A Paramount Parable
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
Home for the Holidays
Neal Chambers surveyed the holiday turkeys on display at his local grocer on Nov. 23 and mused. Fresh or frozen? Tom or hen? Free range or kosher? Locally produced or from the foothills of the Smoky or the Sierra Mountains?
Chambers threw thrift to the wind and plunked down $52 for a 16-pound organic bird from Upstate New York.
What the heck? After four brutally slow years, the construction company he managed risk for was showing signs of reemergence.
True, the company’s estimators were not happy. Where once they needed to bid 10 jobs to land one, each job now took 30 or 40 bids to land.
Neal’s company, Paramount Construction Co., based in Des Moines, Iowa, worked with larger companies historically.
But in order to land projects, it was now moving down to the middle market and competing against smaller regional operators with local expertise. This was not an easy road to hoe.
But Paramount was doing what it felt it needed to do to compete successfully.
At the office holiday party on Dec. 19, held at the River Bluff Country Club, Neal could see signs that the C-suites were feeling a little better about things. Nice carving station, good wine in the glasses and some generous door prizes. He took in a deep breath and let it out.
Things had been tough for a while. He’d been working hard. He’d been worried.
“Go ahead, have a drink,” he told himself. “It’s free and now is as good a time as any.”
Neal had one glass of wine in him and was waiting his turn to fill his plate at the sushi appetizer table when he saw one of the vice presidents, Tom Murphy, lift his phone to his ear.
As he listened to the caller, Murphy turned and looked at Neal. With his other hand, he gestured to Neal to join him. Murphy’s hand was free because he did not drink at company functions … ever.
“It’s Constantine,” Murphy said in a whisper when Neal got closer. “Something’s up. He tried to reach you but…”
Murphy shrugged non-judgmentally.
Constantine, head of operations. Good guy. No nonsense.
“This is Neal Chambers,” Neal said into Murphy’s phone.
“Neal, it’s Jonny Constantine. We’ve got a bit of a situation.”
“Shoot,” Neal said.
Constantine exhaled audibly into the phone. Neal could tell that Constantine was a little upset.
Neal shot a look of worry at Murphy.
“Look, we just had an accident with an excavator operator on the site here in Mille Lacs. We’ve got one seriously injured employee and some structural damage to a neighboring building.”
“How bad is the injury?” Neal said.
“It’s not pretty. I think this poor kid is going to lose his left leg below the knee,” Constantine said.
“And the building?”
“Well. The wall on the demo wasn’t supported right and the operator knocked it into this neighboring wall. It was a pretty big bump.”
Neal hung up with Constantine and gave Murphy his phone back.
As he turned his own phone on to check messages, Neal Chambers felt any holiday warmth drain out of him. The wine that had been so enjoyable 20 minutes ago now struck him like a cheap depressant.
2014 was supposed to be Paramount’s breakout year. But now Chambers had a significant workers’ compensation and general liability claim to worry about.
Looking around the brightly lit room at his fellow employees, Neal Chambers had an uneasy feeling that 2014 wasn’t going to be that great after all.
No Bench Strength
What worried Neal Chambers were the personnel cuts Paramount undertook to survive during the brutal commercial construction downturn that seized the country during the Great Recession.
The most worrisome cuts came in the area of safety, where some highly paid talent had been laid off. But there were also cuts in estimating, where other senior personnel with beefier paychecks left the company.
You couldn’t put the cart before the horse. Although things were turning around, Paramount was not yet at a place where it could hire big ticket talent to fill the gaps. Not yet.
Yet the company was trying to grow again and take on more projects. The combination worried Neal Chambers.
The accident with the excavator in Mille Lacs wasn’t catastrophic. But it was the beginning of a series of workplace accidents that plagued the company through the first six months of 2014.
Neal’s conversations with finance added to his anxiety.
“We’re just not making the money on these projects I thought we were going to be,” said Tom Murphy’s elder brother Pat Murphy, the company CFO.
Bidding for projects in unfamiliar territories and on unfamiliar scales, Paramount’s overworked estimators were missing the mark time and again.
The combination of an increased injury frequency rate and thinner margins was not making a good impression on Paramount’s surety and insurance underwriters.
Both Pat and Neal feared that year-end premium increases could be in the works.
Paramount’s revenue shortfalls created friction with subcontractors.
Jonny Constantine got into several heated arguments with subcontractors, alleging that they were botching projects by not moving more efficiently.
