Brokers Balking at Cyber Insurance
Cyber crime, espionage and other “malicious cyber activity” cost the United States anywhere from $24 billion to $120 billion each year, according to a joint report by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That price tag comprises loss of intellectual property, sensitive business information and personally identifiable information (PII), reputational damage, and the costs of fixing security systems and recovering from data breaches.
As businesses become more dependent on technology, hackers likewise grow more sophisticated in their attacks, exposing businesses big and small to debilitating breaches.
Cyber crime, espionage and other “malicious cyber activity” cost the United States anywhere from $24 billion to $120 billion each year.
Entities as big as the New York Times, JPMorgan and Target have suffered hits, but research suggests that smaller, mom-and-pop shops make easy targets for cyber thieves looking to cash in on stolen debit and credit card numbers.
“It doesn’t matter what size company you are or what industry you are,” said Tim Francis, enterprise cyber lead, Travelers. “You should consider yourself a target.”
“From some things I’ve read,” said Marty Frappolli, senior director of knowledge resources at The Institutes, “the average cost of a data breach is more than $5 million, and the FBI is on record saying that most small businesses won’t survive a cyber attack.”
High-profile attacks have raised awareness about cyber liability, both among the business community and regulators. Forty-six states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands all have laws requiring private or government entities to notify individuals of PII security breaches.
And yet the development of cyber insurance products and take-up by smaller and medium-sized businesses remains somewhat stagnant. Shouldn’t companies be scrambling to get coverage for one of their scariest business threats? Somewhere between the awareness of cyber risk and actually purchasing insurance against it, there’s a dangerous disconnect. Indications are that brokers may be the weak point.
Are Brokers Balking?
In internal research conducted by one major underwriter, a survey of both brokers and insurance buyers found that buyers expressed interest in purchasing cyber coverage, but hadn’t followed through mainly because their brokers hadn’t engaged with them or educated them about the topic.
Correspondingly, a much lower number of brokers claimed that their clients had a need, under-reporting the interest their customers had expressed. Taking the responses of both groups together, the underwriter concluded that a significant number of brokers may not fully understand cyber exposures or the insurance solutions on the market, and therefore are shirking the topic altogether.
A survey conducted by Marsh at their annual Communications, Media and Technology conference revealed similar findings. While 69 percent of attendees indicated increased concern about cyber security and liability over the past year, few had made moves to tighten their risk management.
Just 13 percent thought cyber risk was a matter for the risk management function, with most believing that the responsibility should fall to the IT department. Only about one-fifth of respondents said that their organization currently purchased cyber insurance, and only 11 percent of them felt confident that their coverage met their needs.
Clearly, there is a communication gap between buyers and the insurance community, and the onus falls on brokers to bridge it.
Emerging, Evolving Risk
Brokers could be side-stepping cyber coverage for several reasons. First and foremost, novelty and constant change.
“[One broker] felt that she couldn’t present the cyber quotes to her clients because she really couldn’t explain how the policies were different.”
– Nick Economidis, underwriter, Technology, Media and Business Services, Beazley
“Cyber risk, even though it’s been around for decades, is still an emerging, evolving risk,” Frappolli said. Exposures are ever-changing, and insurance solutions must change as rapidly to address them.
Lack of standardization in terminology also contributes to the confusion.
Nick Economidis, underwriter for Beazley’s Technology, Media and Business Services group, said he “met with one insurance broker who said that all the policy forms were different, and it was hard to understand how they compared to each other.
“She felt that she couldn’t present the cyber quotes to her clients because she really couldn’t explain how the policies were different,” he said.
Greg Gamble, director, Management and Professional Risk Group, Crystal & Co., said that while coverage is standard, policy wording varies among the 15 or so carriers that offer it.
“In that regard, it’s confusing because we have to make this understandable to our customer base and articulate it back to them in a way that makes sense.
“I would agree that there could be more standardization among carriers,” Gamble said, “but I don’t think that’s coming anytime soon because carriers have a lot of private ownership of their policies. They have people who’ve spent a tremendous amount of time developing those products, and they label agreements and write the policies their own way, and I don’t think they’re focused on coming together with industry standard categories of coverage.”
Tough Regulatory Environment
Varied state regulations also factor into non-uniform policies. Different legislatures have different notification standards, which affects what a company can stand to lose through notification costs alone.
“There are new laws coming through at the federal and state levels. European law is changing,” said Chris Keegan, senior vice president, Willis. “The ways in which technology is being used is changing, which can make those laws out of date very quickly.
