Congress: Let E&S Underwrite Unique Flood Risks
I strongly support revisions to the current federal definition of private flood insurance contained in the Flood Insurance Modernization and Market Parity Act of 2014 introduced in the 113th Congress. I believe it is necessary for Congress to amend the current definition to ensure that surplus lines insurers are eligible to offer private market solutions and alternatives to consumers with unique and complex flood risks.
The surplus lines market plays an important role in providing insurance for hard-to-place, unique or high capacity risks. Often called the “safety valve” of the insurance industry, surplus lines insurers fill a need for coverage in the marketplace by insuring risks that are declined by the standard underwriting and pricing processes of admitted insurance carriers.
Surplus lines insurance is used to cover risks that are difficult to place, where the standard market is unwilling or unable to provide the level of coverage needed, such as flood coverage in coastal areas.
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 sought to expand the ability of private insurers to offer flood insurance solutions as alternatives to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). However, its definition of private flood insurance should be clarified to ensure that surplus lines insurers are part of the solution.
Any misinterpretation of the existing definition could unintentionally limit the surplus lines market’s historical effectiveness as a supplemental market for risks that exceed the capacity of the NFIP.
It is important to note that surplus lines insurers currently underwrite private insurance flood policies primarily in commercial lines and, to a very limited degree, in personal lines.
Well before the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, surplus lines flood insurance policies were underwritten as a supplemental option for insureds seeking flood insurance coverages in excess of the capacity of the NFIP.
Often called the “safety valve” of the insurance industry, surplus lines insurers fill a need for coverage in the marketplace by insuring risks that are declined by the standard underwriting and pricing processes of admitted insurance carriers.
The Flood Insurance Modernization and Market Parity Act of 2014 intended to preserve the surplus lines market’s ability to provide the supplemental coverage it has historically provided and to provide insureds with coverage options for unique and complex risk that exceeds or differs from the options available through the NFIP or the standard market.
The purpose of the 2014 Act was to clarify that a surplus lines policy is an acceptable private flood insurance option. Its definition of private insurer includes any insurer that is licensed, admitted or otherwise “eligible” to engage in the business of insurance in the state or jurisdiction in which the insured property is located. Its use of the term “eligible” is important because of its consistency with the nationwide surplus lines insurer eligibility standards established by the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act (NRRA) of 2010.
The Flood Insurance Modernization and Market Parity Act of 2014 continues to be the right solution. It preserves an effective supplemental market, provides options for insureds with unique and complex risks, and it provides mortgage lenders with more clarity regarding the acceptance of private flood insurance policies.
I therefore encourage Congress to enact legislation in 2015 to accomplish the goals of the 2014 Act.
Pros and Cons of Specialty Consolidation
Merger and acquisition activity is rife in the insurance space and in the specialty brokering market in particular. According to M&A advisory firm MarshBerry, there were 220 acquisitions in the U.S. broker sector in 2014, and 49 of them involved wholesale brokers and managing general agents and underwriters (MGAs and MGUs).
“Making this surprising is that specialty distributors are significantly outnumbered by retail insurance agencies,” the firm said, noting that there are approximately 1,250 specialty distributors in the U.S. compared to 25,000 retail agencies. In other words, specialty M&A accounted for 22 percent of all broker M&As despite specialty players being outnumbered 20 to 1.
According to Julie Herman, associate director of financial services ratings at Standard & Poor’s, consolidation in the specialty brokering space mirrors M&A activity among insurers, many of whom have been buying specialty teams as a way of managing their underwriting cycle in a low rate environment.
“Brokers follow the trends of insurers, so it makes sense they would follow them into specialty,” she said.
“Cheap debt, low interest rates and private equity capital entering the space, combined with competition driving up multiples, makes a plentiful M&A environment. And there are so many opportunities out there, especially in the U.S. broker markets — there are thousands of brokers and the market is very fragmented.”
