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Unique perspectives from our experts
Alliant's leaders discuss the unprecedented insurance market
The insurance market is going through significant changes, many of which we have mentioned before: more difficulty in securing insurance, higher premiums nationwide, even non-renewals. But the situation continues to evolve, and there are early signs that the market will stabilize. To give you a clearer idea of where things stand and what the future may hold, two members of our leadership team share their thoughts. Is the current market as tough as everyone says? Cindy Zobian, EVP, Managing Director: Simply put, we have never seen market conditions like these before. In essence, it’s a capacity issue: the rate of natural disasters—and the damage caused by them—have increased exponentially while home values and rebuilding costs have gone sky high. Mark Recht, SVP: Case in point: we just got another announcement from a carrier about adjustments caused by inflation. Unfortunately, higher premiums and insurance challenges aren’t just happening to property owners in areas prone to most natural disasters, such as California and Florida. Those are countrywide phenomena. There is currently a cloud casted over the market. CZ: That said, we can see glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel! Well, that’s hopeful. What makes you optimistic about the future? MR: We saw a similar market a while back in Florida after Hurricane Andrew, but within a few years, things had shifted for the better. Homeowners learned to incorporate new and better risk-mitigation methods, the government placed stricter building codes, technology helped us to map the riskiest areas, and we incorporated more flexibility into insurance programs. Together, that all worked to stabilize the situation. As for the current moment, Cindy and I just met with reinsurers [Note: As a reminder, reinsurers assume a portion of carriers’ risks] and they told us they are in the process of figuring out how to add more capacity. If they can take on more risk, carriers will be able to as well. CZ: We have seen many insurance trends over the years, but, ultimately, they come down to finding a middle ground in the marketplace. That’s what the industry is striving for again today. I’m not saying the problems will be solved in a year, but our decades in the business have us hopeful that things will get easier eventually. At the same time, I don’t think insurance is going to be a buyer’s market again. What is Alliant Private Client doing to help policyholders in this market? CZ: We are being proactive. We don’t wait to get non-renewal notices or other surprises. Our team is constantly on the lookout for unexpected solutions to lost coverage. MR: For instance, clients are becoming more comfortable with unregulated solutions, so that has allowed us to be more creative in our use of non-admitted options. And without being arrogant, the fact that we are one of the largest brokers in the country gives us significant clout among carriers who have begun to prioritize trading partners. We are also working more with different organizations, and sometimes even direct writers, to be able to offer solutions that make things easier for our clients. And what can clients do to make things easier on themselves? MR: First and foremost, they need to recognize that it really is no longer a buyer’s market. These days, the priority is finding a suitable solution; pricing is secondary. Also, they should consider consolidating insurance solutions under one broker because carriers may, for example, be willing to take on your multi-million-dollar house in California’s brush territory if they are also insuring your less-expensive ranch in Idaho. You lose that benefit if you are dealing with multiple brokers. CZ: Also, when you get a bill, pay it on time. If you let your policy lapse, you might not be able to get it back. And be really thoughtful about making claims. Putting through even a $50,000 claim might hurt your premiums and renewal prospects. Be sure to discuss every potential claim with your broker first. Then they will help guide you on whether or not it’s in your best interest to put forth that claim. MR: And whenever you receive notice of a critical requirement—be it to trim brush or put in vents—follow through. Maybe you could ignore these in the past, but not anymore. Today, failure to comply might result in a policy cancellation. CZ: And lastly, of course, our clients should know that we are always here to help with questions and concerns about their risk management strategy. ...More info
The home buyer’s guide to insurance
