Claims

Preparing for Hail

Hailstorms present a growing threat, but insurers can minimize losses by studying storm data.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 7 min read

Hailstorms are expanding their geographic footprint in every direction.
In Texas, storms are striking as far south as San Antonio. While the city normally experiences one to five hailstorms per year — a moderate risk zone for hail — this year it had more than 30, according to data tracked by Liberty Mutual’s risk engineering arm.

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“Hail activity has also been expanding more into the North and Northeast,” said Arindam Samanta, director, product management and innovation at Verisk Insurance Solutions.

“We’ve noticed it becoming more of a problem in parts of Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota, outside of traditional hail-prone areas.”

As these areas become more developed, more properties are built in hail’s path, increasing claim frequency and severity.

Areas on the west and south sides of Oklahoma City, for example, have largely transformed from wheat fields to sprawling suburban communities in the last 10 years.

Arindam Samanta, director, product management and innovation, Verisk Insurance Solutions

Arindam Samanta, director, product management and innovation, Verisk Insurance Solutions

“We know that the weather patterns responsible for the formation of hail are fairly consistent over certain geographic areas — the Great Plains states, the Rocky Mountain West, parts of the Midwest — but over time the expansion and aerial coverage of cities and suburbs throughout these regions have increased, so the number of properties in the path of these damaging hailstorms will increase,” said Curtis McDonald, product manager, weather verification services, CoreLogic.

The type of storm has changed too. Smaller stones with diameters of less than 2 inches combined with higher velocity winds wreak different types of damage than larger, denser stones.

Hail typically smashes up roofs, siding, skylights and roof-mounted equipment like refrigeration units. In 2016, though, wrecked air conditioner coils have constituted roughly 30 percent of hail damages.

The smaller hailstones have an easier time getting into the coils — which are fragile and susceptible to damage — but are not heavy enough to significantly damage roofing materials and sturdier equipment.

The costs associated with hail damage have also risen due to the expensive repair and replacement of air conditioning units that are either too old or too new. For out-of-date equipment, there may no longer be parts available, while newer units must adhere to eco-friendly guidelines that elevate their price.

Many newer A/C units are also custom-built, especially for large commercial properties, so the replacement process is not only costly, but time-consuming.

Commercial property insurers can build a defense strategy by arming themselves with data, and there are plenty of ways to gather it.

“For 200-ton to 500-ton air conditioning units, it could take three to four months to get a new unit built and installed. And sometimes roof modifications are necessary during that process,” said Ralph Tiede, vice president, commercial insurance, and manager, property risk engineering, at Liberty Mutual.

“The business interruption impact can be significant, and that’s one piece of the puzzle that risk managers may not think about,” Tiede said.

If a storm strikes in the middle of a hot Texas summer, then the property may need to shut down completely while it waits for the new unit.

Data-Driven Defense

Commercial property insurers can build a defense strategy by arming themselves with data, and there are plenty of ways to gather it.

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The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IIBHS), a research organization funded by insurance companies, conducts storm simulations inside its massive laboratory in Chester County, S.C., firing lab-created hailstones from cannons into full-size buildings to study effects on roofing, siding and outdoor equipment.

The organization also conducts field testing using impact probes to analyze hailstone size and density, and radar to track weather patterns.

“The IIBHS supplies member companies [including Liberty Mutual] with the most up-to-date information. That’s critical, because otherwise we’d be left making risk mitigation recommendations to clients based on building codes that are years old and don’t reflect what’s happening today,” Tiede said.

Other analytics organizations provide similar real-time insights.

Verisk Analytics uses weather modeling and ground observations to complement its real-time weather monitoring data feed.

Ralph Tiede, vice president, commercial insurance, and manager, property risk engineering, at Liberty Mutual

Ralph Tiede, vice president, commercial insurance, and manager, property risk engineering, Liberty Mutual

“We use an extensive ground-based network, including dual-pol radars, which collect huge amounts of data on fast-moving storms every two to five minutes,” Samanta said. This helps to complete the picture of a property’s exposure and keep an accurate record of hail events.

Storm history, collated with industry-wide hail claims data, informs Verisk’s Hail Damage Score, which ranks a location on a scale from one to 10. Higher numbers indicate higher likelihood of exposure to past damaging hail events and the presence of pre-existing hail damage.

Such data can help insurers discern what to look for when conducting property inspections for potential new clients, and may lead them to decide that a location is too risky to underwrite.

112016_05_claims_hail_chartAnalytics firm CoreLogic also produces retrospective data using a proprietary forensic database that houses three years’ worth of storm data.

“At CoreLogic, we score properties based on the actual number of hail events that previously impacted it,” McDonald said. “It’s a tool underwriters can use when evaluating a new property or geographic area.”

