Robotics Risk

Collaborative Robots Swarm the Workforce

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are rapidly expanding in the workforce due to their versatility and ability to work alongside humans.
By: | January 19, 2017 • 7 min read

When the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto hired mobile collaborative robots to bolster security patrols, the goal was to improve costs and safety.

Once the autonomous robotic guards took up their beats — bedecked with alarms, motion sensors, live video streaming and forensics capabilities — no one imagined what would happen next.

For some reason, sensors didn’t pick up the movement of a toddler skirting around the sidewalk attempting to play with one of these 5-foot-tall, egg-shaped figures.

The 300-pound robot was programmed to stop for shoppers, but it knocked down the child and then ran over his feet while his parents helplessly watched.

The use of cobots — collaborative robots that perform tasks alongside humans — is rapidly gaining popularity and they are the fastest growing segment of the $1 billion U.S. robotics industry.

Morgan Kyte, senior vice president, Marsh

Yet, while cobots help reduce worker injury by handling or assisting in dangerous tasks, they also introduce unexpected risks with unanticipated legal and insurance consequences.

“Robots are embedding themselves more and more into our lives every day,” said Morgan Kyte, a senior vice president at Marsh.

“Collaborative robots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). “That’s because they have created this opportunity for robots to work side-by-side with humans.”

When traditional robots joined the U.S. workforce in the 1960s, they were often assigned one specific task and put to work safely away from humans in a fenced area.

Today, they are rapidly being deployed in the automotive, plastics, electronics assembly, health care and the machine tool industry due to their ability to function in tandem with human co-workers.

More than 24,000 robots valued at $1.3 billion were ordered from North American companies last year, according to the RIA.

The collaborative robotics market alone is predicted to expand tenfold from 2015 to 2020, according to a study published by ABI Research.

Cobots Rapidly Gain Popularity

Cobots are cheaper, more versatile and lighter, and often have a faster return on investment compared to traditional robots. Some cobots even employ artificial intelligence (AI) so they can adapt to their environment, learn new tasks and improve on their skills.

Their software is simple to program, so companies don’t need a computer programmer, called a robotic integrator, to come onsite to tweak duties. Most employees can learn to do it.

While the introduction of cobots into the workplace can bring great productivity gains, it also introduces risk mitigation challenges.

“Where does the problem lie when accidents happen and which insurance covers it?” asks attorney Garry Mathiason, co-chair of the robotics, AI and automation industry group at the law firm Littler Mendelson, PC in San Francisco.

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways,” Marsh’s Kyte said.

“The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions.”

If something goes amiss, exposure may fall to many different parties:  the manufacturer of the cobot, the software developer and/or the purchaser of the cobot, to name a few.

Is it a product defect? Was it a coding issue in base code or in the design? Was something done in the cobot’s training? Was it user error?

“That’s where the gray areas come in,” Kyte said. “Where does the liability fall?”

Garry Mathiason, co-chair, robotics, AI and automation industry group, Littler Mendelson

In the case of an employee injury, is it a workers’ compensation case or a liability issue?

“If you get injured in the workplace, there’s no debate as to liability,” Mathiason said.

But if the employee attributes the injury to a poorly designed or programmed machine and sues the manufacturer of the equipment, that’s not limited by workers’ comp, he added.

“It’s going to be unique each time,” Kyte said.

“The issue that keeps me awake at night is that people are so impressed with what a cobot can do, and so they ask it to do a task that it wasn’t meant to perform,” Mathiason said.

He said he was surprised to see the type of lawsuits that cropped up after doctors started using robots to assist with surgeries. The disputes didn’t involve the machines or the manufacturers. They questioned the doctors’ training and how the robots were used to perform surgeries they weren’t designed for.

Privacy is another consideration. If the cobot records what is happening around it, takes pictures of its environment and the people in it, an employee or customer might claim a privacy violation.

A public sign disclosing the cobot’s ability to record video or take pictures may be a simple solution. And yet, it is often overlooked, Mathiason said.

Growing Pains in the Industry

There are going to be growing pains as the industry blossoms in advance of any legal and regulatory systems, Mathiason said.

“Collaborative robotics — as wonderful as it is and as many uses as it has — you’ve got personal injury concerns, workers’ compensation concerns,” Mathiason said.

He suggests companies take several mitigation steps before introducing cobots to the workplace.

First, conduct a safety audit that specifically covers robotics. Make sure to properly investigate the use of the technology and consider all options. Run a pilot program to test it out.

