Top Five Uninsurable Risks
Whether it’s a Sriracha hot sauce maker being threatened with closure by city council or General Motors fighting for its reputation after recalling more cars than it made in the past three years, companies face a world of complex risks.
And some of those risks cannot be transferred via insurance products.
How well are companies protected, for example, when new regulations get passed — such as the EPA’s proposed restrictions on coal burning plants that may drive some in the energy industry out of business, or the current political drumbeat against tax inversion practices?
What insurance covers a company whose rogue employee sells trade secrets to an outside company? How about when a pandemic shuts down operations?
Risk managers identify their organizational exposures as best they can and then work to manage or eliminate those risks. Sometimes, commercial insurance can be used to remove the bulk of that risk, but we’ve isolated five risks which many experts believe are uninsurable in many respects: For the time being anyway.
“For the most part, the insurance industry rises to the occasion and creates products for emerging risks that evolve over time,” said Carol Laufer, executive vice president, ACE Excess Casualty.
“For insureds, the purchase of products such as employment practices and cyber insurance eventually evolves from a discretionary spend to standard insurance coverage,” she said.
For sure there are other challenging risks — such as weak economic conditions or skilled talent shortages — that also are uninsurable, but we have selected those for which risk managers are able to play an effective role in mitigating the risk.
Part of the problem in transferring such risks is the complexity involved in the exposures. Look at tax inversion — where a U.S. company merges with a foreign company to change their tax jurisdiction and lower their tax burden.
Is that a political risk? A regulatory risk? A reputational risk? It could be any one of them, or all three of them.
“I think it’s almost uncountable the ways that a loss could occur where that loss could be tied back to reputational risk or regulatory risk,” said David White, a national actuarial leader at KPMG.
At the same time, calling a risk uninsurable has nuances to it. Coverage for criminal fines and penalties, for example, are truly uninsurable. The law forbids such coverage, said Patrick Donnelly, chief broking officer, Aon Risk Solutions.
But for other types of risks, there may be various products offered by brokers and underwriters to address some, but not all of the specific exposures faced by a company, he said. Such coverage, however, may be rare or expensive, or corporations may find risk transfer to be an ineffective way of hedging the risk.
“I’m very careful about branding something as truly uninsurable,” Donnelly said.
“It’s not black and white.”
General Motors might be the quintessential example of a company undergoing a reputational hit. It recalled nearly 30 million cars, and faces numerous lawsuits and investigations related to a delayed recall of 2.6 million cars — some manufactured more than a decade ago — with a faulty ignition switch that has been linked to 13 deaths and more than 50 accidents.
Video: As this report from the New York Times indicates, automakers have a long history of trying to maintain their reputations in the face of major recalls.
But every day brings another contender for the throne. One day, it’s American Apparel’s founder being suspended, and possibly eventually fired, for alleged sexual misconduct. Another day, it’s a viral video of a Comcast customer service representative who refuses to let a customer cancel his account.
Or it could be yet another cyber theft of customer information or a celebrity spokesman tweeting out an offensive comment.
While there are insurance products that provide coverage for crisis management/public relations costs and product recall expenses, only a limited market exists for loss of income or net profit for reputational harm, said Emily Freeman, global technology and privacy practice specialist at Lockton.
“You need to be able to wrap your arms around the risk and the value of risk before you can insure it,” said Tom Srail, senior vice president, Willis. “What a company name is worth has long been a risk to the industry.”
Freeman said Lockton has been involved in creating customized solutions for large clients that address specific threats of reputational harm. The client and underwriter negotiate the period of indemnity and loss adjustment, she said.
“The perils are not on an ‘all risk’ basis, but rather categories listed that are relevant to the client, such as disgrace of key persons or breach of sensitive data,” Freeman said.
“In my mind,” said KPMG’s White, “you can’t find policies that cover all types of reputational risk from whatever event that occurred.”
When you think of regulatory risk, many risk managers keep an eye on the rules of the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Dodd-Frank Act or a regulatory agency such as the Food & Drug Administration.
But the threat of regulation is immense and often unpredictable. In just one year, 2012, there were 17,763 changes to laws, rules and regulations affecting the banking and financial sectors alone, according to The Network, a training and compliance company.
“From a risk management or risk mitigation perspective, you can’t really predict regulations. You can prepare for them, but you can’t predict them or price them.” — David White, national actuarial leader, KPMG
Plus, risks can emanate from all sectors of government. One recent example is Huy Fong Foods, the manufacturer of Sriracha hot sauce, which was temporarily shut down by a judge following a lawsuit by the city council of Irwindale, Calif., after four families (one of which was related to a city councilman) complained about odors.
