Risk Scenario

Caught Out

A typhoon exposes the inadequacies of a U.S. pharmacy company's local insurance policies and hinders its move to Asia.
By: | October 1, 2014 • 9 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

Good Morning Shah Alam

From his perspective in the third row, John Treme could make out the colorful costumes and motions of the dancers below him.

RiskScenario_CaughtOut

Treme, the risk manager for Vitalex, a pharmaceutical manufacturer based in Pennsylvania, was attending a performance of Joget Lambak, a traditional dance of Malaysia. The occasion was the grand opening of a Vitalex factory in Shah Alam, one of Malaysia’s manufacturing cities.

Normally, Treme wouldn’t be at an event like this. But he’d been conducting some business with a local insurance partner and happened to be in country on the event date: In other words, the timing was right for him to get a ticket.

Treme might’ve been feeling kind of lucky — but he didn’t.

To a focused, open observer, the movements of the assembled dancers and the music of their accompanying musicians were mesmerizing. John Treme, however, was a man easily distracted by his vivid imagination, combined with a razor-sharp memory that wouldn’t leave him alone.

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Scenario Partner

As Treme watched the dancers, a strong, steady breeze, laden with moisture, passed through the performance space.

“Breeze … storm … tropical storm … typhoon.” Treme’s overactive mind skipped through the severity escalations unbidden. It was just what his brain did.

His brain also harassed him with the memory of his instructions from treasury when he’d been sent to bind the property coverage for the factory in Shah Alam.

“Just get us some basic property coverage with a local partner, we’ll let the global master property program handle the overflow if there ever is any,” the company treasurer told Treme at the time.

That put Treme in a tough spot. It went against his nature to not do as he was bidden. Still, the idea of “basic” coverage in typhoon country gave him the willy-nillies.

“What if something happens?” he asked himself when he couldn’t sleep at night.

“What if we get hit?”

“What are we doing in Malaysia in the first place?” he asked himself in his weaker moments.

He very well knew what Vitalex was doing in Malaysia.

The company had the right specialty with its focus on products in oncological medicine.

Pharmaceutical products in that area were high-growth. But sales in the mature markets like the U.S. and Europe were flat. If Vitalex was going to succeed in the highly competitive world of global pharmacy sales, it needed to move aggressively into high-growth markets like Asia and Southeast Asia.

It also needed to keep costs down, hence the treasurers’ concerns about what he perceived as duplicative or redundant insurance coverages.

A colorful flourish by one of the dancers and a particularly loud sequence from the Malaysian drummers brought Treme back into the moment; somewhat. He reassured himself by counting the offshore layers of reinsurance that Vitalex had on its master global program.

“We’re going to be okay,” he said softly, but still out loud. One of his co-executives looked over at him with concern.

As it turned out, John Treme’s worries were justified. It was really just a matter of time.

Eighteen months after the Vitalex factory in Shah Alam began production, Typhoon Ahayan roared up the Straits of Johor, packing wind speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. The typhoon slammed directly into Shah Alam, causing substantial wind and water damage to Vitalex’s new factory.

“How bad is it?” John Treme asked the plant’s manager, when power was restored sufficiently for phone service, two days after the storm.

“You better get over here,” said Smitty Fields, the plant manager.

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A Mortal Blow

Due to a nice run of luck, Vitalex thought of themselves as the chosen ones due to their long string of uninterrupted business with no major property losses.

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In placing the coverage for the Shah Alam factory, John Treme engaged in some fairly tense discussions with Terra Firma Ltd., a U.S.-based carrier with an A + rating, which had been on Vitalex’s program for years, long before John Treme came to work for the company.

The Vitalex facility in Shah Alam cost $250 million to build. Against some rather stiff resistance from the underwriters with Terra Firma and Vitalex’s broker, Treme prevailed in placing a $5 million property policy to cover the facility.

The reasoning from the Vitalex C-suite was that the company’s layers of reinsurance on its master global program were robust enough to pick up any slack should the Shah Alam factory suffer a sizable loss. And there was that aforementioned shield of good fortune the company deluded themselves into thinking would last forever.