Herman added that insurers are increasingly focusing on streamlining the number of distribution partners they do business with, exacerbating the broker consolidation trend.
“It is becoming harder for small brokers to compete against bigger players in a softening market in which there is a need to be more sophisticated. Most small players don’t have the resources to invest in big data and technology, so it often makes sense to sell,” she said.
“The losers are the specialty wholesalers who don’t want to sell but might not to be able to adapt to the marketplace and get left behind.”
RIMS board director Gordon Adams is chief risk officer for Tri-Marine International, a fishing company with specialty marine risks. He said he’s seen little evidence of contraction in the marine broking space, but in other areas such as credit insurance there are very few specialist brokers and there is consolidation.
“That is a concern as there are less competitors and therefore we have less ability to do an RFP. Insurance is a personal relationships industry. Companies may miss out on developing personal relationships with boutique brokers in favor of using the big brokers. The larger brokers try to be all things to all people, and that’s certainly not always successful.”
In September 2014, JLT — the world’s largest specialty brokerage — began a concerted push into the U.S. According to Doug Turk, chief marketing officer for JLT Specialty in the U.S., the broker may consider joining the M&A party.
“We’re very open and interested in seeing what’s out there, but we are going to be very selective to make sure any acquisition target fits within our specialty strategy and also with the culture of JLT,” he said.
Impact on Clients
However, Turk challenged the view that broker consolidation leads to less choice for the client. Large clients have had limited choice for some time, he said, while JLT’s move into the U.S. as a retail specialty broker has helped meet demand for more choice when it comes to specialty risk.
“[Consolidation] doesn’t change the markets we go to or the solutions we offer. Underwriting consolidation is something we have to deal with, but with most consolidations, teams remain largely intact. It’s a good time for clients because they can get more out of their relationships with brokers,” he said.
There is no doubt that if a small broker is bought out by a more sophisticated buyer, its clients should benefit from an array of value-adding services.
“There are always two sides to every coin but right now the positives outweigh the negatives for the insurance buyer, if successful operational and financial execution is in place,” said Herman.
Scott Burton, a partner with Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan in Atlanta, agreed.
“Ultimately, the effects of consolidation on resulting scale and the continued gains in efficiency and expertise should result in better rates and terms for many clients,” he said.
Larger brokers absorb the specialist expertise of small wholesalers but can then use their superior infrastructure to scale up these operations, bringing specialty capability to a wider audience. The key is of course to ensure the acquired teams are not dismantled, diluted or commoditized by the merger.
Companies that don’t sell up must capitalize on their ability to offer bespoke service.
“Smaller brokers can compete by differentiating and having a product,” said Herman.
“If they are able to maintain key relationships and use their niche expertise to design specialty programs, carriers will still want to do business with them.”
Turk agreed that while many of the largest brokers look at business in terms of yield and commodification, specialists use their industry expertise to create unique and innovative products for their chosen client bases. This is, he said, what makes specialty-focused JLT different than the likes of Marsh, Aon and Willis.
“There is an increasing role for true specialty brokers who have industry knowledge — an ability to understand business first and risk second, and the ability to translate that understanding into customized solutions,” he said.
Tri-Marine’s Adams is a strong believer in the value of working with the most specialized brokers out there.
“Having a department that is able to service a specialty area is not the same as specializing in a specialty area,” he said, contending that boutique brokers are more likely to have a closer relationship with the client and offer dedicated, individualized service than broad-brush broking houses.
“We want our broker to have expertise and a predilection to our areas of business. The broker we selected at our last RFP said ‘we are heavily focused on marine, and because of that we don’t offer the same abilities in property/casualty or workers’ compensation, so we’d like to partner with a very strong regional broker who can provide these areas.’ That’s the direction we went in, and together they provide what we need.”
For many companies, choosing a one-stop-shop broker may be equally, if not more appealing than using a patchwork of specialists. One area the large buyers have a clear advantage over their smaller target firms is in their ability to service a rapidly internationalizing corporate sector.
