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Better late than never. Here is the September edition of CATEX Reports. We have much to report in this issue. First, CATEX was named Technology Provider of the Year by Intelligent Insurer for the second consecutive year in Monte Carlo on September 14th.
Next, the meetings in Monte Carlo were a tiny bit subdued we thought. There were no pronouncements about the hard market ending anytime soon rather instead there were predictions that it could take a combination of a "grey swan" events (more on that to follow) to raise reinsurance premiums to even prior levels.
We noticed that the ILS and hedge fund reinsurers have now become virtually mainstream and were present in meeting after meeting with brokers and cedents. It looks like Nephila's Frank Majors is right when he talks about how alternative capital has become an accepted solution.
We also noticed an uptick in the number of smaller brokers, reinsurers, and alternative capital firms present. Whether there is a recognition that the tough pricing era is making the Rendezvous a mandatory event to try to scrape out any business or an opportunity to create even more market dislocation we will look at later.
Then, horror of horrors, we learned that the venerable Hotel de Paris will be partially closed for the next four years (we were unable to learn exactly how long!) for interior renovations. Given the record number of Rendezvous participants this year, 3,800, and the already overbooked hotel situation in Monaco during the meeting week we won't be surprised to see a chartered Cunard liner moored at the dock next September.
Finally, since CATEX stays in Beausoleil, or in Monte Carlo-speak, "up the hill", the Hotel de Paris closing won't affect us but what did make us happy this year was the discovery of the principality's very extensive public escalator system that enabled us to be deposited nearly at the front door of our hotel.
On a final note, as you see in this picture with our editor Frank Fortunato, this year the waiters at the Café de Paris
were much friendlier They operate under ridiculously trying conditions
as companies tended to monopolize tables (we plead guilty) from 8:30 am to 6 pm. Keeping a restaurant tab open for 8 or 9 hours for 40 or 50 tables and then being able to present "l'addition" to everyone at the same time is no small feat.
Thank you very much.
Senior Vice President/CATEX
Holzberger de Rose Sellek
AM Best Reinsurance Review kicks off Rendezvous
The grim news began early Sunday morning at the Hermitage Hotel in a briefing hosted by A.M Best's Roger Sellek in which Robert de Rose and Stefan Holzberger reviewed the state of the reinsurance industry. Fortunately the air conditioning in the room was set at an arctic level as jet lag was a problem for many. After listening to the presentation though no one was dozing.
After noting low investment yields, increased client retentions, excess capacity, alternative capital, benign CAT claim losses, questionable underwriting discipline and declining reserve redundancies as being the seven pillars underscoring A.M Best's "negative" outlook on the reinsurance industry everyone in the room was paying close attention.
The description that followed had people positively squeamish. Briefly "channeling" Donald Rumsfeld (he of the "known unknowns" and the "unknown unknowns") we heard about Grey Swan events.
Grey Swan events, catastrophic events that are, or could be foreseen, were broken down into either "knock out punches" such as a mega-catastrophic event, financial system shock or hyperinflation. Alternatively some Grey Swans were classified as "slow painful deaths" such as emerging underwriting risk or loss of entrepreneurial spirit.
You should remember that this dire discussion was going on at 10 am on a Sunday morning in Monte Carlo even before the Rendezvous officially opened. It was a sobering briefing to say the least.
More sobering was the ongoing review of threats viewed by AM Best as "mega-catastrophic events". These threats, classified as a single major catastrophic event that delivers a massive loss to the reinsurance industry, could include things like a Los Angeles or Tokyo earthquake; a London or New York City windstorm, a pandemic or a terrorist event.
They're called "grey swans" because frankly, as awful as the prospect of their occurrence may be they certainly are "known unknowns". It's not as if we haven't envisaged them actually happening because we have.
What of the so called "Black Swan" events of the Rumsfeldian "unknown unknowns"? No mention of them except to say that most Black Swan events are really Grey Swans as these possible occurrences have become likely enough that they should be recognized and managed.