John Treme was two hours back in country and in his hotel, preparing to visit the typhoon-ravaged Shah Alam factory when he got a disturbing text message.

“Please get here ASAP, I have bureaucrats on my back.”

It was from Smitty Fields.

When Treme got to the factory, the damage the facility suffered was clearly visible. Siding was torn off three quarters of the manufacturing space and parts of the roof appeared to be missing. And that was just on a cursory glimpse. Happily, or perhaps unhappily, some of the office space appeared to be functional.




There were two matching black SUV’s parked conspicuously near the front entrance. When Treme got to Smitty Field’s office, the men who drove those SUV’s were waiting.

“The cavalry’s here,” Smitty said with something resembling a smile when John walked into the office.

John barely had time to shoot Smitty a questioning look before Mr. Yei spoke.

“You are Mr. Treme, correct?” Mr. Yei said.

“Yes, I am,” Treme said. “How can I help you gentlemen?”

Mr. Razak consulted a file briefly before speaking.

“We work for Bank Negara Malaysia, the insurance regulator in this country,” Mr. Razak said. “We have questions about your coverage of this factory.”

“Like what?” Treme said, again shooting Smitty a look, which Smitty ducked.

“Who is your local carrier?” Yei said.

“Ungku Assurance,” Treme said.

“And your carrier in the United States?” Mr. Yei said.

“Terra Firma Ltd.,” John Treme said.

“If I may, gentleman, may I ask what’s going on here? We’ve got a severely damaged factory here and I need to get to work on the assessment and claims process,” Treme said.

“Yes, we think that is highly advisable,” Mr Razak said.

“We only have one question of substance for you today,” Mr. Yei said. “Although I think we are going to have more later,” he said unsmilingly.

“And that is …” Treme began.

“And that is …” Mr. Razak continued for him, holding out a document.

“Why did you arrange for only $5 million in coverage for a $250 million operation, that is, if your valuations can be believed,” Mr. Razak said.

“Gentlemen, we are very well capitalized company with substantial reinsurance protection on our global program,” Treme said.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a problem drawing down from our reinsurers to get this plant back up, if that’s what your concern is,” Treme said.

“I hope that’s the case because it’s of great concern that you have a gap in the tens of millions in your local coverage in all probability,” Mr. Yei said.

Mr. Razak jerked his head in the direction of the factory.

“The good people and the government of Shah Alam trusted that your company came here with good intentions, to do business and create local jobs,” Mr. Razak said.

“Your company’s failure to place adequate local coverage brings that premise substantially into question,” he said.

Minutes later, Treme stood with Smitty Fields, watching the two black SUVs wheel out of the storm-damaged parking lot.

“What do you think all of this means?” Smitty said to Treme.

“I’m not sure, I’m not sure,” Treme said. “I don’t want to think it, but we might be a little bit screwed,” he said.

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Busted

Six months later, John Treme was on a conference call with his broker, Fred Tallex, and a vice president with Terra Firma, Suzette Pines.

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“Okay Fred, do you want to take us through this?” John said to start things off.

“Sure,” Fred said, sounding like he was already mentally finished with the topic.

“Bank Negara Malaysia informed us yesterday that we are free to draw down the $40 million from Vitalex’s reinsurers to complete the factory restoration,” Fred said. “That’s the good news.”

“You all saw the email this morning,” Fred continued.

“Yes,” said Suzette Pines, somewhat tersely.

John didn’t say anything, yet.

“No one got fined, but the local regulators have got our brokerage and Terra Firma in their cross-hairs now,” Fred said.

“Sure looks like it,” Suzette said.

There was a long, awkward pause, which John attempted to fill.

“Well, we’ve only got a month or two to firm up the coverage on the renovated plant,” Treme said. “Can we get going on that?”

“Who’s we?” Suzette Pines said.

“Well, you’re our carrier in Asia,” Treme said.

