United States: Representations And Warranties Insurance: An Innovative Solution

Last Updated: January 2 2014
Article by D. Stephen Antion and Philip Lang

One of the most contentious and negotiated aspects of an acquisition transaction is the allocation of risk for post-closing breaches of the seller's representations and warranties, and the remedies available to the buyer for such breaches. The buyer will want to be protected and indemnified for any liabilities arising from a breach, while the seller will prefer a clean break at closing with minimal holdback of the purchase consideration and without responsibility for unknown contingent liabilities. The actual representations and warranties of the seller will also be heavily negotiated to ensure they work with the indemnification provisions to properly reflect the agreed upon allocation of post-closing risk.

To help bridge the distance between the buyer and seller and mitigate risk exposure, more and more buyers and sellers are turning to representations and warranties insurance, as well as other types of transaction liability insurance. Though representations and warranties insurance was first introduced in 1998, in the past few years, the market has seen a surge in the number of transactions using transactional insurance products. Although representations and warranties insurance is still in relatively limited use in the U.S., it has seen widespread use in Europe, Asia and Australia, with about 90 percent of Australian private equity deals utilizing such insurance. Other transactional insurance products can be utilized with representations and warranties insurance to address specific risks for a particular transaction.

How is representations and warranties insurance used?

Representations and warranties insurance, whether buyer-side or seller-side, can be used as a backstop or supplement for the seller's indemnification obligations under the purchase agreement. It may also be used as a substitute remedy for indemnification that serves as the buyer's sole recourse in the event of breaches of the seller's representations and warranties. For the payment of a one-time premium, the insurer takes on the risk for breaches of the seller's representations and warranties and pays the buyer or the seller, as appropriate.

Buyer-side representations and warranties insurance is more common and provides for the direct payment by the insurer to the buyer to cover losses due to breaches of the seller's representations and warranties. This insurance can be used as a supplement to a negotiated indemnification provision, in which case the insurance can provide additional coverage and protection beyond the negotiated indemnification caps and survival periods. In the alternative, the parties may agree to delete the concept of indemnification in the purchase agreement and list recourse to the representations and warranties insurance as the sole remedy for a breach of the seller's representations and warranties. As one can imagine, this is very attractive to sellers and may be used competitively by buyers seeking an edge in an auction process. Seller-side representations and warranties insurance is typically used as a backstop to the seller's indemnification obligations under the purchase agreement in situations where the buyer demands indemnification and an escrow from the seller. With such a policy, the insurer will indemnify and pay sellers for any losses they are contractually required to indemnify the buyer for under the purchase agreement. One significant difference between seller-side and buyer-side representations and warranties insurance is that a seller-side policy will not provide coverage for breaches due to the seller's fraud, whereas such breaches are covered in a buyer-side policy. In addition to providing less comprehensive coverage, this policy leaves sellers in the middle and requires them to respond to and deal with post-closing claims from the buyer. Also, the terms of this policy may not completely mirror the terms of the representations and indemnities in the purchase agreement, so there could be a gap in coverage.

As a result, the policy can be beneficial but is likely to be used only where the buyer refuses to accept a buyer-side policy as its sole recourse.

Structuring an acquisition with a representations and warranties insurance policy can greatly expedite the process by removing the lengthy negotiations of the indemnification and liability provisions. A policy can also be issued very quickly, usually in two to three weeks. As representations and warranties insurance has grown in usage, insurers have become more sensitive to the timing concerns in acquisition transactions and are, in turn, streamlining the insurance underwriting and issuance process.

Coverage and pricing

Representations and warranties insurance policies typically provide coverage up to a cap of 10 percent to 20 percent of the enterprise value of the target company, with higher coverages structured through multiple insurers. The premiums for representations and warranties insurance policies have decreased through the years and are now generally priced in an amount equal to 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent of the coverage amount. Similar to a "basket" in an indemnification provision, a representations and warranties insurance policy will also include a modest retention amount or deductible, with the insurer only required to pay when losses exceed the deductible. The coverage period for representations and warranties insurance will generally mirror the survival periods for the representations and warranties in a typical purchase agreement. General representations and warranties have a shorter coverage period of up to two years, while certain fundamental representations and tax representations have a longer coverage period of up to six years. Although the liability of the seller for the representations and warranties in the purchase agreement may not survive the closing, the insurer will continue to cover losses for breaches of the seller's representations and warranties during the coverage period. As the use of representations and warranties insurance has continued to grow and develop, some insurers are now offering, for an increased premium, a coverage period of up to six years for all representations and warranties. Every representations and warranties insurance policy has certain exclusions from coverage.

Typical exclusions include the following: Losses arising from facts and circumstances of which the buyer had previous knowledge. Items included in the buyer's due diligence reports or listed on the disclosure schedules to the purchase agreement. Losses due to the breach of any of the seller's covenants and any post-closing purchase price adjustment. It is important to note these exclusions may be disadvantageous to the buyer as compared to a traditional negotiated indemnification provision.

Considerations for the buyer

In determining whether a representations and warranties insurance policy is the right approach, the buyer will need to consider the benefits and disadvantages of the policy in the context of the particular facts and circumstances of the contemplated transaction.

Are there concerns over the ability to collect from the seller? A representations and warranties insurance policy can provide the buyer comfort and security in situations where the seller could present a credit risk or where there are concerns over the ability to collect for losses directly from the seller.

