Greenberg on Cuba
On a visit to Moscow in 1964, Hank Greenberg noticed a picture of a Havana office building on the desk of an official with the Soviet insurance company Ingosstrakh.
“That looks like the building where my company housed its insurance operations,” Greenberg — who was in Moscow seeking a travel risk reinsurance deal — told the official.
The C.V. Starr Companies had an office in Havana – pictured above – between 1943 and 1958.
“That may be,” the Soviet official replied. “Now it is the building where Ingosstrakh houses the Soviet Union’s Cuban operations,” he added.
“Please take care of that building,” Greenberg told the official. “We will get it back … soon.”
More than 50 years after Greenberg made that bold statement, as recounted in his 2013 book “The AIG Story,” the day that Starr Companies takes possession of its former property in Havana is not yet here.
“Change must come about, but how fast? I can’t answer that.” – Hank Greenberg, CEO and Chairman of the Starr Companies.
With the recent easing of travel restrictions to Cuba by the U.S. government, however, Starr Companies’ executives are checking on the condition and ownership of the building just the same.
Untangling the history of that Havana building is just one of the opportunities that are on the minds of business people in the United States since travel restrictions to Cuba were eased in January.
Greenberg expresses the hope that his company can one day re-open an insurance operation in Havana. At the same time, Greenberg said that there is much work yet to be done, on the part of both the public and the private sector, before anything like that can happen.
“Both governments have got to agree on the speed by which normalization would come into being,” Greenberg said.
Since the restrictions were eased, Greenberg reports that the Starr Companies’ travel services subsidiary Assist-Card International Holdings, which it acquired in 2011, is already seeing an uptick in inquiries from businesspeople interested in its travel protection services in Cuba.
“From what we can discern, there is a great deal of interest and a pent-up need to travel,” Greenberg said.
The hotel and restaurant business, agriculture and travel-related industries like cruise shipping and aviation are just a few of the industries that will see opportunities in nearby Cuba as relationships between that country and the United States open up.
There will also be an intense interest, Greenberg said, for people of Cuban descent who are United States citizens eager to visit their origin country.
However, more evolution in government relations must occur before many of those dreams can become a reality.
“Change must come about, but how fast? I can’t answer that,” Greenberg said.
One thing Greenberg is certain of. Free trade is the quickest route to building lasting bonds between the United States and Cuba.
“I think that where trade increases between countries generally you see change in attitudes and building better trust between countries. You learn from each other, it’s a faster way to normalize relations than anything I can think of,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg stressed that Assist-Card International isn’t the only U.S.-based insurance company or subsidiary in the travel risk business.
The Starr chairman indicated though that he expects his company to be a strong competitor.
“The challenges of doing business in Cuba are substantial,” Greenberg said.
“But Starr is well-positioned and prepared to leverage our relationships and global network to support our clients’ entry into this market.”
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
Nothing beats working with the best. That’s what Jerry Oliver, a senior vice president with Manhattan-based Lupex, told himself as he left the morning meeting.
In that meeting, executives with Lupex, an energy trading firm, voted to buy two million barrels of crude and store it offshore. A precipitous decline in oil prices was the motivation.
All the firm had to do was keep the oil safe and sound until the prices rose again, which they inevitably would. Major domestic drillers were already laying off staff and cutting production. These latest low oil prices were just another bend in the cycle.
Oliver’s marching orders from that morning’s meeting were clear. Working with other members of the Lupex team, it was Oliver’s responsibility to find the right vessel and a safe place to moor it.
The strategy was to keep the oil safe by avoiding CAT-exposed locations and hold it long enough for the firm to cover its storage costs and still make a handsome profit when the price rose.
“Let’s get this done,” Oliver said to himself before walking into his office to get on a phone call with a colleague in Texas.
After consulting with his colleague, Oliver decided to use the Miller Line, a company based in the energy hub of Houston. The Miller Line was an owner of Very Large Crude Carriers — or VLCCs.
One of the company’s ships, the Mariana, had the capacity that Lupex needed and was available. Adding to the attractiveness of the Mariana was that she was already in Southern California, not far from the tank farm in El Segundo where the oil was stored.
The Lupex team decided to moor the Mariana off of Long Beach, once she’d taken on the Lupex crude.
“We don’t want to store it in the Gulf, or anywhere near Florida,” Oliver told his team, pointing to the hurricane hazards in those locations.
“Long Beach has also got the security infrastructure we like,” Oliver said.