“Globalization is fundamentally changing the expectations of our clients. International clients today demand seamless global coverage,” said Turk. “There’s a growing requirement to comply with local regulations in international locations. The world is becoming so much more complex, and companies demand that the brokers they work with have the knowledge to make sure they are in compliance with local regulations when placing policies.
“I’ve been in the industry 44 years and I’ve seen expansion and contraction a number of times during my career.” — Doug Turk, chief marketing officer, JLT Specialty in the U.S.
“Smaller brokers don’t have a global umbrella capability. The problem for them is that virtually all large clients now require it. Even if you are a very niche specialty broker you have got to have that global capability,” he added.
Adams said that as long as a broker can access major insurance markets, the carriers can take care of the global program.
“We have offices across the globe, and buy insurance on a global basis through our corporate risk management program. What is important is to have a global insurance carrier that can address those needs, and a broker that can access the resources of that carrier,” he said.
“I don’t find it limiting to use a specialty broker with only two or three offices because they deal with the likes of Lloyd’s, ACE and AIG, who have boots on the ground all around the world. One call to the local broker means we can access those boots on the ground pretty much any place we have a need.”
Global brokers are, however, more likely to be able to access increasingly popular alternative risk transfer channels such as insurance-linked securities (ILS), as well as being able to offer far superior analytics than small independents.
According to Turk, “data analysis and insight is increasingly driving how insurance is procured and how companies assess their risk.”
Adams, however, said that there are still pockets of industry for which data is not yet a necessity.
He also said that while consolidation is rife among specialty brokers right now, it’s nothing new.
“I’ve been in the industry 44 years and I’ve seen expansion and contraction a number of times during my career. Every time there is a consolidation and the big brokers gobble up the specialty brokers, it’s not long before you see people peeling off and starting again, and the cycle starts over.”
For now, according to Herman, specialty M&A is set to continue.
“All the ingredients that made for an active M&A market in 2014 are still there and I don’t see why it would slow,” she said.
“The opportunities are still there and there are so many brokers that are ripe for being acquired.”
This could mean less choice for insurance buyers in an increasingly commoditized market. For those whose glasses are half full, the trend may mean specialty expertise is available to a wider audience.
Pathogens, Allergens and Globalization – Oh My!
In 2014, a particular brand of cumin was used by dozens of food manufacturers to produce everything from spice mixes, hummus and bread crumbs to seasoned beef, poultry and pork products.
Yet, unbeknownst to these manufacturers, a potentially deadly contaminant was lurking…
What followed was the largest allergy-related recall since the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act became law in 2006. Retailers pulled 600,000 pounds of meat off the market, as well as hundreds of other products. As of May 2015, reports of peanut contaminated cumin were still being posted by FDA.
Food manufacturing executives have long known that a product contamination event is a looming risk to their business. While pathogens remain a threat, the dramatic increase in food allergen recalls coupled with distant, global supply chains creates an even more unpredictable and perilous exposure.
Recently peanut, an allergen in cumin, has joined the increasing list of unlikely contaminants, taking its place among a growing list that includes melamine, mineral oil, Sudan red and others.
“I have seen bacterial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant.”
— Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG
“An event such as the cumin contamination has a domino effect in the supply chain,” said Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG, which was the first company to provide contaminated product coverage almost 30 years ago. “With an ingredient like the cumin being used in hundreds of products, the third party damages add up quickly and may bankrupt the supplier. This leaves manufacturers with no ability to recoup their losses.”
“The result is that a single contaminated ingredient may cause damage on a global scale,” added Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG company.
Quality and food safety professionals are able to drive product safety in their own manufacturing operations utilizing processes like kill steps and foreign material detection. But such measures are ineffective against an unexpected contaminant. “Food and beverage manufacturers are constantly challenged to anticipate and foresee unlikely sources of potential contamination leading to product recall,” said Alexandru. “They understandably have more control over their own manufacturing environment but can’t always predict a distant supply chain failure.”