Eventually, the city dropped its lawsuit and its declaration that the factory was a “public nuisance,” but it took months for the situation to resolve itself.
“From a risk management or risk mitigation perspective, you can’t really predict regulations. You can prepare for them, but you can’t predict them or price them,” White said. “Regulatory risk is handled through risk mitigation, not risk transfer.”
“Even in the United States,” Srail said, “a government or state can put an industry or a company, if they want to, out of business or severely restrict their ability to operate.”
Certainly, the energy industry has been facing that threat since 2008 when President Obama noted that coal-powered plants can still be built, but at a steep regulatory cost.
“It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” Obama said.
While a final rule has not yet been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the president has recently called on it to enact new emissions regulations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated the regulations will cost the economy about $50 billion annually.
“There are some creative products underwriters have tried over the years … but there is definitely nothing off the shelf or run of the mill,” Srail said of regulatory risk.
“There’s nothing easy to do.”
Trade Secret Risk
“I find trade secrets to be one of the most dangerous areas,” said attorney Rudy Telscher, a partner at Harness Dickey & Pierce, who recently won a patent infringement case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There are no boundaries. It’s such a nebulous area.”
It can include anything from a disgruntled employee taking customer lists or R&D information to his next job, a foreign government stealing trade secrets or a hacker burrowing into a computer system to steal a company’s version of its special sauce.
Globalization and the expanded use of supply chain partners increase the potential exposure. Plus, even when a company is able to pursue trade secret litigation, courts consider whether reasonable precautions had been taken to secure the proprietary information.
“The violation,” said Bob Fletcher, president, Intellectual Property Insurance Services Corp., which offers insurance to litigate intellectual property cases, “is not the use [of a trade secret]. The violation is, ‘How did you get the information?’ ”
In any event, said Aon’s Donnelly, “an organization would have a very difficult time obtaining an insurance policy that adequately protects them against the theft or wrongful disclosure of their trade secrets and the potential damage that could do to the company if that trade secret got out.”
More common than industrial espionage, however, are the run-of-the-mill business discussions that revolve around synergies and potential partnerships between enterprises. Often, the nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) covering such discussions are not specific enough to protect the parties, Telscher said.
It is the party receiving the information that is most at risk, he said. If the discussions dissolve, that party may find itself accused of acting upon trade secrets because the NDA did not specify the information that was to be disclosed and held confidential.
“The more information you receive, the greater the risk there will be a lawsuit if you don’t end up doing a deal and you move forward on your own,” Telscher said.
In this era of globalization, companies establish operations all over the world, and the world is not a stable place.
Upheaval — or the increasing threat of it — is prevalent on just about every continent of the globe. Certainly, the possibilities in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America are concerning to risk managers.
While political violence and trade credit coverage is available in the majority of cases, companies continue to face uninsurable exposures.
“It’s definitely tricky,” said Mark Garbowski, a shareholder at Anderson Kill.
“Based on the policies I have seen, there will always be some aspects of it that will be fully outside the scope of what can be covered.”
And only “a minority” of companies actually buy the cover, said John Hegeman, AIG senior vice president, specialty lines-political risk.
“I think the principal reason is most risk managers view it as a self-insured business risk,” he said.
“Pretty much anything an insured thinks is really essential to their operations can be covered, but you have to identify it and understand what it is.”
Often, said Richard Maxwell, chief underwriting officer and global head of political risk and trade credit insurance for XL Group, corporations wait too long in the face of deteriorating conditions and insurers will not accept the risk.
“Buy the cover before the barn is on fire,” he said.
Generally, policies cover a host of risks, including government expropriation of an asset, destruction of an asset due to war or political violence, credit default of trade receivables, and when foreign governments block transfer and convertibility of currency.
Some countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the like, are not insurable, said Jochen Duemler, CEO and head of Euler Hermes Americas Region, which offers risk coverage in nearly 200 countries.
Argentina is a recurring problem, and as for Venezuela, it’s not uninsurable, he said, “but we would say we pretty much have no exposure there and are very, very reluctant” to offer coverage.
Overall, policies exclude losses that occur when currency is devalued, losses that occur as a result of a nuclear incident and non-payment of premium, or any losses to suppliers or partners as a result of political violence, except for trade receivables.
Policies also require insureds to make certain warranties and representations that are included in the insurance contract.
Policy disputes can arise when property is expropriated or licenses are cancelled due to what a foreign government says are reasonable or legally justified regulatory actions, according to an article on political risk coverage by Robert C. Leventhal, an attorney with Foley and Lardner.