As the home buying surge continues nationwide, we want to help clients better understand how insurance fits into today’s purchasing process. Issues like climate change and aging infrastructure have transformed the homeowner’s insurance market, making it harder to obtain a policy and more expensive to keep one in place. As such, it behooves potential owners to consider insurance options before committing to a home, no matter how great the architecture or location. By incorporating these five simple steps into your real estate purchase, you will make a more informed decision while house hunting and better protect your dream home once you have the keys. 1. Talk to your insurance broker before you sign the contract.Securing a homeowner’s policy is harder in today’s challenging market, especially if you are buying in a region prone to severe weather events. Before you submit a bid, contact your broker to get a location check so that they can let you know if either the specific address or general area is prone to insurance-impacting issues. Along with climate concerns and any claims history, carriers are looking at the type of home. For example, historic ones (infamous for costly rebuilds) and condominiums (known for leaks) can be less desirable than newer builds with up-to-date codes. You’ll have the results of your location check within a week, along with approximate premiums if coverage is possible. And if carriers have concerns about the property, you will find out what obstacles stand in your way, such as roads in fire hazard zones that are too difficult for fire trucks to access or a high likelihood of flooding. While this call is important for every buyer, it’s especially crucial for those buying a house sight unseen, as it’s another check against pitfalls down the road. Bonus tip 1: Before you make an all-cash offer or opt to forgo the mortgage clause in the contract, consider this: Banks won’t lend money to anyone without insurance (unless the buyer has permission to self-insure), and that clause provides some protection if you cannot otherwise obtain a policy. Once you sign a contract without a mortgage clause, you will have to go through with the sale regardless or forfeit your down payment even if you can’t get a policy. Therefore, an early call to your broker could help prevent such a dilemma. 2. Negotiate with insurance premiums in mind.What you learn from that location check can be used as leverage in your ongoing purchasing negotiations. In an area where insurance is hard to obtain, a seller might be willing to pay for any prerequisites to coverage—a backup generator or hurricane shutters, perhaps even fire-resistant landscaping—or reduce the asking price to compensate for the work you will have to do yourself. Either way, you can avoid incurring the additional costs connected with making the house insurable. 3. Stick with your trusted broker.Often, real estate agents suggest you talk with their insurance person to hurry the process along. In fact, that call might have the opposite effect as things can quickly get complicated when multiple brokers make inquiries to the same insurance company on behalf of the same homeowner. Here’s why: The manner in which a broker presents the property and homeowner to carriers greatly impacts the chances of obtaining insurance. And unfortunately, if a carrier declines to cover a property as a result of incorrect or badly-positioned information, your trusted professional’s hands are tied—it is legally impossible to overturn the decision. Bonus tip 2: If you are planning a major renovation before move-in, it is important that your broker knows, so they can speak to the carrier to incorporate whatever additional coverage might be necessary. Your broker should also review the insurance sections for all contracts with contractors and add any relevant certificates of liability and worker’s comp to the homeowner’s policy. 4. Don’t let cost be your sole consideration.Many people, after sparing no expense on their new house, suddenly become cost-conscious when they turn their focus to insurance. While that is understandable, you could be hurting yourself down the line. When comparing policies, you want to make sure your carrier is in good financial standing and is known for paying claims. Also ask, in the event of a catastrophic loss, whether they will replace your home to the same standards or simply fix it with whatever material is least expensive? Ultimately, the choice is yours but it’s worth knowing what you are —and are not—paying for. 5. Add as many layers of protection as you can.In the end, insurance carriers want to do everything possible to prevent loss, and it is in your best interest to consider their recommendations for how to do so. These might include clearing areas of brush, installing shutters, or strapping items down prior to a storm. Likewise, they will often suggest you install smart safeguards, from low-temperature sensors to water leak detection systems to centrally monitored fire and burglar alarms. We want you to revel in the excitement that comes with purchasing a new home. You can always rely on us to make the risk management process that goes along with that undertaking as simple as possible. ...More info
Smooth sailing ahead: what you need to know about yacht insurance
