It was a no-brainer for former thought-leaders from AIG to set up shop for their new high-net-worth insurer in the Sunshine State, known for beautiful beaches, a growing economy and lots of wealthy individuals.
A pull-back in capacity in Florida’s homeowners space also made the state the perfect starting point for the industry veterans wanting to invest in this market, including the current CEO of Allied World.
“Wealthy people like to live in beautiful places, and the coast of Florida is that in a big way,” said Charles Williamson, CEO of Vault and former president of AIG Private Client from 2007-2010.
But even with these optimal circumstances, Williamson, who most recently served as CEO of Florida-based Tower Hill Insurance Group, said being successful in the high-net-worth segment ultimately comes down to people. That’s why he teamed up with his old AIG friend Scott Carmilani, president and CEO of Allied World since 2004, to invest in forming the new insurer and brought in top talent to run the company.
“We have tried to hire really great athletes and let them run—give them the empowerment to take risks and take care of customers,” Williamson said. “We are building a culture of that in our office.”
Williamson said Allied World, which is the majority owner of Vault and provides significant operational support to the new company, was not in the high-net-worth space before Vault and was enticed by the success other companies like AIG and Chubb were experiencing in the segment. The high-net-worth market’s less crowded playing field compared to other coverage lines was another motivator.
Despite Allied World being a majority owner of Vault, all business is written on Vault paper. The company is structured as an admitted reciprocal insurance company based in St. Petersburg, Fla., and an excess and surplus lines managing general agent licensed in 50 states (Vault E&S) and domiciled in Arkansas.
Vault kicked off its operations with homeowners personal liability coverage and an art collection product, with plans to eventually roll out auto and excess flood insurance. It is also working on a cyber add-on policy. The company is targeting homes starting at $750,000 along the coast and $500,000 inland, but its sweet spot is properties starting at $3 million.
Williamson said the company “absolutely” plans to expand beyond Florida, and getting off the ground there first will be key to doing so.
“We intend to be a 50-state operating company as rapidly as possible,” he said. “The Florida regulator is a tough task master, but there is a specific halo of being approved in Florida. In Florida, there is a need, insurance is relevant, brokers are strong, and there has been a capacity pull-back.”
But the challenges that come with insuring a catastrophe-prone state like Florida are not lost on the Vault team, Williamson said, and he is confident they will be successful.
“Cat management is fundamental to this business,” he said. “Together, we have rich experience in writing cat business, and managing and picking the best [risks] in the lot, and sufficiently deploying reinsurance capital.”
Williamson said as a startup, the company also was not bogged down by legacy systems and instead invested in new technology as well as third-party data to source and evaluate the best risks to write. He said the company’s new IT platform allows it to get a more granular view of cat risk and where to allocate capital through the use of advanced analytics that parcel out geographical and individual risk metrics.
“That gives us an edge on risk selection. From an underwriting and cat management standpoint, I think our technology is a significant advantage,” he said. “I think we will fair very, very well in what is a difficult market.”
Vault plans to expand into South Carolina this spring and eventually operate in every market, Williamson said. In the meantime, it is focused on establishing in states “that really matter” in the high-net-worth space, such as California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
“A lot of our clients own homes in two or three places, so in order to be a viable competitor, we have to be able to be in these markets to meet the customer need,” he said.
Williamson said their plan is to be bullish because penetration in this segment is “pretty modest.”
“There’s essentially 5.5 million customers that fit into this segment in North America,” he said.
The company officially began writing business in Florida on Nov. 1 and has so far partnered with about 100 agents statewide, with plans to add about 50 more in the next 15-18 months. In January, Williamson said the company received 1,250 new business submissions, which was significantly above its expectations for so early in its launch.
Stacey Warren, chief sales and customer experience officer, said the response from the agent community has been “overwhelming.”
“This team is a known quantity with these agents, and the support has been very humbling,” she said. “We are delivering something very unique in the marketplace, and that is underscored by the initial success we have had so far.”
Williamson and Warren said the team made a concerted effort to build the company with a service experience that included agent input in every interaction, including products, its user interface, invoices and claims technology.
“Agents want speed, so we have removed a lot of the barriers from other carriers and removed underwriters where they don’t need to be by using third-party data points,” said Warren. “Other carriers are very archaic in the service space when it comes to their high-net-worth platform.”
She added that Vault’s enhanced technology is backed up with a concierge team that can help clients and take a payment in seconds—all designed to “make agents look good.”
“We are trying to ‘wow’ customers when they call,” she said.
For those agents looking to stay relevant and differentiate themselves, Williamson said the high-net-worth space offers that opportunity, particularly when it comes to technology and service.
“Clients in the high-net-worth space want someone to take care of these things for them. The very best agents continue to do that and do it well,” he said.