Brokerslink, a global network of independent brokers and risk consulting firms, has transformed itself from a nonprofit association to a for-profit corporation.
The group was founded in 2004 by José Manuel Dias da Fonseca, group chief executive of MDS, a Portuguese brokerage that also has a big presence in Brazil and Angola. He currently serves as CEO of Brokerslink, which has its headquarters in Zurich.
The original business model was created so all of the broker members were able to protect already existing clients, Fonseca said. “We decided we should be more than that. We should be creating business, not just managing business.”
To further that aim, he said, required better financial alignment among Brokerslink members. Incorporating allows the group to have resources to finance a strong business development team, invest in reputation and branding awareness, and build the necessary infrastructure.
Brokerslink is in the process of offering shares to firms within the association, which are in more than 90 countries around the world and have written more than $20 billion in premiums and consulting services.
The full transformation into a corporation will be finalized when the organization completes its private stock offering, said Paul Bitner, the organization’s managing director, who is based in Houston.
Initial stockholders are MDS of Portugal, Crystal & Company of the U.S., Nova Risk Services Holdings of Hong Kong, Filhet-Allard of France, and CGNMB of London.
Previously, the organization was funded by member fees and sponsorship from insurers, but fees and sponsorships are limited, Fonseca said. Raising money through the stock offer will allow Brokerslink to finance its business expansion.
Bitner said that mergers and acquisitions within the industry create opportunity for brokers within Brokerslink “because there is less choice.”
“We feel that there is a niche in the market for clients that don’t want to work with the big brokers,” Bitner said.
The organization offers other advantages as well, he said. In addition to size, Brokerslink has in-country expertise because its brokers are native to that country. The group also does not need to worry about the short-term investor demands that sometimes plague publicly held brokerages.
“Another component is our different structure. We are structured in a way that is not U.S.-centric or London-centric,” Bitner said. “Our ideas are not coming from the traditional centers of insurance. They are coming from around the world.”
The organizational structure limits participation to one broker per country. In the U.S., that broker is Crystal & Company, whose executive vice president, Jamie Crystal, serves as chairman and an executive director of Brokerslink.
Bitner said the brokers associated with Brokerslink are selected carefully, using qualitative and quantitative measures, including references from insurance companies and client retention data.
“They need to be strong and well-respected in the local market,” he said.
Brokers Expect More ACA Business
Now that the Supreme Court has cleared up a major question regarding federal subsidies permitted under the Affordable Care Act in its King vs. Burwell decision, some brokers and employee benefits consultants are expecting employers to seek more strategic advice.
“It provides absolute clarity that these are the federal rules we will be living under for the foreseeable future at least,” said Sean Waggoner, executive vice president, Alliant Insurance Services.
“We’ve gone from a [pre-ACA] environment where we brokered and placed insurance contracts,” he said. “Now, we are spending a lot more time consulting with clients on operational changes to their businesses based on this.”
Karin Landry, managing partner, Spring Consulting, said the ACA offers “an opportunity for the broker/consultant that wants to change and evolve and become an ACA expert, but it’s probably less business for those that don’t want to change and evolve.”
Some brokers, she said, are seeking to minimize their involvement with health care because of the law’s complexity. Others are selling their businesses or merging with another organization that offers the expertise.
As for employers, larger organizations have been prepared to comply with all of the law’s requirements, while some smaller and mid-size companies “have been taking more of a wait-and-see attitude. … I think most people feel like it’s here to stay and they have to deal with it and move forward and develop their strategies accordingly.”
“The mid-size employers who have not had a strong broker/consulting relationship,” she said, “will now need one for sure.”
Jim Winkler, chief innovation officer, Aon Health, said the “uncertainty as we awaited the Supreme Court ruling meant employers did not make significant changes to their plans for the last year or two. We now anticipate that we will see those types of changes.”
“The most immediate and pressing need, for many employers, is to come up with a more compelling strategy for their non-Medicare-eligible retirees.”
— Jim Winkler, chief innovation officer, Aon Health
Winkler said the “most immediate and pressing need for many employers is to come up with a more compelling strategy for their non-Medicare-eligible retirees.”
For employers that provide health care benefits to retirees under the age of 65, they must account for the future value of such benefits on their balance sheet, he said. With the High Court upholding the constitutionality of subsidies available via marketplace exchanges in the states, employers may opt to change from a defined-benefit medical plan to a defined-contribution plan.
Offering a set monetary amount to be used for health care on the exchange instead of offering an employer-based plan provides more plan choices for former employees — and possibly at a lower cost than their contribution to their current employer plan, Winkler said.
It also allows employers to cap their spending at a designated amount each year, Winkler said.
“I’ve worked on several of those projects already,” Alliant’s Waggoner agreed. “It creates pretty significant bottom line results for the client.”
He said the ACA’s prohibition on pre-existing condition exclusions and flattened rating table makes it easier for older adults to purchase health care plans, especially with the help of federal subsidies.
Doug Luick, area senior vice president, health and welfare consulting, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said that one utility electric cooperative recently made the decision to sunset its early retiree medical provision, which was “almost a handcuff around them,” as it resulted in high claims exposure, limited benefit plans and ever-increasing costs.
As of 2016, he said, the organization will fund health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) for retirees instead, allowing them to purchase their own health care benefits via the exchanges.
Winkler noted that with the assurance that subsidies are available, employers may begin to help part-time or seasonal employees access the public exchanges to access health benefits.
“Those employees have been living outside the insurance system,” he said.
Pathogens, Allergens and Globalization – Oh My!
