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Peeling Back the Layers of Risk for U.S. Companies on the Global Stage

Multinational companies need programs tailored to their unique exposures.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 6 min read

U.S.-based companies of every size have compelling reasons to take their business abroad. This especially holds true as global expansion is no longer exclusive to Fortune 500 corporations.

“The primary driver of international expansion is economic opportunity,” said Jonathon Fanti, Senior Vice President and Underwriting Leader, Public Company Management Liability, QBE North America.

“Though the U.S. economy continues to recover, tapping into the resources, workforces and consumer bases of other nations represents big growth potential for American organizations.”

Technology has been a key driver to increasing international commerce. Companies are able to easily communicate and conduct transactions from thousands of miles away.

“The internet has made it easier for U.S. companies of all sizes to sell their products and services overseas than it was 20 years ago. It allows for 24/7 communication,” said Harpreet Mann, Vice President, QBE North America.

But going international doesn’t always mean building factories or brick-and-mortar offices abroad. It could also mean selling a product overseas without having any physical location there, sourcing supplies from foreign firms, or it could mean international executive travel.

Different layers of global involvement bring increased multinational risks, requiring global expertise and protection.

Travel Risk

With increasing frequency, regardless of company size, employees often travel outside the U.S. to seek business in a new market; research potential suppliers; or scout possible locations for a new facility, shop or office. For these companies, the primary level of overseas exposure involves international travel.

Standard travel insurance typically covers cancellations and delays, lost baggage, medical expenses, evacuations and a 24/7 assistance hotline. Such coverage may not be enough to mitigate an employer’s risk.

“Employers have a duty to care for the health and well-being of employees, especially when they are halfway around the globe,” said Richard Friesenhahn, Head of Multinational, QBE North America.

However, “a domestic workers’ compensation policy may not cover incidents that happen abroad,” Friesenhahn said. “Consequently, it is imperative companies have a global policy that will take care of employees no matter where they are.”

The most diligent employers will partner with insurers to provide pretravel risk assessments in various regions worldwide and develop plans to reduce potential risks. They also offer real-time security updates for specific regions, and trustworthy local medical providers to help workers who become ill or injured.

Working with a company that provides expertise is key, as the extension of coverage outside the U.S. for domestic workers’ compensation varies by state and may not cover accidents that happen abroad. In addition, employers may need multiple coverages to cover all the risks a traveler could be exposed to.

Risks to Companies’ Receivables

As companies increasingly sell their goods overseas, they are often required to extend credit to their buyers to remain competitive and make the sale. By extending credit, the company selling its products overseas is assuming risks that could result in nonpayment by the buyer. It is crucial such companies protect one of their most valuable assets — their receivables — which involves understanding the risks that may trigger non-payment.

By allowing a buyer to pay in the future for goods delivered, the company selling the goods is assuming credit risk. Specifically, such a company is exposing itself to the possibility that the buyer’s financial condition may deteriorate and impact its ability to pay. If a buyer does not make payment, the company supplying the goods will certainly incur a financial loss.

Another risk arises from the increasing trend toward companies selling to fewer and fewer entities. As a result, companies’ sales are concentrated in a few large buyers. The failure, therefore, of one buyer to pay can significantly impair the financial condition of the company supplying goods.

Companies may be exposed to political risks, as well as concentration risks, when selling goods outside the United States. A recent report by the Department of Commerce noted that Mexico, Canada, China, Japan and the UK were the top five markets for SME’s exporting overseas.

It is important for companies to understand how geopolitical risks may impact a buyer’s ability to make payment.

With the recent political discourse around exiting or renegotiating, international trade agreements may further increase political risks for companies selling overseas. The increased political risk could be in the form of sanctions, embargoes, license cancellations or other retaliatory measures taken if international relations sour. Such changes could block a company’s access to profitable markets and disrupt supply chains.

Brick-and-Mortar Risk

One of the most critical risks faced by a company is the threat to their physical locations outside the United States, whether it is a production facility, warehouse, office or retail distributor.

