In mid-August, Boart Longyear Co., a global mineral exploration company, removed nine employees from Liberia after the Ebola virus broke out in a nearby village.
“Our customer shut down operations, and we’re evacuating,” said Rob Osha, global director of risk management at the company in August.
“There’s a lot of talk about closing borders and not letting air travelers out, so we’re working right now to make sure our crews leave Liberia.”
Video: The Ebola crisis continues to worsen, with a “best case” estimate of 500,00 dead by end of January 2015.
It’s not just deadly diseases that worry risk managers.
“A few years ago,” said Jan Randolph, director of sovereign risk at IHS Country Risk, “I was stuck in Qatar, due to go to Bahrain to visit some banks. This is when Bahrain had quite a lot of demonstrations and rioting going on.
“We checked our website, and there was a UK travel government advisory that advised all UK nationals not to travel to Bahrain. That means if we went, our insurance cover was potentially not valid.
“In practice, it probably would have been okay, but that advisory made it a no go,” he said.
As economies become more interconnected, businesses expand globally and more employees are sent abroad, scenarios like Osha’s and Randolph’s may become the norm. Yet too many risk managers may be unaware of the risks involved with global travel or take the proper steps to ensure employees’ safety.
Growth of International Travel
According to the Global Business Travel Association, U.S. spending on international travel may jump as much as 6.6 percent, to $289.8 billion in 2014, while total person trip volume is expected to increase 1.7 percent, to 461 million trips for the year.
“In this world that is smaller and more mobile, emergency evacuations happen more often than they did 10 years ago,” said Charlie LeBlanc, vice president of security services at UnitedHealthcare International (formerly FrontierMEDEX).
“That also has a lot to do with the fact that the world, politically, is much more volatile than in the last 20 or 30 years. We have to be able to react quickly.”
Steve Kellner, global head of intelligence and risk assessment for Verizon International Security Group, said: “I saw a news article recently that said there are only 11 countries not at war. The same article also said roughly only 60 percent of companies monitor their employees’ travel. It’s a big world, and a lot to keep up with.”
Kellner’s team monitors 15,000 to 18,000 employee trips per year.
Many smaller businesses or nonprofit organizations don’t have the budget for a security department that can educate their travelers [about security risks], so they depend on others, Kellner said. Problems can easily arise with “the little things that you don’t plan on.”
“Mining and oil and gas people have this buttoned up pretty tight,” Osha said. “They work in some of the most remote, tricky areas of the world.
“But there are a lot of companies that send a lot of business travelers that don’t necessarily work in the field. Even if you’re just traveling for a business meeting, things can change on a dime,” he said.
Pre-Travel Risk Mitigation
Travel preparation should begin before a flight is even booked.
“For very high risk countries, it’s a no go unless you get approval from the executive committee,” Osha said.
“I would do research on the security environment where they’re going, what I think the relative risk is and what the mitigations might be. Is the trip business-critical? Do we need to put that person at risk? Are there other ways to mitigate or not?”
“The most important asset you can have is information intelligence,” Randolph said.
“You need to know if the risk level is green or yellow or red, or if a developing scenario could reach a flash point.”
Video: The families of expat employees may be more at risk than the employees themselves.
Bob Gill, vice president of global security for Quintiles, a consulting firm for the life sciences industry, said his team develops risk profiles for every country they visit or may visit in the future.
“We cover security and safety, health and medical situations, medical infrastructure, regulatory issues, human rights issues, economic sanctions, bribery and corruption. Those are the key areas,” he said.
Even when companies give the green light, travelers should receive safety and awareness training tailored to the area they’re visiting.
“We have to look at risk from a variety of angles,” LeBlanc said.
“We look from the perspective of, when do our travelers start to feel uncomfortable? What are their risk tolerances?”
Political stability, crime, and cultural differences should all factor into a risk assessment, he said.
“As companies and economies are growing, their workforces are going to countries they didn’t go to five years ago,” LeBlanc said.
“That means a lot of novice travelers. For some, it may be their first international trip. And it’s not to London; it’s to Bangkok.”
Pre-travel training should cover basic “Safety 101” principles — like moving in groups and not opening the hotel door if no visitors are expected — but it should also include general background information on the destination country.
Travelers should know everything from what weather to expect, to what behaviors are acceptable in different cultures, to what inoculations they may need. Gender-specific training may also be necessary; women face greater risk in certain places, LeBlanc said.
“We have a traveler tracking system that is tied into our corporate reservation system,” Kellner said.
“When employees book travel, my group is alerted two weeks to 30 days ahead of time. We meet with them, whether they’re a naïve traveler or a group that goes constantly.”
At Verizon International Security Group, the company organizes a “meet and greet” program through its local offices to pick up incoming travelers or arrange transportation for them. Boart Longyear coordinates with their customers to see if they can provide transportation.