“John, not any more we’re not. We have lost our appetite for this risk. A regulator that’s going to be in our grill all day long now will do that.”

“So you’re not …” Treme began.

“Sorry John, sorry but no way,” Suzette said. “No way if I want to keep my job and I do want to keep my job, such as it is,” she said ruefully.

“Guys, I’ve got to go, I need to pick up another call,” Suzette said.

“ ‘Bye Suzette,” Fred said.

Treme was too nonplussed to say goodbye.

“Now what?” Treme said to Fred after Suzette hung up.

“I really don’t know,” Fred said. “This project has so much stink on it I don’t know who we’re going to find and that’s not even bringing up price.”

“Well, can you …” Treme began.

“Yep, I’ll get started today John. You know we got reprimanded too,” Fred said, barely veiling his impatience.

“I know Fred, I know,” John said.

The business restoration delays suffered by Vitalex in getting the reinsurance draw down amidst the ongoing distraction of the investigation by Malaysian insurance regulators had severe impacts on Vitalex’s ambitions in Asia.

Vitalex suffered 14 months of business interruption due to the storm damage and the time needed to jump through regulatory hoops while trying to get the plant rebuilt.

A Munich-based competitor, Mayer Corp., which has a nimble, efficient manufacturing facility in Vietnam, was successful in taking substantial portions of the Asian oncology drug market that Vitalex was counting on as a difference maker.

Other markets might pay out like Asia had the potential too, but it would be years before Vitalex would be in a position to take advantage of them.

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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. These “Lessons Learned” are not the editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.

Six Dimensions of a Successful Global Risk Management Program

1. Breadth and depth of a network: Risk managers want a consistent level of products and hands-on services delivered as well as the ability to offer broad, compliant, on-the-ground coverage. They need to settle claims locally and they want their carrier to offer consistent performance in terms of policy documentation and contract certainty.

2. State-of-the-art global master form combined with broad “standard” local underlyers: The ideal global program matches local coverage and master coverage as closely as possible. This maximizes coverage in the local territory and the local loss payment. Should a loss occur, it can be paid with certainty at the local level.

3. Balanced global and local service: Most risk managers value consistency when it comes to certain important aspects of their program, including capacity, coverage, claims and the level and quality of key services they choose. Yet keeping local constituencies and decision-makers engaged (and happy) can be an equally important element of a successful global program.

4. Consistent loss prevention engineering service, protocols and deliverables: As companies expand their footprints overseas, they often find the challenges they face in understanding hazards and managing risks grow disproportionately.

Companies often discover the prevailing standards of protection and construction differ significantly from what they may be used to at home. Local codes may be lax or non-existent, often in regions that may be more prone to natural hazards.

5. Claims control and settlement via in-house claims adjustment network: One way of ensuring prompt claims service anywhere in the world, is by insurers recruiting, training and retaining well-qualified claims professionals with on-the-spot authority, who are located around the globe.

6. Success in the global arena: A successful risk management plan depends on a concerted effort from numerous parties, including underwriters, engineers, brokers, contractors and countless others who are integral to its success. Taking that same simple plan “global” means that extended communication lines, cultural differences, language barriers and time zones must be added to the list of challenges.




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Reputational Risk

Under Siege

Driven by social media, political wars spill over into the corporate arena, threatening reputations.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 12 min read

On Jan. 28, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called a strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport, one day after President Trump signed an executive order banning entry of foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations, including a blanket ban on refugees. The strike was an act of solidarity with immigrants, and a public display of the Alliance’s opposition to the executive order.

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Uber, however, continued to service the airport, tweeting that it would halt surge pricing during the protests. Some saw it as an opportunistic ploy to get more riders to use Uber. A #deleteUber Twitter campaign was quickly born, with users tweeting screen shots of themselves removing the app from their smartphones.

More than 200,000 were estimated to have uninstalled the ride-sharing service over the course of the weekend.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick reacted, creating a $3 million legal defense fund to provide lawyers and immigration experts for any of its drivers that were barred from the U.S., and promising that drivers would be compensated for lost wages.

