By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
Imagine the mad, sweaty scramble of the planning staff of the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc. (RIMS) assigned to organize the annual convention.
In the fall, as RIMS planning managers lined up their session agenda with the old standbys property/casualty risks, business continuity insurance, catastrophic risk, and employment practices risk, RIMS organizers were confident that they pretty much had their sessions locked down.
And they did ... until they and the rest of the industry felt the bite from unexpected sources.
Then came the stories about bedbugs bugging top-tier retailers like Victoria's Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch, the images of the floods in Australia, and the tears of grief and joy stemming from the unrest and revolutions in the Middle East.
The developments, which make for good headlines and compelling hot-topic fodder, sent RIMS organizers late this fall scrambling to find speakers on the subjects and to develop new sessions around the late-breaking topics.
RIMS' organization staff rose to the challenge, and the results of their work will be on display shortly as RIMS annual conference gets under way May 1 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West.
Vancouver, located on the shores of the Puget Sound, is expected to draw heavily on risk managers working in and around the Pacific Rim. For attendees most afflicted with the risk management bug, they are going to want to sit in on the session titled "If You Must Let the Bedbugs Bite, Make Sure You're Covered," May 4, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
An outbreak in New York this summer caused retailer Abercrombie & Fitch to shut down stores for several days, and Victoria's Secret also had to fumigate one of its Manhattan stores after bed bugs were found on some merchandise in July.
"Everyone thought they had been eradicated in the 1940s, but they are back," said Marc Kunney, managing principal with Integro Insurance Brokers, in an interview with Risk & Insurance® last year. "It certainly is a hot topic."
"They are hard to identify. You can't see them that readily ... You have to think, 'Am I going to use pesticide?' "he said.
Add to the environmental, health and safety issues the business interruption headaches posed to retailers, hotels and restaurants, and it's easy to see how issues related to bed bugs deserve the "hot topic" attention by RIMS.
Philip D. Flanary, vice president of risk management with the Ashford Hospitality Trust Inc., and Marshall Gilinski, a partner with law firm of Anderson Kill & Olick, will lead the session in which they plan to examine the policies triggered by bed bug outbreaks and how to maximize property damage, business interruption and third-party liability claims.
At least RIMS organizers had time to line up experts on defending the universe against the critters. In the case of two other hot topics, there wasn't quite so much latitude.
In December, January and again in early February, the province of Queensland, Australia, was hit by successive floods causing the government to declare a state of emergency covering three quarters of the province.
RIMS organizers, who expect scores of attendees from Australia at this year's gathering, jumped on the natural catastrophe as a news peg to offer risk managers new insight into mitigating flood losses.
On May 3, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Brian G. Roylett, president of the Risk Management Institution of Australasia Ltd., will review contingency planning and disaster recovery strategies taken by federal, state and local authorities in response to the disaster.
He is expected to brief risk and insurance managers on the economic impact of the flooding, which has cost as much as $10 billion in damages, according to one estimate, and to give attendees a glimpse of the effects the floods are expected on natural hazard pricing models.
As Queensland residents faced a relentless, soaking assault from the heavens, some risk managers working for corporations with factories and offices in the Middle East unexpectedly found themselves in the midst of political turmoil.
In Tunisia and Egypt, largely peaceful demonstrations led to the ouster of long-time leaders. Other regional leaders were forced to reshuffle their governments in response to popular demonstrations.
And who happened to be working overtime and weekends in reaction to the fast-breaking events in Egypt? None other than Michael Liebowitz, director of insurance and risk management at New York University, and a past president of RIMS.
Liebowitz helped evacuate 60 students and staff from an archeological dig in two groups.
"You can never second guess what's going to go on around the globe," he was quoted in a news report as saying. "We live in times of significant natural disaster and political volatility, and we have to be aware of everything that's being thrown at us as employers who have people that travel."
So what more timely topic for RIMS organization to host than "War Zone Insurance and Risk Management," May 4, between 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., headed by Grant Goldsmith, president of Overwatch Inc.
Goldsmith will discuss the risks to consider when companies conduct operations or send employees to hostile territories in remote areas or emerging markets.
Events this winter in the Middle East have caused insurance carriers and their reinsurers to re-examine their political risk policies, said Smita Malik, director of commercial insurance at Clements International.
The watershed political demonstrations in Egypt have altered the risk landscape and the exposures of doing business there, and underwriters are in the midst of rethinking their risk models, particularly as other Middle Eastern governments in Jordan, Libya, Algeria and Yemen contemplate changes in response to uprisings from working class citizens and the professional classes alike.
"These incidents in Egypt should cause every company with operations in emerging markets to re-evaluate the adequacy of their risk management strategies," Evan Freely, global head of Marsh's political and trade credit practice, said.
Standard political risk policies often exclude coverage for hostilities, and even most commercial insurance exclude acts of war. Political risk policies, however, can easily be broadened to cover losses stemming from political violence or losses from business interruption in the case when corporate managers are forced to abandon their corporate posts and flee the country.
Expropriation coverage to reimburse risk managers if foreign governments take control of factories and company-owned distribution centers is also available.
Still, the political risk insurance marketplace can supply up to roughly $1.2 billion in property and business interruption damage for any one asset like a hotel or resort complex, according to political risk coverage experts.
Buyers looking for higher limits need to shop in the excess markets, and an excess policy combined with a local or regional insurance policy provides solutions as well.
Contract management and liability management is also a factor for corporate risk and operations managers as their employers bid on lucrative contracts in unstable regions, and Goldsmith is expected to brief risk managers on those details as well.
Goldsmith will also touch on how local customs and multiculturalism factor in managing coverage, such as workers' compensation, personal accident coverage, group life insurance, group health insurance, kidnap and ransom coverage, and defense base act coverage.
The timely lineup at RIMS is going to be buttressed by a trio of keynote speakers. They include Olympic gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno author Stephen Dubner and Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games organizing committee member Ron Holton.
Ohno will share his story of triumphing in the face of adversity during the general session May 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Dubner, author of "Freakonomics," and the recently released "Superfreakonomics," is scheduled to speak on May 4 from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Holton will speak May 5, at 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
April 1, 2011
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