Lupex procured the oil at $50 per barrel the following morning, making its value at purchase $100 million. To wrap up the deal, Oliver and his associates took care of some final details, among them, getting insurance in place.
Loading at the tank farm went off without a hitch and the Mariana was moored off of Long Beach. Within days, it looked like oil prices had bottomed.
Weeks later, after a particularly sharp, sustained rise in the price of oil, Lupex executives gave the “sell” order.
With oil at $80 per barrel at the time of the sale, it looked like the company’s strategy was playing out as well as could be hoped. The Mariana made her way to Houston, to offload the oil for the buyer.
At 2 p.m. on the afternoon the oil was offloaded in Houston, Jerry Oliver got a call from Antony Ellis, his associate in Houston.
“We’ve got a problem, a very serious problem,” Ellis said.
“What is it?” Oliver asked.
“The oil’s contaminated,” Ellis replied.
“What?” Oliver said.
“It’s true,” Ellis said. “Apparently, the ship was carrying gasoline before it picked up the crude load and wasn’t cleaned properly.”
“The gasoline additives that remained in the tanker contaminated the crude, lowering its grade and market value,” Ellis further explained.
‘Somebody’s got to tell the executive committee. I’ll do it,” Oliver said.
Then he hung up the phone.
On their follow-up call, Ellis and Oliver began to put the pieces of a disturbing picture together.
“So we can re-blend it?’ Oliver said.
“In essence, yes,” Ellis said.
“It’s a lower product grade, and far less valuable, and then there’s our mixing costs and other related expenses,” he said.
“If we’re very, very lucky and we get this done in no more than two days’ time. We might be able to get $42 per barrel for this lower grade product. I don’t see how we can hold it any longer,” Ellis said.
“Nobody up here has any patience for anything more than that,” Oliver said.
Oliver wasn’t sharing with Ellis the exact tone and temperature of the conversation that he’d had with senior management when he brought them the bad news to begin with. He’d spare his colleague that extra pain.
Working as quickly as they had ever worked, with neither of them sleeping more than four hours over a 48-hour period, Oliver and Ellis arranged for the re-blending of the ill-fated oil from the Mariana.
When all was said and done, Lupex got $41 per barrel for the re-blended product. A down day in the markets worked against them, but as traders, they knew that timing was everything. They were already down millions. They could not afford to wait a day longer. Two days after the sale of the re-blended product, Oliver was speaking with a senior executive, conducting a post-mortem on what became an instant legend at Lupex, “The Long Beach Loss.”
“What do our insurance carriers have to say about this?” the executive asked.
“Ummm, I haven’t talked to them yet,” Oliver said. He was back in his office and on the phone with Lupex’s broker within a minute, his ears still hot from the tongue-lashing his superior had given him.
The broker, Danny Parker, a young gun with a multinational firm, listened to the details of the loss as relayed by Oliver.
“Well, I’ve got a question for starters,” Parker said.
“What?” Oliver said.
“Why didn’t you contact me earlier?” Parker asked.
A List of Ills
Falling oil prices in 2014 were something that got everybody’s attention. Everyone of driving age could see it as gasoline prices at the pump plummeted.
Lupex executives couldn’t be blamed if they were practically obsessed with the rate at which oil prices were going down. After all, this was what they did; it was their bread and butter.
They had the capital and the connections to do very well on what looked like a historic trading opportunity. A two-year average oil price of more than $110 per barrel was becoming a dream-like memory as oil prices fell to below $80 per barrel, then $70 per barrel and on and on down.
Lupex executives were bright and well-schooled. They knew the history of the energy sector. They’d worked extremely hard, done very well over the years and felt they had earned this moment.
As with anyone, it was what they didn’t know that dealt them such a painful blow.
It fell to Danny Parker, the energy insurance broker, and his colleague, Lee Ann Farmer, a cargo specialist, to give Lupex the most painful messages of all.
“Jerry and Antony … let me ask you something. When you arranged to lease the Mariana from the Miller Line, did you ask them about what the Mariana previously held, and whether the vessel posed a contamination risk?”
“That’s on me,” Antony Ellis said. “The short answer is no. You have to understand — we weren’t the only traders on the planet that had their eye on this opportunity. VLCC rates were showing a lot of volatility of their own in late 2014,” he said.
“A lot of people were after this opportunity,” Oliver said.
“We understand …” Danny Parker managed to get out before Antony Ellis interrupted him.