Some risk management and security departments utilize traveler tracking software to centralize employees’ flight and hotel reservations, so they always know who is in what part of the world.
Being able to locate people anywhere in the world in real time allows risk managers to focus their attention and resources where they’re needed. Ensuring safe travel on the ground requires coordinated efforts and constant communication.
For example, if 18 out of 20 employees are accounted for in a region hit by an earthquake, more time and energy can be devoted to tracking down the last two, instead of everyone in the group. If no employees are in the area, then attention can be focused elsewhere, to the next evolving crisis.
Travel assistance companies like UnitedHealthcare International (UHI), iJET and Europ Assistance offer software programs that not only track where employees are, but can push out automatic communications notifying them of potential threats in the area — like earthquake or tsunami warnings — or reminding them to check in.
Typically updated at least once per hour, the systems provide real-time data that is so crucial to crisis response.
“In the really risky countries, we establish check calls,” Osha said, “where an employee checks in every few hours to our outsourced security company’s operations team.
“In some places in Africa, they actually hire military to follow their company convoy,” he said, “or we see if they can fly point-to-point to cut out some of the risk of traveling on the ground.”
The advent of advanced cell phone technology has made the job of employee monitoring and communication much easier.
“As little as 10 years ago,” LeBlanc said, “I’d be carrying four or five different cell phones depending on what country I was going to. Now I just need one. That kind of power is extremely beneficial; risk managers need to be able to account for their people in a very short period of time.”
Call centers that operate 24 hours a day — also manned by third party travel assistance providers — help ensure that employees can always reach someone if they run into trouble.
“Communication is your lifeline in many cases,” Randolph said. “You have to think, as an employee, what would you expect from your company? Who would you want to contact in an emergency?”
Boart Longyear’s crisis hotline, provided by iJET, routes employees’ calls to the appropriate department, whether it’s a medical emergency, security issue or internal problem. More often than not, though, simple text messages or emails suffice to keep everyone connected.
“The best part of working for a telecommunications company,” Kellner of Verizon said, “is that most of our travelers go with a global phone. We can always text or call them to check on them and make sure they’re safe.”
Sometimes, no amount of intelligence can prevent simmering tensions from bubbling over, and no amount of monitoring can keep employees away from a natural disaster. Travel risk management should include policies and plans for when companies need to pull their people out of harm’s way quickly.
The most common reason for evacuations is a medical issue, rather than violence or political unrest. Travelers, rather than their employers, usually make the call as to whether they will abandon their travel due to a health issue.
“In medical situations, there tends to be a wider circle of hesitance to go,” LeBlanc said. Potential for violence doesn’t seem to stop travel as surely.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, for example, posed a relatively small risk to Western travelers but still sparked a worldwide scare. Flying out of the affected countries of Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone became more challenging as other countries were unwilling to take on the risk of accepting any visitors from those areas.
Luckily, governments rarely set strict travel restrictions in such situations, so while evacuations can get tricky when a pandemic hits, it is still possible to leave the country.
“In today’s world, economies are so interconnected that complete isolation isn’t feasible,” said Nita Madhav, analyst and researcher at catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide.
“The best way for companies to mitigate is to stay aware of the global situation and which countries may be at risk for circulating diseases, and make sure that employees are up to date on vaccines,” she said.
Madhav identified the Middle East and Brazil as up-and-coming markets for air travel, which could make them riskier from a health perspective as business travel picks up.
Political and social tensions also pose an evacuation threat, though those risks are more rare than a medical threat.
Maintaining intelligence and proactively removing employees from potentially dangerous areas allows employers to avoid last-ditch evacuations. Government advisories, data from third party security firms, input from local employees and even social media trends help to paint a picture of emerging threats and areas to watch.
Still, things can change in an instant.
“We had to evacuate our expatriate staff out of Mali when they had a coup,” Osha said. “You do have to watch country elections, because violence and protests could follow.”
“In Libya,” Randolph of IHS Country Risk said, “they’re having a drawn-out civil war, and oil and gas companies have been involved in drawing out their staff, leaving behind only key personnel.
“You have to maintain your asset and your security as well as you can, but otherwise de-operationalize. You have a duty of care,” he said.
The Trickiest Risk
Natural disasters pose the trickiest travel risks to mitigate and often require the immediate, emergency response that risk managers try to avoid. Once tracking systems identify who’s in danger, it’s up to crisis management teams to get them to safety.
“You really need the right people in the room that are experienced with the global operations of their company,” said LeBlanc of UHI.
“They need the authority to make decisions quickly, whether they’re legal, financial, or human resource related. And they have to work well as a team.”
When UHI trains its clients on crisis management, it typically spends half a day on team-building alone, and keeps the core team limited to about 10 people.
