Column: Roger's Soapbox

Cyber Security’s Latest Buzz

By: | September 14, 2016 • 2 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Insurers, here’s a pop quiz. How secure are you that you fully understand all the risks you have accepted on behalf of your clients? That your book of business contains no surprises?

My guess is that you think you’re pretty secure, and my other guess is that you’re really not. One example should suffice, but before I explain, a trigger warning to decent folk: The subject is sex toys.

Right. Now that I have your attention … are you prepared to pay out when hostile forces take over your client’s love machines?

Far-fetched? Far from it. One vibrator on the market reports back to its manufacturer on the behavior of the toy’s owner. Worse, it can be commandeered by hackers.

Full disclosure: I know nothing of sex toys. In fact, I’m mortified just writing about them.

Insurers must cope with unknowable change while providing insureds with good vibrations.

Here are some facts, to steady the ship.


“Two years ago, someone had the good idea to put a Bluetooth connection inside a vibrator,” The Guardian newspaper reported. The vibrator can be linked to a smartphone app that controls it remotely. One party tells the vibrator what to do, and the other party, well, I dunno.

At a hacking conference, two independent hackers from New Zealand reported that the link between the vibrator and the app is not secure. A hacker could take control of the vibrator at a crucial moment and, well, I dunno.

Two million hackable vibrators have been sold. People could be unaware that they’re having virtual sex with total strangers, although in some circles that might be considered a good thing.

Sooner or later, though, hackees must surely come to the conclusion that advantage has been taken of them and demand recompense. Does your company cover vibrator hacking?

The app reports the temperature of the vibrator to its manufacturer every minute, and also reports changes in the intensity of the vibrations.

“What are the implications of who they’re going to give that data to?” asked one of the hackers.

In a statement, manufacturer Standard Innovation said the information was for “market research purposes, so that we can better understand what settings and levels of intensity are most enjoyed.” So that’s alright then.

If the readers of this magazine, the world’s smartest insurance people, were asked to list 100 utterly bizarre risks, not one of them would have written down “vibrator hacking.”

Insurers must cope with unknowable change while providing insureds with good vibrations. By the time the unimaginable becomes imaginable and then becomes hard fact, the risk is routinely covered and insurers are worrying about even more absurd risks that they might one day be asked to cover.

That’s why insurance is so fascinating to the observer — no one ever has any idea what’s coming next. &

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Battery Risks

Exploding Exposures

From fire risk to defective counterfeits, lithium-ion batteries present insurers and risk managers with a variety of property and liability challenges. 
By: | August 3, 2016 • 5 min read

From personal items such as e-cigarettes, cellphones and laptops to power tools, hoverboards, electric vehicles and alternative energy storage, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) come in all shapes and sizes, and are integral to modern living.


But despite their increasing application, the fire risks associated with LIBs have gained publicity of late, piquing the interest of insurers across a range of disciplines, from property and casualty to supply chain to product and environmental liability.

If overheated, LIBs can enter “thermal runaway,” emitting flammable material — sometimes in the form of small explosions; the bigger or more powerful the battery, the more impactful the event.

LIBs include a number of safety features to minimize the risk of thermal runaway. However, overcharging, damage to the battery, using an improper charging device or even excessive discharge can all trigger the problem.

After a UPS plane carrying a bulk LIB cargo caught fire and crashed in 2010, at least 18 airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Qatar Airways, banned the bulk haulage of such cargo, causing supply chain headaches for companies transporting LIB products.

There have also been incidents when personal items have ignited in the carry hold on passenger flights.

A study by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) showed that gas venting from the batteries had the potential to “rocket” the battery away from the heat source. In a bulk storage facility, this could send batteries off into other parts of the warehouse, spreading the fire.

“If you are selling lithium batteries, it is even more important to have detailed instructions and warnings because there are so many things that can go wrong.”  — Paul Owens, products liability manager, Sadler Products Liability Insurance

Indeed, bulk storage situations pose the biggest threat due to the risk of contagious overheating when multiple batteries are in close proximity.

“When you have a lot of these batteries together, fires can grow very quickly and be very damaging,” says Lou Gritzo, vice president of research at FM Global.

However, Gritzo’s firm said it made a major research breakthrough in April that could help mitigate LIB fire risk.

Lou Gritzo, vice president of research, FM Global

Lou Gritzo, vice president of research, FM Global

In partnership with the National Fire Protection Agency and the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s Property Insurance Research Group, FM Global conducted a first-of-its-kind warehouse fire test on the type of LIBs used in electric cars and energy storage. The test, he said, identified a sprinkler configuration that provides an “adequate fire protection point.”