There were now a handful of legal proceedings underway. In those cases, Paramount was alleging that subcontractors violated the terms of their contracts by not completing the work in time, or completing it in substandard fashion.
Win or lose, those lawsuits meant one thing to Neal Chambers and Pat Murphy. They meant more costs, more margin erosion.
“We’re in a tight spot,” Neal Chambers said.
“I know we are,” Pat said, somewhat impatiently.
“The thing is, I don’t know what we can do between now and 2015 renewals to make a better impression,” Neal said.
“It’s almost like a roll of the dice,” he added. “I don’t know what else we can get out of the safety department in terms of management.”
“We need better talent and more of it,” Pat said.
The question was where.
A Horse With No Name
The answer to Neal’s question, as it turned out, was “nowhere.”
The talent crunch that Paramount was experiencing, and which was causing it so much pain, was not isolated to Paramount. But some of its competitors moved more quickly than Paramount in acquiring and retaining the talent to help them take full advantage of the upturn.
Others moved even less effectively than Paramount. But in a competitive economy, being in the middle was no place to be.
As 2014 moved from the second quarter to the third and fourth, adding to Paramount’s workers’ compensation woes and its sinking profit margins came yet another issue.
That issue was increasing commodities prices. Paramount’s overworked estimators, working in the unfamiliar middle market, failed to take into account a gradual increase in the cost of steel, copper wiring and other key construction materials.
There simply was no place to turn to hire the sort of experience in safety or in estimating that could put Paramount back on track.
As Paramount’s executives looked forward to their year-end renewals for their insurance programs, the company was looking at unpalatable premium increases.
“You’re looking at a 30 percent mark-up with your workers’ compensation premiums and at least a 25 percent increase in the amount of collateral you’re going to have to put up in workers’ compensation and in surety,” said the company’s broker, Ed Scarborough. “You’re also looking at an increase in your general liability.”
The construction market continued to recover. But Paramount now needed to play defense.
Faced with insurance and surety increases and declining margins, Paramount had no choice but to do what it didn’t want to do. Already bereft and hamstrung due to a lack of talent, Paramount undertook more layoffs.
One of the first to go was Neal Chambers.
In November of 2014, Neal Chambers and his daughter Annabelle went shopping for a turkey. Annabelle was fourteen and well versed in sustainable agriculture practices at school.
“We’re getting an organic turkey, right?” she asked her father.
“No, Annabelle, I’m afraid not,” Neal said.
Neal reached into the meat freezer and pulled out a frozen Honeybreast turkey and threw it into his shopping cart with a disheartening “clang.”
Risk & Insurance partnered with Liberty Mutual Insurance to produce this scenario. Below are Liberty Mutual Insurance’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. These lessons learned are not the editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.
1. Value is replacing price: It’s no longer enough to be the lowest bidder. Contractors must now prove to clients that they have the capacity to deliver a project that is the most cost-effective in the long term. That means not only delivering a quality product, but having the risk management program and coverage in place to mitigate potential finger pointing and costly litigation down the road.
2. Keep an eye on commodities: Nowhere are the realities of the global economy more evident than in the area of commodities. Demand cycles for copper, steel, coal and other materials in developing or maturing economies are going to have an impact on prices here at home. Models that take into account commodities fluctuations will be increasingly important. In addition, any new rating programs based on Construction Value should be carefully evaluated compared to a payroll based program.
3. Talent rules: Qualified estimators and safety officers left the construction industry in droves during the downturn. Making sure the talent is in place to take advantage of the upturn in the rebounding commercial construction business is an important consideration. Don’t overlook the added value of a well-documented quality assurance program.
4. Understand new geographies: Competing in this new market may mean having to enter new geographic areas to find business. Trying to compete in New York state without understanding its Byzantine labor laws would be a mistake. So would entering into any new geography without an understanding of local regulations and how they could impact costs. Conversely, demonstrating local experience to a client would be a key selling point here.
5. Delivery methods matter: New markets mean new delivery methods. Whether it is design-build, identifying a construction manager at risk, or the complexities of public-private or international partnerships, insurance and risk mitigation are going to have to be adequate to cover these trending delivery methods. Effective communication amongst all parties including contractual relationships continues to be a vital aspect of any project.
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
Jill Heald is a woman that loves to focus and hates distractions.
Heald paid close attention when an earthquake struck Japan in 2011 and a typhoon flooded Thailand that same year.
The press and the trade press laid out the gory details. Major companies; auto manufacturers, electronics companies and telecommunications companies were hit with supply chain losses they did not see coming. And the losses were big.