Most importantly, he said, assign someone in the organization to get up to speed on the technology and then continuously follow it for updates and new uses. Also assign an individual to keep track of new legislation and regulations.

The Robotics Industry Association has been working with the government to set up safety standards. One employee can join a cobot member association to receive the latest information on regulations.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about this technology and people see so many things that could go wrong,” Mathiason said.

“But if you handle it properly with the safety audit, the robotics audit, and pay attention to what the standards are, it’s going to be the opposite; there will be fewer problems.  

“Cobots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years.” — Bob Doyle, director of communications, Robotic Industry Association

“And you might even see in your experience rating that you are going to [get]a better price to the policy,” he added.

Without forethought, coverage may slip through the cracks.  General liability, E&O, business interruption, personal injury, cyber and privacy claims can all be involved.

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“You can’t look at the E&O exposure with robotics without looking at the products exposure, the [general liability],” said Jeanmarie Giordano, global head of professional liability at AIG, who spoke about managing the risks of cobots in a webcast hosted by A.M. Best.

AIG’s Lexington Insurance introduced an insurance product in 2015 to address the gray areas cobots and robots create. The coverage brings together general and products liability, robotics errors and omissions, and risk management services, all three of which are tailored for the robotics industry. Minimum premium is $25,000.

“It’s an evolving marketplace but from an insurance perspective, we’ve tried to come up with an end-to-end solution for our insureds that also provides for growth and evolution,” Giordano said on the webcast.

Insurers are using lessons learned from the creation of new cyber liability policies and are applying it to robotics coverage, Kyte said. The industry needs to stay consistent in coverage and language.

“It can get confusing for brokers when there are claims policy forms with different terminology,” Kyte said.

The insurance industry may need to take the lead in managing the risk as cobots become the next global innovation to transform the workplace in ways still unimagined.

“The robotics industry has been very safe for the last 30 years,” RIA’s Doyle said. “It really does have a good track record and we want that to continue.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Insurance Executive

A Leader for Turbulent Times

Lloyd’s CEO Inga Beale is tasked with guiding the venerable insurance market through Brexit and the demands of the fiercely competitive global specialty business.
By: | July 6, 2017 • 12 min read

Underwriters at Lloyd’s are accustomed to taking on complex, even daunting, risks. The company’s leader looks at the world today and sees plenty of opportunity, but also much to be concerned about.

“Political instability is something that troubles me more than anything else because I think there is now more uncertainty across the world than there has ever been,” said Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyd’s of London.

“It feels that all of the norms that I grew up with are being challenged — openness, globalization, acceptance, inclusion — on a global scale.”

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Appropriately, we’re sitting around a table in Beale’s modern glass-fronted office at the top of the Lloyd’s Building — itself a vision from the future — to talk about Brexit and Lloyd’s newly announced Brussels subsidiary.

Add to the mix Donald Trump and the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea, the bombing of Syria and a spate of terrorist attacks across Europe, and it’s clear we are living in the most dangerous period certainly since the Cold War, or possibly ever, believes Beale.

That belief received even more chilling reinforcement when terrorists detonated a bomb at an Ariana Grande performance in Manchester, England on May 22.  Twenty two people, some of them children, were killed and more than 50 wounded in that attack.

Three years ago, it was Beale herself making world headlines with her appointment as the first female CEO in Lloyd’s 329-year history. But now Brexit and other seismic disruptions to world order have taken center stage.

Lloyd’s announced at the end of March that it would establish a new European subsidiary in Brussels in time for January 1, 2019 renewals so it can continue writing risks for all 27 European Union (EU) and three European Economic Area states after the UK exits the EU.

Currently, it uses its passporting rights to serve EU customers from London, but the expected loss of those rights after Brexit necessitated the establishment of a new subsidiary.

For now though, it’s business as usual, said Beale, with the UK remaining a full EU member for at least two more years. She added, with a reassuring smile, that there will be no immediate impact on existing policies, renewals or new policies written during that time.

“We were campaigning very much to remain in the EU before the referendum because we knew what the likely impact [of leaving the EU] would be on Lloyd’s,” said Beale, whose impressive resume includes stints with GE Insurance Solutions, Zurich and Canopius.

“We rely very much on our licensing network, and being part of the EU means that from London we can write insurance and reinsurance for all of the EU countries with our passporting authority.

“But with the UK exiting the EU, it now means that we lose those licensing powers to offer insurance with immediate effect. To counteract this, we have determined to set up a subsidiary within the EU, meaning that about five percent of our global revenues will have to go through this subsidiary because it is insurance business offered to our EU-based clients.”