“We’re talking about storage rates of tens of thousands of dollars per day, and in one week alone in November, we saw a 20 percent increase in those leasing rates. There was a lot to consider here,” Ellis said.
“I’m sure there was,” Lee Ann Farmer said.
“I know you had a lot to consider,” she continued. “But you should have thought about a cargo policy. After all, once that product leaves land and goes into a ship, you’re in a completely different ballgame from a coverage perspective.”
“Okay, but how exactly?” Jerry Oliver began.
“Just hold on a second,” Danny Parker said.
“That contamination issue you had? I bet you I could have covered that for you,” Lee Ann said.
Oliver felt nausea roil his stomach.
“You’re kidding me,” he said. “All of it?”
“I’m pretty sure the carrier would have you retain some of it,” Lee Ann said. “But in our world, these days, there’s a lot of capacity out there.”
“I never knew,” Antony Ellis said.
“Sorry. But now you know,” Danny Parker said.
Lupex would live to seek other opportunities in coming months and years, but its insurance coverage lapse in the Long Beach loss cost the company an opportunity that might have been once in a lifetime.
Risk & Insurance® partnered with XL Group to produce this scenario. Below are XL Group’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. These “Lessons Learned” are not the editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.
1. Consider an Ocean Cargo Policy: For a relatively low cost compared to the value of goods, an ocean cargo policy can be structured to cover perils of the seas (i.e. sinking, fire, collision, explosion, heavy weather), General Average, Theft, Fire, Acts of War, Shortage, Leakage and contamination. In the “Tainted Goods” risk scenario, if Lupex had purchased an appropriately structured ocean cargo policy, the company would have been covered for the loss due to contamination.
2. Choose Appropriate Limits: When evaluating an ocean cargo policy, risk managers need to ensure that the amount of insurance will be sufficient to cover the goods at the maximum foreseeable financial interest. This is especially important in dealing with commodities, like oil, where there’s a chance of financial fluctuations.
3. Valuation of Goods: For an effective ocean cargo policy, it should be structured to allow the buyer to be indemnified for the highest value of goods for several different situations, including:
- The invoice value + 10% (for ancillary/related costs)
- The selling price (if sold)
- The market value on date of loss
With these different evaluations structured into the policy, this will allow for recovery of the amount paid at a minimum, or the full mark up if sold or unsold at a maximum.
4. Ensure Professional Handling of Goods: Bulk liquids and solid goods pass through a number of loading mechanisms, holding tanks/locations, pipelines, conveyor belts, loading machinery and pumps when moving from shore to vessel and vice versa upon unloading. This opens up the potential for many types of losses, including: shortages, contamination and loss in weight. In order to reduce this risk, companies should take the steps to ensure professional handling of their goods by working with tenured logistics providers.
5. Reduce Your Contamination Risks: It’s common for companies to conduct and pay for testing and approval of tanks as well as a certificate by a qualified surveyor. However, it’s important that additional samples are taken at loading and unloading to determine if, where, or when the contamination occurred. This is also recommended for barges, lighters, tank cars and port side tanks. Most of all, a company operating in this space should make sure the handling guidelines are adhered to. By following the handling guidelines, the insurance coverage will remain valid.
6. Consult with your Marine Broker & Underwriter: Marine brokers and underwriters can offer specific knowledge and experience that can be leveraged in certain classes of businesses. They can discuss best practices and provide recommendations to reduce your risk. In addition, they can provide value added services in terms of Risk Engineering, Claims, and various technical white papers, which can serve as readily available resources.
The Quality Assurance Journey
Not too long ago, if you were planning a trip, you would buy a map or an atlas and draw out the route you would take. If you continued to drive this route repeatedly, you might discover better ways to avoid a heavily congested area or take advantage of a new highway.
Similarly, a third party administrator (TPA) draws on years of experience to develop best practices for claims handling, discovering better routes and avoiding areas of delay. Payers trust their TPA to formalize these best practices, and to develop a Quality Assurance (QA) program that helps ensure claims are effectively managed. Like a roadmap, a QA program tracks the journey to the desired destination.
Mark Siciliano defines a quality assurance program.
With today’s technology, a cumbersome map is replaced with a GPS; just follow the step-by-step instructions. Sometimes the technology works flawlessly, and other times, it doesn’t deliver the best route.
