Trump's social-media saber rattling spawns fresh look at 'apocalypse insurance'

Advisers should be fluent in how to hedge client's various risk exposures

Jan 5, 2018 @ 10:27 am

By Jeff Benjamin

As uneasy scenarios go, there is nothing quite like watching a U.S. president engage in a social media squabble with the leader of North Korea over which country has the readiest access to launch nuclear bombs.

But does such an early January Twitter blast from President Donald J. Trump, who has shown a clear penchant toward flamboyant social media rifts, mean investors should be ducking for cover and financial advisers should be scrambling to protect their clients' assets?

It depends on your perspective.

"Now that Trump is in office, some of the liberals are looking for alternatives to a risk that something like 2008 could be multiplied two or three times, but when (former president Barack) Obama was in office, some folks were also worried about the country going to hell in a handbasket," said Angelo Robles, founder and chairman of the Family Office Association.

With that in mind, Mr. Robles talks at least figuratively about the appeal of so-called apocalypse insurance, which he describes as a "vague term that means different things to different people."

In reality, Mr. Robles fully appreciates that any kind of apocalypse insurance would have to involve something less than an actual apocalypse, otherwise there would be no point.

However, he also appreciates the notion that risk is often in the eye of the beholder, which is why he believes financial advisers should be fluent in ways to hedge their clients' exposure to less-than-apocalyptic risks.

Short of Lloyds of London, which pops up as the go-to insurance solution for just about any kind of extreme coverage for a hefty premium, Mr. Robles said the ultra-high-net-worth set have become increasingly open to reducing exposure to what they view as increased levels of risk.

Depending on the degree of risk one is trying to guard against, Mr. Robles said individuals might want to consider maintaining dual citizenships, buying gold, holding cash, and diversifying assets with both U.S. and non-U.S. institutions.

"If you're going to be that paranoid about how things could go wrong, literally having cash, gold, and owning income-producing companies, as opposed to public securities, would be best," he said. "Own things like land and art, that may not be as liquid, but could withstand the test of time in court."

(More: Heading to Canada? Consider the cost)

Short of a nuclear war, which might qualify as apocalyptic, Mr. Robles cites the risks of a something like a regional power-system collapse, or a "tsunami destroying Wall Street."

"A very wealthy family could go to Lloyds of London and really propose anything, because if you're willing to pay for it an actuary could effectively create anything," he said. "They may not like the premiums, but they likely could have some form of insurance against the risks."

For its part, Lloyds of London confirmed that it does not "use the term apocalypse insurance," according to a spokeswoman for the London-based insurance and reinsurance conglomerate.

However, said Lizzie Lowe, Lloyd's North American spokeswoman, "our innovation and research team does quite a bit of research" on topics related to business blackouts, electrical-grid risks, and the use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons by non-state actors.

Tossed out randomly across the broader financial planning landscape, the notion of apocalypse insurance draws some sardonic reviews that will hopefully lift the heavy cloud of apocalyptic concerns.

"I think I'll sell apocalypse insurance, and when the zombies come, I'll protect you," said Leon LaBrecque, managing partner and chief executive at LJPR Financial Advisors.

"Merely make your way to my revised Atlas missile silo with 10,000 bitcoin and the secret code words," he added. "You may find that I have taken your money and bought the S&P 500 and have been living large since we didn't have the apocalypse."

Kristin Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Financial Planning, said if you're worried about a "nuclear war or zombie attack," you should "invest in guns, heirloom seeds and making yourself valuable somehow."

"Learn how to fix stuff, grow food, or learn hand-to-hand combat," she added. "Your accounting skills won't be very useful."

Or, you could just stop following the president's Twitter account.

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