Beale and her team also negotiated that most of Lloyd’s underwriting business will remain in London, as will the majority of the transactions and decision-making powers. Meanwhile, the manpower needed to run the new Brussels operation will be in the “tens rather than hundreds,” she is quick to point out.

“It’s not a huge raft of people having to move over,” she said.

“Lloyd’s will continue to do 95 percent of its business as it has always done — it’s only the other five percent that will have to go through a separate legal entity, and we’re not anticipating any further changes to our business model as a result.”

Beale, whose dual role is both supervisor and advocate for the market’s 100-something member underwriting syndicates, says that the franchise board chose Brussels over other locations including Luxembourg, Dublin and Malta because of its “robust and quality” regulatory regime.

“At the time, I didn’t even know that reinsurance existed, but once I discovered it I absolutely loved it.” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

It also provides access to a multilingual talent pool, is near to London, and, most importantly she stresses, is located in a member state with a “very high certainty of staying in the EU.”

“We want people who reflect our customers,” she said.

“The London insurance market is littered with people from all over the world because London is such a global insurance hub, so we need experts here who speak the language and understand the different cultures.”

North American Footprint

Despite its large European market, it’s the other side of the pond where Lloyd’s really thrives. Approximately 46 percent of its business comes from the U.S., mainly California earthquake and East Coast hurricane risks, she said.

Lloyd’s also remains the No.1 excess and surplus lines insurer in the U.S. and the largest non-U.S. domiciled insurer, she added.

“We have done really well in terms of growing our E&S market share over there,” she said.

“That’s our sweet spot; those non-standard risks that are hard to place.”

By contrast, Beale said that reinsurance has become a much more competitive market with new entrants offering alternative types of reinsurance putting a squeeze on prices. As a consequence, Lloyd’s has focused more on insurance, she said.

“We have also done well in Canada and with our delegated authority through our Managing General Underwriters and Managing General Agents,” she said.

“It’s this very local and specialist distribution channel that has been our success story across North America.”

In January, Beale was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire — the female equivalent of being knighted — and is also the Association of Professional Insurance Women’s Insurance Woman of the Year for 2017.

“What concerns us most is not individual risks such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but rather assessing the aggregation of our exposures to financial and liability-type risks with no geographical boundaries.” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

As the person directing Lloyd’s, she is also acutely aware of the shift in power towards emerging economies, with McKinsey recently reporting that 67 percent of commercial insurance growth will come from those markets by 2020.

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In response, Lloyd’s has focused its efforts on Asia and Latin America, transferring more than half of its managing agents to its Shanghai and Beijing platforms; and it was recently granted final approval to open a reinsurance office in Mumbai, she said.

“That’s where the future’s going to be,” she said.

“We know that a lot of the business is no longer coming to London in the traditional way, hence we have set up a Singapore platform and platforms in China, and opened up an office in Dubai as well as in India to be closer to our clients and brokers there.”

Lloyd’s profits last year were flat at $2.7 billion, while GWP was up $3.9 billion.

The market made a profit despite taking a $2.7 billion hit for major claims — the fifth highest such total since the turn of the century — primarily due to Hurricane Matthew and the Fort McMurray Wildfire in Canada.

Although natural disasters are Lloyd’s bread and butter, its real strength is in insuring complex risks, from cargo ships and satellites to political and terrorism risks.

Lloyd’s Role in Cyber

It’s the aggregation of those harder-to-quantify risks such as cyber security that concerns Beale most. Expected to grow to $7.5 billion in global premiums business by 2020, cyber is a big focus for Lloyd’s. It has a 25 percent market share and aggregate limits of approximately $650 million per risk, she said.

“What concerns us most is not individual risks such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but rather assessing the aggregation of our exposures to financial and liability-type risks with no geographical boundaries,” she said.

“We saw that with the financial crisis and the collapse of Fanny and Freddie, and its impact on Greece, but now it’s cyber.

“We have interviewed numerous risk managers and they are telling us that they are only insured against less than 10 percent of the risks that their businesses face on a daily basis. Our challenge is to make sure that we are continuing to adapt as fast as their businesses do and that we are delivering the relevant products that they need.”

Another area where Lloyd’s has seen an uptick is political and terrorism risk, said Beale.

The U.S. standoff with North Korea, Brexit and a swath of ISIS terrorist attacks across Europe have only exacerbated the problem, heightening fears among those countries’ citizens and tearing whole communities apart.

