Brokers

Post-Brexit Game Plan

As Britain’s separation from the EU looms closer, businesses and their brokers strategize.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 6 min read

Now that the official wheels are in motion for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union by 2019, companies that have operations in the UK or conduct significant business there need to develop contingency plans for however the Brexit negotiations proceed.

The UK government’s plan is for a so-called “hard” Brexit, meaning that it plans to leave the EU single market and introduce some immigration controls over people coming from the EU into the UK, said David Gent, legal director at Bird & Bird in London. The UK would also no longer be a member of the EU Customs Union, which could mean some trade tariffs between the UK and EU.

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“The precise terms of trade between the UK and the EU will be uncertain until a new free trade agreement between the two is negotiated,” Gent said. “There’s also a possibility that the UK and EU will not be able to reach an agreement.”

There’s also uncertainty over what the terms of a potential trade deal may be between the UK and the U.S., and how that might impact U.S. companies doing business in the UK, he said.

“The UK is commonly used by U.S. companies as a gateway country to trading with the EU, but after Brexit companies may want to rethink this, or if entering the EU market for the first time, look at another country instead,” Gent said.

Industry Impact

The financial services sector is expected to be particularly impacted, and many firms may move jobs to mainland Europe, he said.

Many U.S. life sciences companies have also established their European headquarters in the UK, and there’s been uncertainty about the future of the regulatory environment, including the conduct of clinical trials and approval procedures for medications and medical devices, said Sally Shorthose, a Bird & Bird partner. Currently the UK regime is “intricately incorporated” in the EU system, and the UK government has announced it would continue close relationships with EU regulators.

“… The changing strategic profile also changes the strategic risk profile. As a result, we just want to make sure the company’s insurance and risk management programs are performing at an optimal level.” — David Molony, risk finance consultant.

“My discussions with pharmaceutical companies indicate that if the UK is not part of the same regulatory environment, it would then become part of a third or fourth wave jurisdiction to get approval for new medicines,” Shorthose said. “If they have to pay once for EU approvals, they might not pay again for UK approvals in a hurry.”

The demand for goods and services from all types of U.S. businesses might be impacted by a downturn in the UK economy due to Brexit, as well as changes in UK regulations, said Eric Siegel, a partner at Dechert LLP in Philadelphia.

U.S. exporters should consider currency hedges if the UK pound falls further relative to the dollar, Siegel said. For example, a hedge that allows a U.S. business to convert pound-denominated sales into a stable dollar amount, or a hedge that pays off when the pound falls, could allow a U.S. business to keep its prices from going up for UK customers.

Building a Plan

Aon Risk Solutions is now offering clients a three-step Brexit Navigator tool to determine what could happen to their risk management, insurance and business continuity management programs after Brexit, said David Molony, a risk finance consultant for the firm in London. Initial risk assessments are based on how clients are currently using the “four freedoms of movement” that exist between the UK and EU — goods, services, capital and people — and how those freedoms could change after negotiations.

The next phase of Brexit Navigator involves the potential redesign of a client’s risk management and insurance programs if the client has to restructure its operations, he said.

David Molony, risk finance consultant

“Say a German company is selling goods in the UK, but if a there’s a potential tariff that reduces its profit margin, the company could then decide to concentrate business elsewhere,” Molony said. “That means the changing strategic profile also changes the strategic risk profile. As a result, during this phase we just want to make sure the company’s insurance and risk management programs are performing at an optimal level.”

During the tool’s execution and resilience testing phase, Aon will help clients determine whether their business continuity management strategies are still appropriate, depending on the changing business environment, whether or not they have the same number of employees in every location, and whether they’re still operating in those locations or in new locations.

Revisiting Legal Structures

Brexit could significantly impact the business operating models of insurance companies based in the UK and those who transact global business through a UK entity, said Greg Galeaz, U.S. insurance industry leader at PwC in Boston.

“If they continue to operate in the UK and then set up another operation, that could create some level of inefficiency and require additional capital,” Galeaz said.

Companies will also need to review their legal entity structures to determine both their capital and tax effectiveness post-Brexit.

Mark Weil, chief executive of Marsh UK and Ireland, said that the brokerage firm is concerned about the possible loss of passporting and the ability it affords clients to access insurers across the EU from a single country license. Insurers are acting to establish local licenses inside the remaining EU, so that they can passport from there.

“That’s Plan A,” Weil said. “It does, though, have some risk — the most obvious one is being timed out by the process. So we think clients and insurers need a Plan B that doesn’t depend on governments and regulators and which puts them back in control, keeping firms’ access to the broadest set of choices.”

Marsh has offices and licenses in all EU countries, giving it the ability to wholesale from its EU office network into the UK and vice versa, he said. The firm has shaped a “bridge” structure based on fronting that it uses in other regions such as Latin America, a structure that European insurers used before the single EU market and passporting existed.

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Brexit could also increase the tax burden for multinationals, said David Jaffe, principal of Jaffe Counsel plc. Multinationals currently can move dividends up and down the corporate chain throughout the EU without tax consequences, but after Brexit, there may be tax costs for companies paying dividends to their UK units.

“The thing to remember is that this is going to be a roller coaster for a couple of years, a great period of uncertainty regarding the UK’s negotiations with the EU, likely with a lot of gamesmanship and drama,” he said. “The key for companies is to keep flexibility in their contingency plans.”

Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds, said that the UK-EU relationship will likely stay fairly intact.