As the risk manager for Auto-Spire, an electronics manufacturer that makes integrated circuits used in the automotive industry, the Thailand and Japan losses made a deep impression on Heald. She vowed to herself that that sort of thing would never happen to her company.
Post-2011, shifts in Auto-Spire’s procurement process resulted in the company sourcing semi-conductors from an up and coming Malaysian manufacturer. Looking ahead to 2016, Heald in mid-2015 began thinking about and seeking approval for an ambitious contingent time element coverage insurance package.
“How big are we talking?” her broker asked her when she first sketched her plan in a phone call.
“Based on a brief meeting I had with Auto-Spire procurement folks, I believe a $25 million program should be sufficient, given the redundancy of our supply chain,” Heald told her broker.
“Well, we’re not going to get it all in one place,” the broker said. “Let me make some calls,” he said.
“How about we set up some face-to-face meetings with some of the underwriters?” Heald said.
“No need,” the broker said. “This is what you’re paying me for,” he said.
Unease gnawed at Heald after she hung up with the broker. It would make her feel a lot better to meet with the underwriters and some of their claims teams.
But the broker was who he was. Nobody had his contacts and he was a wizard with carrier relationships, or so everybody said.
Two days later the broker called her back.
“Okay I’ve got some ideas but we’ve got some work to do,” the broker said.
The nut was this: The CTE program that Heald was envisioning was going to require the participation of two, maybe three carriers. The way the broker presented the story, he’d been burning the midnight oil to connect with underwriters in the U.S. and Bermuda.
“So let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Heald said.
“We’ve got one U.S. carrier on the primary layer at $15 million.”
“Correct,” the broker said.
“And two carriers in the second layer at $5 million a pop. Both based in Bermuda,” Heald said.
“Again, correct,” the broker said.
They both agreed the premium prices were historically very good. The location of the semi-conductor maker was not a high flood risk. And the soft property market was another blessing.
Heald and her broker bound the coverage before Thanksgiving for the year 2016.
In April of 2016, Typhoon Lumba-Lumba, Malaysian for dolphin, strikes Malaysia as a CAT 4.
The morning after the typhoon strikes, Heald is online and on the phone trying to determine if the city where the Auto-Spire semi-conductor supplier is located was heavily damaged in the storm.
The good news is that it did not appear to be. The bad news comes within days when deliveries of semi-conductors from Malaysia to Auto-Spire’s U.S. factories slow to a crawl.
“Do we know what’s going on?” Heald said to an Auto-Spire executive in procurement at the end of the week.
“The communication there is horrible Jill,” the procurement executive said. “I wish I could tell you more, but right now I have next to nothing.”
“How could you have next to nothing?” Heald said to no one after she hung up with procurement. “It’s your job.”
Using her broker’s more robust international contacts, Heald pushes hard and gets some information. It’s just that the information she gets is not comforting.
The information is sketchy but it appears that several suppliers to the semi-conductor maker were knocked out by the typhoon.
Facing millions in lost sales, Heald and her broker file a claim on their CTE coverage for $20 million.
Heald is immediately descended upon by underwriters for the three carriers. The underwriters are demanding answers to a number of questions.
“We see there is no claims handling agreement associated with this program. Who’s the adjuster of record?” an underwriter for the U.S.-based carrier on the primary layer asked Heald.
“Adjuster of record? I’ve never heard of the phrase,” Jill Heald said.
With no claims handling agreement in place between Auto-Spire and the carriers on the CTE program, Heald spends weeks responding to the various carriers’ document requests.
Three weeks after the storm struck, Heald’s broker calls her with his version of good news.
“Hey, I talked to Ajax Ltd., they’re going to cut you a check for $1 million as an advance while these CTE claims get sorted out,” the broker said.
With semi-conductor shipments from Malaysia at a trickle, Heald takes little solace in this.
“Really? I guess I’ll take it,” Heald says. But the truth is that she’s worn down to a nub in all the back and forth between the carriers.
The lack of a claims handling agreement has translated into weeks of delays in getting claims information filed and adjusted. Each carrier has a different process for adjusting the claim.
All three carriers use the services of outside forensic accountants. Unfortunately, each carrier uses a different accounting firm.
There are also different terms and conditions between the different policies. Whether there could be coverage gaps created by those differing terms and conditions is an ongoing source of stress for Heald.
“There’s got to be a better way to do this,” she told her broker on the phone one day. “We should have had transparency into this ahead of time.”