But with hailstorms fanning into new regions and the resulting damage changing in nature, data based on past events may not suffice. Forward-looking probability metrics complete the risk picture.

“We’ll also run a 10,000-year simulation and look at the probability of hail 1 inch in diameter or greater impacting a specific property in the future,” McDonald said.

Other data points to consider are more property-specific: the types of building materials for roofing and siding, the number of roof-mounted equipment units and skylights, the age of the equipment, the current value of the building, and any mortgage or potential liens.

“High quality data is key in forming a basis for a view of risk in areas where it is still emerging,” Samanta of Verisk said.

Risk Mitigation

Hailstorm and property-specific data can aid insurers in multiple capacities, from initial assessments of a potential new client to risk mitigation recommendations to expeditious claims processing.

“We have specific guidelines for our engineers when they go out to do an assessment of a new building in an area prone to hailstorms and wind,” Tiede of Liberty Mutual said. “We will want them to look at specific things like the roof condition, roof-mounted equipment, and any maintenance programs in place.”

The engineers then report back to account managers, who use the information to customize pricing and deductible structures, and to develop specific risk mitigation recommendations.

“We built a proprietary hail tool where we’ll enter in all the property-specific data collected for us by our engineers, and it will show us the loss potential for that specific location.

“We pass that along to the account managers, who help clients develop and prioritize specific steps they can take to reduce their exposure,” Tiede said.

Recommendations can include installing factory-approved hail guards over air conditioning and heating units, replacing an old roof with stronger material, conducting regular roof maintenance and installing protection for skylights.

112016_05_claims_fact_chart

At about $250 each, “manufacturer-installed hail guards are a surprisingly inexpensive fix” that won’t compromise the unit’s efficiency, Tiede said.
Liberty Mutual’s tool also has the benefit of identifying customers who are doing their homework and have already taken steps to protect themselves.

“If we have a customer who is proactively taking these steps that could reduce loss expectancy, this might make them more attractive, which would likely be reflected in that risk’s pricing,” said Brent Chambers, underwriting consultant, national insurance property, Liberty Mutual.

“It’s a tool we can use to sharpen our quote.”

“Customers who are loss-conscious deserve some type of credit. If we can, we like to give them something back to demonstrate that we’re partners in this together,” Tiede said.

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Insurers can also use weather monitoring systems to send out alerts to clients sitting in a storm’s path, advising them of immediate steps they can take to limit damage and providing them with a claims contact if a loss occurs.

“If they suffer serious damage, they may not be able to get inside the building or get access to their files where they keep their insurance information,” said Chambers.

“We send them the claims intake phone number to call so they have it right in front of them if they need it.”

When insureds are warned and prepared, claims can be filed and resolved more quickly.

“Hailstorms aren’t going to stop, and in fact we’re going to see more and more of them,” Tiede said. “2016 saw a lot of hail damage — about 5,400 storms this year, and it’s a risk the whole industry is waking up to.” &

Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Reputational Risk

Under Siege

Driven by social media, political wars spill over into the corporate arena, threatening reputations.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 12 min read

On Jan. 28, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called a strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport, one day after President Trump signed an executive order banning entry of foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations, including a blanket ban on refugees. The strike was an act of solidarity with immigrants, and a public display of the Alliance’s opposition to the executive order.

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Uber, however, continued to service the airport, tweeting that it would halt surge pricing during the protests. Some saw it as an opportunistic ploy to get more riders to use Uber. A #deleteUber Twitter campaign was quickly born, with users tweeting screen shots of themselves removing the app from their smartphones.

More than 200,000 were estimated to have uninstalled the ride-sharing service over the course of the weekend.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick reacted, creating a $3 million legal defense fund to provide lawyers and immigration experts for any of its drivers that were barred from the U.S., and promising that drivers would be compensated for lost wages.

Over the same weekend, in response to the travel ban, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that the company would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years. Then it was Starbucks turn to get punished in the public arena. A #boycottStarbucks campaign was launched by people who felt the company should focus more on hiring American veterans.

Athletic shoemaker New Balance suffered blowback in November of 2016 when its vice president of communications, Matt LeBretton, told the “Wall Street Journal” in an interview that he believed “things are going to move in the right direction” under the new administration. Angry customers began posting pictures of themselves trashing or even burning their New Balance sneakers.

These social media-fueled public relations crises demonstrate how fickle public opinion can be. They also serve as warning signs of growing reputational risk for corporations.

Uber, for example, typically stops its surge pricing in the event of emergency so as not to exploit a crisis for its own benefit. To do so during the protests and taxi strike at JFK was perhaps meant to show its respect for the event.

Helen Chue, global risk manager, Facebook

Starbucks’ 10,000 refugee hires would be spread out across its locations around the globe, not just in the U.S., where the coffee conglomerate already promised to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025.

