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Beware of these 3 Unexpected Insurance Consequences of Overseas Operations

Despite the rapid growth of engaging in overseas business, many U.S. corporations remain uninformed of and critically underinsured for their international risks.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 5 min read

Mid-sized companies in the U.S. are going global.

According to a survey conducted by The Hartford in Q2 2017, 80 percent of mid-to-large size companies in the U.S. are engaging in overseas business, ranging from executive travel all the way to manufacturing. Globalization and technology create opportunities to tap into new markets, and companies that don’t take advantage of those opportunities risk losing out to competitors that do.

“Eighty percent of mid-size companies have some type of international exposure, and we expect that these companies will only continue to increase their international activities going forward,” said Alfred Bergbauer, Vice President and Head of Multinational Underwriting, The Hartford.

Despite this growing trend, many U.S. corporations remain uninformed of — and underinsured for — their risks outside the U.S.

Most mid-sized companies address their international exposure via a global master policy, which is issued in the U.S. and provides blanket terms and conditions to all of an insured’s operations, including those outside the U.S. Buyers may believe it fully covers any exposures faced abroad, but a U.S. global master policy may not operate as traditional local insurance would. For example, it may not be recognized by a local regulator and may be inconsistent with local law. Thus, the performance of the insurance may not be in line with the insured’s expectations of how the policy should perform in the event of a loss or where a certificate of insurance is required.

As a result, the U.S. issuing carrier may not be able to respond to a loss arising at an insured’s facility outside the U.S. as the insured might expect, and payments or reimbursements made to the insured resulting from that policy could carry significant tax penalties or fees.

“A U.S. contract cannot bend the rules and regulations of a sovereign nation,” Bergbauer said. “A U.S. master policy may be inconsistent with local insurance terms and conditions, norms and practice and thus cannot always address local country risk needs as a local policy issued in that country would. For risks located outside the U.S., such as risks arising from operations in other countries, master policies should be paired with coordinated, locally issued insurance policies.”

Brokers and buyers unaware of the specialized insurance structures required to legally transact business abroad could face the following three unintended consequences:

1. If the insured suffers a loss, they might not be indemnified.

Alfred Bergbauer, head of Multinational Insurance

Domestically, U.S. companies have very clear expectations for their insurers. If the insured suffers a compensable loss, they want their carrier to pay the claim ―whether it’s first- or third-party― and hire counsel to represent them if necessary. In other words, they expect full indemnity.

But this basic expectation for indemnification is not automatic in foreign countries. If an insured does not have a local policy and suffers a loss, an expedient claims payment may not always occur.

That is, “Without a local policy, the U.S. policy may not behave as the customer would expect it to,” Bergbauer said. “For example, in some countries, it may be more difficult to hire counsel, to utilize a claim adjuster to pay a local third party, and crucially, pay the insured’s local operation which suffered the loss.”

2. Claims payments could be subject to U.S. taxes.

If an insured has only a U.S. master policy, the insured’s foreign operation would be responsible for covering the loss in the foreign country and the U.S. insured would then seek reimbursement from its insurer in the U.S.

However, a claim payment made in the U.S. to cover a loss suffered by foreign entity is considered a taxable event in the eyes of the IRS.

“The IRS takes the view that the insured has no loss to offset against this payment, resulting in the payment being taxable at the U.S. corporate income tax rate —currently 21 percent,” Bergbauer said.

“It can be a very uncomfortable situation if the broker or insured were unaware of that dynamic.”

Getting hit with such a significant and unexpected tax leaves the insured short of the funds needed to recover from a loss, and threatens the trust placed in their broker to educate them about this exposure.

3. Failure to obtain insurance from a local carrier exposes the insured to many risks.

If an insured’s local operations are required to obtain property or liability cover from a local insurer either by local law or because the local operations need to provide certificates of coverage from local insurers, insurance provided by a U.S. insurer may not address these requirements.

“If the local regulator finds evidence that a local operation does not have insurance provided by a local carrier where it is required to do so, it can issue penalties against both the broker and the policyholder,” Bergbauer said. “China, for example, has issued penalties for unlicensed insurance equal to five times the amount of the illegal claim payment.”

Beyond a sizable bill, such companies also stand to take a hit to their reputations.

“You want to be viewed as an upstanding corporate citizen in the markets where you operate.” Bergbauer said.

“If a local newspaper calls you out for breaking the law, it can be tough to recover from.”

An Intensifying Exposure

All of the above risks stem from relying on a Global Master Insurance policy which does not leverage locally admitted policies. The risks associated with covering risks arising from foreign operations without local policies have always existed, but they have flown under brokers’ radar because enforcement of local insurance laws was relatively lax.

That is no longer the case.

Today, ministries of finance and regulatory authorities have started collaborating across borders to share information about foreign investment trends and audits conducted on foreign firms, even entering multilateral agreements to identify violators of insurance law.

“They look for the most egregious offenders and make examples of them,” Bergbauer said.

In light of the enforcement crackdown, multinational companies can ill afford to be uninformed of their international insurance risks or the solutions available to address them. Sophisticated brokers in the U.S. may be experts on domestic regulatory requirements, but too often they lack knowledge of varying rules and regulations outside our borders, and of the solutions available to fulfill them.

“Most companies with international exposures are never approached by their broker to discuss those risks and delve into the best way to insure them,” Bergbauer said.

“Brokers do not spend enough time discussing the extent of their customers’ international activities, or how their policies will respond to them. So we’re going out to our broker network and teaching them how to have this conversation.”

Keys to Compliance: Education and the Controlled Master Program

Through seminars, informational bulletins and one-on-one conversations, The Hartford is reaching out to agents and brokers to make education and awareness of regulatory risk a priority. And it offers a solution to fill in the gaps where a global master policy may fall short of local standards: a Controlled Master Program, or CMP.

The Controlled Master Program differs from a Global Master Policy in a few important ways. Primarily, it allows for the placement of locally-issued admitted policies along with a U.S. master policy, while keeping the administration, claims and risk control services consolidated with one single carrier.

This means clients have a single point of contact, no matter where they have insurable assets or where they incur a loss. A comprehensive global program administered by a single carrier presents the most streamlined and efficient way to address risk exposures arising out of international activity.

The Hartford leverages its global network infrastructure — spanning 150 countries around the globe — to identify where admitted insurance is required and then places good local standard policies in compliance with local regulations. By taking a holistic underwriting approach to the entirety of a company’s exposures, the negative consequences outline above can be avoided. The CMP offers the benefits of cost efficiency, claims consistency, an increased level of control for the buyer, and better regulatory compliance.

“The Hartford’s Controlled Master Program provides the coverage that you expect in the U.S., wherever you have exposure. Alignment among underwriting, risk control services and claims guarantee consistent loss response and level of service across the board,” Bergbauer said.

Perhaps most importantly, The Hartford’s proactive outreach ensures brokers are equipped to discuss and address their clients’ international exposures, helping ensure they don’t have to learn the consequences of providing coverage without local policies the hard way.

To learn more about The Hartford’s Controlled Master Program, visit  https://www.thehartford.com/global-business-insurance.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with The Hartford. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




The Hartford is a leader in property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds. With more than 200 years of expertise, The Hartford is widely recognized for its service excellence, sustainability practices, trust and integrity.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

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In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

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Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

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How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

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One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]