Over the same weekend, in response to the travel ban, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that the company would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years. Then it was Starbucks turn to get punished in the public arena. A #boycottStarbucks campaign was launched by people who felt the company should focus more on hiring American veterans.

Athletic shoemaker New Balance suffered blowback in November of 2016 when its vice president of communications, Matt LeBretton, told the “Wall Street Journal” in an interview that he believed “things are going to move in the right direction” under the new administration. Angry customers began posting pictures of themselves trashing or even burning their New Balance sneakers.

These social media-fueled public relations crises demonstrate how fickle public opinion can be. They also serve as warning signs of growing reputational risk for corporations.

Uber, for example, typically stops its surge pricing in the event of emergency so as not to exploit a crisis for its own benefit. To do so during the protests and taxi strike at JFK was perhaps meant to show its respect for the event.

Helen Chue, global risk manager, Facebook

Starbucks’ 10,000 refugee hires would be spread out across its locations around the globe, not just in the U.S., where the coffee conglomerate already promised to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025.

New Balance’s LeBretton was speaking specifically about the Trans-Pacific Partnership during his interview, and how the deal could hurt sneaker production in the U.S. while favoring foreign producers — he wasn’t talking about Trump’s other proposed plans.

These companies, in reality, did nothing as abhorrent and scandalous as the Twitterverse may have led some to believe, but context isn’t always provided in 140 characters.

Public Pressure

Complaints and boycotts have been launched at companies via social media for perhaps as long as social media has existed. But the current contentious environment created by one of the most divisive leaders in American history now colors every public statement made by prominent business leaders with a political tint. Executives are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They’re exposed to reputational damage whether they oppose or endorse a Trump action, or even if they do nothing at all.

Take Elon Musk, for example, founder of Tesla and SpaceX and a well-known advocate for climate research and environmental protection. He came under fire for not publicly denouncing the travel ban and for keeping his seat on Trump’s business advisory council.

Musk has largely avoided the limelight on political issues, couching statements when he makes them at all — as most executives are wont to do. But he was prodded to defend himself on Twitter after some users suggested he was a hypocrite.

“Be proactive in your plans to mitigate the aftermath and how to communicate. Own up to error. Be transparent. Salvage your crown jewel.” —Helen Chue, global risk manager, Facebook

A strategy of avoidance may no longer work as consumers, employees and the public at large pressure companies to make a statement or take action in response to political events.

“A large segment of the population expects the people they do business with and the companies they buy from to support their point of view or respond to political or social issues in a certain way,” said Chrystina M. Howard, senior vice president, strategic risk consulting, Willis Towers Watson.

In a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t environment, reputation risk is expanding, and risk managers need to re-evaluate how they assess their exposure and build mitigation strategies.

A True Crisis?

The challenge begins with determining whether a negative public relations event is really a crisis. Is it a temporary blow to a brand, or does it have the potential to do long-term reputation damage? Misreading the signs could lead companies to overreact and further tarnish their image.

“These sudden public relations crises are a source of panic for companies, but sometimes it sounds much worse than it actually is. The financial ramifications may not be anywhere near what was feared,” Howard said.

“Uber is probably a good example of what not to do,” said Jeff Cartwright, director of communications at Morning Consult, a brand and political intelligence firm.

“They maybe went over the top in trying to reverse the way they handled the protests at JFK.”

Tracking brand value in real time can give risk managers insight into the true impact of a negative social media campaign or bad press.  Michael Ramlet, CEO and co-founder of Morning Consult, said most events don’t damage brands as much as trending hashtags make it appear.

Morning Consult’s proprietary brand tracking tool allows companies to measure their brand perception against influencing events like a spike of Twitter mentions and news stories. More often than not, overall brand loyalty remains on par with industry averages.

In Uber’s case, Twitter mentions spiked to roughly 8,800 on Jan. 29, up from about 1,000 the day before. By Jan. 31, though, the number was back down to around 1,250 and quickly settled back down to its average numbers. From the beginning of the #deleteUber campaign through the end of February, Uber’s favorability shrunk from 50 percent to roughly 40 percent, based on a series of polls taken by 18,908 respondents.

