Saturday, November 13, 2010
Market stands behind title insurance as Argo Group acquires Aris
This blog (among others) has previously reported on how title insurance is "still not broadly accepted" in the art market, especially when compared to its prevalence in real estate transactions. Possibly refuting this view is the recent acquisition of Aris, the sole provider of title insurance for art sales, "by a major publicly traded insurance company, Argo Group, showing confidence in that fledgling market." Although ARIS title insurance will now carry an A rating and look to a balance sheet with $6.7bn in assets, the concept of art title insurance itself remains fundamentally weird. Evidence suggests that the market had effectively recognized this by showing considerable reluctance to add to transaction costs by purchasing insurance. After all, ARIS is only expected to sell its 1000th policy next year since its inception in 2006, that's roughly a mere 200 policies annually which is peanuts given the size of the New York art market. In a market where the major auction houses and dealers guarantee title --exactly what the insurance policy covers -- there just doesn't appear to be any real need for it (granted it can prove useful in specific, isolated situations e.g. art sales on behalf of bankrupt collectors). It would be an entirely different story if the policy covered forgery/authenticity-related claims but in response to those who were asking precisely that, the answer is no: title insurance does not cover forgery, otherwise translated as "affirmative misrepresentations" (see also here).