Island hopping through the Caribbean or cruising the Mediterranean, yacht ownership should be a sun-filled dream come true. But, as every seafarer knows, storms and structural mishaps can quickly turn the dream into a nightmare. Contributing to that nightmare, yacht insurance policies are notoriously demanding and their terms are extraordinarily complicated. To help you navigate these complicated insurance waters, here are our insights to help ensure that you are never left high and dry. Current ConditionsSecuring yacht insurance has been significantly more difficult since 2017, when a series of destructive hurricanes crushed the market. With payouts overwhelming the industry, several carriers were forced under and those that remained not only increased rates significantly but became extremely picky about who and what they would insure. In fact, today, many carriers would prefer to not cover first-time yacht owners at all. So, the first thing we tell people who ask about insuring a yacht is that the process will be an intricate one. Needless to say, it’s more important than ever to find an insurance professional who has the knowledge to put together a successful package, and the strong industry ties to get it done. The Right Approach For Securing Yacht InsuranceUnlike some other more pro forma coverages, this one is neither quick-binding nor set-it-and-forget-it. It will take some work to get adequate coverage, then require more communication with your broker to adhere to the carrier's demands. These suggestions will make it easier to do both: Lean into the process: To obtain insurance, your broker has to paint your circumstances in the best possible light, and that is going to require know-how (theirs) and time (yours). Our watercraft team has the advantage of having worked for carriers, so they understand exactly what underwriters need to see, but they can’t create that packet of information without your help. Be prepared to answer questions: Underwriters want to know everything, from primary mooring spot (although the bigger the yacht, the less it matters) to cruising itineraries to hurricane contingencies to who is your captain and crew. If you are buying a pre-owned yacht, you also need an accredited appraisal of its condition and value. Keep your insurance professional on speed-dial: Making sure you are properly protected means thinking beyond the vessel itself. Specifically, your insurance professional should review all contracts for marinas, shipyards and the like; few of those entities provide the blanket coverage you would expect them to, instead offloading as much liability as possible onto vessel owners. And to make sure your insurance remains valid, you will need to keep your insurance professional apprised of all operational changes, especially in personnel. Many carriers reject captains who they deem too inexperienced. It’s also important to let the insurer know, via your broker, whenever there are navigational changes. Four Concerns That Could Put You In Deep WaterYacht ownership comes with its own set of potential problems which is why proper coverage is essential. Here are some of the potential worries: Gusts and gales: When the winds blow, vessels get tossed about even when they are tied up at a marina. Big storms can rip pilings out of the ground, and that is bad whether it is your boat’s moorings or not, because once one boat is let loose, it can ping pong destructively through neighboring vessels. During those 2017 catastrophic storms, thousands of boats sank, but many others ended up on dry land, up to 1,000 feet from the water. Lightning: This is becoming more of an issue as vessels become more sophisticated. A strike can wipe out an entire electrical system, and these days that system can cost a million dollars or more. As a result, carriers have increased lightning deductibles. Fire: A bad shore power connection, an engine issue, shipyard carelessness ... any of these hazards can lead to costly damage, particularly because many boats are highly flammable. Groundings: Professional captains significantly cut down on the incidence of groundings and collisions. Nonetheless, the possibility remains, especially in crowded sea lanes such as those off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean. A Tight Ship: What Needs To Be CoveredAppropriate coverage protects you when there is loss of property, liability claims and environmental damage. The essentials include: Hull and machinery: Think of it as property coverage for your boat, protecting not only the vessel and its infrastructure, but also some personal property, tenders and recreational watercraft, even the mopeds you use to zip around towns after you dock. However, though helicopter pads on your yacht can be included, the helicopters will require additional coverage. Protection and indemnity (P&I): This provides coverage for your liability for anything, fixed or floating, that your yacht hits. It also encompasses bodily injury to passengers or the crew, property damage and a mariner’s version of workers comp. You also want your P&I policy to reflect your intended navigation area. If you are going to be cruising internationally, your policy must be able to respond every port around the world (note: this is why a great majority of yachts are covered under one of 13 P&I clubs). Wreck removal: Should your boat sink, the local jurisdiction may mandate that you remove it. That is quite an expensive proposition. Vessel pollution liability: This is another requirement in many jurisdictions— the United States made it mandatory after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Frequently rolled into P&I, it also covers fines and penalties incurred for causing damage to natural habitats such as reefs. Yachting is almost by definition an interstate activity, so maritime insurance is less regulated than most other coverages. One benefit of this lesser oversight is that much of it can be tailored specifically to your— and your vessels—needs. We understand the tremendous pleasure that you expect to receive from yacht ownership, so we look forward to using our all-hands-on-deck approach to make sure nothing ever rocks your boat. ...More info
