Pandemic Risk

Financing Pandemic Risk

The World Bank's pandemic initiative may provide a roadmap to transfer the risk of Zika to capital markets.
By: | July 25, 2016 • 5 min read

Could capital markets offer an alternative to transfer the risk of financial losses caused by pandemics? The fast spread of the Zika virus in the past few months has made this question a valuable one for companies around the world.

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The answer might well be yes. There are already instances of insurance and reinsurance firms selling pandemic risks to capital markets. And investors appear to be keen on buying them.

“We like to buy this kind of risk. It can be a good diversifier to a global portfolio,” said Christophe Fritsch, co-head, securitized and structured assets, at AXA Investment Managers.

The challenge of a pandemic risk bond is to define triggers and conditions for the coverage.

Past market transactions involve insurance-linked securities that transfer pandemic risks, often along with other excess mortality events such as terrorism. They are used by insurers and reinsurers as an extra tool to manage their regulatory capital reserves.

But an initiative by the World Bank to issue pandemic bonds could lead the way for other kinds of issuers to employ similar capital markets instruments. The World Bank’s bond employs a parametric trigger that helps speed up payments when companies may need some urgent cash flow.

Bill Dubinsky, a managing director at Willis Capital Markets & Advisory, said a likely candidate could be an airport that sees dramatically reduced traffic if there is a pandemic in the country.

If the risk had been transferred to the capital markets, he said, the airport could have a considerable degree of cash flow through the duration of the outbreak.

Triggering Coverage

The challenge is to define triggers and conditions for the coverage.

The trigger of the World Bank’s bond, which should be placed with investors in the Fall, is linked to the level of confirmed deaths caused during a pandemic event. It might not be the best option in the case of pandemics such as Zika, where the number of deaths is fairly low, and companies face other effects such as the interruption of business or loss of revenues indirectly associated to the disease.

But other indicators, such as number of people infected in a limited period of time, could be employed, as is already the case with some parametric insurance coverage purchased by the tourism and airline industry.

Priya Basu, manager, development finance department, World Bank

Priya Basu, manager, development finance department, World Bank

The World Bank bond will test the market to assess whether there is appetite from investors for pandemic risks issued by players outside the insurance and reinsurance industries.

Priya Basu, a manager at the development finance department at the World Bank, said she expects the bond will pay a coupon of about 8.5 percent a year, which would be lower than the opening price for other CAT bond initiatives previously launched by the organization, such as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility.

The World Bank’s pandemic bond is part of a broader project called Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, or PEF, which includes both a bond and insurance element, and aims to make $500 million available for pandemic emergencies at 77 poor countries.

The bond is expected to raise $300 million, while $200 million will be placed in the reinsurance market. Munich Re and Swiss Re are the insurance partners of the project.

The costs related to the bonds and insurance premiums are subsidized by donor countries, but the idea is that the facility will become a purely market-based one in the future.

“We are working both on a bond issuance and with the reinsurance market because we want to target a range of different investors with different risk appetites,” Basu said. “We expect that, over time, countries will be able to pay their own premiums and coupons.”

“One of the goals of the World Bank is to promote the utilization of market-based catastrophe schemes by governments that would otherwise struggle to provide urgent assistance to its citizens.” — Priya Basu, manager, development finance department, World Bank

The coverage would be activated when the aggregate number of deaths caused by a pandemic, as confirmed by the World Health Organization, reaches a certain limit. The formula also includes data about the rate of growth of the disease and the acceleration in the number of fatal cases. The index is calculated globally, but the payout is only released to the 77 countries covered by the program.

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The facility is complemented by a cash component, worth between $60 million to $100 million, which can be employed in case of a severe pandemic that does not cause enough deaths to trigger either the bond or the insurance coverage.

According to Basu, that is the money that could be used for Zika outbreaks, where the number of expected deaths is relatively low.

“There is a financing gap from the moment it is clear that there is an outbreak with pandemic potential, but it has not become pandemic yet. That is when the PEF comes in,” she said. “The parametric trigger enables us to respond in a much quicker and more timely manner.”

One of the goals of the World Bank is to promote the utilization of market-based catastrophe schemes by governments that would otherwise struggle to provide urgent assistance to its citizens, Busa said.

In her view, the use of facilities such as the PEF could result in significant savings of public resources and, especially, in reducing losses of life. If PEF was up and running back in 2014, she said, international money to fight off the the Ebola pandemic could have started to flow to the affected countries more quickly.

Instead, it took extra months to gain any steam, resulting in the cost of billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

The disease covered by the $500 million bond and insurance facility includes some kinds of influenza, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Marburg and other zoonotic diseases like the Lassa Fever.

Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Robotics Risk

Rise of the Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are rapidly expanding in the workforce due to their versatility. But they bring with them liability concerns.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 5 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.

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For some reason,  a cobots’ sensors didn’t pick up the movement of a toddler on the sidewalk who was trying to play with the 5-foot-tall, egg-shaped figure.

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.

Engaged to help, this cobot instead did harm, yet the use of cobots is growing rapidly.

Cobots are the fastest growing segment of the robotics industry, which is projected to hit $135.4 billion in 2019, according to tech research firm IDC.

“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).

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, machine tooling and health care industries 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.

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.

Bob Doyle, director of communications, Robotic Industry Association

Their software is simple to program, so companies don’t need a computer programmer, called a robotic integrator, to come on site to tweak duties. Most employees can learn how to program them.

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?” asked 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 an issue in the base code or in the design? Was something done in the cobot’s training? Was it user error?

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways.” — Morgan Kyte, senior vice president, Marsh

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.

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

In the case of a worker killed by a cobot in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2015, the worker’s spouse filed suit against five of the companies responsible for manufacturing the machine.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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“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.

“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.

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.

Insurers are using lessons learned from the creation of cyber liability policies and are applying it to robotics coverage, Kyte said.

“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]