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It’s a significant dip, but likely not a permanent stain on the company’s reputation, especially after Kalanick’s public show of support for immigrants and rejection of the travel ban. Uber’s favorability rating remained higher than competitor Lyft’s throughout the ordeal.

“The #deleteUber campaign turned out to be a very local thing that didn’t have a widespread impact,” Ramlet said.

“Twitter at best is an imputed analysis of what people are saying. The vocal minority might be very active, but there might be a silent majority who still think fondly of a brand, or at least have no negative opinions of it.”

He said risk managers can also benefit by breaking down their brand perception into geographic and demographic subsets. It can, for example, show whether a brand is favored more heavily by Democrats or Republicans.

“If you have that data on day one, it can help you determine how to respond if, say, Trump tweets at you,” Ramlet said.

Of course, some spikes in news media and social media attention are indicative of much deeper problems and true reputational risk.

After the Wells Fargo dummy-account scandal broke, for example, unfavorability ratings as measured by Morning Consult jumped from roughly 20 percent to nearly 55 percent, while favorability dropped from 50 percent to 30 percent. Net favorability, which stood at 33 percent pre-scandal, fell to -4 percent post-scandal.

“They went from being the most popular bank to the least popular in less than four months, according to our data,” Ramlet said.

The contrast between Uber’s and Wells Fargo’s stories demonstrates the difference between a more surface-level public-relations event that temporarily hurts brand image, and a true reputation event.

“Failures that produce real and lasting damage to reputation include failures of ethics, innovation, safety, security, quality and sustainability,” said Nir Kossovksy, CEO of Steel City Re.

“Activists make a lot of noise that can be channeled through various media, but for the most part in the business world, stakeholders are interested in the goods and services a company offers, not in their political or social views. As long as you can meet stakeholder expectations, you avoid long-term reputational damage.”

Wells Fargo’s scandal involved a violation of ethics, sparked an SEC investigation and forced the resignation of its CEO, John Stumpf. It’s safe to say stakeholders were severely disappointed.

That’s not to say, however, that a tarnished brand name doesn’t also impact the bottom line.

“Even if a bad event is short-lived, the equity markets react quickly, so there may be sharp equity dips. There may be some economic impact even over the short term,” Kossovsky said, “because sharp dips are dog whistles for activists, litigators and corporate raiders.”

Social Media Machine

The root of reputation risk’s tightening grip lies in the politicizing of business, and consumers’ increased desire to buy from companies that share their values. Social media may not be driving that trend, but it acts as a vehicle for it.

“Social media has really changed the game in terms of brand equity, and has given people another way to choose who they give their money to,” Howard of Willis Towers Watson said.

Platforms like Twitter make it easier for consumers to directly reach out to big companies and allow news to travel at warp speed.

“Social media are communication channels that can take a story and make it widely available. In that regard, the media risk is no different than that posed by a newspaper or radio channel,” Kossovsky said.

“The difference today that changes the strategy for risk managers and boards is that social media has been weaponized: Stories shared on social media don’t necessarily have to contain truthful content, and there’s not always an obvious difference between what’s true and what’s not.”

Helen Chue, Facebook’s global risk manager, agreed.

“More influential than social media platforms is today’s culture of immediacy and headlines. Because we are inundated with information from so many sources, we scan the headlines, form our opinions and go from there,” she said.

“It’s dangerous to draw conclusions without taking a balanced approach, but who has the time and patience to sift through all the different viewpoints?”

An environment of political divisiveness, driven by speed and immediacy of social media, creates the risk that false or half-true stories are disseminated before companies have a chance to clarify. This is what happened to Uber and New Balance.

“It creates the opportunity to turn a non-problem into a problem,” Kossovksy said.

“That’s how social media changes the calculus of risk management.”

Risk Mitigation

The best way to battle both political pressure and social media’s speed is through an ironclad communication strategy; a process that risk managers can lead.