Gritzo hopes the test results, which he expects to be published in a few months following data quality assurance checks, can be taken on board as an industry standard.

The results do not resolve the issue of air cargo safety, though some findings may be extrapolated out to develop in-flight fire extinguishing systems and improve safety for LIB cargo transportation.

Beyond the warehouse environment, LIB-powered devices present a product liability risk for manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers. The biggest hazard lies in importing products that have been installed with defective or even counterfeited batteries that have been repackaged and rebranded to look superior.

In February, for example, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 3,500 hoverboards worth $1.8 million that reportedly contained substandard counterfeit batteries that posed a safety risk.

“If you are an electronics manufacturer, it is essential you know who and where you are buying your batteries from, that you are getting high quality batteries, and that they have high thermal runaway thresholds,” said Morgan Kyte, senior vice president and technology team leader at Marsh. R8-16p50-51_9Lithium.indd

Detailed Warnings Required

The importer of defective goods is considered the manufacturer in the eyes of the law, and in the eyes of insurers in the event of a claim, said Paul Owens, products liability manager at Sadler Products Liability Insurance.

“Importers are top of the pyramid in the U.S. as no one is going overseas to recover,” he said. Most importers are buying from companies whose product liability policies won’t respond in the United States.

“Warning and instruction defect is a common entry into a product liability lawsuit,” Owens added.

“If you are selling lithium batteries, it is even more important to have detailed instructions and warnings because there are so many things that can go wrong.”

“When you have a lot of these batteries together, fires can grow very quickly and be very damaging.” — Lou Gritzo, vice president of research, FM Global

Retailers and wholesalers who purchase from U.S. manufacturers at least know they have a route of recourse in the event of a claim, though it is likely they would be dragged into litigation.

When e-cigarette user Jennifer Reis was set on fire in 2015 when the battery in her device exploded, the e-cigarette’s distributor, wholesaler and even the Tobacco Expo store where she bought it were all named in the lawsuit. Reis was awarded $1.9 million in damages.

“Retailers and distributors should ask their suppliers to name them as additional insureds on their policies,” said Owens.


“If you are named as an additional insured, the importer’s policy is primary and yours is secondary, which is an important step for retailers and wholesalers.”

However, Owen noted, not all insurance carriers are comfortable writing coverage for LIB-powered products.

“You have to be very careful with the policies you buy as some can be very narrowly written — some have full health-hazard exclusions, and for items like e-cigarettes this leaves very little coverage.”

It is not always easy to determine whether a thermal runaway event has been caused by a defective LIB, a defective electronic device or human error, Kyte said.

“Often there is not much material left after one of these, though there are certain tests that can be done and sometimes it is possible to extrapolate a sequence of events to determine the cause.”

Quality Verification

The best way to avoid expensive product liability claims is to only buy and sell LIBs and chargers of the highest quality.

“This will cost you and your customer a little more, but it’s nothing compared to the increase in premiums after a product liability claim,” said Owens.

Lithium manganese (lMR) and hybrid (NiMH) batteries are considered chemically safer than most LIBs and do not require protection circuits, he said.

“Importers need to be good engineers. They should make sure they buy from reputable sources and it is advisable to batch test products that contain LIBs,” he added. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]
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Sponsored: Lexington Insurance

Sparking Innovation and Motivating Millennials

What started off as a one-off project for Lexington Insurance evolved into an annual program that sparks innovative solutions and helps develop millennial talent.
By: | October 3, 2016 • 5 min read

Two trends in the insurance industry, if they continue, could compromise its vitality in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven business world: slow innovation and a scarcity of millennial talent.

The quests to develop innovative solutions and services and to recruit young people to the field have raised concerns in the industry for several years, causing some insurers to think about how they will stay viable in the future when senior-level managers begin to retire.

But Lexington Insurance Company, a member of AIG, may have found a way to spark innovation that also engages millennial minds.

Innovation Boot Camp started three years ago as a one-off project meant to identify young, high-potential employees, give them exposure to senior management and evaluate their teamwork and leadership capabilities.

“The original concept was fairly straightforward. We would bring together a group of about 30 high potential employees for some semblance of team project work and it would allow management to gauge and assess talent,” said Matt Power, Executive Vice President, Head of Strategic Development, Lexington Insurance.

Little did he know how well the program would not only generate a plethora of innovative ideas that would drive the company forward, but also reinvigorate younger employees.

