Steve Yahn

Steve Yahn is a freelance writer based in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. He has more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

Insurance Industry

Insurers Flying High

Four insurance companies have received approval to use drones for claims and risk management purposes.
By: | April 16, 2015 • 3 min read
drones

Four insurers are among 125-some pioneering companies to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to test drones for various commercial purposes in the U.S.

The FAA agreed to allow the insurers to test the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to survey everything from damaged roofs and flooded areas to tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

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The insurers are American International Group Inc. (AIG), Erie Insurance Group, State Farm Mutual Automotive Insurance Co., and United Services Automobile Association (USAA).

In March, State Farm became the first insurer to receive FAA approval to test drones for commercial use. State Farm plans to explore the use of UAVs in assessing potential roof damage during the claims process and in responding to natural disasters.

“The potential use of unmanned aerial systems provides us one more innovative tool to help State Farm customers recover from the unexpected as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Wensley Herbert, operations vice president-claims.

At AIG, the company received FAA approval to use UAVs to conduct inspections for risk assessment, risk management, loss control and surety for its customers.

Insurers granted exemptions to use drones are American International Group Inc. (AIG), Erie Insurance Group, State Farm Mutual Automotive Insurance Co., and United Services Automobile Association (USAA).

The exemption also permits AIG to implement a robust research and development program to explore new and innovative ways to employ UAVs.

UAVs can help accelerate surveys of disaster areas with high resolution images for faster claims handling, risk assessment and payments, according to the company. The drones can also quickly and safely reach areas that could be dangerous or inaccessible for manual inspection, and they provide richer information about properties, structures and claims events.

“AIG is committed to continuous improvement and innovation to providing better, faster and safer risk and claims assessments to our customers,” said Eric Martinez, executive vice president, claims and operations. “Leveraging cutting edge technologies like UAVs can enhance our ability to assess and mitigate risks to better help our customers and their communities prepare for and rebuild after a catastrophic event.”

AIG has already established an international UAV research and development center and conducted flights in New Zealand. These flights have provided valuable insights on technology, flight operations, and image collection technology, flight and image collection techniques that will be incorporated into AIG’s global UAV strategy, the company said.

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USAA said drones could help speed review of insurance claims from its members following natural disasters.

In October 2014, USAA filed for an exemption under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to enable more efficient testing of small drones. Exempt from select FAA regulations, USAA can now fly drones during the day within line-of-sight of a trained pilot and air crew. Prior to the approval, USAA test flights could only take place at FAA-approved sites.

USAA said drones could help speed review of insurance claims from its members following natural disasters.

Currently no aircraft is allowed to exceed an altitude of 400 feet, and all flights must continue to be reported to the FAA.

With FAA approval, USAA will work to efficiently research and develop best practices, safety, and privacy protocols and procedures as it further develops plans for operational use, according to the company.

USAA received a second exemption in early April that will allow the insurer to go operational in a catastrophic situation.

“We’re proud to be among the first insurers approved for this technology,” said Alan Krapf, president, USAA Property and Casualty Insurance Group. “It’s our responsibility to explore every option to improve our members’ experience.”

The USAA family of companies provides insurance, banking, investments and retirement products to 10.7 million current and former members of the U.S. military and their families.

A spokesperson for Erie insurance Group said the company believed drones, which they refer to as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), will play a major role in the future of insurance innovation and help the company be safer and more efficient in its claims handling and risk assessment.

“For example,” the spokesperson said, “if we need to assess a roof on a large building or one that has an especially steep pitch, we can now test the viability of using UASs instead of sending someone up on a ladder.

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“We hope to eventually be able to use UASs to assess damage after catastrophic weather events when physical structures can be especially precarious.”

Commercial drone flights are generally banned in the U.S. However, the FAA has awarded some exemptions for commercial drone use under a program created by Congress to allow flights while the agency completes more formal regulations.

Steve Yahn is a freelance writer based in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. He has more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Specialty Risks

Art on the Move

Underwriting the transportation of fine art is tricky, but some large insurers are keeping the market covered. 
By: | April 8, 2015 • 8 min read
04012015_11_fine_arts_main

Fine art transportation insurance experts agree that it’s a tough specialty market to write.