In 2014, a particular brand of cumin was used by dozens of food manufacturers to produce everything from spice mixes, hummus and bread crumbs to seasoned beef, poultry and pork products.
Yet, unbeknownst to these manufacturers, a potentially deadly contaminant was lurking…
What followed was the largest allergy-related recall since the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act became law in 2006. Retailers pulled 600,000 pounds of meat off the market, as well as hundreds of other products. As of May 2015, reports of peanut contaminated cumin were still being posted by FDA.
Food manufacturing executives have long known that a product contamination event is a looming risk to their business. While pathogens remain a threat, the dramatic increase in food allergen recalls coupled with distant, global supply chains creates an even more unpredictable and perilous exposure.
Recently peanut, an allergen in cumin, has joined the increasing list of unlikely contaminants, taking its place among a growing list that includes melamine, mineral oil, Sudan red and others.
“I have seen bacterial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant.”
— Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG
“An event such as the cumin contamination has a domino effect in the supply chain,” said Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG, which was the first company to provide contaminated product coverage almost 30 years ago. “With an ingredient like the cumin being used in hundreds of products, the third party damages add up quickly and may bankrupt the supplier. This leaves manufacturers with no ability to recoup their losses.”
“The result is that a single contaminated ingredient may cause damage on a global scale,” added Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG company.
Quality and food safety professionals are able to drive product safety in their own manufacturing operations utilizing processes like kill steps and foreign material detection. But such measures are ineffective against an unexpected contaminant. “Food and beverage manufacturers are constantly challenged to anticipate and foresee unlikely sources of potential contamination leading to product recall,” said Alexandru. “They understandably have more control over their own manufacturing environment but can’t always predict a distant supply chain failure.”
And while companies of various sizes are impacted by a contamination, small to medium size manufacturers are at particular risk. With less of a capital cushion, many of these companies could be forced out of business.
Historically, manufacturing executives were hindered in their risk mitigation efforts by a perceived inability to quantify the exposure. After all, one can’t manage what one can’t measure. But AIG has developed a new approach to calculate the monetary exposure for the individual analysis of the three major elements of a product contamination event: product recall and replacement, restoring a safe manufacturing environment and loss of market. With this more precise cost calculation in hand, risk managers and brokers can pursue more successful risk mitigation and management strategies.
Product Recall and Replacement
Whether the contamination is a microorganism or an allergen, the immediate steps are always the same. The affected products are identified, recalled and destroyed. New product has to be manufactured and shipped to fill the void created by the recall.
The recall and replacement element can be estimated using company data or models, such as NOVI. Most companies can estimate the maximum amount of product available in the stream of commerce at any point in time. NOVI, a free online tool provided by AIG, estimates the recall exposures associated with a contamination event.
Restore a Safe Manufacturing Environment
Once the recall is underway, concurrent resources are focused on removing the contamination from the manufacturing process, and restarting production.
“Unfortunately, this phase often results in shell-shocked managers,” said Nevin. “Most contingency planning focuses on the costs associated with the recall but fail to adequately plan for cleanup and downtime.”
“The losses associated with this phase can be similar to a fire or other property loss that causes the operation to shut down. The consequential financial loss is the same whether the plant is shut down due to a fire or a pathogen contamination.” added Alexandru. “And then you have to factor in the clean-up costs.”
Locating the source of pathogen contamination can make disinfecting a plant after a contamination event more difficult. A single microorganism living in a pipe or in a crevice can create an ongoing contamination.
“I have seen microbial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant,” observed Alexandru.
Handling an allergen contamination can be more straightforward because it may be restricted to a single batch. That is, unless there is ingredient used across multiple batches and products that contains an unknown allergen, like peanut residual in cumin.
Supply chain investigation and testing associated with identifying a cross-contaminated ingredient is complicated, costly and time consuming. Again, the supplier can be rendered bankrupt leaving them unable to provide financial reimbursement to client manufacturers.
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet. Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
— Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance, an AIG company
Loss of Market
While the manufacturer is focused on recall and cleanup, the world of commerce continues without them. Customers shift to new suppliers or brands, often resulting in permanent damage to the manufacturer’s market share.
For manufacturers providing private label products to large retailers or grocers, the loss of a single client can be catastrophic.
“Often the customer will deem continuing the relationship as too risky and will switch to another supplier, or redistribute the business to existing suppliers” said Alexandru. “The manufacturer simply cannot find a replacement client; after all, there are a limited number of national retailers.”
On the consumer front, buyers may decide to switch brands based on the negative publicity or simply shift allegiance to another product. Given the competitiveness of the food business, it’s very difficult and costly to get consumers to come back.
“It’s a sad fact that by the time a manufacturer completes a recall, cleans up the plant and gets the product back on the shelf, some people may be hesitant to buy it.” said Nevin.
A complicating factor not always planned for by small and mid-sized companies, is publicity.
The recent incident surrounding a serious ice cream contamination forced both regulatory agencies and the manufacturer to be aggressive in remedial actions. The details of this incident and other contamination events were swiftly and highly publicized. This can be as damaging as the contamination itself and may exacerbate any or all of the three elements discussed above.
Estimating the Financial Risk May Save Your Company
“In our experience, most companies retain product contamination losses within their own balance sheet.” Nevin said. “But in reality, they rarely do a thorough evaluation of the financial risk and sometimes the company simply cannot absorb the financial consequences of a contamination. Potential for loss is much greater when factoring in all three components of a contamination event.”
This brief video provides a concise overview of the three elements of the product contamination event and the NOVI tool and benefits:
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet,” he said. “Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Lexington Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.