Another area of dispute emerges when assets are jeopardized by “creeping expropriations,” such as a series of actions by the government as opposed to a single act, he said.
Many risk managers aren’t too worried about the Ebola pandemic in West Africa that has already killed more than 900 people. And they probably aren’t all that worried — if they even know — about the four cases of pneumonic plague in Colorado that are life-threatening.
But who among them can forget the H1N1 pandemic influenza virus known as the swine flu, that in 2009 killed more than 250,000 people worldwide, including more than 3,600 in North America.
At one point, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that as many as two in five workers might become infected or have to stay home to care for an ill family member.
Video: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the role airports play in spreading disease and pandemics, according to this report by Voice of America.
A pandemic flu is something all risk managers should worry about. And there’s no coverage for it.
“A pandemic is a very difficult exposure to insure in any meaningful way. You can do some work around it, but it’s a very, very difficult risk to insure and no one really insures it,” said John McLaughlin, managing director of the higher education practice at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
For schools or universities, his specialty, there may be some loss of tuition coverage available, but “it’s not very cost effective.”
For business, supply-chain insurance may offer some protection, but that coverage still has a limited take-up.
Companies may also be able to craft special wording for property or D&O policies, he said.
“You never say never. There’s always some solution that you can work up,” he said.
But, McLaughlin said, a healthier perspective for a risk manager is to analyze how the risk would impact the organization and to devise solutions that are not insurance-related.
Challenges and Opportunities
Competition in the excess and surplus (E&S) lines market has become increasingly fierce over the last 12 months, driven by new entrants and greater capacity.
Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance (BHSI) has already staked its claim, capturing a generous slice of market share during its first year in the business, which has resulted in a squeeze on prices and a wider availability of programs.
However, despite the increased competition, there are still significant growth opportunities for those companies willing to take on the risk, particularly in the professional liability market, most notably directors’ and officers’ (D&O) and cyber liability, according to experts.
“Generally capacity is plentiful, but pricing varies between different lines of business,” said David Bresnahan, executive vice president at BHSI.
“Pricing in the property market, for example, is negative, however health care and D&O are flat, and casualty is still rate positive.”
In its 40th anniversary year, the National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices (NAPSLO) will have several issues to keep top of mind at the organization’s annual convention in Atlanta in September.
Overall, the E&S market continued to grow in the first quarter of 2014, with more than half of the top 30 companies by market share reporting double-digit increases in premiums written year-on-year, according to SNL Financial.
However, as a segment, experts said, the market remains increasingly competitive as insurers fight for better rates in a soft market, driven by greater capacity and firms’ deployment of capital.
Such has been the squeeze on prices, said Wyeth Coburn, associate broker at CRC Insurance Services, that E&S carriers are being forced to compete for business with the traditional insurance market.
“Added to that,” he said, “is the strength of capital in the traditional market right now, which has resulted in many of those carriers moving into areas that were historically surplus lines’ territory.”
The E&S market, traditionally a bellwether for the wider insurance market, is big business — worth $33 billion, according to A.M. Best.
SNL estimated that premiums written for the property and casualty market increased 4.5 percent, to $6.5 billion in the first quarter of 2014.
Much of that growth has resulted from a better understanding by insurers of the risks being covered, and their pricing accordingly.
Realizing the financial rewards available, several new entrants from the traditional insurance space, most notably Berkshire Hathaway, have made a push into the E&S market since 2012.
BHSI has already established itself as the 9th largest E&S player by market share, with its premiums increasing 48 percent, to $190.7 million in the first quarter of 2014. Most of that growth came from coverage written on the nonadmitted paper of Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary National Fire & Marine Insurance.
Validus Holdings’ $690 million acquisition of Western World Insurance Group and Endurance Specialty Holdings’ recent spirited attempt to buy Aspen Insurance signal that competition and M&A could reasonably be expected to increase further.
Scott Culler, regional president at Markel, said that, while competition has increased, new opportunities have also become available.
“From a company perspective,” he said, “I think the biggest challenge we face is there are so many more competitors out there and options in terms of programs available to wholesale and specialist distributors than there were just 10 years ago.
“Over the last few years especially we have seen a much higher level of investment in new ventures and existing businesses looking to grow their book. It’s just mushroomed from there really.
“But what’s encouraging from our point of view,” Culler said, “is that at the same time there’s also been a continued opportunity for growth as the E&S market has become more central to the wider insurance industry.”
Among the biggest growth opportunities, Culler said, is professional liability.