“Regular motor truck cargo underwriters don’t want to write it because of the high values of fine art and the specialized nature of it in the event of loss — for example, irreplaceable loss in value, conservation efforts, etc.,” said Houston-based Adrienne F. Reid, assistant vice president, Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, an operating  unit of Aon.

Adrienne F. Reid, assistant vice president, Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency

Adrienne F. Reid, assistant vice president, Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency

“And fine art underwriters are leery of it because of the transit and handling volume inherent to the class,” Reid said.

Eric Fischer, senior vice president in Willis Fine Art’s metropolitan D.C. office, noted that the broker has to shop around for carriers that want to provide this kind of coverage.

“A lot of them, even the ones that do commercial trucking insurance, are terrified of the values that museums and specialized fine art shippers face,” said Fischer.

“There are very few companies that actually want to take on this exposure.

“Lloyd’s does a nice job,” Fischer added. “And there are some other ones that do the smaller policies for us. Berkley and Aspen Specialty, for example.”

Pricing the cost of shipping and handling can be tricky.

While losses rarely happen, it seems obvious that the freight carrier or warehouse should pay for any damage that results from their own negligence.

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“But that is not always the case,” said New York-based Eliot L. Greenberg, an attorney with Rosner Nocera & Ragone LLP.

“In fact, even when they cause the damage or loss, there is a very good chance that any recovery will be limited to as low as 60 cents per pound. While it may seem grossly unfair, federal law permits interstate freight carriers to limit their responsibility to a nominal sum even when the damage is caused by their negligence,” Greenberg said.

“The basis for the law of allowing interstate truckers to limit their liability is to keep the costs of moving goods across the country affordable.”

For shippers to protect themselves, they should either rely upon their own fine art insurance policy to cover their artworks, or declare the artworks’ value to the freight carrier/warehouseman to avoid non-reimbursable damage or losses to their collection, Greenberg noted.

“We provide insurance for the owners of artwork,” said Bob Opitz, vice president and worldwide inland marine manager, Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., based in Whitehouse Station, N.J.

“We typically don’t get involved in arranging for the transportation or selection of the carrier per se.”

“We’ll provide the fine art insurance and evaluate the transport company that’s going to move the art. We’ll look at how the art is going to be moved, how it’s going to be packaged, when it’s going to leave and arrive, and what type of condition it’s in before it’s shipped and upon arrival at its final destination.”

“… Even the [carriers] that do commercial trucking insurance are terrified of the values that museums and specialized fine art shippers face. There are very few companies that actually want to take on this exposure.” — Eric Fischer, senior vice president, Willis

Opitz noted that there are a lot of environmental impacts that can influence a shipment of art depending on what the art is.

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“You really want a company that understands those types of nuances and can provide the customer with the state-of-the-art packaging and transportation experience that you’d want for a shipment of artwork,” Opitz said.

Mary Pontillo, vice president and manager of the fine arts department at DeWitt Stern Group fine arts broker in New York, said her firm carefully checks out prospective art transport clients because of the highly specialized nature of the business.

“When deciding who to do business with, we go into the facility and we ask them about the operations,” noted Pontillo.

Mary Pontillo, vice president and manager of the fine arts department, DeWitt Stern Group

Mary Pontillo, vice president and manager of the fine arts department, DeWitt Stern Group

“We get a feel for things because this is a class of business that can be very challenging to place in the marketplace.

“That means checking out everything from their hiring procedures to their operational guidelines, to the way they take care of the facility, to how they take care of the important paperwork and legal aspects for the contracts.”

DeWitt Stern Group acts as the broker to place the actual fine art insurance and sometimes P&C insurance for the fine arts packers and shippers, and museums.

“We take over the actual request for the packers or shippers, everything from a client wanting to use the packers and shippers insurance to providing them with certificates of insurance so they can deliver a work of art to a commercial building that requires proof of liability and workers’ comp and commercial auto insurance before they’ll let a person pull up a truck to deliver an artwork,” said Pontillo.