Rapidly growing companies will face challenges learning how to manage increased travel to all parts of the world, but the realities of travel risk cannot be ignored. The consequences of shrugging off safe travel preparations are too great.
“Colleagues I work with have a keen sense of how travel has changed since 9/11,” Gill of Quintiles said.
“That was the issue that brought travel security and safety to the forefront.”
But others say more progress is needed.
“I’ve given travel risk presentations at RIMS for a few years now,” Osha said, “and I’m shocked by the people who approach me after the sessions — large, brand name companies — saying their programs aren’t robust enough.
“It makes me think that there are a lot more companies out there that need to start working on this than you may expect.”
Capitalism at Its Best
Are some people inherently better than other people? The answer, we now know, is yes indeedy. Take that, equality freaks.
People who are better are not defined that way based on color, creed, nationality, sex, or any other criterion formerly fashionable among the bigoted. The grounds are, instead, the modern equivalents of religion: data and money.
An English newspaper has reported that “consumers who are careful with their personal finances are being offered savings on their car insurance premiums as a result.
Insurance firms have established what they say is a strong link between people who are prudent with their spending and those less likely to take risks while driving.”
“The apparent correlation,” the article continued, “has led firms such as Scottish Widows, Lloyds’ insurance arm, to begin offering discounts of as much as 20 percent on car insurance to certain customers.”
The inherent unfairness of the good having to pay for the bad is the price of freedom.
Your confusion solved: By Lloyds, the newspaper meant Lloyds Banking Group, a large UK-based firm, not Lloyd’s of London. And don’t confuse Scottish Widows, an insurer, with Scottish windows, which have a more transparent outlook.
The prudent make fewer insurance claims, one assumes, because they take fewer risks, or perhaps better understand the risks they do take. They are therefore better people to insure than the profligate.
This may seem somewhat obvious. The prudent carry the profligate throughout their lives.
For years, for example, the prudent have earned little or nothing on their savings so that the profligate can have cheap mortgages. The prudent pay their bills on time and don’t incur debt they cannot carry. With the profligate, anything goes.
We’re all a mix of spenders and savers, except for the most dissolute, who spend everything they can get their hands on and, in many cases, steal, game the system, or borrow from me.
Prudence personified, I resentfully understand the need for the prudent to bail out the reckless.
If the global economic system required everyone to pay for what they use, 89.7165 percent of everyone (approximately) would be unable to make ends meet. They’d whine about it endlessly and eventually riot and set fire to anything and everything.
The inherent unfairness of the good having to pay for the bad is the price of freedom.
I have no children, don’t drive and rarely go out at night. Yet I pay my share of the nation’s education, roads and street lighting bills. The same principle applies to paying for those who can’t manage their money, which, to be fair, is almost everyone.
In our heady world of insurance (which is based entirely on the good carrying the bad), where money is managed to within a millimeter of its existence, we would imagine that everyone’s like us. They’re not.
Some people, most people, are just bad eggs and we, the good hats, carry them like the hapless passengers they are.
This system, as you know, is called capitalism. Its keenest unfairness lies not in the traditional complaint, that some people have little; it lies in the truth of those of us who pay attention to detail being left to subsidize those who don’t.
Being a compassionate Charlie, I wouldn’t have it any other way, except that every now and then I’d appreciate a medal, say, or a small parade in my honor.
The Embedded Risk Engineer
Not long ago, concepts such as solar panels, nanotechnology, battery-powered electric vehicles and “green” buildings were more pipe dream than reality. Today, with those trends a growing part of the global marketplace, insurers need ongoing, in-depth, real-time data for optimal underwriting in order to give buyers proper coverage and accurate pricing.
As one leader of Aspen Insurance’s loss control risk engineering team, Troy Bickerstaff knows better than most the value of staying ahead of the curve when it comes to emerging trends and their potential impact on insurance buyers.
“Our underwriters at Aspen Insurance are plugged into what’s happening with today’s exciting technology developments,” Bickerstaff said. “By using specialized, dedicated risk engineers to deliver unparalleled support to our underwriting teams, we can meet emerging marketplace needs. For insureds in these areas, the result is the best possible approach to risk management, insurance programs and pricing.”
“We evaluate all possible hazards, including the insured’s quality management system, their safety and quality standards, their recall process – anything and everything that goes into their product. Then, we advise the underwriters during the application process.”
– Troy Bickerstaff, Assistant Vice President and Loss Control Manager, Aspen Insurance
Aspen Insurance utilizes a concept by which an underwriting team includes an embedded engineer who works closely with the team’s underwriters and clients. This dedicated professional focuses on supporting the team in meeting the specific needs of a client and continually advises on the evolution of emerging risks associated within the team’s industry vertical.
Bickerstaff explained that Aspen Insurance’s risk engineering approach differs from other carriers that typically offer a centralized loss control/engineering department, primarily because they provide a general approach to support of underwriting.