After reviewing the "mega-catastrophe" list of pandemics, LA earthquakes, unforeseen terror attacks and London hurricanes we admit we were only left with solar plasma ejections, asteroids and possibly aliens as potential "unknown unknowns" (Remember, this is tricky. Once you even think about it for a second it can become a "known unknown")
AM Best has a good point though. As highly improbable as such an event may be to occur the "black swans" should really be considered as "grey swans". However, after hearing terms like "knock-out punch" and "slow painful deaths" we were reminded of the 17th century French philosopher/mathematician Blaise Pascal.
When opining upon the existence of God he computed that the mathematically slim probability (a theological actuary?) that God actually did exist meant it was smarter to live one's life under the "God exists" assumption rather than to live an evil life and risk residing in hell forever. The penalty for living as if God did not exist was simply, in his view, too great to take that chance.
So thinking about a Black Swan almost automatically makes it a Grey Swan but you should still be prepared for the Black Swan, which nobody can describe, because if they could it would really be a Grey Swan? Should we maybe try to reach Pascal?
To add a bit more to this AM Best warned that some of the pitfalls faced by reinsurance management in preparing for these "mega-catastrophic" events are a failure to recognize the limitations of CAT models and to fail to account for unmodelled exposures (remember the BI claims for the Thai floods?).
Briefing materials were handed out at the AM Best meeting and not digitally available however Robert de Rosa does mention some of the points in his interview on AM Best TV.
We see what they meant when they said that there really are no Black Swans anymore. We still hold out for aliens though.
Will Big Data lead to specifically targeted rates?
We had noticed a warning from S&P's Denis Sugrue earlier in August when he said that reinsurers needed to adapt to changing conditions "by expanding into new markets, developing new products, and supporting global growth". Hardly a news bulletin to anyone but what he said next was very interesting.
He said that unless big reinsurers began to innovate, big corporations might even begin to arrange their own risk transfer mechanisms and cut out the industry altogether. He said "What's to stop Google from hiring some underwriters, using some of the cash it's got on hand and the data it has to start writing insurance policies?".
You see comments like that sometimes and this was in the press five days prior to Monte Carlo. It had "legs" enough though that it was still a hot enough topic (Google, after all) that the question was posed to senior management at Swiss Re during their "Big Data" discussion on Tuesday at The Fairmont.
Swiss Re's Chief Underwriting Officer Matthias Weber answered the question by saying that "We of course can't speak for other companies such as Google but entering into insurance would mean that they would also have to work with a completely different business model and culture, so we see it less likely that they would like to enter the insurance market. What they could do of course is to enter alliances with the most innovative companies already in the sector or also sell information to all insurance companies in the market".
Note the last part of Mr. Weber's comment --"sell information to all insurance companies in the market". Who, aside from the NSA, has more data than Google? Who indeed which is why we took note of this comment from Paul Horgan, global head of group reinsurance at Zurich Insurance when he was speaking about a recent meeting with Brian Duperreault's Hamilton Re.
Mr. Horgan said "Hamilton Re has an interesting pitch. I was expecting the hedge fund angle and I got a technology pitch". This comment led us to an interview on AM Best TV where Hamilton Re's CEO Kathleen Reardon said "Hamilton Re aims to outperform, with a stellar underwriting and leadership team and a partnership with Two Sigma, a technology focused investment management firm".
Ms. Reardon continued "Two Sigma is also assisting Hamilton Re with technology on the underwriting side, as well as working on managing the reinsurer's assets. What we're trying to do there is use our technology partner to enhance the underwriting on the insurance side. We'll probably start with classes of business that lend themselves well to data mining, perhaps, classes with more frequency than severity."
Finally, on this topic, we saw this comment from Jed Rhoads, President and CUO of Markel Global Re who was talking about certain ILS carriers and said "I just heard today from a source that some of these new capital providers don't even use a detailed model for underwriting. They're using aggregate-level data. I don't know if that's true or not."
CATEX knows from its own experience, with its Data Vera data conversion and analysis tool, just how keen the appetite is for granular risk information.
This is what we see. We look at the AM Best comment that "the limitations of the CAT models" are a contributor to the industry's unpreparedness for a "mega-catastrophic" event. Next we learn that the head underwriter at Swiss Re understands the value of the data Google has. Then we see that one of Hamilton Re's "differentiators" is using data mining of Big Data to get better underwriting information. Then we note the incredulity of Jed Rhoads, who suspects that in some instances only aggregate data is being used for underwriting.