Lloyd’s Likes It

She noted that at this point DeWitt Stern Group has all but one of its shipping and packing clients with Lloyd’s of London.

She noted Lloyd’s is in a positive position competitively because of its ability to spread the risk of an art shipping contract over a combination of its syndicates.

Lloyd’s insurers offer what is called “nail to nail” fine art insurance. First developed by Hiscox, the cover insures fine art in transport from one hanging to another, and pretty much everything in between.

The high value of fine art makes even small amounts of damage a sizable loss, according to Hiscox. This “volatility” in fine art claims, the very large sums insured and the need for bespoke underwriting, lends itself to Lloyd’s, Hiscox said.

XL Group has two categories of transit insurance, said New York-based Jennifer Schipf, senior underwriter, vice president of fine art and specie.

“The most visible participation is insuring quite a number of galleries, museums and private collectors for their permanent collections or their gallery inventory, and increasing a degree of transit coverage for a portion of sub-limits of their collection in every one of those classes,” Schipf said.

“The second way is we do insure some packers and shippers and warehouses that offer transport services to other clients or to collectors, museums and galleries who may or may not be existing XL clients,” Schipf added.

XL Group operates on a truly global business basis, meaning that Schipf will never be in a position to be in conflict with one of her colleagues at Lloyd’s or one of the underwriters in Zurich or Singapore because they all operate as one integrated business unit.

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“So if we have a collector client in New York who is moving to Hong Kong and is investigating warehouses in Singapore they may call us for help and I can call my colleagues and ask, ‘Which one do you recommend?’

“That means we get a lot of education and experience on the global fine art scene rather than if we were just focused on the U.S. or Europe, for example,” Schipf said.

Schipf noted that the best way to find good vendors and suppliers is through word of mouth; asking other dealers, registrars or private collectors what their experiences have been has helped her clients do well in avoiding problems.

“Word of mouth seems a very good way to vet resources,” she said.

Karen Griswold, senior vice president of ACE Group’s marine branch, noted that as a full-service marine insurance provider, her group can offer coverage for various types of transportation risks, including fine art risks.

“In conjunction with our in-house loss control team, we have the ability to assist with discussions on packing methods and standards of care particular to the transportation of art,” Griswold noted.

Coverages offered by ACE include ocean cargo, foreign and domestic inland transit, warehouse and warehouse legal liability. All standard perils could be underwritten, including fire, water damage, rough handling, theft and catastrophe perils.

For traveling exhibitions, ACE handles the underwriting of the specific location and transportation to and from locations; the handling of the goods before, during and after the exhibitions; and careful vetting of security and safety measures.

Corporate collections and small to medium sized museums are underwritten through the ACE USA commercial marine group.

At Aspen Insurance’s U.S. marine group, New York-based Senior Vice President Joseph Partenza stressed that security in shipping art is one of his firm’s highest priorities.

“We focus on security measures that may be in place, especially for high-valued shipments,” said Partenza.

“Will there be two drivers, and will they be stopping overnight? For extremely high-valued objects, will there be tandem trucks in front of and behind the main vehicle carrying the art?”

Partenza looks to see if there are any holes in the transport process, at which point Aspen may choose to make a suggestion, or in some cases demand, that the client enhance the quality of the packing and shipping process.

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“We will work with the broker to provide feedback to the client regarding our suggested improvements,” Partenza said.

Condition reports to be taken throughout the journey are a very critical point because without a condition report up-front, you could have art that was damaged before shipment. That creates a very difficult loss adjustment process down the road.

When it comes to warehousing, Partenza said Aspen prefers to work with fine arts specialty warehouses.

“We don’t like mini-storage facilities that anybody could enter,” Partenza said.

“We prefer high-quality outfits that have redundant measures in place, and that really understand the art business.”

