Product Family
Joe Tocco


CEO, Americas, AXA XL

September 11, 2001. Most of us have that day forever engraved in our memories, down to the last detail. Where we were. What we did next. The pit in the bottom of our stomachs. The sense of helplessness we all felt.

The events of 9/11 changed everything. It changed us as individuals, as a country, and for those of us working in insurance, as an industry. It was an unprecedented event that to this day, 20 years later, conjures up a ton of emotion and vivid memories that are hard to shake, that we will never forget.

The biggest loss
At the time, 9/11 resulted in one of the largest cumulative claims payout in global insurance history. It led to about $32.5 billion of losses (which would be equivalent to more than $50 billion in 2021 dollars) across many different lines of insurance, including property, business interruption, aviation, fine art, workers compensation, life, and liability.

The monetary loss still does not compare to the biggest loss – the loss of nearly 3000 lives including so much insurance industry talent. We lost more than 500 insurance industry colleagues that day. These committed industry colleagues – many of whom I called colleagues and friends – were at their desks or already in meetings bright and early on that Tuesday morning. They included four co-workers – one who I shared a deep personal friendship with and who I considered a mentor – all who were doing what they were so committed to doing all throughout their careers. They were attending a stewardship meeting with a broker partner, ready to discuss a global client’s property coverage needs.

This is indeed a service industry. And my colleagues paid the ultimate sacrifice for their service commitment to our clients and in partnership with our brokers.

As a result of this loss, many of us had to step up and fill some big shoes. I consider myself very fortunate to have known and learned from these committed property insurance professionals. To many, they were mentors. I certainly hope they would be proud of what many of us have accomplished and how we continue to develop industry professionals just like they did. Talent like theirs is still essential to the success of our industry.

Forever altered
9/11 altered plenty. We adapted to significant changes in air travel and added security measures and surveillance in many aspects of our lives. It changed the way we did business, especially in the insurance industry.

Once, we used to underwrite locations in major metropolitan areas without giving much thought about the aggregation of risk. But 9/11 changed that, pinpointing our significant exposure to aggregated risks. The events on 9/11 resulted in losses across multiple commercial lines of insurance coverage that could happen simultaneously. From then on, insurers have had to re-think how capacity is deployed to not be caught off guard by a clash of multi-line losses.

We also had to rethink how we looked at terrorism risk. Terrorism was considered low risk here in the US. After what was considered the deadliest and costliest terrorist attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor, terrorism exclusions were introduced to commercial policies. To help address future terrorism loss events, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) of 2002 created a government backstop with the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program (TRIP). There have been two subsequent renewals of the program implementing changes and the growth of a standalone terrorism insurance market to help businesses address their growing concerns. (The Insurance Information Institute shares some helpful background information on the terrorism risk and insurance here.) And a standalone terrorism insurance market now offers businesses specialty insurance protection against terrorism events.

After major loss events, insurance coverage disputes often arise and contract clarity takes center stage. Then, after 9/11, disputes and debate arose over whether the destruction of the Twin Towers was one occurrence or two. Today, the disputes center on what non-damage business interruption coverage is offered or excluded. As an industry, we need to continue to strive for stronger contract clarity to minimize coverage questions and confusion so that it is not an issue for whatever crisis we face next.

It continues to raise the issue – how do we get better at predicting the next potential crisis? How do we prepare for what’s next?

Pandemic parallels and differences
The events of 9/11 are incomparable to anything else. But there are some parallels of what we are experiencing now. For one, 9/11 and the pandemic are both what some have termed, “generation-making” events, events with lasting impact.

Additionally, we didn’t see them coming. We couldn’t imagine that something like the 9/11 attacks could ever happen. Likewise, the global pandemic came out of left field too. It continues to raise the issue – how do we get better at predicting the next potential crisis? How do we prepare for what’s next?

While 9/11 was a big loss event, it was geographically focused in the US. The pandemic is a global event affecting many more people and businesses, and it shows the complexity and global connectivity of risks today.

While we weren’t all prepared for what the pandemic threw our way, many were much better prepared for it because of the lessons we learned surviving 9/11. For one, seeing the challenges of businesses directly impacted in downtown Manhattan pushed many more to take business continuity planning and disaster recovery much more seriously.

As a direct result of what they saw as 9/11-impacted businesses experience, businesses elsewhere paid more attention to their exposures. They asked themselves - what if it happened to us? They stepped up initiatives to prevent and minimize losses and protect their people and property, developed, and tested emergency plans, and considered all sorts of alternative plans to ensure business continuity. Because of this preparedness, many businesses, including AXA XL, could transition much more easily to remote working and adapt operations during the pandemic.

Tech challenges and triumphs
Twenty years ago, we did not have the technology available to us today. Communication was difficult during 9/11 because damage to infrastructure including destruction of a major transmission tower, resulted in communication outages that day. Jammed networks made cell phone use impossible. Similar communication disruptions occurred during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, showing us how important mobile communications are during crisis events.

The tech lessons learned on 9/11, and added from Katrina, provoked mobile communication developments that are benefiting us today. We’ve also paid greater attention to safeguarding vital communication networks. With smartphones and other technology developments, we can monitor people, tracking their physical whereabouts via geolocation data and protect property by monitoring and detecting problems early.

The pandemic pushed the importance of more technology adoption even more to the forefront. Some suggest it pushed tech adoption years ahead of where we would be without the pandemic. The tech headway we’ve made, and the other lessons learned, will undoubtedly help us prevail in whatever crisis comes next. Of course, today, we need to make sure these valuable digital infrastructure and tech tools are protected from attacks and threats posed by cyber terrorism.

Resolve and resilience
The 9/11 memorial is steps away from AXA XL’s New York office. It is a constant reminder of what we lost. Yet it also reminds us that we must carry on.

Fortunately, our lower Manhattan neighborhood slowly returned to life, in large part because of the insurance that responded to help rebuild. Our neighborhood, along with so many others, is now rebuilding again from the pandemic. Property wasn’t destroyed as before, but there is still damage and disruption to fix.

During what still would be considered the darkest day in U.S history, the country came together, patriotism surged, and we rebuilt. Personally, I think this current pandemic crisis needs us to remember that lesson from 9/11. Recovering from a prolonged crisis that disrupted so much is going to require the same resolve and resilience that we exhibited 20 years ago.

We can’t ever forget what we lost and what we learned. We need to remember it all.

To contact the author of this story, please complete the below form

Invalid First Name
Invalid Last Name
Country is required
Invalid email
Invalid Captcha

Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. In this respect, our property loss prevention publications, services, and surveys do not address life safety or third party liability issues. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. The provision of any service does not imply that every possible hazard has been identified at a facility or that no other hazards exist. AXA XL Risk Consulting does not assume, and shall have no liability for the control, correction, continuation or modification of any existing conditions or operations. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any document or other communication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with our services, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

US- and Canada-Issued Insurance Policies

In the US, the AXA XL insurance companies are: AXA Insurance Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., XL Specialty Insurance Company and T.H.E. Insurance Company. In Canada, coverages are underwritten by XL Specialty Insurance Company - Canadian Branch and AXA Insurance Company - Canadian branch. Coverages may also be underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003. Coverages underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003 are placed on behalf of the member of Syndicate #2003 by Catlin Canada Inc. Lloyd’s ratings are independent of AXA XL.
US domiciled insurance policies can be written by the following AXA XL surplus lines insurers: XL Catlin Insurance Company UK Limited, Syndicates managed by Catlin Underwriting Agencies Limited and Indian Harbor Insurance Company. Enquires from US residents should be directed to a local insurance agent or broker permitted to write business in the relevant state.