INSURANCE RESEARCH AND NOVEL WRITING - 09.09.20
September 9, 2020
My insurance industry reseach background is reflected in the plot for my latest novel, "Death on the High Seas."
Most of my business career was doing insurance industry research and product development. Over the years, I worked for an international insurance broker (Marsh & McLennan) and for sizeable multiline insurance companies (Continental Insurance Company, Houston Casualty, California Casualty). I'm coming from a biased viewpoint. But, I suspect no other industry devotes as much time for research and storage space for resource file maintenance as the insurance industry. The industry has more information on physical characteristics, operations, hazardous materials, financials, criminal activity, losses, profit margins, etc. than anyone outside their research departments can imagine. To be a better researcher, I obtained the CPCU designation. I was a member of the "Society of Insurance Research" and the "Self-Insurance Institute of America."
I would research an industry or a hazard and then summarize what information I had gained in a report. My research included physical visits to facilities. Looking at previous studies and old underwriting files. Meeting with underwriters specializing in that industry. Learning about the industry by spending hours in a library (before Google) – often a specialty library (I still have my library of Congress Card). Meeting with actuaries and industry executives, and trade associations staff. And of course, the records maintained by government agencies. A final report was then prepared for senior management who would use it to decide if they wanted to write or continue writing insurance for that industry or exposure. If they did, at what price, with what exclusions, using how much reinsurance and for what limits.
One of my first research projects was about the meatpacking industry. This included visits to meatpacking plants, which resulted in my being unable to consume meat for quite some time afterward. My visuals ranged from watching cattle first be shot in the head, to blood and guts all over the place. I had fun preparing a report for Underwriters at Lloyd's of London for insurance on Marineland of the Pacific, then located on California's Palos Verdes Peninsula. It was fun because large amusement parks were unknown at the time. Disneyland in Anaheim opened a year after Marineland. Marineland later moved to San Diego and became Sea World. One factor in the move was the earthquake exposure on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The more critical factor was getting tourists to the property.
Insurance for Las Vegas casinos was placed on my plate in 1966 when Howard Hughs moved to Las Vegas and bought the Desert Inn, and then the Sands, Frontier, and the Landmark. The insurance broker I worked for at the time handled Hughs's insurance and knew nothing about casinos. My research took a political bent. At the time in Nevada, casino licenses and insurance procurement were tied together and controlled by locals. My broker eventually won, but I ended up working with attorneys and lobbyists. And I made frequent visits to Carson City, the State Capital. In this case, it was who you make friends with, not what you know or can do.
I could go on about getting California doctors to work together to start their own medical malpractice insurance company. Or, wasting months of my time trying to get California attorneys to work together. The attorneys and their bar associations ended up cutting each other's throats over trying to develop insurance programs. As respects a restaurant industry study, it was determined that there is a significate difference between types of restaurants (fine dining, casual dining, buffet, fast food, tavern), which is reflected in the frequency and size of insurance claims. Before the study, all restaurants were considered the same for rating purposes. The only difference was whether or not they served liquor. After the study, we had eleven different rating categories.
The last two industry studies I did were on autonomous cars and drones. I could go on about hotels, mining operations, auto dealerships, auto warranty insurance, off-shore captive insurance companies, risk retention groups, risk securitization contracts, shifting premiums and losses between countries for tax purposes, food processing plants, machine shops, or movie studios. Oh, and of course, politicians, lobbyists, legislation, and insurance. But, I'll save those for my novels.
There is no question in my mind that coming from an insurance research background helps with gaining tons of information that can be used in writing fictional stories. My FBI Special Agent Hartmann series reflects what I learned as an insurance researcher.
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