August 25, 2020

Tales of rarified risk and a fresh approach to Risk Services

Stephen Bitterman

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Can I show my Picasso on the yacht?

How do I get my couture dress out of storage and delivered to the Beverly Hills Hotel in time for the Oscar party tomorrow?

What’s the replacement value of my 45 room historic villa on the French Riviera?

I’ve spent most of my career answering hard questions from discerning people with distinctive property that they want to both protect and enjoy. I’ve learned a lot about how to appraise exceptional real estate, protect the irreplaceable and enable the lifestyle of those who refuse to accept limits.

Three years ago I joined a half dozen other equally experienced insurance executives to form Vault. Our mission: to reinvent insurance for affluent individuals and families from the ground up.

As Chief Risk Services Officer, I still work one-on-one with owners of the most unusual properties—everyone from athletes and actors to  billionaire entrepreneurs. But I also get to serve a wider audience as well: clients with their own beautiful homes and valuable possessions who have less complicated needs.

To be honest, this is not what I expected I’d be doing with my life. In college, I dreamed of a career in architecture and design, maybe working for an auction house like Sotheby’s. As a college senior, I met with a recruiter from Chubb on a lark because I recognized its name from ads in Architectural Digest and the other magazines I spent way too much time reading. Those ads boasted that Chubb was the only insurance company with its own appraisal department.

That’s how I found myself, two days after graduation, appraising houses in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Before long, I was concentrating on clients with more elaborate homes and more sophisticated collections. Is that boiler model prone to leaks? Is that lighting fixture a $6,000 Italian original or a $60 Home Depot knockoff?

To do the job well, I needed to continue to read that stack of design magazines each month and spend hours scouring the showrooms in the Decoration and Design Building in New York City. Most days, it was work I’d have paid to do.

After 12 years, I took a job at a newer competitor. Suddenly, I was seeing world class collections of art and antiques. My clients had fortunes passed down from royalty and robber barons or newly built by members of a more modern aristocracy: basketball superstars, Academy Award winners, Silicon Valley geniuses and Russian oligarchs.

Goodbye, leafy suburbs. I was now taking water planes to inspect private islands and helicopters to tour vast cattle ranches. Some of the estates, lodges, wineries and penthouses I visited had values in the nine figures.

Much of my work became helping clients preserve and protect their unique objects. You just bought a $10 million diamond necklace in Geneva? Let me hire an armed courier so you don’t have to stow it in an overhead bin on the flight home. You want to transfer your entire art collection to your summer house? Maybe we should split it among three trucks just in case.

I’ve held my breath as a giant crane deposited a wall-size contemporary painting from a high-rise apartment into an armored truck parked in a blocked-off lane of Fifth Avenue. And I watched in amazement as a mammoth beachfront mansion—fully furnished, basement intact—was rolled 300 feet to higher ground. (It took seven days. Not one wine glass was broken.)

In my old job, I worked with a tiny handful of the company’s most lucrative accounts. At Vault, we offer a high level of personalized service to every one of our clients, based on their particular needs. None of them want to spend one more minute thinking about risk management than they have to. We’re developing technology that will streamline inspections, identify emerging risks and monitor homes in real time. This is the future.

We’ve put together an exceptional team of experts well versed on all aspects of construction, design and risk management. Each day, they successfully stand up to the challenges posed by our clients’ active lifestyles: How do I incorporate the latest risk-reduction technology into my new-home construction? How do I check the background of my household staff? How do I ship my heirloom china to the ranch for the summer?

So ask your question. We’re ready for it.

 

Steve Bitterman is Vault’s Chief Risk Services Officer. With over 30 years of experience, Steve is a household name in the insurance industry. As Chief Risk Services Officer at Vault, he oversees all aspects of risk management and loss prevention with a special emphasis on flexible, streamlined inspection services that minimize the inconvenience to the client while maintaining an irreproachable level of service, accuracy and coverage. His compassion and attention to detail extends well beyond his work at Vault. For one month each year Steve acts as the coordinator for an emergency homeless shelter for Interfaith Housing Alliance, and has done work building clean water systems for remote villages in Honduras.

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