Reputation Risk

Fake News, Real Threat

Far more than a prank, the spread of fictitious news is wreaking havoc on businesses and institutions.
By: | February 20, 2017 • 5 min read

The phenomenon of fake news has been around for many years, making it hard for us to separate fact from fiction. One of the earliest examples was the “New York Sun” claiming to have discovered a civilization on the moon in 1835.

But it wasn’t until “Pizzagate” last December that the potential severity of its impact on individuals and companies really hit home.

On Dec. 4, Edgar M. Welch, a father of two from North Carolina, was arrested and charged with firing an assault rifle in the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington D.C.

Welch read online that the restaurant was harboring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton.  Alarmed, he drove six hours from his home to see the situation for himself. Little did he know, he’d been reading fake news stories about the restaurant.

On a wider scale, many people believe that fake news impacted the outcome of the U.S. election. In November, Buzzfeed said it discovered more than 100 pro-Trump fake news sites operated by Macedonian teenagers as for-profit click-farms.

What Is Fake News?

Fake news, by definition, is a completely made-up story, manipulated to resemble a credible news report and to attract maximum attention and advertising revenue.

Given the power of the internet, and the fact that an estimated 62 percent of the U.S. population now gets the majority of their news from social media, fake news spreads wide and is hard to stop.

Elizabeth Carmichael, owner, Carmichael Associates LLC

“Fake news spreads faster than ever,” said Elizabeth Carmichael, owner of Carmichael Associates LLC, a firm that provides compliance and risk management services to educational institutions. “The authors make stories sensational to get as many clicks as possible by getting people to forward them and retweet them. The fact that many of these fake news sources are anonymous, and often passed on by millions of people, means it’s extremely difficult to stop or prosecute offenders.”

Despite Facebook’s plan to flag false news stories by using fact checkers, there’s still a long way to go to eliminate the problem altogether.

William Atak, CEO of SafeOnNet, an insurer specializing in online reputational risk, said the potential for reputational harm increased significantly in recent years. Along with it, the potential for millions in lost profits.

“Fake news has always existed. Only now, the perpetrators have the tools and knowledge to create stories at just the right moment and exploit social media and its algorithms,” he said.

Nir Kossovsky, CEO of Steel City Re, whose firm specializes in reputation insurance for publicly traded companies, said that fake news has the ability to undermine a company’s business model and the credibility of its leadership. Worse, it can impact any organizations it is associated with.

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“The specter of consequences arising from this post-fact type of communication can be far-reaching,” he said.

In the case of Pizzagate, Carmichael said, the restaurant’s owners faced not only reputational damage, but also the physical and psychological impact on its staff.

“The most worrying thing yet is that this has the potential to happen to almost any business in the world,” she said.

Pre-Emptive Strategy

In most circumstances where reputational damage has already occurred, a company would assess its losses and then take action, said Kossovsky. With fake news, however, he said, firms need to be proactive in dealing with the damaging misinformation that impairs their value as investors dump stock or threaten to sue directors for their actions.

“The general rule is lay low, shut up and say nothing until you have figured out what’s going on,” he said. But fake news can spread so rapidly that companies need to assess the potential consequences in advance.

Kossovsky said it is important to get all stakeholders on board from the outset, including investor relations, marketing and risk managers.

“Humans by their very nature tend to latch onto the first piece of information they find. Then it’s up to you to convince them otherwise,” he said.

“Therefore it’s key to take a position so that when fake news is circulated, stakeholders either don’t believe it or don’t pay any attention.”

Atak said that companies need to keep a watchful eye on the internet; act swiftly to communicate with customers, staff, boards of directors and investors; and utilize newsletters and social media.

“We have witnessed countless examples of companies that spent more than 25 years establishing a good reputation, only to see it ruined in an instant,” he said.

“The most worrying thing yet is that this has the potential to happen to almost any business in the world.” — Elizabeth Carmichael, owner, Carmichael Associates LLC

Carmichael said that denial is often the worst course of action once fake news is out. A better strategy is to put out an even bigger story to counter it.