Lexington_SponsoredContent“The boot camps would be focused on innovation, with the idea that if we ended up with a concept or product that we could commercialize, then the boot camp would have been effectively self-funded. When they came back at the end of the 12 weeks, we were absolutely shocked because they produced about half a dozen products that have since been commercialized and are in some phase of being rolled out.”
— Matt Power, Executive Vice President, Head of Strategic Development, Lexington Insurance

New Ideas Emerge

The inaugural Innovation Boot Camp began with a two-day kick off meeting for participants— consisting of six teams with five or six participants. Each team was tasked with developing a business plan, and began to connect virtually over the next 12 weeks. The plan would culminate in a presentation to a senior management judging panel at the program’s conclusion.

“The boot camps would be focused on innovation, with the idea that if we ended up with a concept or product that we could commercialize, then the boot camp would have been effectively self-funded,” Power said. “When they came back at the end of the 12 weeks, we were absolutely shocked because they produced about half a dozen products that have since been commercialized and are in some phase of being rolled out.”

Power credits the program’s success in part to the participants’ youth. They were tuned in to different trends and issues than their more experienced counterparts.

Cyberbullying, for example, was a problem that didn’t exist for Power and his contemporaries as they grew up, but was salient for millennials. Based on the presentation of one group, Lexington developed coverage on their personalized portfolio for exposures associated with cyberbullying.

Likewise, “they educated us on the emergence of the craft brewing industry and how rapidly it was growing in the U.S.,” Power said. “That led to us launching a whole suite of products for craft brewers.”

Another team brought forth the concept of how rapid sequencing laser photography could be used to create a three-dimensional picture of a construction work site. That would allow contractors or claims managers to virtually walk through the site at a given point in the construction process to identify deviations from the original blueprint plans.

The images could memorialize the building process down to the millimeter, to every screw and wire. If a loss emerges later on due to a construction defect, the 3D map would be a valuable investigation tool.

Innovation Boot Camp proved so successful that Lexington expanded it to other arms of AIG all over the world.

“Suddenly we started getting calls from London, Copenhagen, Brazil,” Power said. “We were doing these programs for our global casualty team, for our lead attorneys in New York, for our financial lines group, and so on. We recently embarked on the 16th iteration of this program in London, with additional programs in the works.

“It’s a journey that has evolved from trying different things and not being afraid to fail, not being afraid to try new ways of thinking about the business.”


Engaging Millennial Minds

In addition to generating new product ideas, Innovation Boot Camp also engages younger employees more fully by offering the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to the company through independent work that requires some creative thinking.

Past participants are often great crusaders for the program.

“A program like IBC is something rarely seen at a large corporate conglomerate, and really a concept for new age startup companies,” said Alyson R. Jacobs, Vice President, Broker and Client Engagement Leader in AIG’s Energy & Construction Industry Segment. “But we were given a chance to work with people of all different professional backgrounds, and that environment unearthed concepts and solutions that have made a significant impact in the lives of our insureds and their employees.”

The chance to do work that makes a difference, both for the success of their company as well as the clients its serves, is what attracts millennial employees to the program and motivates them to devote their best effort to the project.

“Millennials want to be able to share their ideas and make meaningful contributions at work,” Power said. “Innovation Boot Camp has evolved into the perfect forum for that.”

David Kennedy, Esq., Product Development Manager for Lexington Insurance and former Coach for two Innovation Boot Camps, said the program engenders an “entrepreneurial spirit of developing something new, of applying analytical rigor to emerging risks to create unique and timely solutions for our clients and the marketplace.”

Exposure to senior executives doesn’t hurt either.

“It provided a platform for me to not just interact with our Senior Executive leadership but present a concept that could potentially be adopted by our company in the future,” said Ryan Pitterson, Assistant Vice President, AIG. “It helps to build your internal network, elevate your profile in the company and connects you with our client base as well.”

At a time when recent college graduates choose employers based on how much opportunity they’ll be given to have meaningful input — as well as opportunities for advancement — projects like Innovation Boot Camp could be the answer to the insurance industry’s struggle to pull in millennials.

“We give them the time, space and resources to create something new,” Power said. “When employee engagement is done right, it inspires passion and creativity.”

As multiple arms of AIG adopt Innovation Boot Camp around the globe, both the quantity and quality of new ideas are bound to flourish.

“The bottom line is, many heads are greater than one, and AIG has figured out how to leverage this. AIG hears their employees’ voices and enables those ideas to take our company into the future,” Jacobs said.

To learn more about Lexington Insurance, visit


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.

Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG Company, is the leading U.S.-based surplus lines insurer.
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