“The difference in the various approaches to risk engineering is similar to specialization in medicine. If you need open-heart surgery, would you want a general surgeon or a cardiothoracic surgeon?” he asked. “Similarly, if your business faces specialized risks, you need the deep expertise of underwriters and engineers well-versed in the nuances of your industry.”
Bickerstaff and his colleagues support the underwriting teams across Aspen Insurance in four key ways:
Evaluating individual risk
To best understand a potential insured’s risk portfolio, the Aspen Insurance team reviews each new submission along with an applicant’s website, history of product recall and compliance with industry standards, in addition to certifications to assess what types of exposures may emerge. Bickerstaff noted that Aspen Insurance’s claims team is also involved in this process, including in respect of all risk engineering communications with the underwriting team. This tight collaboration between underwriting, engineering and claims is a key differentiator for Aspen US Insurance in the market.
If a new technology is part of a coverage application submission, Bickerstaff will also launch an engineering review of the risk, delivering valuable information to the underwriters, who in turn can utilize the data to help insureds find ways to improve their products and potentially reduce expensive product liability exposures, and possibly even claims.
When a company looking to import foreign-made tires applied for coverage, Bickerstaff created a document outlining all the major “key points for casualty,” including factors such as improper curing, use of over-aged rubber and contaminants in the tire itself. Underwriters then used that report with the potential insured, helping them avoid any potential pitfalls in importing foreign-made tires.
“We evaluate all possible hazards, including the insured’s quality management system, their safety and quality standards, their recall process – anything and everything that goes into their product,” he said. “Then, we advise the underwriters during the application process.”
Conducting a class of risk consultation
Based on underwriting submission trends or individual risks, the risk engineering team often identifies red flags with certain exposures and prepare detailed “guide sheets” outlining key information about the overall risk to support the analysis of underwriting teams.
Bickerstaff created two such guide sheets related to electric vehicles, an emerging, popular alternative to gas-powered vehicles. One guide sheet detailed specific fire hazards associated with electric vehicles (higher voltage, weight distribution and battery blockage), while the other focused on specific fire hazards associated with the lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries used to power electric vehicles, including ways to mitigate associated risks. Both guide sheets proved helpful to companies looking for coverage who manufactured both Li-Ion batteries and electric cars.
“We undertake a very detailed analysis for insureds in which we typically outline the kinds of claims that could happen, the severity, and what measures an insured would need to have in place to proactively minimize claims scenarios. This additional level of risk analysis is something insureds really value and appreciate.”
Evaluating long-term exposures
As a natural extension of the risk consultation effort, Bickerstaff also conducts long-term research and keeps abreast of different types of exposures through monitoring various media and publications, attending lectures and maintaining research contacts on the academic level. Insureds use Bickerstaff’s research to strengthen their loss control efforts, thereby potentially reducing claims and, as a result, keep overall costs down.
“For areas such as nanotechnology or ‘green’ buildings, we conduct research and create guide sheets,” he said. “But we also constantly stay abreast of the long-term aspects of the risks in those areas, keeping up with industry changes and the evolution of specific technologies”.
Providing added risk management expertise directly to insureds
Finally, the risk engineering group provides additional support for insureds via a face-to-face policyholder consultation at the insured’s location, if necessary.
Bickerstaff visited a commercial lawnmower manufacturer and identified several cost-saving enhancement opportunities: guidance on contractual wordings, recommendations for strengthening the weldment inspection program and education on managing increased liability exposures due to the use of temporary workers during the company’s peak manufacturing season. As a result, with that added data, the insured was able to reduce costs and potential claims.
“Among the many advantages we offer to insureds, a key benefit we offer is to ensure that our underwriting is based on the underwriters’ full knowledge of the risk, including access to the best available, most accurate data about the unique exposures relevant to the industry, technology, or niche,” Bickerstaff said, adding that the engineering team’s expertise helps underwriters deliver the best possible outcome, but even more importantly, Aspen Insurance’s specialized, integrated risk engineering strategy ultimately benefits the insured.
“The difference in the various approaches to risk engineering is similar to specialization in medicine. If you need open-heart surgery, would you want a general surgeon or a cardiothoracic surgeon? Similarly, if your business faces specialized risks, you need the deep expertise of underwriters and engineers well-versed in the nuances of your industry.”
“Insureds can feel comfortable and confident they are buying a high-quality, value-added, fairly priced product to meet their specific needs,” he said. “With many of these new, emerging risks, that is a critical benefit to them and a competitive advantage for us.”
To learn more about how Aspen Insurance’s loss control risk engineering and underwriting teams can support your organization, contact your broker.
Troy Bickerstaff, Assistant Vice President and Loss Control Manager at Aspen Insurance, can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.