She added that a company should include crisis communications in its disaster recovery or emergency response plan(s) and, once targeted, engage its communications team.

“That might be anything from putting out a disclaimer or a news story on their web page to getting the legitimate press to discredit the original fake news story,” she said.

“The big problem, however, is that once the fake news story has been banned or removed from one platform it quickly moves on to another.”

Reputation Insurance

Despite the viral nature of fake news, Kossovsky said, companies can take out insurance to cover themselves against reputational damage and losses to go alongside their risk mitigation strategy.

Nir Kossovsky, CEO, Steel City Re

“The whole point of the risk management process is firstly to pre-emptively mitigate against the impact of an assault of post-fact communication, and secondly to create a loss-absorption strategy to deal with the temporary panic that might arise.”

Carmichael added that while some insurers also offer crisis communications support, blanket specialized coverage for reputation risks is some way off.

“The best defense is to have good, well-monitored policies and procedures in the organization so the company can readily demonstrate with its own data the falsity of the story,” she said.

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A worrying recent development witnessed by Atak is the rise of criminal gangs that create fake news solely for blackmail purposes.

“It is easy to cover your tracks online and the authorities are not yet capable, nor do they have the tools, to fight this new type of digital crime,” he said.

In order to stem the flow of fake news, Kossovsky believes that large corporations need to partner with the media to develop a market-based solution.

“Social media firms have the technology to vet a lot of this content, but they can only attack pieces of information at one time,” he said.

“Having an industry-wide solution in the form of a panel that sets the standard for the quality of news would go much further towards tackling the problem.” &

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]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Property

Insurers Take to the Skies

This year’s hurricane season sees the use of drones and other aerial intelligence gathering systems as insurers seek to estimate claims costs.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 6 min read

For Southern communities, current recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey will recall the painful devastation of 2005, when Katrina and Wilma struck. But those who look skyward will notice one conspicuous difference this time around: drones.

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Much has changed since Katrina and Wilma, both economically and technologically. The insurance industry evolved as well. Drones and other visual intelligence systems (VIS) are set to play an increasing role in loss assessment, claims handling and underwriting.

Farmers Insurance, which announced in August it launched a fleet of drones to enhance weather-related property damage claim assessment, confirmed it deployed its fleet in the aftermath of Harvey.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now,” said George Mathew, CEO of Kespry, Farmers’ drone and aerial intelligence platform provider partner.

“The current wind and hail damage season that we are entering is when many of the insurance carriers are switching from proof of concept work to full production rollout.”

 According to Mathew, Farmers’ fleet focused on wind damage in and around Corpus Christi, Texas, at the time of this writing. “Additional work is already underway in the greater Houston area and will expand in the coming weeks and months,” he added.

No doubt other carriers have fleets in the air. AIG, for example, occupied the forefront of VIS since winning its drone operation license in 2015. It deployed drones to inspections sites in the U.S. and abroad, including stadiums, hotels, office buildings, private homes, construction sites and energy plants.

Claims Response

At present, insurers are primarily using VIS for CAT loss assessment. After a catastrophe, access is often prohibited or impossible. Drones allow access for assessing damage over potentially vast areas in a more cost-effective and time-sensitive manner than sending human inspectors with clipboards and cameras.

“Drones improve risk analysis by providing a more efficient alternative to capturing aerial photos from a sky-view. They allow insurers to rapidly assess the scope of damages and provide access that may not otherwise be available,” explained Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy at JLT Specialty USA.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now.” — George Mathew, CEO, Kespry

“In our experience, competitive advantage is gained mostly by claims departments and third-party administrators. Having the capability to provide exact measurements and details from photos taken by drones allows insurers to expedite the claim processing time,” he added.

Indeed, as tech becomes more disruptive, insurers will increasingly seek to take advantage of VIS technologies to help them provide faster, more accurate and more efficient insurance solutions.

