Risk Report: Technology

Insuring Innovation

For a company that’s changing the way people drive, building the right insurance program was a collaborative accomplishment.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 6 min read

In 1999, Netflix launched not just a new way to rent movies but a new way to buy — pay one price and swap out titles as often as you please. In the two decades since, companies have applied the same model to high-end handbags and designer clothes, among other things.

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Clutch is one of a handful of companies that has taken that concept and kicked it up a notch.

This Atlanta-based startup partners with automakers and dealers to offer vehicles by subscription as an alternative to buying or leasing. The prospect is appealing: pay one monthly fee, flip vehicles as often as you like to suit your needs. Everything is included except gas.

But the model created a gray area as far as insurance was concerned. It’s a commercial venture, yes, but the vehicles aren’t driven for commercial use, nor are they being driven by employees. It required a commercial policy that responded like a personal policy — certainly not an off-the-rack program.

“Subscription is blurring this line between personal and commercial silos. What are we? Where do we fit?” said John Phelps, the company’s vice president of strategy and business development.

As other innovators have discovered, issues inevitably arise when you try to fit the company to the policy rather than the other way around.

“Where traditional carriers try to apply traditional products, it just doesn’t quite work,” said Iain Boyer, partner and head of product/underwriting management for Y-Risk, an underwriting management company.

“When you put a square peg in a round hole, sure, you can probably fit it in. But both the peg and the hole might be damaged a little bit. [With insurance] there’s a risk that if it doesn’t quite fit, there may be problems down the road.”

Building a Lasting Policy

Clutch experienced that early on with a traditional commercial fleet policy. Phelps characterized the policy as “very vanilla.”

“They looked at us like, ‘Well, if you were a plumbing company with X number of cars and eligible drivers, we would generally do pricing that looks like this.’ ”

It didn’t give them what they needed. It couldn’t accommodate the kind of features that Clutch wanted for its customers. It was also prohibitively expensive.

To get the coverage right, Clutch needed a broker committed to understanding their unique model. Phelps was introduced to Jillian Slyfield, managing director and U.S. sharing economy practice leader, Aon. Slyfield is a 2018 Power Broker®.

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Together, Clutch and Aon had to tackle a problem many new products or business models face: a dearth of data.

“It’s the early days of a new industry and so we didn’t have … 10 years of experience from 100,000 drivers. But the data we had started to grow and become more statistically relevant.”

With Slyfield on board, the team leveraged data to look like an approximated personal risk — something underwriters could wrap their heads around. Slyfield reached out to Y-Risk, which specializes in the sharing and on-demand economy. Y-Risk’s strong relationship with Hamilton Specialty gave the project the momentum it needed.

“Y-Risk was ultimately the one to say, ‘I get it, I like it, let’s do it this way,’ and Hamilton was the one who said, ‘I trust Y-Risk to do this.’ All of the entities came together to create something that has never existed,” Phelps said.

“I enjoy working with people like Jillian and John and their teams, because collectively, we’re trying to solve a problem and we’re trying to do it in a cost-effective manner,” said Y-Risk’s Boyer. “So it becomes a really collaborative thing.”

Thinking everything through in advance is critical. The teams carefully considered every possible scenario, mapping out every possible circumstance that could impact the platform, the vehicles or the subscribers.

That’s how you avoid surprises, said Slyfield: “I liken it to painting a room. If you just started with a paintbrush and a can of paint it would look like a disaster when you got done. You start with tape. And it takes twice as much time to tape off the room and make sure … everything’s ready. But then painting is really easy, and it looks nice when it’s done.”

John Phelps, vice president, strategy and business development, Clutch

Problems arise when covering something new, “and [the insurer] discovers six months down the line that they priced it wrong, the losses are worse than they thought, the losses are coming from places they didn’t anticipate, or the price was inadequate because they applied it to the wrong exposure base,” said Boyer.

“Things don’t work as they were intended. That’s bad for everybody.”

Another pain point: Unforeseen coverage problems could affect the claims experience, added Boyer. People engaging with a platform like Clutch are typically active social media users.

“They’re not just going to brood about it. They’re going to let people know that they weren’t happy. So it’s more important than ever that we’re certain the insurance will do what it’s intended to do.”

Supporting the Future

Said Phelps, “We can’t just show up to the table and say ‘Hey, we’re new and we’re technology driven, therefore you should understand us.’ We feel a burden and a responsibility on our side to be a good partner [and that means] us working really hard to help them understand exactly what the risk is.”

Jillian Slyfield, managing director and U.S. sharing economy practice leader, Aon

Boyer said he relishes the opportunity to face fresh underwriting challenges.

“As an underwriting management company, we get back to, ‘How do you underwrite this new and emerging space? How do you think about insurance that helps your clients grow and be successful?’

“That’s what makes it interesting and exciting. [It’s] an opportunity to do what you joined the industry to do, which is underwrite risks, and think about and [identify] the right coverage — not just apply traditional products and underwrite the product. You’re underwriting the company.”

