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Evolution of Competitive Sailing Tells Story of Risk and Innovation

Evolution of Competitive Sailing Tells Story of Risk and Innovation


At XL Catlin we like to say that “when it comes to risk, great art needs great answers.” The America’s Cup, which returns to New York City this week for the first time since 1920, is perhaps one of the clearest examples of risk and innovation working together to provide answers to the art of competitive sailing in a global event.

What began as a recreational race between sailing enthusiasts from Rhode Island and New York in 1844; who then went on to impress the Queen of England by winning the “One Hundred Sovereign Cup” at the annual regatta of the Royal Yacht Squadron with a schooner-yacht named “America” in 1851; has become one of the most high-tech, high-speed, adrenaline-filled, competitive sports in the world. Commonly referred to as Formula 1 on water, the cutting edge catamarans ‘foil’ – a technique which sees the boats lifting clear out of the water to ‘fly’ on hydrofoils.

As the sport has evolved, becoming more professionalized and extreme, so have the innovations in aerodynamic design, onboard electronic and hydraulic systems, data collection, communication technology and safety equipment. A few parallels can be draw between this global event and XL Catlin’s business model and impact across the world.

Each year the racing yacht design for the America’s Cup is more extreme. The AC45 sailboats competing today in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series regattas are 45-foot-long carbon-fibre catamarans. Instead of a traditional mainsail, they have an 84-foot-tall fixed wingsail. They also have foils that glide right below the water’s surface and enable the catamarans to “fly” over the waves at more than 50-miles per hour. Getting to these lean, super-fast boats is a product of years of continuous cutting edge research and development. For 30 years XL Catlin has also been at the cutting edge of research and development, making use of the latest and most innovative resources available to respond to the worlds’ changing risks and opportunities.

In recent years we’ve made use of the most advanced data analytics expertise to enhance and expand our offering of insurance products. Our Environmental team for example, recently celebrated 30 years of securing the future of the environment using analytics-based models to address new and emerging environmental exposures, from indoor air quality exposures, like Legionella and mold, to environmental liability faced by lenders or company executives.



Just as the America's Cup competition continues to push athletes and engineers to identify new ways to increase their performance, XL Catlin believes the insurance industry must push itself to come up with cutting-edge products and processes to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world."


In this global and ever-changing market, our teams across all areas, from Marine to Aerospace and Fine Art & Specie, are in constant search for answers to our clients evolving needs. Our experts in Europe, Asia and the Americas work hand in hand with the Aviation sector to build bigger, greener and more intelligent air travel. In fact, XL Catlin stays close to the emerging space-travel industry, looking at the potential insurance needs for future space tourism flights. We also have a robust offering of Marine coverages on land, at sea and in storage for cargo, marine war, yachts and recreational – and the full spectrum of risks from damage in transit to war and terrorism.

When it comes to the women and men competing in this high-speed race, these sailors no longer wear navy-color blazers, shorts and boat shoes. Sailing upwind at more than 45 knots, the teams are exposed to tropical-storm level winds and spray. These conditions have called for the creation of specialized outerwear, helmets with wireless communication gear and emergency oxygen tanks. Uncertain and changing conditions of our world today, have lead our organization to develop specialized policies and risk consultancy to protect our clients from potential Political Risks, Terrorism, Kidnapping and Ransom incidents, among many other potential threats that come from operating in evolving geo-political scenarios.

The America’s Cup races are followed by millions of fans via mobile phone apps that stream live statistics and video feeds from above, underwater and fish-eye views of the race. Live-streaming cameras are attached to helicopters, the vessels and the sailors themselves, providing spectators at the events and at home with the type of viewing experience we’ve become accustomed to in high-passed action films. Fast-paced communications and technology carry significant business risks. That’s why as a leading provider of Cyber and Tech Liability insurance coverage, our experts keep pushing to support a wide variety of industries and companies, helping the stave off cyber-crime, media liability, privacy violation concerns. And because even currency has gone high-tech, we even developed the first-of-its-kind insurance policy covering bitcoin theft.

Just as the America’s Cup competition continues to push athletes and engineers to identify new ways to increase their performance, XL Catlin believes the insurance industry must push itself to come up with cutting-edge products and processes to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. As such, last year we launched XL Innovate, a venture capital fund that will invest in innovative companies that fall outside traditional underwriting and have the potential to provide new market opportunities. XL Innovate extends our capabilities in existing markets and gives us new opportunities to address some of the most pressing and complex risks in the global economy such as peer-to-peer insurance and underserved markets.

Innovation is essential to XL Catlin’s mission. We are proud to be a part of the return of America’s Cup racing to New York and look forward to following the races during their tour around the globe, inspiring innovation and new ideas.

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AXA XL is the P&C and specialty risk division of AXA.