It all adds up to what we've been hearing repeatedly in our meetings with clients and prospects about Data Vera. How can we get, not only the most granular data about a risk, but how can we get other data that we've previously not used before or that isn't factored into the models? Everyone, it seems, recognizes that the digitization of credit histories, police reports, fire response logs, building permits, zoning variances, accident records, health expenditures, buying patterns and even canine nuisance citations and, frankly, God knows (we are siding with Pascal) what else, are all useful parts of an underwriting analysis.
We're not commenting at all about the privacy concerns raised by obtaining or using this data. Obviously that is a veritable "hornet's nest" of a legal and ethical discussion but the mere fact that this data exists and is retrievable is a tempting proposition to any risk underwriter.
There is a fundamental principle of insurance and reinsurance. In fact it's probably the most fundamental principle. Insurance is the gathering together of numerous risks originating from different people or businesses exposed to a particular peril in multiple geographical regions. By combining the risks the insurer is able to, not only spread the risk of loss amongst all the participants if a claim occurs, but is able to offer a price less reflective of "spikes" caused by an insured who may actually possess a far higher claim propensity than another. In essence, this means that a genuinely "vanilla" insured, with little prospect of a claim, is partially offsetting the higher risk held by an insured with a high prospect of a claim.
If you have car insurance and you have never had an accident or a claim but your rates have continued to increase you probably understand this. But what if the promise of data mining and "Big Data" is such that in the near future an insurer or reinsurer is able to offer a very specific rate just for you? Would that ameliorate one's privacy concerns? Who knows but that could well be the direction in which we're heading.
The other side of that coin though is that the truly claim-prone risks would "lose" that subsidy currently paid by the "vanilla" insureds and would potentially face far higher premiums. Presumably underwriters are prepared for those discussions because any move to more specific, customized, policy holder underwriting analysis will leave one group of buyers very happy and another group very upset.
Thoughts on Regulation....from some of the best
We saw these from Maurice Greenberg, about how developing countries are in danger of stifling the entry of new capital into their insurance markets, because their regulators are copying the practices of more established economies.
Greenberg was speaking at an Insurance Insider pre-Monte Carlo briefing and noted that developing countries are quickly implementing more onerous capital requirements for insurers. He said "It used to be that regulation was more relaxed - practical, but relaxed- in many countries. But those countries have learned that some of the more developed It used to be that regulation was more relaxed - practical, but relaxed- in many countries. But those countries have learned from some of the more developed countries that, for some reason, they have to emulate what those countries have done."
Mr. Greenberg needs no introduction to anyone who has not been in solitary confinement for the past 60 years. When we read his comments they didn't raise any eyebrows on our end. His views on regulation have been articulated in many forums over the years. He believes that the most effective regulator is the marketplace itself.
We should have recognized that Mr. Greenberg rarely acts or speaks without good reason. In his comments at the Insider event he noted that AIG required a bailout for non-insurance reasons and the US government ended up making a $23 billion profit on the deal.
On September 29th a federal court trial began in New York. A federal judge will consider whether the U.S. government's rescue of American International Group Inc was, in fact, legal. Starr International Company, controlled by Mr. Greenberg, and AIG's largest shareholder at the time of the 2008 government takeover, is the plaintiff.
Few expected that the lawsuit would proceed to trial but the argument advanced by Starr, that the treatment AIG received from the government was far more onerous than the terms offered by the government to other teetering financial players like banks, does make for compelling reading.
With so much discussion about insurers and reinsurers being termed "too big to fail", or more appropriately a "SIFI" (a Systemically Important Financial Institution), we decided to look a bit more at this.
We had noticed that Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, had said in a speech on September 25th that insurance companies must design "appropriate" risk models for themselves or face being hit by harsher rules.
In a speech to a conference of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, Mr. Carney said insurers must not try to game the system, like many banks have done, and must make sure that their boards understand their risk models.