“We can’t just show up to the table and say ‘Hey, we’re new and we’re technology driven, therefore you should understand us.’ ” —John Phelps, vice president, strategy and business development, Clutch

Slyfield and Boyer know that they’re in the unique position to enable and empower new companies and support their mission of changing the way business is done.

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“What I’m doing,” said Boyer, “is trying to develop the products, the structure, the methodologies and the mechanics of the insurance that enables them to grow and be successful.”

Moving forward, it will be progressive brokers, underwriters and carriers who have the clear path to run. Encouragingly, both Boyer and Phelps said insurers are very receptive to understanding new risk.

Despite the industry’s reputation as a plodding, cautious innovator, Phelps said some carriers “are moving more quickly and are more willing to entertain this conversation.”

Those carriers, he said, “have their lines in the water, so to speak. And that’s a great thing. Those are the people we end up setting our meeting with faster.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Scenario

A Recall Nightmare: Food Product Contamination Kills Three Unborn Children

A failure to purchase product contamination insurance results in a crushing blow, not just in dollars but in lives.
By: | October 15, 2018 • 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.

PART ONE: THE HEAT IS ON

Reilly Sheehan, the Bethlehem, Pa., plant manager for Shamrock Foods, looks up in annoyance when he hears a tap on his office window.

Reilly has nothing against him, but seeing the face of his assistant plant operator Peter Soto right then is just a case of bad timing.

Sheehan, whose company manufactures ice cream treats for convenience stores and ice cream trucks, just got through digesting an email from his CFO, pushing for more cost cutting, when Soto knocked.

Sheehan gestures impatiently, and Soto steps in with a degree of caution.

“What?” Sheehan says.

“I’m not sure how much of an issue this will be, but I just got some safety reports back and we got a positive swipe for Listeria in one of the Market Streetside refrigeration units.”

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Sheehan gestures again, and Soto shuts the office door.

“How much of a positive?” Sheehan says more quietly.

Soto shrugs.

“I mean it’s not a big hit and that’s the only place we saw it, so, hard to know what to make of it.”

Sheehan looks out to the production floor, more as a way to focus his thoughts than for any other reason.

Sheehan is jammed. It’s April, the time of year when Shamrock begins to ramp up production for the summer season. Shamrock, which operates three plants in the Middle Atlantic, is holding its own at around $240 million in annual sales.

But the pressure is building on Sheehan. In previous cost-cutting measures, Shamrock cut risk management and safety staff.

Now there is this email from the CFO and a possible safety issue. Not much time to think; too much going on.

Sheehan takes just another moment to deliberate: It’s not a heavy hit, and Shamrock hasn’t had a product recall in more than 15 years.

“Okay, thanks for letting me know,” Sheehan says to Soto.

“Do another swipe next week and tell me what you pick up. I bet you twenty bucks there’s nothing in the product. That swipe was nowhere near the production line.”

Soto departs, closing the office door gingerly.

Then Sheehan lingers over his keyboard. He waits. So much pressure; what to do?

“Very well then,” he says to himself, and gets to work crafting an email.

His subject line to the chief risk officer and the company vice president: “Possible safety issue: Positive test for Listeria in one of the refrigeration units.”

That night, Sheehan can’t sleep. Part of Shamrock’s cost-cutting meant that Sheehan has responsibility for environmental, health and safety in addition to his operations responsibilities.

Every possible thing that could bring harmful bacteria into the plant runs through his mind.

Trucks carrying raw eggs, milk and sugar into the plant. The hoses used to shoot the main ingredients into Shamrock’s metal storage vats. On and on it goes…

In his mind’s eye, Sheehan can picture the inside of a refrigeration unit. Ice cream is chilled, never really frozen. He can almost feel the dank chill. Salmonella and Listeria love that kind of environment.

Sheehan tosses and turns. Then another thought occurs to him. He recalls a conversation, just one question at a meeting really, when one of the departed risk management staff brought up the issue of contaminated product insurance.

Sheehan’s memory is hazy, stress shortened, but he can’t remember it being mentioned again. He pushes his memory again, but nothing.

“I don’t need this,” he says to himself through clenched teeth. He punches up his pillow in an effort to find a path to sleep.

PART TWO: STRICKEN FAMILIES

“Toot toot, tuuuuurrrrreeeeeeeeettt!”

The whistles of the three lifeguards at the Bradford Community Pool in Allentown, Pa., go off in unison, two staccato notes, then a dip in pitch, then ratcheting back up together.

For Cheryl Brick, 34, the mother of two and six-months pregnant with a third, that signal for the kids to clear the pool for the adult swim is just part of a typical summer day. Right on cue, her son Henry, 8, and his sister Siobhan, 5, come running back to where she’s set up the family pool camp.

Henry, wet and shivering and reaching for a towel, eyes that big bag.

“Mom, can I?”

And Cheryl knows exactly where he’s going.

“Yes. But this time, can you please bring your mother a mint-chip ice cream bar along with whatever you get for you and Siobhan?”

Henry grabs the money, drops his towel and tears off; Siobhan drops hers just as quickly, not wanting to be left behind.