And while companies of various sizes are impacted by a contamination, small to medium size manufacturers are at particular risk. With less of a capital cushion, many of these companies could be forced out of business.
Historically, manufacturing executives were hindered in their risk mitigation efforts by a perceived inability to quantify the exposure. After all, one can’t manage what one can’t measure. But AIG has developed a new approach to calculate the monetary exposure for the individual analysis of the three major elements of a product contamination event: product recall and replacement, restoring a safe manufacturing environment and loss of market. With this more precise cost calculation in hand, risk managers and brokers can pursue more successful risk mitigation and management strategies.
Product Recall and Replacement
Whether the contamination is a microorganism or an allergen, the immediate steps are always the same. The affected products are identified, recalled and destroyed. New product has to be manufactured and shipped to fill the void created by the recall.
The recall and replacement element can be estimated using company data or models, such as NOVI. Most companies can estimate the maximum amount of product available in the stream of commerce at any point in time. NOVI, a free online tool provided by AIG, estimates the recall exposures associated with a contamination event.
Restore a Safe Manufacturing Environment
Once the recall is underway, concurrent resources are focused on removing the contamination from the manufacturing process, and restarting production.
“Unfortunately, this phase often results in shell-shocked managers,” said Nevin. “Most contingency planning focuses on the costs associated with the recall but fail to adequately plan for cleanup and downtime.”
“The losses associated with this phase can be similar to a fire or other property loss that causes the operation to shut down. The consequential financial loss is the same whether the plant is shut down due to a fire or a pathogen contamination.” added Alexandru. “And then you have to factor in the clean-up costs.”
Locating the source of pathogen contamination can make disinfecting a plant after a contamination event more difficult. A single microorganism living in a pipe or in a crevice can create an ongoing contamination.
“I have seen microbial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant,” observed Alexandru.
Handling an allergen contamination can be more straightforward because it may be restricted to a single batch. That is, unless there is ingredient used across multiple batches and products that contains an unknown allergen, like peanut residual in cumin.
Supply chain investigation and testing associated with identifying a cross-contaminated ingredient is complicated, costly and time consuming. Again, the supplier can be rendered bankrupt leaving them unable to provide financial reimbursement to client manufacturers.
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet. Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
— Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance, an AIG company
Loss of Market
While the manufacturer is focused on recall and cleanup, the world of commerce continues without them. Customers shift to new suppliers or brands, often resulting in permanent damage to the manufacturer’s market share.
For manufacturers providing private label products to large retailers or grocers, the loss of a single client can be catastrophic.
“Often the customer will deem continuing the relationship as too risky and will switch to another supplier, or redistribute the business to existing suppliers” said Alexandru. “The manufacturer simply cannot find a replacement client; after all, there are a limited number of national retailers.”
On the consumer front, buyers may decide to switch brands based on the negative publicity or simply shift allegiance to another product. Given the competitiveness of the food business, it’s very difficult and costly to get consumers to come back.
“It’s a sad fact that by the time a manufacturer completes a recall, cleans up the plant and gets the product back on the shelf, some people may be hesitant to buy it.” said Nevin.
A complicating factor not always planned for by small and mid-sized companies, is publicity.
The recent incident surrounding a serious ice cream contamination forced both regulatory agencies and the manufacturer to be aggressive in remedial actions. The details of this incident and other contamination events were swiftly and highly publicized. This can be as damaging as the contamination itself and may exacerbate any or all of the three elements discussed above.
Estimating the Financial Risk May Save Your Company
“In our experience, most companies retain product contamination losses within their own balance sheet.” Nevin said. “But in reality, they rarely do a thorough evaluation of the financial risk and sometimes the company simply cannot absorb the financial consequences of a contamination. Potential for loss is much greater when factoring in all three components of a contamination event.”
This brief video provides a concise overview of the three elements of the product contamination event and the NOVI tool and benefits:
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet,” he said. “Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Lexington Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.