"The dangers of using poorly designed models were made all too clear in the banking sector. So the Bank (of England) won't hesitate to withhold approval of inadequate or opaque models," Mr. Carney said. "Models must be based on appropriate data and account for all quantifiable risks. Boards have the responsibility to ensure models remain appropriate and to show they are used in practice."
Mr. Carney's warning is designed to avoid a repeat of what happened when banks were forced to introduce new risk models in the wake of the financial crisis. The Bank of England decided that some banks were relying on models they couldn't sufficiently explain, using poor quality data or stretching credibility by modeling lower risks than they should expect.
There's that "data" angle again --"appropriate data" and "poor quality data". No doubt aware of Mr. Greenberg's lawsuit, Mr. Carney observed
"The financial crisis laid bare that the actions of some can have broad spillovers; that some insurance markets like the monolines are systemic, and that the insurance sector plays a systemic role in diversifying the financial sector thereby reinforcing its resilience." Mr. Carney said "AIG was the extreme case of a systemic insurer. That sorry experience highlights the need to understand all the activities in which insurers are engaged."
Like everyone else we enjoy a good tennis match where volleys are unleashed back and forth between world class players and we were relishing it so much we almost missed this remark.
He expressed his support for an international regulatory bodies' decision to designate nine insurance companies as globally "systemic," requiring them to adhere to additional capital requirements.
Regulators are developing a new system to categorize the different kinds of capital insurers hold so that globally systemic institutions can be forced to hold above a minimum threshold.
For the record here are the nine SIFI insurers, Allianz, AIG, Generali, Aviva, MetLife, Ping An, Prudential Financial and Prudential plc.
Americans will recognize Prudential Financial as the Newark, NJ headquartered financial/insurance services firm. Prudential plc is headquartered in the UK and is a multinational life insurance and financial services company with a market capitalization of over $56 billion.
We've been tracking the "too big to fail" classification as it applied to the reinsurance industry for a long time. Munich Re's Nikolaus von Bomhard began to talk about this many months ago.
After having had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Scor's Denis Kessler in Monte Carlo we did some digging and learned that Kessler may have been talking about it as early as anyone. One of the best arguments against a large, multinational reinsurer being classified as a SIFI is found in an article he wrote for the Journal of Risk and Insurance which was itself based on a speech he gave back in December, 2011.
The Kessler article is worth reading. His description of a reinsurer as a "risk pulverizer" is legendary. We suspect that his argument will convince any reader that reinsurers pose very little systemic risk. It convinced us.
This is why we were surprised to see Kessler say in an Insurance Day interview that international policymakers are unlikely to accept the reinsurance industry's argument that reinsurers pose no systemic risk and that he expects a number of reinsurers to be designated SIFIs.
He said "Some reinsurers will be designated. Scor is not going to be one --I hope. The banking system is systemic, insurers are not. I do not believe the reinsurance sector is systemic. We have been there during periods of high inflation, during depression. If a reinsurer defaults, someone would take its place."
Kessler is a realist. Many say that it was his iron-fisted pragmatism that saved Scor from collapse and returned it to the ranks of the top 5 global reinsurers. You may remember how everyone held their collective breath when he took over in 2002 and dramatically chopped back underwriting in an effort to eliminate poorly performing risks. That move, of course, meant drastically reducing premium flow. Much less revenue was coming in and claims from the poor risks were bring paid.
It was a nervous time for the French institution but his formula worked. If you ask him about it now he will tell you that it really was nothing more than a big math problem and that anyone could have solved it. Maybe it's true that "anyone" could have solved it but not "anyone" could have stuck to it without budging during the frenzy that was surrounding Scor in the early 2000s.
Possessing that kind of pragmatism means that when Denis Kessler says that he thinks some reinsurers will be designated as SIFIs his next observation becomes even more important. He thinks that the designation of a company as being a SIFI could actually increase systemic risk.
"I could see a flight to systemic risk. Clients will want to work with systemic reinsurers, as they are considered safer and have greater attention of supervisors" said Kessler.
Remember the "flight to quality" of a few years back --and the effect it had on those markets not included in that "quality" pool? If Kessler is right, and if what Mark Carney and others are proposing does occur, we could see another culling of the market.