Think before you post: a social media risk guide
In the 20 years since the beginning of its now-ubiquitous popularity, social media has transformed both society at large and our personal lives. From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to TikTok, the various platforms—today used by 72% of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center—now regularly impact politics, commerce, work and relationships. They have inevitably caused a concerning increase in the daily risks assumed by every user. Though risk is rarely considered on a post-by-post basis, as insurance professionals, we are well aware of the negative outcomes. There was, for example, the client whose diamonds were stolen after she posted about them and included her whereabouts. And the client who was sued after uploading false, negative reviews about a retailer whose service failed to meet his expectations. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. Of course, we don’t expect you or your family members to abstain from social media, but we do want you to know what can go wrong. These are the biggest issues and what we suggest you do to avoid each. Scams and fraudHow it manifests: A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that criminals are targeting people on social media at an alarming rate. Individuals reported around $770 million in losses from social-media-centric rackets, such as investment frauds and shopping scams, in 2021 alone. These days, many involve fake cryptocurrency payments, with nefarious individuals posing on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook as successful billionaires like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, or as friends or family members to offer “tips” or otherwise ask for financial contributions. We have even seen pretenders declare themselves to be representatives of some cryptocurrency exchange platforms. How to protect against it: No matter how great the opportunity appears, never give money or account information to anyone online. Before investing, we recommend you consult your wealth manager or financial advisor. Legitimate opportunities can always be vetted. Note that even if you maintain fraud insurance and/or cyber policies, it is important to act prudently as coverage may not apply for every situation. It is also important to speak with your insurance advisor, regardless of the coverage you have in place. In short, no one is shielded from bad decision making or improper vetting. Digital doors to your home and accounts How it manifests: You might think you are sharing something mundane, but expert eyes can put it to use for their own unsavory purposes. For instance, whenever you, your children or even your household staff post photos of your home and its surroundings, it can potentially provide outsiders with information about entry points or the art hanging on your walls or the times of the day you are usually home—or more notably, not there. Similarly, if you post about things like your birthday, your pet’s name, or your favorite movie, you may be providing scammers with information that could help them decode your password, allowing them entry into accounts and other private online areas. How to protect against it: Use privacy settings to your advantage. The best option would be to keep all social media accounts private, so you are only sharing information with a curated group of trustworthy followers. Make sure your children and domestic employees do the same. Also, always elect to use 2-Step verification when offered by an app or website login. Liability, libel and slanderHow it manifests: While those in the public eye face a greater degree of risk, anyone who participates in a public forum is responsible for the words and views they put on display. This can affect you adversely in a few different ways: If you are an influencer who is commodifying aspects of your lifestyle, you may not be covered by your personal insurance should someone sue you for libel, slander or bodily injury since that could be considered a business pursuit and therefore a commercial exposure not covered by personal insurance. Similarly, if your teenager is an influencer, whatever they say or do can be connected to you as a parent. The age at which they are deemed independent adults varies by state, so parental responsibility may hold even for those living away from home in “hype houses”, with other content creators. The risk is comparable to that of children living in fraternities, where liability responsibilities ultimately land on the parents. If your child bullies someone online or pulls a harmful prank, you may be held liable for damages. If you publish negative comments that are not based on facts on Twitter, Yelp, Google, or any other platform, you could be held liable for slander and defamation. This is especially true if you attack the character of an individual or business or otherwise intentionally aim to injure their reputation. How to protect against it: Influencers and others who use social media commercially should create and operate under a commercial entity such as an LLC, thus creating distance between the enterprise and personal assets. They should secure commercial liability insurance too. Regardless of whether your children are influencers or not, speak to them about the serious risks of social media and how to post safely. Of course, you also need to be careful about the content and tone of your own published comments. Only write posts that are fact-based and defendable. Remember that whatever you say in the public sphere can be used against you, legally and otherwise. To that end, we encourage you to be mindful about what you are sharing and especially with whom. We also always recommend that clients incorporate cyber insurance and excess liability policies in their risk-management portfolio, as they offer additional layers of protection, especially if you regularly use social media. If you have any concerns about risk related to social media usage, we are, as always, here to discuss and advise. ...More info