“Look Jill, I’ve been doing this a long time,” the broker said.
“I don’t care how long you’ve been doing it. You and I could have done it better,” Heald shot back.
And one million is looking like a drop in the bucket next to lost sales to the automakers that are starting to reach into the tens of millions.
It’s now six weeks after the storm hit and the Malaysian supplier is still not fully back up to speed.
A Hellish Grind
The typhoon that struck Malaysia and clipped Auto-Spire’s supply chain resulted in $45 million in lost sales.
Heald heaps the blame on herself, even though this is an organizational failure. Heald was led to believe that $25 million of CTE was sufficient but Auto-Spire’s dependence on third party suppliers was increased due to the recent shift in its procurement process.
It wasn’t that the carriers on the program didn’t pay the claim, they eventually did. But the delays caused by the lack of a claims handling agreement created serious tension between Heald and the Auto-Spire C-suites. Not to mention cash flow problems on top of the lost sales due to the crimp in Auto-Spire’s supply chain.
“A promise to pay is a promise to pay…. in a timely manner,” her CFO thundered at her when she broke the news to him that due to delays in adjusting the Malaysia claims the carriers still hadn’t cut Auto-Spire checks.
“They are going to pay Jim, it’s just that the claims process got extended more than we would like,” Heald told him.
“It’s not the carriers’ fault,” she added.
“How do you mean?” he said.
“It’s my fault actually,” Heald said.
“I should have had a pre-loss claims handling agreement in place. That would have streamlined the process much more and given all parties a clearer picture of the claims handling process.
“But you didn’t do that,” the CFO said.
“No, I didn’t,” Heald said.
“What about your broker, shouldn’t he have put something like this in place?”
“I don’t want to blame him either. The fact is that we didn’t do it,” Heald said.
“So how much time do you think that cost us, in terms of getting paid,” the CFO said.
“Hard to say,” Heald said. “Six weeks minimum,” she added.
“Do you know what it costs to borrow $20 million for six weeks?” the CFO said.
“Not off of the top of my head,” Heald said.
“A lot,” the CFO said. “A lot.”
It is also clear to Heald that she needs to develop a better channel of communication with the procurement group so that she can be in a better position to procure adequate insurance for the needs created by Auto-Spire’s supply chain.
She thought she was doing the right thing in putting together a substantial CTE program. Now it all feels like a cruel joke.
Risk & Insurance® partnered with FM Global to produce this scenario. Below are FM Global’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.
What to Do Before a Loss
In most cases, you’ll receive no warning before disaster strikes. If you experience a sizable loss, the loss itself may be your smallest issue. You might also be worried about injuries, deaths, lost market share, revenue stream, notifying shareholders or something else.
When a loss happens, it is similar to the start of a professional sports game. It is a culmination of all the practice leading up to the game, only the practice is the pre-loss planning. That’s why pre-loss planning is so important. Before a loss occurs, work with your broker and/or insurer(s) to develop a plan for loss management that is carefully tailored to meet your unique needs.
The following is a list of the key information your loss management plan should cover:
- procedures and guidelines for handling loss, including a clear delineation of who will report the loss to your insurance partner(s).
- a detailed list of names and contact information of members of your emergency response team
- key contacts at your subsidiaries and remote offices
- contingency arrangements with emergency services and critical suppliers
- tailored loss-handling and claims cooperation agreements with other program participants
- global coordination requirements
- assignment of emergency duties for local plant personnel, your corporate insurance department, your broker and others
- a designated liaison to work with the adjuster
Without pre-loss planning, there can be fear of the unknown. However, with pre-loss planning it can be reassuring to know that you just have to pick up the phone and make only one call when a loss occurs, know who is coming to your site and know how your insurer will respond.
Many emotions come with an actual loss. Pre-loss planning can provide you that much needed level of confidence when you need it most in your job.
Managing Construction’s True Risk Exposure
When it comes to the construction industry, the path to success is never easy.
After a long, deep recession of historic proportions, the sector is finally on the mend. But as opportunities to win new projects grow, experience shows that more contractors go out of business during a recovery than during a recession.
Skilled labor shortages, legal rulings in various states that push construction defects onto general liability policies, and New York state’s labor laws that assign full liability to project owners and contractors for falls from elevations that injure workers are just some of the established issues that are making it ever harder for firms to succeed.
And now, there are new emerging risks, such as the potential for more expensive capital, should the Federal Reserve increase its rates. This would tighten already stressed margins, perhaps making it harder for contractors and project owners to invest in safety and quality assurance, and raising the cost of treating injured workers.