Steve Yahn is a freelance writer based in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. He has more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Lobbying for Change

Brokers List Legislative Priorities

Crop and flood insurance, and a host of health-care related concerns are top of mind for brokerage organizations.
By: | April 2, 2015 • 4 min read
LegislativePriorities

‘Tis the season for major insurance agent and broker organizations to formalize their legislative agendas for the coming year.

Holding the line on an Obama administration proposal that would reduce crop insurance premium subsidiaries by $16 billion over the next 10 years is a top priority for these organizations.

John Prible, vice president of federal government affairs, Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America

John Prible, vice president of federal government affairs, Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America

“Individual agents are the primary distribution force for the federal crop insurance program,” said John Prible, Washington, D.C.-based vice president of federal government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA). “So we’re intimately involved in that program.”

Members of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) underscored at its annual federal legislative summit held in late March that it, too, vigorously opposed the Obama administration proposal for crop insurance cuts.

PIA also said it supports a modernized state-based insurance system and opposes any federal regulation or international standards that would destabilize or supplant state-based insurance regulations.

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PIA is also closely monitoring activities of the Federal Insurance Office (FIO), including actions related to producer licensing and international agreements, to ensure that the FIO does not exceed its limited authority.

Jon Gentile, PIA’s director of federal affairs, also noted that his organization has endorsed the Access to Professional Health Insurance Advisors Act of 2015, which clarifies that producer compensation will not be considered as part of medical loss ratio (MLR) calculations under the Affordable Care Act.

PIA said independent agents play a critical role in the sale and servicing of health insurance.

Protecting Assets

Prible said the IIABA is going to the Hill to support the recently introduced Policyholder Protection Act.

“This bill is a tweak to Dodd-Frank that would allow state regulators to wall off and protect insurance company assets for insurance consumers and not have these assets used to bail out non-insurance related failures,” said Prible.

“For example, if a financial institution has both a bank and an insurance company, we want to make sure that if the bank fails it’s not going to bring down the insurance company.

“We’re also going to be talking about the Labor Department fiduciary standards issue, which we’re becoming very engaged in,” he said. “We frankly think the Securities and Exchange Commission should act first on instilling a fiduciary standard and that the Labor Department should take a back seat.”

Flood Insurance

Another big issue Prible’s organization is working on is the national flood insurance program. “The program expires on Sept. 30, 2017, but we’re going to be on the Hill reminding them that that’s not that far away,” he said.

Several insurance agent and brokers organization are lobbying to incentivize independent agents and brokers to sell flood insurance, which at present is largely a federal program.

“Right now,” said Joel Wood, senior vice president for government affairs at the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB), “there is very, very little private flood insurance because everything is written through the federal  government.

“Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) has legislation in the House Financial Service Committee that would incentivize private carriers in the flood insurance program,” he said.

Threat to Employer Benefits

Joel Wood, senior vice president for government affairs, Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers

Joel Wood, senior vice president for government affairs, Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers

Wood noted that CIAB’s top legislative issue right now is on the benefits side — in opposing the so-called Cadillac tax, a provision of the ACA.

Starting in 2018, benefit plans that cost more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families will be taxed with a 40 per cent excise tax.

“It’s not indexed to medical inflation and so over time will affect most plans,” Wood said. “While it’s aimed at raising many billions of dollars, we believe that’s bogus as I’ve yet to hear of a single employer who is going to pay the tax. Instead they’ll reduce their benefits. Goodbye flexible spending accounts and medical savings accounts, for example.

“We believe the Cadillac tax may present the greatest long-term threat to employer-sponsored health care.”

Wellness Initiatives

On another ACA front, CIAB and others are fighting an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that claims Honeywell’s expansive wellness program is inherently discriminatory.

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“This threatens the sanctity of all wellness plans because the argument is that you’re discriminating against smokers and obese people, so everything is sort of on hold with people moving ahead on wellness plans,” said Wood.

“There is a lot of uncertainty caused by the EEOC. So we are working with others on legislation that has been introduced in the House and the Senate that would put the teeth back into the wellness provision and essentially render moot the EEOC lawsuit against Honeywell,” he said.

Steve Yahn is a freelance writer based in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. He has more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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