Likewise, many QA programs have developed a checklist mentality, listing the steps to take. Such QA programs typically involve a small team reviewing a limited number of claims to ensure that key standards are consistently applied. While important, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee claims are optimally handled, or uncover ways to improve claim workflows and performance.
Mark Siciliano explains how Helmsman’s QA approach differs from the industry’s standard “checklist” mentality.
A New Process
Helmsman Management Services LLC, a third-party claims administrator and a member of Liberty Mutual Insurance, began to re-examine its QA program with the help of its clients several years ago. In doing so, they developed a new methodology that is a welcome departure from robotic checklist behavior.
“Our QA program dives deeper to find actionable ways we can improve claims outcomes, the performance of claims professionals, and the entire claims management process,” noted Mark Siciliano, vice president and managing director of Helmsman Management Services. “We conduct more in-depth reviews on a higher volume of claims – more than 80,000 each year – at key points in the lifecycle. We involve over 800 field claims professionals and engage individual claims handlers and their managers through an online dashboard that reports performance and highlights opportunities to improve performance through additional training and coaching.”
Mark Siciliano discusses the Helmsman approach to quality assurance.
The new approach to QA was successful, enabling Helmsman to improve the overall quality of its clients’ claims by eight points in 2014. In fact, 92.7 percent of the claims Helmsman managed met or exceeded the TPA’s service standards in the fourth quarter of 2014, up from 84.5 percent in the first quarter of that year.
“Re-engineering our QA program and moving it beyond the standard industry checklist approach took our claims management from really good to great,” said Siciliano. “And, it is helping us drive further improvements.”
One of the reasons for that improvement is Helmsman’s QA process keeps adjustors focused on what works best.
“We looked at the common characteristics of really great outcomes and worked backwards,” said Siciliano. “We found that when our claims professionals start with an empathetic approach, they are better able to connect with the injured employee and deliver better outcomes, both for the claimant and her or his employer.”
Like blindly following GPS instructions, a claims professional can easily fall into a pattern of completing tasks and forget that an injured person may be experiencing a very challenging time in their life. Helmsman trains its claims professionals to treat the injured worker as if they are dealing with a family member. It’s not just asking questions and moving through a checklist; it’s answering an injured worker’s questions, providing important information, and doing so with a level of compassion.
Once a conversation has begun and the injured worker is more at ease, the claims professional can ask questions beyond what might be in the process to really understand the injury, the individual, and the claim, and to find that best route to the ultimate destination of return to work. This inquisitive nature of the claims professional also allows for early discovery of any specific challenges in the claim – such as co-morbid conditions or psycho-social issues – paving the way for intervention to get the claim back on track.
“We call it humanistic common sense,” said Siciliano. “We know we have to ask the tough questions and protect our clients’ financial interests, but when we do so through a positive and supportive lens, it permeates throughout the entire process, facilitating the journey.”
Building a relationship with medical providers using this same approach can also assist the claim.
“Re-engineering our QA program and moving it beyond the standard industry checklist approach took our claims management from really good to great. And, it is helping us drive further improvements.”
— Mark Siciliano, Vice President and Managing Director, Helmsman Management Services
In the case of light duty restrictions, instead of ‘check’ and move on after the initial call with the treating physician, Helmsman asks for more details on what the injured worker can do, and helps the physician understand the claimant’s duties and the temporary jobs available. Helmsman might ask the doctor to join them for a site visit to better understand the work environment.
As a result, light duty jobs become gainful and meaningful work for the injured worker because they are tailored to their capabilities.
“We’re not just asking for medical information and work capacity; we’re actually working with our clients and the physicians to create a return-to-work environment that works for the injured worker, employer, and physician,” said Siciliano.
Evolution of Change
A QA program that delivers a high level of value to the employer and improves outcomes for the injured worker is just the beginning. QA is more than a program—it’s a process. Quality assurance programs are critical for tracking and improving performance. It’s a continuous cycle of training, learning, client feedback, and process improvement.
“Our enhanced QA program helps us better service our clients, but we know it’s an ongoing process,” said Siciliano. “Our continuous improvement process is built around the investment that we put in our people, systems, and technology. It’s also response to the changing landscapes around us, and how well we adapt to them.”
Mark Siciliano describes characteristics of effective quality assurance programs.
As a result, quality assurance programs are not working towards just a destination; they’re working towards the evolution of change, and how risk managers, brokers, and TPAs respond to it. The QA process becomes that journey.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Helmsman Management Services. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.