“A lot of people are hoping for federal level simplification. We’ve seen Congress trying to put that in place for the last four or five years but they never seem to be able to get that legislation passed,” he said.
Notification laws can easily throw brokers for a loop.
Ken Goldstein, worldwide cybersecurity manager, Chubb Insurance, said it can be hard to keep track of who needs to be notified of a breach in which state. Some laws require attorneys general to be notified in states where customers were affected, and some require that credit monitoring agencies be alerted, depending on what type of information was disclosed.
“Different industry segments have different legal and regulatory requirements,” Goldstein said. “Identifying these exposures will ultimately help agents and brokers figure out how to protect clients from an insurance perspective.”
Not all brokers struggle with the changes, though. Larger brokerage houses and carriers have teams dedicated to researching, assessing and developing products responding to cyber risk. Brokers that have that in-house specialized expertise at their disposal have a much easier time finding the right solutions for their clients.
“There are only about five brokerage houses that have people with that level of expertise.”
– Chris Keegan, senior vice president, Willis
But indications are that the community of experts among brokers remains too small.
“There are only about five brokerage houses that have people with that level of expertise,” Keegan said. “For some of the other houses that don’t have that internal specialized expertise, they may struggle to get the consulting and policy advice that clients need.”
That explains why take-up is much lower among small and mid-sized businesses: They generally don’t have the same resources as large companies to work with the handful of big brokerages with in-house experts.
Some carriers also offer tools like breach cost calculators and risk assessment portals that allow brokers to estimate the financial impact of notification, data cleanup and business interruption. But those resources might not be enough. According to Travelers’ Francis, carriers could do more to work with and educate brokers on their coverages.
“One of the ways the industry can be working to address this issue is having carriers that not only deliver products, but are experts in the products they’re selling,” he said. Carriers should be helping brokers understand each account’s unique level of exposure and the insurance solutions available. “That collaboration right now is as important as, or more important than, the insurance product that is the end delivery,” he said.
“For smaller and mid-sized businesses, there really is great opportunity for the agents and brokers to fill that knowledge gap,” said Frappolli of The Institutes. “I would say that best-in-class agents are doing this for their clients. There’s always an opportunity for the broker to be not just somebody who sells you an insurance policy, but somebody who is your de facto risk manager.”
Solutions in Education
There are ways brokers can educate themselves on the evolving cyber environment, beyond reading journals and attending webinars. Conferences, for example, provide easy access to expert speakers, said Mark Greisiger, president of NetDiligence, which hosts twice-yearly educational forums on cyber risk.
“Both the speakers and attendees are the insurance companies, and their inside lawyers sometimes. We have retail and wholesale brokers attending. We have risk managers and CFOs who buy the insurance there, and various state and federal regulators. Many top security experts who can help customers safeguard their data come and speak as well,” he said.
“We also see a lot of smaller brokerage groups coming, because they need that technical expertise,” Greisiger said.
According to Willis’ Keegan, the industry can expect to see a lot of growth in take-up in cyber coverage among smaller clients in the next two to three years.
Brokers that can capitalize on that demand and independently stay up to speed on changing exposures will reap the rewards.
Coping with Cancellations
Airlines typically can offset revenue losses for cancellations due to bad weather either by saving on fuel and salary costs or rerouting passengers on other flights, but this year’s revenue losses from the worst winter storm season in years might be too much for traditional measures.
At least one broker said the time may be right for airlines to consider crafting custom insurance programs to account for such devastating seasons.
For a good part of the country, including many parts of the Southeast, snow and ice storms have wreaked havoc on flight cancellations, with a mid-February storm being the worst of all. On Feb. 13, a snowstorm from Virginia to Maine caused airlines to scrub 7,561 U.S. flights, more than the 7,400 cancelled flights due to Hurricane Sandy, according to MasFlight, industry data tracker based in Bethesda, Md.
Roughly 100,000 flights have been canceled since Dec. 1, MasFlight said.
Just United, alone, the world’s second-largest airline, reported that it had cancelled 22,500 flights in January and February, 2014, according to Bloomberg. The airline’s completed regional flights was 87.1 percent, which was “an extraordinarily low level,” and almost 9 percentage points below its mainline operations, it reported.
And another potentially heavy snowfall was forecast for last weekend, from California to New England.
The sheer amount of cancellations this winter are likely straining airlines’ bottom lines, said Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group for major U.S. airline companies.