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“Risk managers play a crucial role in mitigating reputation risk,” Howard said.

“They bring with them the discipline of managing and monitoring a risk, having a plan and responding to crisis. Now they really have to partner with communications, marketing and PR.”

They also have to get the attention of their board of directors.

“If you let a gap form between what you say and what you do, that gap is the definition of reputation risk.” — Nir Kossovksy, CEO of Steel City Re

“This is both a company-wide risk and personal leadership risk, so the board needs to drive a company-wide policy that protects the board as well,” Kossovsky said.

The art of mitigating reputation risk, he said, comes down to managing expectations. Corporate communications should clearly convey what a company believes and what it does not believe; what it can do and what it can’t do. And those stated values need to align with the operational reality. It comes down to creating credibility and legitimacy.

“If you let a gap form between what you say and what you do, that gap is the definition of reputation risk,” he said. A strong communication strategy can prevent adverse events from turning into reputational threats.

Willis Towers Watson helps clients test their strategies through a table-top exercise in which they have to respond to a social media-driven reputation event.

“We’ll say, ‘Something happened with X product, and now everyone’s on Twitter lambasting you and calling for resignations, etc.’ What do you do on day one? What do you do a week out? How long do you continue to monitor it and keep it on your radar?” Howard said.

“If you have that plan in place, you can fine-tune it going forward as circumstances change.”

Sometimes, though, the communication strategy fails, and a company falls short of meeting stakeholders’ expectations. Now it’s time for crisis management.

“Volatility creates vulnerability. If you stumble on your corporate message, it creates an opportunity for activists, litigators and corporate raiders to exploit. So you need to have authoritative third parties who can attest to your credibility and affirm the truth of the situation to open-minded stakeholders,” Kossovsky said.

Owning up to any mistakes, reaffirming the truth and being as transparent as possible will be key in any response plan.

Insuring the Risk

Recouping dollars lost from reputation damage requires a blend of mathematics with a little magic. While some traditional products are available, reputation risk is, for the most part, an intangible and uninsurable risk.

“Many companies have leveraged their captive insurance companies in the absence of traditional reputation products in the marketplace,” said Derrick Easton, managing director, alternative risk transfer solutions practice, Willis Towers Watson.

“It goes back to measuring a loss that can include lost revenue, or increased costs. Some companies build indexes in the same way we might create an index for a weather product, using rainfall or wind speed. For reputation, we might use stock price or a more refined index,” he said.

“If we can measure a potential loss, we can build a financing structure.”

While there’s no clear-cut way to measure losses from reputation damage, “stock performance and reported sales changes are some of the best tools we have,” Howard said.

Some insurers, including Allianz and Tokiomarine Kiln, and Steel City Re, an MGA, do offer reputation policies. When these fit a company’s needs, they have the ancillary benefit of affirming quality of governance and sending a signal that the insured is prepared to defend itself.

“Because reputation assurance is only available to companies that have demonstrated sound governance processes, it helps to convince people that if a bad piece of news happens, it’s idiosyncratic; it doesn’t reflect what the company really stands for,” Kossovsky of Steel City Re said.

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“And it tells activists, broadly defined, not to look for low-hanging fruit here.”

In a volatile political environment, companies fare best when they simply tell the truth.

“The American public will accept an apology if delivered quickly and if it’s sincere,” said Stephen Greyser, Richard P. Chapman professor (marketing/communications) emeritus, of the Harvard Business School.

“Tell the truth. Don’t stonewall. A bad social media campaign can be an embarrassment, but if you stick to the facts and apologize when you need to, people forget about the bad quickly.”

“Reputation is the crown jewel,” Chue said. “Given the power of social media’s reach, one individual can have a tsunami-like influence. And it can happen when you least expect it, and it will probably be something you thought was innocuous or even positive that sets off a maelstrom.

“Plan for the worst-case scenario. Be proactive in your plans to mitigate the aftermath and how to communicate. Own up to error. Be transparent. Salvage your crown jewel.” &

Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]