A traditional global master policy encompassing property/casualty, workers’ comp and auto liabilities may not provide enough coverage or even be considered legal in some countries. Some jurisdictions require that foreign companies purchase local policies from a locally-licensed admitted carrier.

“When you get down to it, the countries want the tax,” Fanti said. “Requiring local policies by law is about supporting their local economy.”

Such requirements vary by coverage and country. Local property, casualty, auto and workers’ comp policies are usually compulsory, but others like management and professional liability coverage may not be required by local regulators. Failure to get local coverage can result in steep fines and prevent claims from getting paid.

“Non-licensed, non-admitted carriers are not legally allowed to send funds into some regions where local policies are required by law,” Fanti said. “If your master policy isn’t recognized, you need to find an insurance carrier who will legally be able to pay your claim.”

Global Expertise

QBE North America, an integrated specialist insurer, recently expanded its multinational offering with QBE Global Connect, a foreign casualty package comprised of General Liability, Excess Auto and Foreign Voluntary Compensation coverages, joining its existing multinational Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance offering. The company’s Global Credit & Surety business also offers solutions for multinational companies worldwide.

“QBE is offering an integrated multinational solution in the marketplace by connecting a strong management liability solution with our property and casualty expertise and multinational coverage. As a multinational insurer with offices and expertise around the globe, we are uniquely positioned in the market to satisfy the growing need for multinational expertise and coverage,” Friesenhahn said.

QBE’s Multinational Client Centers help domestic clients identify global risks and implement a comprehensive program tailored to their specific needs.

“The centers address regulatory, compliance and tax needs while coordinating communications throughout our global network,” Fanti said. That network consists of 36 offices worldwide and a service team dedicated to ensuring product of local policies around the globe.

“QBE is truly global with on-the-ground teams who understand the local risks and local coverages. They can provide the network with up-to-date insights on regulatory changes, and the network is in constant communication with our brokers and underwriters,” Fanti said.

The QBE P&C and D&O multinational coverage solutions, QBE’s Multinational Client Centers and the integration of 36 QBE offices and partners around the world make QBE a leading insurer in the multinational space.

To learn more, visit QBE’s newly launched website at www.qbena.com.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with QBE North America. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




QBE North America is a division of QBE Insurance Group Limited, one of the world's 20 largest insurance and reinsurance companies. We offer the unique integration of financial strength, a broad product set and sophisticated capabilities to deliver value for our partners and policyholders.

Risk Focus: Workers' Comp

Do You Have Employees or Gig Workers?

The number of gig economy workers is growing in the U.S. But their classification as contractors leaves many without workers’ comp, unemployment protection or other benefits.
By: and | July 30, 2018 • 5 min read

A growing number of Americans earn their living in the gig economy without employer-provided benefits and protections such as workers’ compensation.

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With the proliferation of on-demand services powered by digital platforms, questions surrounding who does and does not actually work in the gig economy continue to vex stakeholders. Courts and legislators are being asked to decide what constitutes an employee and what constitutes an independent contractor, or gig worker.

The issues are how the worker is paid and who controls the work process, said Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney specializing in workers’ compensation law with a client roster in the trucking industry.

The common law test, he said, the same one the IRS uses, considers “whose tools and whose materials are used. Whether the employer is telling the worker how to do the job on a minute-to-minute basis. Whether the worker is paid by the hour or by the job. Whether he’s free to work for someone else.”

Legal challenges have occurred, starting with lawsuits against transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. Several court cases in recent years have come down on the side of allowing such companies to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors.

Those decisions are significant for TNCs, because the gig model relies on the lower labor cost of independent contractors. Classification as an employee adds at least 30 percent to labor costs.

The issues lie with how a worker is paid and who controls the work process. — Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney

However, a March 2018 California Supreme Court ruling in a case involving delivery drivers for Dynamex went the other way. The Dynamex decision places heavy emphasis on whether the worker is performing a core function of the business.