“The airline industry’s fixed costs are high, therefore the majority of operating costs will still be incurred by airlines, even for canceled flights,” Connell wrote in an email. “If a flight is canceled due to weather, the only significant cost that the airline avoids is fuel; otherwise, it must still pay ownership costs for aircraft and ground equipment, maintenance costs and overhead and most crew costs. Extended storms and other sources of irregular operations are clear reminders of the industry’s operational and financial vulnerability to factors outside its control.”
Bob Mann, an independent airline analyst and consultant who is principal of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y., said that two-thirds of costs — fuel and labor — are short-term variable costs, but that fixed charges are “unfortunately incurred.” Airlines just typically absorb those costs.
“I am not aware of any airline that has considered taking out business interruption insurance for weather-related disruptions; it is simply a part of the business,” Mann said.
Chuck Cederroth, managing director at Aon Risk Solutions’ aviation practice, said carriers would probably not want to insure airlines against cancellations because airlines have control over whether a flight will be canceled, particularly if they don’t want to risk being fined up to $27,500 for each passenger by the Federal Aviation Administration when passengers are stuck on a tarmac for hours.
“How could an insurance product work when the insured is the one who controls the trigger?” Cederroth asked. “I think it would be a product that insurance companies would probably have a hard time providing.”
But Brad Meinhardt, U.S. aviation practice leader, for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said now may be the best time for airlines — and insurance carriers — to think about crafting a specialized insurance program to cover fluke years like this one.
“I would be stunned if this subject hasn’t made its way up into the C-suites of major and mid-sized airlines,” Meinhardt said. “When these events happen, people tend to look over their shoulder and ask if there is a solution for such events.”
Airlines often hedge losses from unknown variables such as varying fuel costs or interest rate fluctuations using derivatives, but those tools may not be enough for severe winters such as this year’s, he said. While products like business interruption insurance may not be used for airlines, they could look at weather-related insurance products that have very specific triggers.
For example, airlines could designate a period of time for such a “tough winter policy,” say from the period of November to March, in which they can manage cancellations due to 10 days of heavy snowfall, Meinhardt said. That amount could be designated their retention in such a policy, and anything in excess of the designated snowfall days could be a defined benefit that a carrier could pay if the policy is triggered. Possibly, the trigger would be inches of snowfall. “Custom solutions are the idea,” he said.
“Airlines are not likely buying any of these types of products now, but I think there’s probably some thinking along those lines right now as many might have to take losses as write-downs on their quarterly earnings and hope this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “There probably needs to be one airline making a trailblazing action on an insurance or derivative product — something that gets people talking about how to hedge against those losses in the future.”
Passion for the Prize
In his 1990 book, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, Pulitzer Prize winning author Daniel Yergin documented the passion that drove oil exploration from the first oil well sunk in Titusville, Penn. by Col. Edwin Drake in 1859, to the multinational crusades that enriched Saudi Arabia 100 years later.
Even with the recent decline in crude oil prices, the quest for oil and its sister substance, natural gas, is as fevered now as it was in 1859.
While lower product prices are causing some upstream oil and gas companies to cut back on exploration and production, they create opportunities for others. In fact, for many midstream oil and gas companies, lower prices create an opportunity to buy low, store product, and then sell high when the crude and gas markets rebound.
The current record supply of domestic crude oil and gas largely results from horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods, which make it practical to extract product in formerly played-out or untapped formations, from the Panhandle to the Bakken.
But these technologies — and the current market they helped create — require underwriters that are as passionate, committed and knowledgeable about energy risk as the oil and gas explorers they insure.
Liability fears and incessant press coverage — from the Denton fracking ban to the Heckmann verdict — may cause some underwriters to regard fracking and horizontal drilling with a suppressed appetite. Other carriers, keen to generate premium revenue despite their limited industry knowledge, may try to buy their way into this high-stakes game with soft pricing.
For Matt Waters, the chief underwriting officer of Liberty Mutual Commercial Insurance Specialty – Energy, this is the time to employ a deep underwriting expertise to embrace the current energy market and extraction methods responsibly and profitably.
“In the oil and gas business right now, you have to have risk solutions for the new market, fracking and horizontal drilling, and it can’t be avoidance,” Waters said.
Matt Waters, chief underwriting officer of Liberty Mutual Commercial Insurance Specialty – Energy, reviews some risk management best practices for fracking and horizontal drilling.