Is it worth it? assessing the risks of the sharing economy
It is easy to see the allure of the sharing economy—why not make extra cash from an unoccupied beach house or teach your teen responsibility by letting them make deliveries in the family car? But for every uneventful vacation rental or smooth pizza handoff there is a seemingly safe situation gone terribly wrong—a fatal rope swing accident or a bankrupting crash—and a long line of personal injury lawyers waiting to help the harmed. Everyone in the household should be educated about the risks involved in today’s gig economy, starting with this important fact: Personal insurance plans don’t generally underwrite for commercial activities. So there is a good chance you aren’t currently protected against such peril. Worse, there is a real danger of losing your coverage altogether should one occur. Short-term home rentals It is one thing to rent an apartment or home long term—you can do extensive credit or background checks on potential tenants—and we have successfully obtained personal coverage for such instances. But when you offer shorter stays on such platforms, such as Airbnb or VRBO, you are opening yourself up to a more hotel-type exposure. The risks:Property damage: On a practical level, when you are hosting a different person or group every few days, it is too hard to adequately vet each one. Yes, Airbnb and other home-sharing companies do some cursory background checks, but for the most part you have little control about who is moving in and how they might behave once they do. In general, short-timers don’t have as much incentive to take care of the space as someone who rents year after year. And the constant turnover means when something is damaged, you might not know about it until much later, which could lead to further problems with no security deposit to recoup the cost. Liability issues: You could be responsible if someone is injured on your property and can prove negligence on your part. And negligence is in the eyes of the beholder. Say, for example, you don’t maintain the far reaches of your lawn, and a renter holds a party at which one of the guests trips over a fallen tree limb in that unkempt area. You could be on the hook, regardless of whether or not you consented to the gathering. Even a signed waiver doesn’t prevent the renter from going to court; not every scenario is covered in each document, and lawyers know how to make the most of non-specified scenarios. Airbnb does offer some protection for hosts, but it doesn’t fully cover those with sizable assets. The bottom line:Get in touch with your broker to discuss coverage options and umbrella liability amounts if you are renting out your place on Airbnb or the like. Using a car for livery We recently received a call from a client whose child was using the family SUV to work for DoorDash until an accident put the family’s coverage at risk. It is okay if you are driving your personal vehicle to see clients or get to a meeting. However, when your child is using it for deliveries, even part-time, unfortunately, you are in a different territory. The risks:Increased liability: Although, like Airbnb, several livery companies now offer liability coverage, be sure to read the fine print so you know when the terms apply. Either way, should anyone get hurt, they could easily go after your personal assets. Loss of coverage: If your child is going to use a family car for gig economy transport, the smartest approach is to title the car in their name, and then get them their own policy—one meant for commercial use. That will at least create some separation between you and a potential lawsuit. Personal harm: Simply put, there is a significant measure of risks to consider whenever you don’t know who you are picking up or delivering to. The bottom line:There are a lot of dangers connected to this career path so consult a broker before you begin. Operating a business out of your homeYour homeowners policy is meant to cover your personally owned property and provide liability protection for you, as an individual. But when you operate a business out of your home, you are opening yourself up to a different kind of exposure — one that your homeowners policy cannot provide coverage for when claims arise from that type of operation. The risks:Homeowners exclusions: Simply put, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover issues relating to commercial enterprise. Therefore, if you start or operate a business inside your home, you will likely need commercial insurance coverage to protect you from those exposures. The bottom line:Talk with your broker to determine your level of exposure, and how to minimize your risks with commercial coverage. In the end, you may decide the benefits of the sharing economy are worth the risks. But as your risk management advisors, it is our job to raise awareness around the issues that may affect your insurance choices. So before you proceed accordingly, give your broker a quick call to make sure you are as covered as you can be. ...More info