But in order to unlock that potential, he said, businesses first need to improve their underwriting discipline.
“From a company perspective, I think the biggest challenge we face is there are so many more competitors out there and options in terms of programs available to wholesale and specialist distributors than there were just 10 years ago.” — Scott Culler, regional president at Markel.
As consumers know more about the policies they’re buying and demand a higher level of cover not readily available in the traditional insurance marketplace, they are increasingly turning to E&S providers for greater risk management expertise, particularly in claims and loss prevention, he said.
One sector that has benefitted most from this heightened awareness is cyber liability, as data breaches and security have become more prevalent.
“It reminds me of the implementation of Employment Practices Liability Insurance in the early 1990s in response to an upsurge of employment claims,” Culler said.
“It’s true to say that we’re not just seeing large companies getting hit by data breaches, but now ‘mom and pop’ shops are starting to be adversely affected as well.”
Jeremy Johnson, president and CEO of Lexington Insurance, AIG’s E&S division, said the evolution of companies’ new business models, allied with the advancement of technology and globalization has created an opportunity for the market to provide new and more innovative solutions.
His firm, he said, has already seen a strong uptake from the energy, transport and infrastructure sectors.
In recent months, Johnson said, Lexington has deployed new products for commercial real estate financing, for unmanned aerial vehicles and for evacuation coverage associated with extreme weather events.
“There is a great deal of opportunity in the market today for those organizations that can recognize it quickly and develop strategies to support it,” he said.
“Understanding change signals in the market is absolutely critical to the development of new products and services.”
BHSI’s Bresnahan said the two areas receiving the most attention at his company are D&O and property catastrophe lines.
“When it comes to counterparty exposure,” he said, “it’s the C-suite and directors and officers of our potential clients who are paying the most attention to credit quality.
“From a property catastrophe standpoint, we are proving very popular with larger clients that are looking to be creative in the way they do business, and want to enter into a long-term partnership with a company that specializes in that business and is insulated from the whims of the reinsurance market,” he said.
He added that there are also significant opportunities for companies to improve their service levels in claims and underwriting.
On the property side, Jim Dowdy, senior vice president at Zurich Insurance, said E&S carriers are fighting to keep their existing business due to increased competition and capacity in the market stemming from a largely benign catastrophe year.
“The traditional carriers are becoming more competitive,” he said, “and, as a result, more of that type of business is leaving the E&S market, so the biggest challenge right now for wholesalers is trying to hold onto their existing business.”
As competition has increased, consolidation of the E&S market has continued. Last year resulted in a number of significant takeover deals, led by Enstar Group, which, in July, announced the acquisition of Torus Insurance Holdings for $692 million.
A month earlier, Fairfax Financial Holdings said it would be buying American Safety Insurance Holdings for $306 million, as Tower Group International agreed to a deal for American Safety Reinsurance for $59 million.
Markel’s Culler predicted additional M&A activity in the future as companies continue to cut rates and release reserves.
Despite the recent growth enjoyed by the E&S market, there remain obstacles on the regulatory front.
Brady Kelley, executive director at NAPSLO, said one of the key reforms impacting the sector is the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which expires at the end this year. TRIA, originally enacted in 2002, provides a federal backstop for terrorism claims.
NAPSLO has been lobbying for the program to be reauthorized in the same format to cover new policies that extend beyond this year.
The Senate has approved reauthorization, but as of the publication of this issue, legislation has stalled in the House.
NAPSLO has also been focusing its efforts on the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act (NRRA), which governs the regulation and taxation of surplus lines transactions, and has already enjoyed considerable success, Kelley said.
A New Dawn in Civil Construction Underwriting
Pennsylvania school children know the tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by name — Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, and Allegheny.
San Francisco owes much of its allure to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Delaware Memorial Bridge commemorates our fallen soldiers.
Our public sector infrastructure is much more than its function as a path for trucks and automobiles. It is part of our national and regional identity.
Yet it’s widely known that much of our infrastructure is inadequate. Given the number of structures designated as substandard, the task ahead is substantial.
The Civil Construction projects that can meet these challenges, however, carry a unique set of risks compared to other forms of construction.
“The bottom line is that there is always risk in a Civil Construction project. If the parties involved don’t understand what risk they carry, then the chances are there are going to be some problems, and the insurers would ideally like to understand the potential for these problems in advance.”
– Paul Hampshire, Vice President – Civil Construction, LIU
The good news is that recent developments in construction standards and risk management techniques provide a solid foundation for the type and risk allocation of Civil Construction projects they are underwriting. Carriers need to be able to adequately assess the client and design and construction teams that are involved.
