link, but also go back to where the chain is anchored to the ground and make sure they are good all the way back,” he said.
In instances when relying on a foreign supplier is unavoidable, “it’s critical to make sure you’re working with good business partners,” said Dan Riordan, president of political risk, credit and bond insurance at XL Catlin.

“Given the changing relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the world, you have to make sure you can trust your partner to help you navigate changes. Are there legal protections built into your agreement? Is there a dispute resolution mechanism, like arbitration? Because otherwise you could end up in a local court where you may not be treated fairly.”
Trade restrictions could also spark retaliatory measures, limiting potential markets for U.S. exporters.

“If you have restrictions on trade, it could lead to conflicts, and companies need to take that into account as they assess the risks of entering different markets,” Riordan said.

A New American Manufacturing

Reduced reliance on international trade calls for a boost in domestic manufacturing.

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The promise looks good on paper: more self-reliance and more jobs for American workers. But the reality holds serious dangers for the U.S. economic growth.

Sparking a manufacturing renaissance isn’t as simple as following the mantra, “If you build it, they will come.” Given the high level of automation in factories, a return of manufacturing processes doesn’t necessarily translate into an influx of jobs.

“Probably one-third of workers were in manufacturing in the 1950s,” Hampton said. “Today, maybe 10 percent of workers are in factories, but they’re not doing the manufacturing. They’re fixing the machines that are doing the manufacturing.

Joe Cellura, President, North American Casualty Division, Allied World

“We went from having a few robots in the 1980s to having about 300,000 today. And one robot can sometimes do the work of 50 people.”

All of that machinery doesn’t come cheap. Manufacturers will likely need to secure financing to get all of the pieces in place. They’ll also take on more property and cyber risk as reliance on robotics progresses.

“Risk profiles will also change due to shifting claims trends,” said James Burns, head of Americas at Clyde & Co. and a member of the company’s Global Management Board. “With more business activity focused in the U.S., there will be a rise in U.S.-based claims. We have a litigious environment and high awards compared to other countries, so claims are going to get more expensive.”

Role of Regulations

To ease the burden, the Trump administration has proposed reducing regulations for American businesses: For every new rule proposed, two should be repealed. Though rolling back regulations could introduce some uncertainty for underwriters, it does open the door for more opportunity for American businesses.

“There’s a school of thought that many EPA, OSHA and DOL regulations are administrative in nature, and they tie up a lot of resources. Reducing regulations and enforcement frees up companies to develop their own processes internally and direct resources as they see fit,” said Joe Cellura, president, North American casualty division at Allied World Insurance Co.

But regulations often are created to reduce risk for businesses. If the regulation goes away, some risk comes back, Gritzo said. Maybe not right away, but with a lack of oversight in some key areas of safety and loss prevention, those risks may start to creep up again and result in unintended losses.

“The onus is also on risk managers to understand how the rules are changing and make sure they’re still following best practices in the absence of regulation.” – Joe Cellura, president, North American casualty division, Allied World Insurance Co.

Underwriters also rely on federal regulations to provide a consistent risk management framework.

“The current regulatory environment can be a friend to underwriters in the areas of workplace safety and workers’ compensation, product quality and safety, and environmental liability by creating a consistent compliance framework for all companies to follow. If that goes away, the onus is on us as underwriters to be even more aware of who we’re insuring and how they’re operating,” Cellura said.

“The onus is also on risk managers to understand how the rules are changing and make sure they’re still following best practices in the absence of regulation.”

Luckily, the best risk managers understand that adhering to high standards is as much about good business as it is about compliance.

“Our best customers are those who treat federal regulations as the minimum operating standard. And that’s not likely to change even if enforcement changes,” he said.

Immigration Restriction

U.S. protectionism doesn’t just apply to economic policy. Cracking down on immigration, both legal and illegal, is a major agenda item for the current administration.
Immigration actions to keep illegal immigrants out and deport those already here have interrupted legitimate visa processes and threaten to restrict travel altogether from a handful of countries.