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader, Marsh

One way Farmers is differentiating its drone program is by employing its own FAA-licensed drone operators, who are also Farmers-trained claim representatives.

Keith Daly, E.V.P. and chief claims officer for Farmers Insurance, said when launching the program that this sets Farmers apart from most carriers, who typically engage third-party drone pilots to conduct evaluations.

“In the end, it’s all about the experience for the policyholder who has their claim adjudicated in the most expeditious manner possible,” said Mathew.

“The technology should simply work and just melt away into the background. That’s why we don’t just focus on building an industrial-grade drone, but a complete aerial intelligence platform for — in this case — claims management.”

Insurance Applications

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader at Marsh, believes that, while currently employed primarily to assess catastrophic damage, VIS will increasingly be employed to inspect standard property damage claims.

However, he admitted that at this stage they are better at identifying binary factors such as the area affected by a peril rather than complex assessments, since VIS cannot look inside structures nor assess their structural integrity.

“If a chemical plant suffers an explosion, it might be difficult to say whether the plant is fully or partially out of operation, for example, which would affect a business interruption claim dramatically.

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“But for simpler assessments, such as identifying how many houses or industrial units have been destroyed by a tornado, or how many rental cars in a lot have suffered hail damage from a storm, a VIS drone could do this easily, and the insurer can calculate its estimated losses from there,” he said.

In addition,VIS possess powerful applications for pre-loss risk assessment and underwriting. The high-end drones used by insurers can capture not just visual images, but mapping heat, moisture or 3D topography, among other variables.

This has clear applications in the assessment and completion of claims, but also in potentially mitigating risk before an event happens, and pricing insurance accordingly.

“VIS and drones will play an increasing underwriting support role as they can help underwriters get a better idea of the risk — a picture tells a thousand words and is so much better than a report,” said Ellis.

VIS images allow underwriters to see risks in real time, and to visually spot risk factors that could get overlooked using traditional checks or even mature visual technologies like satellites. For example, VIS could map thermal hotspots that could signal danger or poor maintenance at a chemical plant.

Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy, JLT Specialty USA

“Risk and underwriting are very natural adjacencies, especially when high risk/high value policies are being underwritten,” said Mathew.

“We are in a transformational moment in insurance where claims processing, risk management and underwriting can be reimagined with entirely new sources of data. The drone just happens to be one of most compelling of those sources.”

Ellis added that drones also could be employed to monitor supplies in the marine, agriculture or oil sectors, for example, to ensure shipments, inventories and supply chains are running uninterrupted.

“However, we’re still mainly seeing insurers using VIS drones for loss assessment and estimates, and it’s not even clear how extensively they are using drones for that purpose at this point,” he noted.

“Insurers are experimenting with this technology, but given that some of the laws around drone use are still developing and restrictions are often placed on using drones [after] a CAT event, the extent to which VIS is being used is not made overly public.”

Drone inspections could raise liability risks of their own, particularly if undertaken in busy spaces in which they could cause human injury.

Privacy issues also are a potential stumbling block, so insurers are dipping their toes into the water carefully.

Risk Improvement

There is no doubt, however, that VIS use will increase among insurers.

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“Although our clients do not have tremendous experience utilizing drones, this technology is beneficial in many ways, from providing security monitoring of their perimeter to loss control inspections of areas that would otherwise require more costly inspections using heavy equipment or climbers,” said Luck.

In other words, drones could help insurance buyers spot weaknesses, mitigate risk and ultimately win more favorable coverage from their insurers.

“Some risks will see pricing and coverage improvements because the information and data provided by drones will put underwriters at ease and reduce uncertainty,” said Ellis.

The flip-side, he noted, is that there will be fewer places to hide for companies with poor risk management that may have been benefiting from underwriters not being able to access the full picture.

Either way, drones will increasingly help insurers differentiate good risks from bad. In time, they may also help insurance buyers differentiate between carriers, too. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]