High Net Worth

Nonprofit Boards Pose Personal Risk

High net worth board members are ready targets for lawsuits.
By: | September 14, 2016 • 5 min read

Successful people who serve their communities with their knowledge and executive experience are worthy of praise. But  while serving on the board of a nonprofit can be a great way to give back, it can also open the door to lawsuits and personal liability risks, especially for high net worth individuals.

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Insurance and risk experts say that while many organizations have commercial and directors and officers policies, board members may not be fully covered for a myriad of personal liability risks.

They recommend those interested in serving on boards be cognizant of the risks, perform due diligence when evaluating an opportunity, and ensure they have sufficient insurance coverage.

Big Exposure for High Net Worth Board Members

When most high net worth individuals take on duties as board members, it’s usually out of passion, not to make a profit. Parker Beauchamp, CEO of INGUARD, an insurance and risk management firm in Wabash, Ind., said most individuals are “trying to do good,” but they can open themselves up to significant personal risks when serving on boards.

Parker Beauchamp, CEO, INGUARD

Parker Beauchamp, CEO, INGUARD

In many cases, these individuals jump into fields they don’t fully understand. While an oil company executive might have a high level of experience in petrochemical engineering and market economics, he or she might know little about the liability risks related to directing a children’s cancer foundation.

“Suddenly they’re dealing with an entirely new venture that they know little about. When you combine the profile and the wealth, and something negative happens, they’re a big target,” said Beauchamp.

Jim Fiske, senior vice president of marketing at Chubb Personal Risk Services in Whitehouse Station, N.J., said some of the biggest risks come from employment practices and liabilities related to operation of the organization. Fiske said anything from wrongful termination and accusations of harassment to fiduciary exposure liabilities and misallocated funds could personally come back to a board member.

A white paper by Gulfshore Insurance in Naples, Fla., said that directors of nonprofits can be held liable for invasion of privacy, discrimination, bankruptcies, and misuse of financing claims made by the IRS. Fiske said while personal injuries, property damage, and general liability are typically covered, “it can get ambiguous quickly if there are allegations against the board.”

Although all states perform the indemnification of directors to an extent, those laws do not always absolutely eliminate the risk of personal liability, said Donna Ferrara, senior vice president and managing director at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Itasca, Ill. No matter how broad the indemnification agreement may be, there are limits, she said.

“Insurance can reduce the risk, but it’s not a cure-all. There are always going to be some limitations on how protected a director can be,” said Ferrara.

Insufficient Liability Coverage

A survey by ACE Private Risk Services, a global carrier that caters to affluent customers with at least $5 million in investable assets, found that 44 percent of those serving on boards did not have adequate personal liability coverage in place.

Donna Ferrara, senior vice president and managing director, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Donna Ferrara, senior vice president and managing director, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Ferrara said most assume they’re covered by their personal umbrella policies, but these policies typically won’t respond to business liabilities. Commercial umbrella policies may cover liabilities if there’s an underlying D&O policy and the umbrella is specifically “excess” of the D&O, but that’s not always the case.

“D&O insurance is not uniform. Policies can be negotiated, tailoring coverage to meet the needs and finances of the insured. Their terms and conditions differ widely,” said Ferrara.

Paul King, SVP, national MPS director and cyber practice leader at USI Insurance Services in Valhalla, N.Y., said many small nonprofits “aren’t very sophisticated” when it comes to compliance and having the right coverage.

He said these organizations can often run into rules and regulation issues that lead to D&O claims. And while these policies should often be at the forefront of board discussions, King said they are “often shoved to the back of the line.”

Fiske said another problem is that D&O policies typically don’t cover defense costs for the individual. So even if there is a claim, the board member may still have to cover his or her legal fees related to defending themselves.

Beauchamp said while these personal liabilities aren’t always tremendous, they are a “real risk.” In one example, he said, a small nonprofit forgot to pay its payroll taxes and sparked a federal claim against the organization. The individual director of the organization was deemed personally liable to reimburse the U.S. government.

Beauchamp said it was a relatively small amount but a clear example of claims that can come back on board members.

King said claims related to cyber attacks and data breaches are another growing liability risk for directors.

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Because many organizations don’t have large IT departments and usually use third-party companies, organizations need to do due diligence with their contractors, he said.

Many policies don’t cover such exposures and may require that the organization have a separate cyber liability insurance policy.

“They might feel emotionally attached to the group and they’re not thinking about things like malware attacks and the IT infrastructure,” said King.

Due Diligence Required

Lisa Lindsay, executive director of the Private Risk Management Association, said individuals need to work with their attorneys and brokers to ensure the organization has the level of sophistication required to cover their bases and reduce risk. Individuals should drill down with a full examination of the processes and procedures of the organization to ensure compliance with rules and regulations.

Lisa Lindsay, executive director, Private Risk Management Association

Lisa Lindsay, executive director, Private Risk Management Association

Lindsay recommended that high net worth individuals not sit on boards if there isn’t sufficient coverage in place. She also said many are often misled into believing that their personal umbrella policy offers coverage if they sit on a board in a non-leadership position. High net worth individuals need to be “very persistent” in asking questions, she said.

“We really want to see the individual do an awful lot of due diligence around understanding the organization, how the board operates, because even while [policies] are available, high net worth individuals still have significant risk exposure,” said Lindsay.

The Gulfshore Insurance white paper said that individuals should first engage in best practices to avoid future claims. This includes ensuring the organization has an adequate conflict of interest policy as well as policies that ensure restricted funds are used and invested as required by law.  &

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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R&I Profile

Achieving Balance

XL Catlin’s Denise Balan stays calm and focused when faced with crisis.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 6 min read

In the high-stress scenario of kidnap or ransom, the first image that comes to mind isn’t necessarily a yoga mat — at least, not for most.

But Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin, who practices yoga every day, would swear by it.

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“I looked at these opposing aspects of my life,” she said. “Yoga is about focus, balance, clarity of intent. In a moment of stress, how do you respond? The more clarity and calmness you maintain, the better positioned you are to provide assistance in moments of crisis.

“Nobody wants to be speaking to a frenetic person when either dealing with a dangerous situation or planning for prevention of a situation,” she added.

“There’s a poem by [Rudyard] Kipling on that,” added Balan’s colleague Ben Tucker. “What it boils down to is: If you can remain calm, you can manage through a crisis a lot better.”

Tucker, who works side by side with Balan as head of U.S. terrorism and political violence, XL Catlin, has seen how yoga influences his colleague.

“The way Denise interacts with stakeholders in this process — she is very professional and calm in the approach she takes.”

Yin and Yang

Sometimes seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected. In Balan’s life, yoga and K&R have become her yin and yang.

She entered the insurance world after earning a juris doctor degree and practicing law for a few years. The switch came, she said, when Balan realized she wasn’t enjoying her time as a commercial litigator.

Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

In her new role, she was able to use her legal background to manage litigation at AIG, where her transition from law to insurance took place. She started her insurance career in the environmental sector.

In a chance meeting in 2007, Balan met with crisis management underwriters who told her about kidnap and ransom products.

She was hooked.

Because of her background in yoga, Balan liked the crisis management side of the job. Being able to bring the calmness and clearness of intent she practiced during yoga into assisting clients in planning for crisis management piqued her interest.

She then joined XL Catlin in July 2013, where she built the K&R team.

As she became more immersed in her field, Balan began to notice something: The principles she learned in yoga were the same principles ex-military and ex-law enforcement practiced when called to a K&R-related crisis.

She said, “They have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.”

“K&R responders have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Many understand yoga to be, in itself, one type of meditation, but yoga actually encompasses a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices. Each is a discipline. Some forms of yoga focus on movement and breathing, others focus on posture and technique. Some yoga is meant to relax the mind and create a sense of calmness; other yoga types make participants sweat.

After having her second child and working full-time, Balan wanted to find something physical and relaxing for herself; a friend suggested yoga. During her first lesson, Balan said she was enamored with it.

“I felt like I’d done it all my life.”

She dove into the philosophy of yoga, adopting the practice into her daily routine. Every morning, whether Balan is in her Long Island home or on a business trip, she pulls out her yoga mat to practice.

“I always travel with my mat,” she said. “Daily practice is the simplest form of connection to routine to maintain my balance — physically and mentally.”

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She said the strangest place she has ever practiced was in Lisbon. She was on a very narrow balcony with a bird feeder swarming with sparrows overhead.

After years of studying and practicing, Balan is considered a yogi — someone who is highly proficient in yoga. She attends annual retreats with her yoga group, where she is able to rejuvenate, ready to tackle any K&R event when she returns.

In 2016, Balan visited Tuscany, Italy, where she learned the practice of yoga nidra, a very deep form of meditation. It’s described as the “going-to-sleep stage” — a type of yoga that brings participants to a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

“It awakens a different part of your brain,” Balan commented. “Orally describing it doesn’t quite do it justice. One has to practice Nidra to fully understand the effect it has on your being.”

Keeping a level head during a crisis is key in their line of business, Tucker said. He can attest to the benefit of having a yogi on board.

“I’ve seen her run table-top exercises where there is this group of people in a room and they run an exercise, a simulation of a kidnap incident. Denise is very committed to what we’re doing,” said Tucker.

“She brings that energy. She doesn’t get flustered by much.”

Building a K&R Program

When Balan joined XL Catlin, she was tasked with creating the K&R team.

Balan during a retreat in Sicily, Italy, 2017

She spent time researching and analyzing what clients would want in their K&R coverage. What stuck out most to Balan was the fact that, in these situations, the decision to purchase kidnap and ransom cover is rarely made because of desire for reimbursement of money.

“I asked why people buy this type of coverage. The answer was for the security responders,” she said.

“These are the people who sit with the family. They’re similar to psychologists or priests,” Balan further explained. “Corporations can afford to pay ransom. They buy [K&R] because it gives them access to these trained and dedicated professionals who not only provide negotiation advice, but actually sit with a victim’s family, engaging deep levels of emotional investment.”

“I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Balan described these responders as people having total clarity of purpose, setting their intentions to resolve a crisis — a practice at the very heart of yoga. She knew XL Catlin’s new kidnap program would put stock in their responders.

“I’ve worked closely with the responders to better understand what they can do for our clientele. These are the people who run into danger — warrior hearts married to dedication to our clients’ best interests.”

But K&R is more than fast-paced crisis and quick thinking; Balan also spent a good deal of time writing the K&R form and getting the company’s resources in order. This was a huge task to tackle when creating the program from the ground up.

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“A lot of my day-to-day is speaking with brokers and finding ways to enhance our product,” she said.

After a few months, she was able to hire the company’s first K&R underwriter. From there, the program has grown. It’s left her feeling professionally rewarded.

“People don’t often get that opportunity to build something up from scratch,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience — rewarding and fun.”

“She brings groups of people together,” said Tucker. “She’s created a positive environment.”

Balan’s yogi nature extends beyond the office walls, too. Her pride and joy, she said, are her kids. And while it may seem like two large parts of her life are opposite in nature, Balan’s achieved balance through her passions.

“[Yoga] has given me the ability to see beyond only one aspect of any situation” she said. “I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” &

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