Liberty Mutual’s Doug Cauti reviews the top three risks facing contractors and project owners.
“Our customers are very clear about the challenges they are facing in the market,” said Doug Cauti, the Boston-based chief underwriting officer for Liberty Mutual’s construction practice.
“Now more than ever, construction risk buyers – and the brokers who serve them – are leveraging our team’s deep expertise to find solutions for complicated risks. This goes way beyond what many consider the traditional role of an insurance carrier.”
Other leading risks facing contractors and project owners.
Given the current risk environment, firms that simply seek out the cheapest coverage could leave themselves exposed to these emerging risks. And that could result in them becoming just another failed statistic.
So what is the best way to approach your risk management program?
Understanding the Emerging Picture
Construction firms have been dealing with multiple challenges over the last several years. Now, several new emerging risks could further complicate the business.
After an extended period of historically low interest rates, the Federal Reserve is indicating that rates could rise in late 2015 or sometime in 2016. That would surely impact construction firms’ cost of capital.
“At the end of the day, an increased cost of capital is going to impact many construction firm’s margins, which are already thin,” Cauti said.
“The trickle-down effect is that less money may be available for other operational activities, including safety and quality programs. Firms may need to underbid and/or place low bids just to get jobs and keep the cash flow going,” Cauti said.
“Now more than ever, construction risk buyers – and the brokers who serve them – are leveraging our team’s deep expertise to find solutions for complicated risks.”
— Doug Cauti, Chief Underwriting Officer, Liberty Mutual National Insurance Specialty Construction
“Experience shows us that shortcuts in safety and quality often lead to more construction defect claims, general liability claims and workers’ compensation claims,” Cauti said.
Currently, the frequency of worker injuries is down on a national basis but the severity of injuries is on the rise. If those frequencies start creeping up due to less robust safety programs, the costs could grow fast.
And if this possible trend is not cause enough for concern, the growing costs associated with medical care should have the attention of all risk managers.
“Five years ago medical costs represented 56 percent of a claim,” said Jack Probolus, a Boston-based manager of construction risk financing programs for Liberty Mutual.
“By 2020, that medical cost will likely grow to 76 percent of an injured worker’s claim, according to industry experts,” Probolus said.
Rising interest rates and rising medical costs could form a perfect storm.
Focusing on the Total Cost of Risk
For risk managers, the approach they utilize to mitigate the myriad of existing and emerging risks is more important than ever. The ideal insurance partner will be one that can integrate claims management, quality assurance and loss control solutions to better manage the total cost of construction risk, and do it for the long term.
Liberty Mutual’s Doug Cauti reviews the partnership between buyers, brokers and insureds that helps better manage the total cost of insurance.
In the case of rising medical costs, that means using claims management tools and workflows that help eliminate the runaway expense of things such as duplicate billings, inappropriate prescriptions for powerful painkillers, and over-utilization of costly medical procedures.
“We’re committed to making sure that the client isn’t burdened in unnecessary costs, while working to ensure that injured employees return to productive lives in the best possible health,” Probolus said.
The right partner will also have the construction industry expertise and the willingness to work with a project owner or contractor from the very beginning of a project. That enables them to analyze risk on the front end and devise the best risk management program for the project or contractor, thereby protecting the policyholder’s vulnerable margins.
“We want to be there from the very beginning,” Liberty Mutual’s Cauti said.
“This isn’t merely a transaction with us,” he added. “It’s a partnership that extends for years, from binding coverage, through the life of the project and deeper as claims come in and are resolved over time,” he said.
In other words, it’s a relationship focused on value.
Today’s construction insurance market – with an abundance of capacity – can lead to new carriers entering the market and/or insurers seeking to gain market share by underpricing policies.
“We see it all the time,” Liberty Mutual’s Cauti said.
Where does this leave insureds? Frustrated at pricing instability, or by the need to find a new carrier. And wiser, having learned the wisdom of focusing on value, that is the ability to better control the total cost of risk.
“Premium is always important,” notes Liberty Mutual’s Cauti. “But smart buyers also understand the importance of value, the ability of an insurer to partner with a buyer and their broker to develop a custom blend of coverages and services that better protect a project’s or contractor’s bottom line and reputation. This is the approach our dedicated construction practice takes.
Why Liberty Mutual?
For more information on how Liberty Mutual Insurance can help assess your construction risk exposure, contact your broker or Doug Cauti at [email protected].
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.