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.
Detention Risks Grow for Traveling Employees
It used to be that most kidnapping events were driven by economic motives. The bad guys kidnapped corporate employees and then demanded a ransom.
These situations are always very dangerous and serious. But the bad guys’ profit motive helps ensure the safety of their hostages in order to collect a ransom.
Recently, an even more dangerous trend has emerged. Governments, insurgents and terrorist organizations are abducting employees not to make money, but to gain notoriety or for political reasons.
Without a ransom demand, an involuntarily confined person is referred to as ‘detained.’ Each detention event requires a specialized approach to try and negotiate the safe return of the hostage, depending on the ideology or motivation of the abductors.
And the risk is not just faced by global corporations but by companies of all sizes.
“The world is changing. We see many more occasions where governments are getting involved in detentions and insurgent/terrorist groups are growing in size and scope. It’s the right time for a discussion about detention risks.”
— Tom Dunlap, Assistant Vice President, Liberty International Underwriters (LIU)
“Practically any company with employees traveling abroad or operations overseas can be a target for a detention risk,” said Tom Dunlap, assistant vice president at Liberty International Underwriters (LIU). “Whether you are setting up a foreign operation, sourcing raw materials or equipment overseas, or trying to establish an overseas sales contract, people are traveling everywhere today for so many reasons.”
Emerging Threats Driven By New Groups Using New Tools
Many of the groups who pose the most dangerous detention threats are well versed in how to use the Internet and social media for PR, recruiting and communication. ISIS, for example, generates worldwide publicity with their gruesome videos that are distributed through multiple electronic channels.
Bad guys leverage their digital skills to identify companies and their employees who conduct business overseas. Corporate websites and personal social media often provide enough information to target employees who are working abroad.
And if executives are too well protected to abduct, these tools can also be used to identify and target family members who may be less well protected.
The explosion of new groups who pose the most dangerous risks are generally classified into three categories:
Insurgents – Detentions by these groups are most often intended to keep a government or humanitarian group from delivering services or aid to certain populations, usually in a specific territory, for political reasons. They also take hostages to make a political statement and, on occasion, will ask for a ransom.
In other cases, insurgent groups detain aid workers in order to provide the aid themselves (to win over locals to their cause). They also attempt prisoner swaps by offering to trade their hostages for prisoners held by the government.
The most dangerous groups include FARC (Colombia), ISIS (Syria and Iraq), Boko Haram (Nigeria), Taliban (Pakistan and Afghanistan) and Al Shabab (Somalia).
Governments – Often use detention as a way to hide illegal or suspect activities. In Iran, an American woman was working with Iranian professors to organize a cultural exchange program for Iranian students. Without notice, she was arrested and accused of subversion to overthrow the government. In a separate incident, a journalist was thrown in jail for not presenting proper credentials when he entered the country.
“Government allegations against detainees vary but in most cases are unfounded or untrue,” said Dunlap. “Often these detentions are attempts to prevent the monitoring of elections or conducting inspections.”
Even local city and town governments present an increased detention risk. In one recent case, a local manager of a foreign company was arrested in order to try and force a favorable settlement in a commercial dispute.
Ideology-driven terrorists – Extremist groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS are grabbing most of today’s headlines with their public displays of ultra-violence and unwillingness to compromise. The threat from these groups is particularly dangerous because their motives are based on pure ideology and, at the same time, they seek media exposure as a recruiting tool.
These groups don’t care who they abduct — journalist, aid worker, student or private employee – they just need hostages.
“The main idea here is to shock people and show how governments and businesses are powerless to protect their citizens and employees,” observed Dunlap.
Mitigating the Risks
Even if no ransom demands are made, an LIU kidnap and ransom policy will deliver benefits to employers and their employees encountering a detention scenario.
For instance, the policy provides a hostage’s family with salary continuation for the duration of their captivity. For a family who’s already dealing with the terror of abduction, ensuring financial stability is an important benefit.
In addition, coverage provides for security for the family if they, too, may be at risk. It also pays for travel and accommodations if the family, employees or consultants need to travel to the detention location. Then there are potential medical and psychological care costs for the employee when they are released as well as litigation defense costs for the company.
LIU coverage also includes expert consultant and response services from red24, a leading global crisis management assistance firm. Even without a ransom negotiation to manage, the services of expert consultants are vital.
“We have witnessed a marked increase in wrongful detentions involving the business traveler. In some regions of the world wrongful detentions are referred to as “business kidnappings.” The victim is often held against their will because of a business dispute. Assisting a client who falls victim to such a scheme requires an experienced crisis management consultant,” said Jack Cloonan, head of special risks for red24.
Without coverage, the fees for experienced consultants can run as high as $3,000 per day.
Given the growing threat, it is more important than ever to be well versed about the country your company is working in. Threats vary by region and country. For example, in some locales safety dictates to always call for a cab instead of hailing one off the street. And in other countries it is never safe to use public transportation.
LIU’s coverage includes thorough pre-travel services, which are free of charge. As part of that effort, LIU makes its crisis consultants available to collaborate with insureds on potential exposures ahead of time.
Every insured employee traveling or working overseas can access vital information from the red24 website. The site contains information on individual countries or regions and what a traveler needs to know in terms of security/safety threats, documents to help avoid detention, and even medical information about risks such as pandemics, etc.
“Anyone who is a risk manager, security director, CFO or an HR leader has to think about the detention issue when they are about to send people abroad or establish operations overseas,” Dunlap said. “The world is changing. We see many more occasions where governments are getting involved in detentions and insurgent/terrorist groups are growing in size and scope. It’s the right time for a discussion about detention risks.”
For more information about the benefits LIU kidnap and ransom policies offer, please visit the website or contact your broker.
Liberty International Underwriters is the marketing name for the broker-distributed specialty lines business operations of Liberty Mutual Insurance. Certain coverage may be provided by a surplus lines insurer. Surplus lines insurers do not generally participate in state guaranty funds and insureds are therefore not protected by such funds. This literature is a summary only and does not include all terms, conditions, or exclusions of the coverage described. Please refer to the actual policy issued for complete details of coverage and exclusions.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.