Is the target company a public company? A representations and warranties insurance policy can be used in the acquisition of a public company for protection not otherwise available in typical public acquisitions, where individual shareholders do not stand behind the company's representations and warranties post-closing.

Are continuing members of management selling shareholders? Representations and warranties insurance can ease some of the tension that may arise in a situation where the buyer seeks indemnification claims from former shareholder management members of the target company who are employed by the buyer after the closing.

Does the buyer insist that the seller provide an indemnity? If the buyer insists that the seller or sellers stand by the representations and warranties and provide indemnification for the buyer, representations and warranties insurance may still provide benefits to the buyer. If the seller will only provide indemnification up to lower-than-desired limits, a representations and warranties policy can bridge any gaps in coverage.

Does the buyer want a longer period of coverage? With the broad six-year representations and warranties insurance policy now being offered by certain insurers, a buyer could have a longer coverage period than what could be negotiated in an indemnification provision, which is usually one to two years.

Are there any potential significant liabilities known to the buyer? As discussed above, a representations and warranties insurance policy excludes from coverage losses arising out of facts or circumstances that were known to the insured prior to the closing. In addition, losses arising out of matters that are described in any due diligence reports or disclosed in the disclosure schedules to the purchase agreement are also excluded. For example, in a situation where it is known and disclosed to all parties that there is pending litigation that may result in significant damages, a representations and warranties insurance may not provide any protection. The buyer would need specific line item indemnification of the litigation to ensure it is protected regardless of prior knowledge and disclosure of such matter.

A separate transactional insurance policy could be used together with a representations and warranties insurance policy to provide coverage that would otherwise be excluded, but such transactional insurance policies come at a higher price.

Are there concerns over sharing any diligence reports with the insurer? As part of the underwriting process, the buyer will need to provide the insurer with copies of all diligence reports, including legal, financial and environmental reports.

Are there concerns about breaches of "fundamental representations" that could result in significant liabilities? In a typical representations and warranties insurance policy, all claims will be subject to the same maximum cap on coverage and basket or deductible, regardless of the specific representation or warranty breached. In many purchase agreements with indemnification provisions, however, certain fundamental representations of the seller- such as organization, authority and capitalization, and representations relating to taxes- are excluded from the maximum cap and basket. The reasoning behind this is that consequences of breaching such representations may result in significant and irreparable damage to the buyer. Thus, the scope of the coverage may be less than what would be negotiated with a seller.

Does the seller have material post-closing covenants? While a traditional indemnification provision will usually cover breaches of post-closing covenants, such covenant breaches are excluded from coverage under representations and warranties insurance. In the event a seller breaches a post-closing covenant, such as a non-compete or nonsolicit provision, the only remedy for the buyer may be to sue such a seller for breach of contract.

Is the buyer involved in a competitive bidding process? Given the benefits a representations and warranties insurance policy presents a seller, a buyer can make its bid more appealing to the seller by proposing a "clean break" deal structure that incorporates a representations and warranties insurance policy.

Considerations for the seller

For a seller, the use of a representations and warranties insurance policy can be a very attractive way to structure a transaction.

The seller can have a clean exit. From the seller's perspective, one of the key advantages of representations and warranties insurance is that it provides the confidence of a clean exit without contingent post-closing liabilities or any holdback or escrow of the purchase price. This is particularly true for private equity fund sellers where the absence of an escrow will enhance the fund's IRR by avoiding the delayed receipt of the escrowed proceeds. It may be critical if the fund is at the end of its term and needs to exit and distribute the proceeds to its limited partners.

Avoid issues that arise relating to joint and several liability with multiple sellers. In an acquisition involving multiple sellers, a key point of contention is whether the sellers are subject to joint and/or several liability. A representations and warranties insurance policy can address the sellers' concerns and protect minority or passive sellers who may have minimal knowledge and/or control of the target company.

Propose a representations and warranties insurance policy from the onset. Given the significant advantages, a seller may want to incorporate representations and warranties insurance into the proposed deal structure in its marketing materials and bid package when marketing the company to potential buyers. A number of private equity funds are now doing this as a matter of policy.

Other transactional insurance products

As the insurance industry has expanded its transactional insurance products, insurers are now able to offer specific products to address a variety of concerns, including tax, contingent liability, litigation buyout, fraudulent conveyance, successor liability and environmental insurance.

These products can be utilized to cover legacy liability concerns known to the buyer and excluded under a representations and warranties insurance policy. These types of transactional insurance policies may be more expensive than the premium for a representations and warranties insurance policy, though. For example, a tax insurance policy may have a premium of 4 percent to 6 percent of the coverage amount, while a litigation buyout insurance policy may have a premium equal to 10 percent of the coverage amount.

Conclusion

Incorporating a representations and warranties insurance policy in an acquisition transaction can be an excellent way to both expedite the process and address the concerns of both parties over the allocation of risk in the event of post-closing breaches. Whether used as a supplement to or a substitute for traditional indemnification provisions, such a policy can be issued quickly and without the protracted negotiations of an indemnity. Plus, it substitutes the uncertainty of future contingent liabilities with a set, one-time premium payment. The buyer has a credit worthy source of recovery for breaches and will deal with an entity that is experienced in processing claims, unlike most sellers. Accordingly, deal participants should carefully consider whether to utilize this insurance product at the outset of their transactions.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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