The Ins and Outs of International Collections

By Peter Mathews

(Education Content Featured at March 2013 Membership Meeting)  


That well known LLP of McNulty, Cantilo, and Matthews (‘MCM’) attempted to go around the world in 60 minutes, which considering the countries and cultures involved was no easy feat. This was a lively panel, with Ricardo Cantilo focussing on Latin America, Calvin McNulty taking the lead on the Mid East (Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe) and Peter Matthews providing insight into the Asian Markets. Ricardo is from Buenos Aires and frequently travels throughout Latin America, Calvin is a licensed attorney in New York and Pennsylvania, who has most recently focussed on resolving Middle East and North African disputes, and Peter’s Global firm has now recovered funds from around 70 countries.

MCM started by outlining some key messages and considerations as follows:

  • You need to visit with your reinsurers – However, this may not be cost effective from a monetary or time perspective if you only have one or two cases in each country! Staff frequently move around.  It can be difficult to keep up with changes without regular meetings with your foreign reinsurers. Overseas conferences are invaluable but are often quite unstructured so making productive meetings will still be challenging.
  • Cultural differences, particularly in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region and Asia, are vast and it can be easy to make cultural errors which can be difficult to recover from. Language barriers can also be a problem as even though most overseas reinsurance staff will speak English, their understanding may not be as good as it first appears.
  • Monetary/Conflicting Law/Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) Issues – Devalued/ing currencies (e.g. in Turkey & Venezuela), Instalment plans (e.g. in Romania), Anti-money laundering laws (e.g. in Russia), and more are frequently encountered and solutions need to be found.
  • Approach to Commutations and IBNR – Every country has their own way of handling commutations and IBNR on long-tail business is frequently a bone of contention. In India, for example, the scale of the audit process makes achieving commutations extremely challenging.
  • Education of Counterparties/Lack of Run-off Expertise – This is another frequent issue encountered and one company in Singapore even has a person who is responsible for commutations but has never concluded one in their life. The make-up of a commutation deal, which is second nature to us, is often totally alien to some foreign reinsurers.

During our overseas collection adventure we then covered many countries in detail and included some tactics on how to bring unwilling or recalcitrant reinsurers to the table, either to commute or just bring balances current. Appropriate involvement of the Regulator or Parent Company in certain jurisdictions, for example, can often be particularly effective. We did not have time to cover all the countries that we had planned to include in the presentation so we will save these for another time.

Much of this panel’s success with international collections results from the relationships that they have built over many years and the trust that ensues from this.  Communication and Creativity is key when looking to approach and deal successfully with non-domestic reinsurers.

To conclude our presentation, the MCM panel finished with two role plays – One with a Korean Reinsurer appropriately entitled “Slu Pae Re,” the other with a Middle Eastern Reinsurer where at least eight cultural mistakes were made by the Ignorant Westerner – Did you spot them all?

Peter Matthews is CEO at Global Re Group.  [email protected]