When social engineering frauds target you
The progression of technology (unfortunately) has come with the price of increased social engineering scams. Let’s take a recent client story as an example. Everything seemed fine. They had purchased a sculpture from a reputable gallery in Europe, and their assistant received an email requesting payment. So, she wired the funds. But unfortunately, that email was a well-designed fake and by the time they discovered the fraud, their money was lost to an untraceable foreign account. The clients were victims of social engineering fraud—a series of scams in which criminals pretend to be someone trustworthy to fool you into giving them money or valuable information. These impostors are increasingly plaguing affluent individuals, family offices and closely held businesses. How social engineering scams work While these crimes often use email, texts or social networks, they don’t necessarily involve hacking. The scams can be perpetrated over the phone, in the mail, or face to face. The ones who defrauded the fine art collector only knew that the collector had made a purchase at a particular gallery and the assistant’s email – information which is either public or easy enough to find. Other times, malevolent social engineers break into a computer network or steal a password. But, most commonly they attack email systems, which give clues about how to get someone’s money. The hackers might notice a pattern in the way an individual receives invoices or pays bills and then send a fake email that looks just like a real one, except it says to send money to an offshore account. How to prevent social engineering fraud 1. Get everyone involvedMake sure that everyone with access to your personal information and especially the financial accounts—family, staff, business assistants, outside advisors—is looking out for impostors and follows the same procedures. 2. Protect information that can be exploitedIf you keep a low profile in the press and on social media, it’s harder for criminals to gather facts that could be used to impersonate you, such as your location or, say, recent acquisitions. Explain to family and staff how innocuous Instagram posts or comments could be the link in a scheme to break into your bank account. 3. Watch out for signs of fraudMany social engineering scams are easy to detect. Even if you see a familiar logo, see if the format of the email or letter differs from what you usually receive. An excuse to bypass normal procedures is another clue. Be especially wary of requests that appear on nights or weekends, insist on urgent deadlines, or give new contact information. 4. Independently verify every request for money or important informationThe most critical step! Anyone with access to financial accounts needs to follow a strict protocol that verifies every request for transfers or payments through a separate method. Mostly, that means picking up the phone to ensure the transaction is legit. But rather than call numbers or click links in the initial request, make sure they use contact information from a known valid source. Depending on circumstances, you may want to develop a system of codes or other methods to authenticate transactions. 5. Be wary of anyone offering computer supportHackers often impersonate representatives from technology companies, or the consultants, that provide computer help to families and small businesses. They ask for passwords or get victims to install “software updates” that only update the criminals about the information on your computer. Again, independently verify anyone asking for access to your computer with the same procedures used for protecting financial accounts. 6. Get helpConsider hiring a security expert to look for weaknesses in your network and set up secure procedures. Speak with your broker who can most likely provide access to consultants for a one-time checkup or continuous monitoring. What if you are a victim of a social engineering fraud? Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to do. Oftentimes, these scams send your money overseas right away in a series of transfers that can’t be traced. Your bank typically won’t reverse a fraudulent wire transfer the way it would with a problem credit card charge. If you purchased a cybercrime endorsement to your homeowners policy, it might cover losses from a social engineering fraud. But limits for this coverage are limited, often $50,000 to $250,000. In other words, make sure that you, your family and staff know when an email (or text, call or letter) arrives asking for money, it’s essential to think twice and verify it’s not from an impostor. While each social engineering scam may be different, the best way to protect yourself is to practice preventative measures. Create a process with double checks and a plan for independent verifications for any transaction of significant size. Don’t forget to speak with your broker to ensure you have the right protection in place in the event you do become a victim of social engineering fraud. ...More info