There may be some negotiations around the UK’s contribution to the EU’s budget, but for the most part, he anticipates free movement of goods, services and financial capital. &

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Liability

Fresh Worries for Boards of Directors

New cyber security regulations increase exposure for directors and officers at financial institutions.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 6 min read

Boards of directors could face a fresh wave of directors and officers (D&O) claims following the introduction of tough new cybersecurity rules for financial institutions by The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS).

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Prompted by recent high profile cyber attacks on JPMorgan Chase, Sony, Target, and others, the state regulations are the first of their kind and went into effect on March 1.

The new rules require banks, insurers and other financial institutions to establish an enterprise-wide cybersecurity program and adopt a written policy that must be reviewed by the board and approved by a senior officer annually.

The regulation also requires the more than 3,000 financial services firms operating in the state to appoint a chief information security officer to oversee the program, to report possible breaches within 72 hours, and to ensure that third-party vendors meet the new standards.

Companies will have until September 1 to comply with most of the new requirements, and beginning February 15, 2018, they will have to submit an annual certification of compliance.

The responsibility for cybersecurity will now fall squarely on the board and senior management actively overseeing the entity’s overall program. Some experts fear that the D&O insurance market is far from prepared to absorb this risk.

“The new rules could raise compliance risks for financial institutions and, in turn, premiums and loss potential for D&O insurance underwriters,” warned Fitch Ratings in a statement. “If management and directors of financial institutions that experience future cyber incidents are subsequently found to be noncompliant with the New York regulations, then they will be more exposed to litigation that would be covered under professional liability policies.”

D&O Challenge

Judy Selby, managing director in BDO Consulting’s technology advisory services practice, said that while many directors and officers rely on a CISO to deal with cybersecurity, under the new rules the buck stops with the board.

“The common refrain I hear from directors and officers is ‘we have a great IT guy or CIO,’ and while it’s important to have them in place, as the board, they are ultimately responsible for cybersecurity oversight,” she said.

William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting, Argo Pro

William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting at Argo Pro, said that unknown cyber threats, untested policy language and developing case laws would all make it more difficult for the D&O market to respond accurately to any such new claims.

“Insurers will need to account for the increased exposures presented by these new regulations and charge appropriately for such added exposure,” he said.

Going forward, said Larry Hamilton, partner at Mayer Brown, D&O underwriters also need to scrutinize a company’s compliance with the regulations.

“To the extent that this risk was not adequately taken into account in the first place in the underwriting of in-force D&O policies, there could be unanticipated additional exposure for the D&O insurers,” he said.

Michelle Lopilato, Hub International’s director of cyber and technology solutions, added that some carriers may offer more coverage, while others may pull back.

“How the markets react will evolve as we see how involved the department becomes in investigating and fining financial institutions for noncompliance and its result on the balance sheet and dividends,” she said.

Christopher Keegan, senior managing director at Beecher Carlson, said that by setting a benchmark, the new rules would make it easier for claimants to make a case that the company had been negligent.

“If stock prices drop, then this makes it easier for class action lawyers to make their cases in D&O situations,” he said. “As a result, D&O carriers may see an uptick in cases against their insureds and an easier path for plaintiffs to show that the company did not meet its duty of care.”

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One area that regulators and plaintiffs might seize upon is the certification compliance requirement, according to Rob Yellen, executive vice president, D&O and fiduciary liability product leader, FINEX at Willis Towers Watson.

“A mere inaccuracy in a certification could result in criminal enforcement, in which case it would then become a boardroom issue,” he said.

A big grey area, however, said Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader for cyber risk at Starr Companies, is determining if a violation is a cyber or management liability issue in the first place.

“The complication arises when a company only has D&O coverage, but it doesn’t have a cyber policy and then they have to try and push all the claims down the D&O route, irrespective of their nature,” he said.

“Insurers, on their part, will need to account for the increased exposures presented by these new regulations and charge appropriately for such added exposure.” — William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting, Argo Pro

Jim McCue, managing director at Aon’s financial services group, said many small and mid-size businesses may struggle to comply with the new rules in time.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve and a lot of work in terms of preparedness and the implementation of a highly detailed cyber security program, risk assessment and response plan, all by September 2017,” he said.

The new regulation also has the potential to impact third parties including accounting, law, IT and even maintenance and repair firms who have access to a company’s information systems and personal data, said Keegan.

“That can include everyone from IT vendors to the people who maintain the building’s air conditioning,” he said.

New Models

Others have followed New York’s lead, with similar regulations being considered across federal, state and non-governmental regulators.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Cyber-security Taskforce has proposed an insurance data security model law that establishes exclusive standards for data security and investigation, and notification of a breach of data security for insurance providers.

Once enacted, each state would be free to adopt the new law, however, “our main concern is if regulators in different states start to adopt different standards from each other,” said Alex Hageli, director, personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“It would only serve to make compliance harder, increase the cost of burden on companies, and at the end of the day it doesn’t really help anybody.”

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Richard Morris, partner at law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP, said companies need to review their current cybersecurity program with their chief technology officer or IT provider.

“Companies should assess whether their current technology budget is adequate and consider what investments will be required in 2017 to keep up with regulatory and market expectations,” he said. “They should also review and assess the adequacy of insurance policies with respect to coverages, deductibles and other limitations.”

Adam Hamm, former NAIC chair and MD of Protiviti’s risk and compliance practice, added: “With New York’s new cyber regulation, this is a sea change from where we were a couple of years ago and it’s soon going to become the new norm for regulating cyber security.” &

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]