Implementation of these policies in turn engenders an exclusionary, anti-foreigner attitude.

Bill Reinsch, distinguished fellow, Stimson Center

Supporters of immigration restrictions believe more resources will be targeted to current, taxpaying citizens. But keeping people out could have significant long-term effects on the American economy.

Tech industry giants have already expressed concern that limiting immigration will shrink the talent pool and lead to less diversity, though there’s debate around that claim.

“Some say there’s plenty of talent within our borders already, and that immigrant workers gain favor simply because they’ll work for less,” said Reinsch of the Stimson Center.

It’s not just the current talent pool that could be imperiled. Ripple effects may be felt from fewer international students attending American universities.

“I’ve heard several university presidents express concern. International students typically pay full freight, which frees up more financial aid and effectively subsidizes education for American students. So universities could face financial problems if they lose that base,” Reinsch said.

According to data collected by World Education Services, 40 percent of Chinese international students major in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. For Indian students, it’s a whopping 74 percent.

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Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that more than half of all advanced STEM degrees are earned by international students. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents earning graduate degrees in science and engineering fell 5 percent in 2014 from its peak in 2008, according to survey data collected by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.

What will be the long-term impact to our science and technology industries if these international students stop coming here, especially if engineers are more critical to the success of manufacturing than factory line workers?

“We could see more students going to Australia, the UK or Canada for English-language education. So many of our best engineers come here on visas to study. It’s not just from India, but from a lot of countries that the administration may want to block,” Hampton said.

“That could have effects later on if the U.S. starts to lag in technology.”
Even when international students don’t stay, the U.S. benefits when they return home with an American education and a sense of American values.

“They take our value system and culture with them, and perhaps become a voice in their country for human rights and rule of law,” Reinsch said.

“You can’t quantify the effect of that. But I think it’s to our advantage to have thousands of Chinese students go back to China every year and take our Western culture with them. Without that, it drives our countries further apart and makes dialogue more difficult.”

Reinsch pointed to intellectual property protection as an example. One of our biggest challenges with China, he said, is IP theft and lack of respect for trademarks and patent laws. Chinese students may return home with a stronger appreciation for IP protection, because they worked with U.S. universities who benefit very much from strong IP laws. If those students go on to create or invent something, they’re more likely to demand stronger protections from their government.

“The Chinese government has … made some progress in IP protection. That benefits China more than anyone else, but it helps American companies too because it at least creates a judicial process if there’s a dispute,” Reinsch said.

Similar to retaliatory trade tariffs, restricting immigration could lead other governments to tighten their own laws to make travel more difficult for Americans. Iran has already promised to block U.S. citizens from entering the country in response to President Trump’s proposed travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.

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What if more nations follow suit? What if further conflict threatens the visa waiver program among the 30-plus countries that currently allows ease of travel for business, education and leisure? Travel restrictions make it harder to do business, limit research opportunities and make it difficult for countries to work together.

Nonetheless, Hampton of St. Peter’s University trusts that risk managers have grown adept at preparing for business disruption.

“Disruption mitigation has become highly developed. I suspect risk managers have been preparing for disruption since the November election.” &

________________________________________________________________

2017 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Artificial Intelligence Ties Liability in Knots

The same technologies that drive business forward are upending the nature of loss exposures and presenting new coverage challenges.

 

 

Cyber Business Interruption

Attacks on internet infrastructure begin, leaving unknown risks for insureds and insurers alike.

 

 

Foreign Economic Nationalism

Economic nationalism is upsetting the risk management landscape by presenting challenges in once stable environments.

 

 

Coastal Mortgage Value Collapse

As climate change drives rising seas, so arises the risk that buyers will become leery of taking on mortgages along our coasts.  Trillions in mortgage values are at stake unless the public and the private sector move quickly.

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She 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]