Under the Dynamex court’s standard, an electrician called to fix a wiring problem at an Uber office would be considered a general contractor. But a driver providing rides to customers would be part of the company’s central mission and therefore an employee.

Despite the California ruling, a Philadelphia court a month later declined to follow suit, ruling that Uber’s limousine drivers are independent contractors, not employees. So a definitive answer remains elusive.

A Legislative Movement

Misclassification of workers as independent contractors introduces risks to both employers and workers, said Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust.

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered.”

Misclassifying workers opens a “Pandora’s box” for employers, said Richard R. Meneghello, partner, Fisher Phillips.

Issues include tax liabilities, claims for minimum wage and overtime violations, workers’ comp benefits, civil labor law rights and wrongful termination suits.

The motive for companies seeking the contractor definition is clear: They don’t have to pay for benefits, said Meneghello. “But from a legal perspective, it’s not so easy to turn the workforce into contractors.”

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered in the eyes of the state.” — Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

It’s about to get easier, however. In 2016, Handy — which is being sued in five states for misclassification of workers — drafted a N.Y. bill to establish a program where gig-economy companies would pay 2.5 percent of workers’ income into individual health savings accounts, yet would classify them as independent contractors.

Unions and worker advocacy groups argue the program would rob workers of rights and protections. So Handy moved on to eight other states where it would be more likely to win.

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So far, the Handy bills have passed one house of the legislature in Georgia and Colorado; passed both houses in Iowa and Tennessee; and been signed into law in Kentucky, Utah and Indiana. A similar bill was also introduced in Alabama.

The bills’ language says all workers who find jobs through a website or mobile app are independent contractors, as long as the company running the digital platform does not control schedules, prohibit them from working elsewhere and meets other criteria. Two bills exclude transportation network companies such as Uber.

These laws could have far-reaching consequences. Traditional service companies will struggle to compete with start-ups paying minimal labor costs.

Opponents warn that the Handy bills are so broad that a service company need only launch an app for customers to contract services, and they’d be free to re-classify their employees as independent contractors — leaving workers without social security, health insurance or the protections of unemployment insurance or workers’ comp.

That could destabilize social safety nets as well as shrink available workers’ comp premiums.

A New Classification

Independent contractors need to buy their own insurance, including workers’ compensation. But many don’t, said Hart Brown, executive vice president, COO, Firestorm. They may not realize that in the case of an accident, their personal car and health insurance won’t engage, Brown said.

Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

Workers’ compensation for gig workers can be hard to find. Some state-sponsored funds provide self-employed contractors’ coverage.  Policies can be expensive though in some high-risk occupations, such as roofing, said Bollinger.

The gig system, where a worker does several different jobs for several different companies, breaks down without portable benefits, said Brown. Portable benefits would follow workers from one workplace engagement to another.

What a portable benefits program would look like is unclear, he said, but some combination of employers, independent contractors and intermediaries (such as a digital platform business or staffing agency) would contribute to the program based on a percentage of each transaction.

There is movement toward portable benefits legislation. The Aspen Institute proposed portable benefits where companies contribute to workers’ benefits based on how much an employee works for them. Uber and SEI together proposed a portable benefits bill to the Washington State Legislature.

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Senator Mark Warner (D. VA) introduced the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act for the study of portable benefits, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D. WA) introduced a House companion bill.

Meneghello is skeptical of portable benefits as a long-term solution. “They’re a good first step,” he said, “but they paper over the problem. We need a new category of workers.”

A portable benefits model would open opportunities for the growing Insurtech market. Brad Smith, CEO, Intuit, estimates the gig economy to be about 34 percent of the workforce in 2018, growing to 43 percent by 2020.

The insurance industry reinvented itself from a risk transfer mechanism to a risk management mechanism, Brown said, and now it’s reinventing itself again as risk educator to a new hybrid market. &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected] Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]