As for Scor, Kessler no doubt remembers being on the "wrong" side of the "flight to quality" twelve years ago when the company was struggling. It's hard to imagine that someone as pragmatic as Kessler will not have Scor 100% ready should it be designated a SIFI institution. This time he will ensure that Scor is on the right side of the flight to systemic risk. He would probably tell you that this is another "simple" problem anyone could have figured out. (If only we could all see things so simply.)
How such a "flight to SIFIs" could impact the ILS carriers is another story and maybe one that will soon be getting attention. As we went to press we saw that AM Best has published new draft rating criteria for insurance-linked funds (ILF) and is seeking comments from market participants
For now though, all eyes are on a federal courtroom in Washington, DC. If the US government's actions in taking over AIG are deemed illegal it would possibly give regulators pause before designating certain reinsurers as too big to fail. Such a verdict would certainly give Kessler, von Bomhard and others another arrow in their quiver--that is if they haven't already read the tea leaves and are ready for it.
CATEX named Best Tech Provider again
On Sunday, September 14th, CATEX was again named "Technology Provider of the Year" by Intelligent Insurer magazine. This is the second year in a row CATEX has earned the award. You can read the press release here if you want more details.
While in Monte Carlo CATEX also managed to interview James Vickers, Chairman of Willis Re, Tom Bolt, Director, Performance Management at Lloyd's and Farid Chedid, Chairman and CEO of Chedid Re. The interviewee's names link to the interview if you want to watch them.
CATEX also has issued a number of press releases noting among other news that; the American reinsurance broker Holborn Corporation has implemented the CATEX Pivot Point System; the London broker RFIB has implemented the CATEX Binder Management System and Data Vera; and that the brokers US RE and A&P Worldwide have licensed Pivot Point.
More releases are on the way and of course we would be interested in responding to any inquiries you may have about our products.
Roger Crombie writing for CATEX Reports takes an off-beat view of the world of insurance
Little did Lloyd's know....
Having barely recovered from the wild celebrations that attended CATEX again winning Best in Breed at Monte Carlo, I thought I'd offer a personal reminiscence about my distinguished career at Lloyd's of London. It began and ended one afternoon in 1972.
Following my qualification as a chartered accountant, my employer had offered a career path in the profession. I might expect to be a manager at 35 and a partner at 45. At the age of 22, the prospect of waiting more than 20 years for an executive position held little appeal. I wanted it all, and I wanted it then. So I cast about for a position in industry.
Almost everywhere I interviewed, I was offered work. This presented a dilemma: in which field of endeavour to specialize? Finance quickly presented itself. The closer to the money, the more some of it might rub off, I figured. In finance, the guys with the most money were the insurers.
An agency arranged for me to interview for a financial position with a Lloyd's Syndicate. I can't recall which one, and it doesn't matter anyway, since most of the mid-sized Syndicates in existence in 1972 have long since folded or become part of some larger enterprise.
At the Lloyd's building, I was ushered into the Syndicate's inner sanctum. This was in the days when Lloyd's was a respected institution, before it lost its lustre and then regained it.
The room was all panelled wood and the smell of ages. Across an antique table sat three antique gentlemen. They were soaked in traditions little changed since Thomas Lloyd opened his coffee shop. I, on the other hand, a veteran of the 1960s and a devout believer in free love and all that, represented the new wave that would wash away all the stuffiness and smug self-satisfaction that characterized Lloyd's back then.
The interview started well. Chameleon-like, I adopted an attitude rather nearer to that of my three inquisitors than that of the rock and roll ethos from which I was cut. I knew nothing of the technical aspects of insurance, then as now, but explained that I was a fast learner, willing to put in the hours. That's when things started to go wrong.
One of the gentlemen facing me sniffed. "What hours do you propose to put in?" he asked, a sneer playing around his lips. "As many hours as it takes, day or night, weekends included," I replied. This, surely, was what they wanted to hear?
It was not. "The hours here are 9:30am to 5:30pm, and not one second longer," the chief inquisitor stated. "If you cannot execute your responsibilities in that time, you're not the man for us." That statement alone should indicate the gulf between business in the early 1970s and business today.