Waters’ group underwrites upstream energy risks — those involved in all phases of onshore exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas from wells sunk into the earth — and midstream energy risks, those that involve the distribution or transportation of oil and gas to processing plants, refineries and consumers.
Risk in Motion
Seven to eight years ago, the technologies to horizontally drill and use fluids to fracture shale formations were barely in play. Now they are well established and have changed the domestic energy market, and consequently risk management for energy companies.
One of those changes is in the area of commercial auto and related coverages.
Fracking and horizontal drilling have dramatically altered oil and gas production, significantly increasing the number of vehicle trips to production and exploration sites. The new technologies require vehicles move water for drilling fluids and fracking, remove these fluids once they are used, bring hundreds of tons of chemicals and proppants, and transport all the specialty equipment required for these extraction methods.
The increase in vehicle use comes at a time when professional drivers, especially those with energy skills, are in short supply. The unfortunate result is more accidents.
“In the oil and gas business right now, you have to have risk solutions for the new market, fracking and horizontal drilling, and it can’t be avoidance.”
— Matt Waters, chief underwriting officer, Liberty Mutual Commercial Insurance Specialty – Energy
For example, in Pennsylvania, home to the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation, overall traffic fatalities across the state are down 19 percent, according to a recent analysis by the Associated Press. But in those Pennsylvania counties where natural gas and oil is being sought, the frequency of traffic fatalities is up 4 percent.
Increasing traffic volume and accidents is also driving frequency trends in workers compensation and general liability.
In the assessment and transfer of upstream and midstream energy risks, however, there simply isn’t enough claims history in the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania or the Bakken formation in North Dakota for underwriters to rely on data to price environmental, general and third-party liability risks.
That’s where Liberty Mutual’s commitment, experience and ability to innovate come in. Liberty Mutual was the first carrier to put together a hydraulic fracking risk assessment that gives companies using this extraction method a blueprint to help protect against litigation down the road.
Liberty Mutual insures both lease operators and the contractors essential to extracting hydrocarbons. As in many underwriting areas, the name of the game is clarity around what the risk is, and who owns it.
When considering fracking contractors, Waters and his team work to make sure that any “down hole” risks, be that potential seismic activity, or the migration of methane into water tables, is born by the lease holder.
For the lease holders, Waters and his team of specialty underwriters recommend their clients hold both “sudden and accidental” pollution coverage — to protect against quick and clear accidental spills — and a stand-alone pollution policy, which covers more gradual exposure that unfolds over a much longer period of time, such as methane leaking into drinking water supplies.
Those are two different distinct coverages, both of which a lease holder needs.
Matt Waters discusses the need for stand-alone environmental coverage.
The Energy Cycle
Domestic oil and gas production has expanded so drastically in the past five years that the United States could now become a significant energy exporter. Billions of dollars are being invested to build pipelines, liquid natural gas processing plants and export terminals along our coasts.
While managing risk for energy companies requires deep expertise, developing insurance programs for pipeline and other energy-related construction projects demands even more experience. Such programs must manage and mitigate both construction and operation risks.
Matt Waters discusses future growth for midstream oil and gas companies.
In the short-term, domestic gas and oil production is being curtailed some as fuel prices have recently plummeted due to oversupply. In the long-term, those domestic prices are likely to go back up again, particularly if legislation allows the fuel harvested in the United States to be exported to energy deficient Europe.
Waters and his underwriting team are in this energy game for the long haul — with some customers being with the operation for more than 25 years — and have industry-leading tools to play in it.
Beyond Liberty Mutual’s hydraulic fracturing risk assessment sheet, Waters’ area created a commercial driver scorecard to help its midstream and upstream clients select and manage drivers, which are in such great demand in the industry. The safety and skill of those drivers play a big part in preventing commercial auto claims, Waters said.
Liberty Mutual’s commitment to the energy market is also seen in Waters sending every member of his underwriting team to the petroleum engineering program at the University of Texas and hiring underwriters that are passionate about this industry.
Matt Waters explains how his area can add value to oil and gas companies and their insurance brokers and agents.
For Waters, politics and the trends of the moment have little place in his long-term thinking.
“We’re committed to this business and to deeply understanding how to best manage its risks, and we have been for a long time,” Waters said.
And that holds true for the latest extraction technologies.
“We’ve had success writing fracking contractors and horizontal drillers, helping them better manage the total cost of risk,” Waters said.
To learn more about how Liberty Mutual Insurance can meet your upstream and midstream energy coverage needs, contact your broker, or Matt Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.