For Builder’s Risk Programs, a successful approach prioritizes a focus on four key factors. These factors are looked at not only during the underwriting phase of the project but also in the all-important site construction phase, under the umbrella of a Risk Management Program, or RMP.
Four key factors
Four key factors that LIU focuses on in underwriting and providing risk management services on a Civil Construction project include:
1. Resource knowledge and experience: When creating a coverage plan, carriers work to understand who is delivering the project and how well suited key staff members are to addressing the project’s technical and management challenges. Research has shown that the knowledge and experience of those key players, combined with their ability to communicate effectively, is a big factor in the project’s success.
“We look to understand who is delivering a project, their expertise and experience in delivering projects of similar technical complexity in similar working conditions, even down to looking at the resumés of people in key positions,” said Paul Hampshire, Houston-based Vice President with Liberty International Underwriters.
2. Ground conditions and water: Soil and rock composition, the influence of ground and surface water, and foundation stability are key additional considerations in the construction of bridges, tunnels, and transit systems. If a suitable level of relevant ground (geotechnical) investigation and study has not been undertaken, or the results of such work not clearly interpreted, then it’s a red flag to underwriters, who would then question whether the project risk profile has been adequately evaluated and risks clearly and transparently allocated via suitable contract conditions.
“As we all know, ground is very rarely a homogenous element within Civil Construction projects,” LIU’s Hampshire said.
“It tends to vary from any proposed geotechnical baseline specification with the consequential potential for changes in behavior during construction. We need to understand who has assessed the condition of the ground, its behavior and design parameters when compared with a particular method of construction, and all importantly, who has been allocated the ground risk in a project and the upfront mechanisms for contractual ground risk sharing, if applicable,” he said.
Knowing how much water is associated with the in-situ ground conditions as well as the intensity, distribution and adequate accommodation (both in the temporary as well as in the permanent project configurations) of rainfall for a site location and topography are also key. Tunneling projects, for example, can be hampered by the presence of too much or unforeseen quantities of groundwater.
“In major tunneling infrastructure projects, the influence of in-situ groundwater pressures and /or water inflows is a major factor when considering the choice of excavation method and sequence as well as tunnel lining design requirements,” LIU’s Hampshire said.
According to a recent article in Risk & Insurance, tunneling under a body of water is one of the most challenging risk engineering feats. Adequate drainage layouts and their installation sequence for highway projects and, in particular, the protection of sub-grade works are also important. “But under all circumstances, we need to understand how the water conditions have been evaluated,” Hampshire said.
3. Technical Challenges: This risk factor encompasses the assessment of the technical novelty or prototypical nature of the project (or more often, specific elements of it) and how well the previously demonstrated experience of both the design and construction teams aligns with the project’s technical requirements and the form of contract determined for the project. The client can choose the team, but savvy underwriters will conduct their own assessment to see how well-suited the team is to technical demands of the project.
4. Evaluation of Time and Cost: With limited information generally provided, we need to be able to verify as best as possible the adequacy of both the time and cost elements of the project. Our belief is simply that projects that are insufficient in either one or both of these elements potentially pose an increased risk, as the construction consortium tries to compensate for these deficiencies during construction.
Small diameter Tunnel Boring Machine designed for mixed ground conditions and water pressures in excess of 2.5 bar.
In the 1990s and early years of this millennium, a series of high-profile tunnel failures across the globe resulted in major losses for Civil Construction underwriters and their insureds.
In the early 2000s, both the tunnel and insurance industries worked together to create new standards for high-risk tunneling projects.
A Code of Practice for the Risk Management of Tunnel Works (TCoP) is increasingly relied on by project managers and underwriters to define the best practices in tunnel construction projects. This process ideally starts at project inception (conceptual design stage or equivalent) and continues to the hand-over of the completed project.
LIU’s Hampshire said alongside TCoP, the project-specific Geotechnical Baseline Report and its interpretation and reference within the project contract conditions gives the underwriter greater clarity as to who recognizes and carries the ground risk and how it’s allocated.
“The bottom line is that there is always risk in a Civil Construction project,” Hampshire said. “Is the risk transparently allocated or is it buried? If the parties involved don’t understand what risk they carry, then the chances are there are going to be some problems, and the insurers would ideally like to understand the potential for these problems in advance,” Hampshire said.
Paul Hampshire can be reached at Paul.Hampshire@libertyiu.com.
To learn more about how Liberty International Underwriters can help you conduct a Civil Construction risk assessment before your next project, contact your broker.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.