For the second time in its history, Members attending the American Club’s Annual Meeting in New York recently did so remotely, in a virtual format made necessary by the continuing exigencies of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they heard that the Club had made solid progress across all business lines over the previous twelve months, and that 2021 had started on a positive note.
2020 had been a uniquely difficult year. The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had brought unprecedented challenges to commerce. However, although the global economy and supply chains had struggled during the first half, greater stability had prevailed as the year unfolded. The American Club had grown by 5% in premium and tonnage during 2020, and this momentum had continued into 2021.
For Eagle Ocean Marine (EOM), the American Club’s fixed premium facility, 2020 was an excellent year. Its revenue and reach both increased substantially over the period. The 17% compound annual growth rate of premium recorded over the previous three years had been attended by sound underwriting results, producing an aggregate combined ratio since inception of under 80%.
American Hellenic Hull, the American Club’s Solvency II-accredited hull and war risks underwriting subsidiary domiciled in Cyprus, saw further price and balance sheet strengthening during 2020. Rising profitability was expected over the months ahead, as general market hardening, assisted by prudent risk selection and pricing, continued.
The American Club’s attritional claims exposures during 2020 had improved by comparison with the previous year. However, the elevated loss trends experienced by the International Group’s Pool over the recent past had continued in 2020. This was likely to emerge as the most expensive pooling year ever recorded.
As to the Club’s latest financial statements, it was noted that there had been a change in the earlier accounting treatment, and presentation, of premium earned but unbilled (EBUB). Previously, EBUB had been used solely as a means of recognizing the unique benefits of the February 2008 DJA settlement agreement, covering pre-1989 asbestos claims.
In the most recent financial statements, the use of EBUB had been expanded to account for (i) the explicit, pro-rata reinsurance by open policy years of those pre-1989 asbestos claims and (ii) deficits attributable to the development of the open policy years themselves. Both had been balanced by sums designated as EBUB. This properly recognized the ex post facto, adjustable nature of the premium entitlements of mutual, assessable insurers such as the Club, and both the treatment and presentation of EBUB had been approved by its independent auditors. The approach also removed certain inefficiencies in the Club’s statutory accounting with the New York regulator.
On the investment front, the 2020 financial year had seen a 5.4% return on the Club’s portfolio, a creditable outcome in light of market volatility over the period. This result contributed to a year-end GAAP surplus only $3.75 million less than that recorded on a restated basis for the previous year. However, the year-on-year reduction of surplus from 2019 to 2020 was approximately $6.8 million on a non-restated basis.
The Club’s combined ratio for 2020 was 112% (116% absent the accounting change), a figure which, although within the lower range of recent market results, nonetheless highlighted the need for greater sustainability in premium pricing for the future, a subject upon which several International Group clubs had also commented during the recent round of reporting.
Having adopted a 5% general increase for the 2021 renewal, the American Club had experienced revenue growth of about 7.5%, taking into account deductibles and other changes to insuring conditions. It was also encouraging to note that the risk profile of the renewing membership continued to be favorable, implying a positive claims outlook for the future. Growth had continued into the early part of 2021, with a 7% increase in tonnage entered for Class I (P&I) risks during the first three months of the new policy year.
As the pandemic set in during the opening months of 2020, the Club’s Managers had been able to respond during 2020 with agility to new operating circumstances, adapting traditional modes of operation to take account of remote working in a virtual environment. Indeed, overall, the impact of COVID-19 on the Club, EOM and American Hellenic Hull had been comparatively muted.
The Club’s commitment to loss prevention and sustainability in general gathered momentum in 2020 and had moved further forward into 2021. As to the latter, the Club and its Managers had recently gained the CSR/ESG sustainability accreditation of the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) and, having conformed to the exacting standards this entailed, been awarded its Maritime Sustainability Passport accordingly.
At the Annual Meeting of the Directors, which took place immediately after that of the Members, Mr. George D. Gourdomichalis of Phoenix Shipping and Trading S.A. and Mr. Robert D. Bondurant of Martin Resource Mgmt. Corp. were re-elected as, respectively, Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Board.
Ms. Dorothea Ioannou, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of the Managers, was re-elected Secretary. In addition, Mr. Lawrence J. Bowles was re-appointed as General Counsel to the Club. In accepting his re-appointment, Mr. Bowles indicated that he planned to retire at the 2022 Annual Meeting, having by then completed twenty years as the Club’s General Counsel.
In anticipation of this, the Board was pleased to note the engagement of Mr. LeRoy Lambert as Assistant General Counsel to the Club, with a view to his succeeding Mr. Bowles in 2022. A well-known figure in the maritime community, Mr. Lambert was for many years in private practice as a partner of leading commercial law firms in the United States before becoming President of, and later General Counsel to, the US representative office of the managers of another International Group club. He is also the current President of the US Society of Maritime Arbitrators.
Speaking in connection with the Annual Meeting, Mr. Gourdomichalis, the American Club’s Chairman, said: “2020 was a uniquely difficult year. The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges both to global commerce in general and to the conduct of insurance business in particular. Nevertheless, progress was achieved in every sphere of the Club’s affairs, notwithstanding adverse operating conditions. The Club remains well placed to exploit the many opportunities it sees in its future. In doing so, it will rely – as it always has – on the enduring support of its Members to whom my fellow Directors and I extend our sincere thanks and appreciation.”
Joe Hughes, Chairman & CEO of Shipowners Claims Bureau, Inc., the American Club’s Managers, also commented: “2020 was a year many people would prefer to forget. The rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created an especially difficult business environment for virtually everyone, everywhere. And nowhere was the impact of the pandemic felt more keenly than at sea. In looking back over 2020, a special thought must surely go to seafarers, upon whose work the livelihood of the entire maritime community depends.
“For their own part, both the American Club and Eagle Ocean Marine, responded in new and imaginative ways to secure unimpaired service to their respective constituencies. On the insurance front, retained claims stabilized, largely unaffected by the pandemic, but Pool exposures continued to rise. Premium pricing increased somewhat, and investment returns were solid. Eagle Ocean Marine maintained its robust contribution to the Club’s mutuality and American Hellenic Hull experienced further price and balance sheet strengthening.”
He continued: “However, as our friends in other clubs have themselves remarked, technical underwriting results among P&I providers remain under pressure, highlighting a need for more sustainable pricing for the future. Nevertheless, despite the stresses of the past twelve months, the American Club looks forward with its characteristic optimism to a future of continuing opportunity.”
Source: The American Club