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“Wait for me!” Siobhan yells as Henry sprints for the ice cream truck parked just outside of the pool entrance.

It’s the dead of night, 3 am, two weeks later when Cheryl, slumbering deeply beside her husband Danny, is pulled from her rest by the sound of Siobhan crying in their bedroom doorway.

“Mom, dad!” says Henry, who is standing, pale and stricken, in the hallway behind Siobhan.

“What?” says Danny, sitting up in bed, but Cheryl’s pregnancy sharpened sense of smell knows the answer.

Siobhan, wailing and shivering, has soiled her pajamas, the victim of a severe case of diarrhea.

“I just barfed is what,” says Henry, who has to turn and run right back to the bathroom.

Cheryl steps out of bed to help Siobhan, but the room spins as she does so.

“Oh God,” she says, feeling the impact of her own attack of nausea.

A quick, grim cleanup and the entire family is off to a walk-up urgent care center.

A bolt of fear runs through Cheryl as the nurse gives her the horrible news.

“Listeriosis,” says the nurse. Sickening for children and adults but potentially fatal for the weak, especially the unborn.

And very sadly, Cheryl loses her third child. Two other mothers in the Middle Atlantic suffer the same fate and dozens more are sickened.

Product recall notices from state regulators and the FDA go out immediately.

Ice cream bars and sandwiches disappear from store coolers and vending machines on corporate campuses. The tinkly sound of “Pop Goes the Weasel” emanating from mobile ice cream vendor trucks falls silent.

Notices of intent to sue hit every link in the supply chain, from dairy cooperatives in New York State to the corporate offices of grocery store chains in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The three major contract manufacturers that make ice cream bars distributed in the eight states where residents were sickened are shut down, pending a further investigation.

FDA inspectors eventually tie the outbreak to Shamrock.

Evidence exists that a good faith effort was underway internally to determine if any of Shamrock’s products were contaminated. Shamrock had still not produced a positive hit on any of its products when the summer tragedy struck. They just weren’t looking in the right place.

PART THREE: AN INSURANCE TANGLE

Banking on rock-solid relationships with its carrier and brokers, Shamrock, through its attorneys, is able to salvage indemnification on its general liability policy that affords it $20 million to defray the business losses of its retail customers.

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But that one comment from a risk manager that went unheeded many months ago comes back to haunt the company.

All three of Shamrock’s plants were shuttered from August 2017 until March 2018, until the source of the contamination could be run down and the federal and state inspectors were assured the company put into place the necessary protocols to avoid a repeat of the disaster that killed 3 unborn children and sickened dozens more.

Shamrock carried no contaminated product coverage, which is known as product recall coverage outside of the food business. The production shutdown of all three of its plants cost Shamrock $120 million. As a result of the shutdown, Shamrock also lost customers.

The $20 million payout from Shamrock’s general liability policy is welcome and was well-earned by a good history with its carrier and brokers. Without the backstop of contaminated products insurance, though, Shamrock blew a hole in its bottom line that forces the company to change, perhaps forever, the way it does business.

Management has a gun to its head. Two of Shamrock’s plants, including Bethlehem, are permanently shuttered, as the company shrinks in an effort to stave off bankruptcy.

Reilly Sheehan is among those terminated. In the end, he was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Burdened by the guilt, rational or not, over the fatalities and the horrendous damage to Shamrock’s business. Reilly Sheehan is a broken man. Leaning on the compassion of a cousin, he takes a job as a maintenance worker at the Bethlehem sewage treatment plant.

“Maybe I can keep this place clean,” he mutters to himself one night, as he swabs a sewage overflow with a mop in the early morning hours of a dark, cold February.

Bar-Lessons-Learned---Partner's-Content-V1b

Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are their recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.®.

Shamrock Food’s story is not an isolated incident. Contaminations happen, and when they do they can cause a domino effect of loss and disruption for vendors and suppliers. Without Product Recall Insurance, Shamrock sustained large monetary losses, lost customers and ultimately two of their facilities. While the company’s liability coverage helped with the business losses of their retail customers, the lack of Product Recall and Contamination Insurance left them exposed to a litany of risks.

Risk Managers in the Food & Beverage industry should consider Product Recall Insurance because it can protect your company from:

  • Accidental contamination
  • Malicious product tampering
  • Government recall
  • Product extortion
  • Adverse publicity
  • Intentionally impaired ingredients
  • Product refusal
  • First and third party recall costs

Ultimately, choosing the right partner is key. Finding an insurer who offers comprehensive coverage and claims support will be of the utmost importance should disaster strike. Not only is cover needed to provide balance sheet protection for lost revenues, extra expense, cleaning, disposal, storage and replacing the contaminated products, but coverage should go even further in providing the following additional services:

  • Pre-incident risk mitigation advocacy
  • Incident investigation
  • Brand rehabilitation
  • Third party advisory services

A strong contamination insurance program can fill gaps between other P&C lines, but more importantly it can provide needed risk management resources when companies need them most: during a crisis.



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