I waffled about having a gung-ho approach and the desire to satisfy. I thought I had pulled the tongs from the fire, but promptly fell at the next hurdle, when one of the gents asked: "How long would you propose to grace us with your presence?"
A little background: high flyers, it seemed to me from my reading on the business world, didn't stay very long anywhere. They went in, did a bang-up job and were then lured away to greater things. Most of my friends changed jobs annually. To show goodwill, therefore, I plumped for two years as my answer to the question. "Or perhaps three," I added, with a smile.
The temperature in the room dropped by about 30 degrees. "Oh dear, no, no, not at all, that won't do," muttered the senior fellow, while the other two ancients tut-tutted and began shuffling papers. "We are looking for someone who would devote his life to this great Syndicate," the boss said. "Two or three years. Ha!"
I back-tracked, suggesting that I longed to devote myself to the firm until the Grim Reaper stepped in, but to no avail. Lloyd's was not for the likes of me, I was told.
Looking back, I see how lucky I was to escape the chance to spend my life at Lloyd's, or anywhere else, for that matter. On my wall are framed examples of every business card printed with my name on it in the 42 years since that interview. They number 22.
I would have stayed with the ancient gents for a couple of years, while they wanted someone to stay a lifetime. I wouldn't change one minute of the succeeding 42 years, professionally. I wonder if those three gentlemen felt the same way?
* * *
Roger Crombie is an American Society of Business Publication Editors national award winner. An English chartered accountant who lives in
lives in Eastbourne, on England's South Coast, he writes and broadcasts news and opinion in the US, UK, Bermuda and the Caribbean, in print and online. His main beat is insurance and financial services, with 30-year sidelines in music and humour. All views expressed in Roger's columns are exclusively his own. Contact Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright CATEX Reports
September 28, 2014
Regrettably during our time in Monaco we still did not see Paul David Hewson (aka Bono from U2 who lives in Monte Carlo) but we did sight Rod Fox, John Charman, Greg Case, Ulrich Wallin, Greg Case, Denis Kessler, Brian Duperreault, Inga Beale, Tad Montross, John Nelson,
Grahame Millwater, John Berger, Ajit Jain and Luca Albertini. Name tags were hard to read this year as they were on a neck chain rather than a lapel pin. We undoubtedly engaged in combat trying to spear (with toothpicks) passing hors d'ouevres against one anonymous luminary or another who's name we missed....Let's not overlook the 6.0 earthquake that struck Napa Valley August 24th. Insured losses probably won't exceed $250 million but it started the phones ringing
Inspecting quake damage: Not advisable
way to the United States and is being put to good use by a 7th grade student as a book bag. Recycling at its best and we are sure Ming Lee would be pleased....Pine River Re, led by Dwight Evans and George Reeth is due to launch in Bermuda. The venture is in conjunction with AWAC and Allied World will provide underwriting services...A Boeing 777 operated by an Indian airline, Jet Airways, dropped 5,000 feet suddenly from its cruising
altitude of 34,000 feet over Turkey last month. It turns out that the captain was taking a nap and the co-pilot was browsing her iPad. Ankara ATC woke them up and Indian authorities are investigating....Tokyo is building a 2 square mile reservoir (enough to fill 54 Olympic-sized swimming pools) to trap flood waters from the Furukawa River. The system is being built
entirely underground beneath skyscrapers and freeways and is about 16 stories below the street surface....Finally, we frequently comment about the excesses North Korea's 31 year old leader Kim Jong-Un (who by the way apparently is afflicted by gout caused by excessive red wine and red meat. Remember that there is a starvation problem in NK.) but when we saw Gerard Depardieu's comments knew that we had our closing "byte". The 65 year old French actor (or is he technically a Russian actor now after having moved to Moscow to avoid French taxes?) said that he drinks
at least 12 bottles of wine every day. Depardieu, who has suffered a heart attack and has had heart by-pass surgery at least 5 times, said "I can absorb 12, 13, 14 bottles of wine a day but I'm never totally drunk. He said that his doctors often worry when he reveals his drinking habits to them. If you are an underwriter with the coverage on his new film, "Welcome to New York" where he stars as a character inspired by former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn ,maybe you will worry too...