“We would love to get to a stage where a client can track something being quoted or a claim being paid, just like you do with a package being delivered [to your home].” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

Just witness the anguish of the victims and families in the Manchester concert bombing.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in demand for these types of products because of the political instability everywhere at the moment, particularly for companies that are trading cross border with countries where governments can suddenly intervene at a moment’s notice,” she said.

“Similarly, businesses are looking to protect themselves against the ever-growing threat of terrorism, which is where Lloyd’s can step in to give them the confidence to keep on trading.”

Reforming Lloyd’s

Within Lloyd’s itself, Beale has been at the forefront of trying to modernize the aging institution. Despite its modern metallic and glass exterior, inside Lloyd’s there’s still very much what some might term a stuffy “old boys’ club” culture.

Men are required to wear a tie and women weren’t allowed into the underwriting room until 1972. Brokers still walk around with leather slipcases crammed full of paper.

The Lloyd’s headquarters on Lime Street.

Beale’s predecessor, Richard Ward, tried to modernize Lloyd’s but left plenty for Beale to address in that respect.

Beale committed $700 million over the next five years to upgrade Lloyd’s aging computer and IT systems, with the end goal of achieving one-touch data capture to speed up the premiums and claims process.

“It’s about following that data all the way through the process from the client to the intermediary and the underwriter, and the processing of the premiums and claims,” she said.

“We would love to get to a stage where a client can track something being quoted or a claim being paid, just like you do with a package being delivered [to your home].”

Another area Beale is keen to shake up is diversity within Lloyd’s itself. Currently the market is two-thirds male, while only 11 percent of the whole London insurance market are non-UK nationals — a damning statistic that Beale is all too aware of.

“The Lloyd’s market doesn’t reflect the demographics of the whole of London and we are very conscious that we’re not tapping into all of the available talent that’s out there,” she said.

“We need to cut out the old ideas, try to challenge the unconscious bias and create an environment that is welcoming for people who are a bit different.”

Beale has also been pushing the [email protected] initiative, currently in its third year, and in September Lloyd’s will host the third annual Dive In festival to promote diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry.

In addition, 95 percent of the Lloyd’s market has already signed up to its Diversity & Inclusion charter to improve diversity, she said.

“To attract the best talent we need to modernize and look at how we can change our working practices and hiring decisions for the better,” she said.

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“There’s a vast amount of work that we are actively doing to encourage people to be more open and seek more diverse talent.”

On a personal level, Beale readily admits that she was late to the leadership game, and it was only her mentor, Annette Sadolin at GE, who convinced her to take her first promotion.

That lack of confidence is something that, as a leader, Beale has witnessed in her own team and she is keen to help overcome.

“Annette became very much a mentor for me throughout my career, so whenever I have had to make key decisions I would always ask her view,” she said.

“The key lesson that I have learnt from her is that things move so quickly and you need to take opportunities when they come along that give you exposure to something new, even if they don’t seem like a natural career path at the time.

“For me, being a leader is all about inclusion and being passionate about the people you work with because you need to inspire and motivate them. But there is also nothing more rewarding than watching people progress their careers.”

A Truly Global Journey

Beale, who initially harbored ambitions of being an architect, admits that she “fell into reinsurance,” starting as a trainee international treaty reinsurance underwriter at Prudential Assurance Company in London in 1982. But once she had a taste there was no turning back.

“At the time, I didn’t even know that reinsurance existed, but once I discovered it I absolutely loved it,” she said.

“I fell in love with the global nature of the risks that came to London; one day you could be looking at a piece of business from Chile, the next from Australia.”

But, back then, working in a male-dominated industry where she was the only woman among 35 men, Beale struggled to fit in. So she quit and went travelling for 10 months.

It was during her time as a receptionist at the BBC in Sydney, Australia that Beale worked under her first female boss, a formidable woman, she said.

Inspired by her boss’s strong work ethic, Beale decided to return to the insurance business.

She soon landed a job with GE Insurance Solutions in Kansas City, where she held various underwriting management roles, before being appointed president of GE Frankona and head of continental Europe, Middle East and Africa for GE Insurance Solutions in Germany.

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After 14 years at GE, Beale moved to Switzerland with Converium as group CEO in 2006.

Two years later, she joined Zurich Insurance Group as a member of the group management board in Zurich before being appointed global chief underwriting officer, prior to her appointment as group CEO at Canopius in 2012.

The breadth and depth of her experience makes Beale a natural fit for the demands of the Lloyd’s top job.

There’s no doubt she’ll be drawing upon every ounce of that expertise and experience to keep Lloyd’s at the cutting edge of this harrowing new world we live in.

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]