Friday, September 23, 2011

January 15, 1912, Best's Insurance News, Volumes 10-12,

"Editorial : Two Lessons of the Equitable Fire," by A.M. Best Company,


The recent destruction by fire in this city of the home office building of the Equitable Life Assurance Society has many lessons for insurance men. It is noteworthy that the Society carried no insurance on this building, the stated reason for this action being that the directors had two appraisals of their property, one of which showed that without the building it was worth $300,000 more than with the building; in other words, that it would cost $300,000 more than the value of the material in the building to raze it. Without entering into any discussion of the credibility of this statement, we direct attention to the fact that the company in its returns to the various State Departments did not report that there was no insurance on this building, for the excellent reason that the Convention statement form, representing the combined wisdom and experience of the Insurance Commissioners of the various States, does not require insurance companies to report to the Departments whether or not buildings owned by them, and carried in their statements as assets, are insured. This appears to be one of those extraordinary oversights which are only discovered through such an occurrence as the destruction of the Equitable Building. Certainly it would appear that if insurance companies are allowed to take credit in their statements for the value of buildings owned by them, which might at any time be destroyed by fire, they should be required to keep these buildings insured in responsible companies, and to report the facts to the various Insurance Departments concerning this insurance. Where insurance companies loan money on mortgage, they are required to have insurance policies payable to them as collateral security, and to report in their annual statements the amount of insurance carried. This information has not been required, however, where buildings have been owned outright.

The fire was confined to the Equitable Building, and did not spread to any of the structures across the four streets which formed the Equitable block. This was due principally to the facts that the burnable property within the building, though considerable, was small in comparison, for instance, to the stock, fixtures and other inflammable material contained in any large mercantile building; that all the buildings adjacent to that of the Equitable Life were of fireproof construction; and that the officers and men of the fire department gave their best thought and effort to conquering the fire, without hesitation risking even their lives. Chief Walsh, a fearless and experienced fire fighter, was killed "by being caught by falling debris while at work within the building. A strong wind was blowing at the time of the fire, and the temperature was so low that streams of water pumped on the building froze almost as soon as they touched it, in spite of the roaring furnace within. It is not pleasant to contemplate what might have occurred had this fire been on the windward edge of the dry-goods district, in which vast amounts of inflammable material are stored, with very few buildings of modern fireproof construction to act as fire breaks.

In other news:
page 5
Supervision of Companies
In a signed symposium in the Boston Globe last Sunday as to "which is the more desirable, National or State supervision of insurance," President Hall of the Massachusetts Mutual. Secretary W.H. Brown of the Columbian National and Samuel Davis, an agent of the Penn Mutual, argued in favor of State supervision, and George P. Field, president of the Boston Board and a member of the New England Policyholders' Protective Association of Equitable Life Policyholders, took the opposite view.

page 2
Germany Wants to Know.
A Berlin dispatch, dated July 7, says: "The Imperial Supervisory Office for Private Insurance Companies has demanded of the Equitable Life Assurance Society and Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York that they declare by August 1 in what manner they propose seperating their premium reserves on German policies from the general revenues and how they intend to invest them. The amounts affected are $7,500,000 of Equitable and $5,250,000 of Mutual."

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