New Balance’s LeBretton was speaking specifically about the Trans-Pacific Partnership during his interview, and how the deal could hurt sneaker production in the U.S. while favoring foreign producers — he wasn’t talking about Trump’s other proposed plans.

These companies, in reality, did nothing as abhorrent and scandalous as the Twitterverse may have led some to believe, but context isn’t always provided in 140 characters.

Public Pressure

Complaints and boycotts have been launched at companies via social media for perhaps as long as social media has existed. But the current contentious environment created by one of the most divisive leaders in American history now colors every public statement made by prominent business leaders with a political tint. Executives are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They’re exposed to reputational damage whether they oppose or endorse a Trump action, or even if they do nothing at all.

Take Elon Musk, for example, founder of Tesla and SpaceX and a well-known advocate for climate research and environmental protection. He came under fire for not publicly denouncing the travel ban and for keeping his seat on Trump’s business advisory council.

Musk has largely avoided the limelight on political issues, couching statements when he makes them at all — as most executives are wont to do. But he was prodded to defend himself on Twitter after some users suggested he was a hypocrite.

“Be proactive in your plans to mitigate the aftermath and how to communicate. Own up to error. Be transparent. Salvage your crown jewel.” —Helen Chue, global risk manager, Facebook

A strategy of avoidance may no longer work as consumers, employees and the public at large pressure companies to make a statement or take action in response to political events.

“A large segment of the population expects the people they do business with and the companies they buy from to support their point of view or respond to political or social issues in a certain way,” said Chrystina M. Howard, senior vice president, strategic risk consulting, Willis Towers Watson.

In a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t environment, reputation risk is expanding, and risk managers need to re-evaluate how they assess their exposure and build mitigation strategies.

A True Crisis?

The challenge begins with determining whether a negative public relations event is really a crisis. Is it a temporary blow to a brand, or does it have the potential to do long-term reputation damage? Misreading the signs could lead companies to overreact and further tarnish their image.

“These sudden public relations crises are a source of panic for companies, but sometimes it sounds much worse than it actually is. The financial ramifications may not be anywhere near what was feared,” Howard said.

“Uber is probably a good example of what not to do,” said Jeff Cartwright, director of communications at Morning Consult, a brand and political intelligence firm.

“They maybe went over the top in trying to reverse the way they handled the protests at JFK.”

Tracking brand value in real time can give risk managers insight into the true impact of a negative social media campaign or bad press.  Michael Ramlet, CEO and co-founder of Morning Consult, said most events don’t damage brands as much as trending hashtags make it appear.

Morning Consult’s proprietary brand tracking tool allows companies to measure their brand perception against influencing events like a spike of Twitter mentions and news stories. More often than not, overall brand loyalty remains on par with industry averages.

In Uber’s case, Twitter mentions spiked to roughly 8,800 on Jan. 29, up from about 1,000 the day before. By Jan. 31, though, the number was back down to around 1,250 and quickly settled back down to its average numbers. From the beginning of the #deleteUber campaign through the end of February, Uber’s favorability shrunk from 50 percent to roughly 40 percent, based on a series of polls taken by 18,908 respondents.

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It’s a significant dip, but likely not a permanent stain on the company’s reputation, especially after Kalanick’s public show of support for immigrants and rejection of the travel ban. Uber’s favorability rating remained higher than competitor Lyft’s throughout the ordeal.

“The #deleteUber campaign turned out to be a very local thing that didn’t have a widespread impact,” Ramlet said.

“Twitter at best is an imputed analysis of what people are saying. The vocal minority might be very active, but there might be a silent majority who still think fondly of a brand, or at least have no negative opinions of it.”

He said risk managers can also benefit by breaking down their brand perception into geographic and demographic subsets. It can, for example, show whether a brand is favored more heavily by Democrats or Republicans.

“If you have that data on day one, it can help you determine how to respond if, say, Trump tweets at you,” Ramlet said.

Of course, some spikes in news media and social media attention are indicative of much deeper problems and true reputational risk.

After the Wells Fargo dummy-account scandal broke, for example, unfavorability ratings as measured by Morning Consult jumped from roughly 20 percent to nearly 55 percent, while favorability dropped from 50 percent to 30 percent. Net favorability, which stood at 33 percent pre-scandal, fell to -4 percent post-scandal.

“They went from being the most popular bank to the least popular in less than four months, according to our data,” Ramlet said.

The contrast between Uber’s and Wells Fargo’s stories demonstrates the difference between a more surface-level public-relations event that temporarily hurts brand image, and a true reputation event.

“Failures that produce real and lasting damage to reputation include failures of ethics, innovation, safety, security, quality and sustainability,” said Nir Kossovksy, CEO of Steel City Re.

“Activists make a lot of noise that can be channeled through various media, but for the most part in the business world, stakeholders are interested in the goods and services a company offers, not in their political or social views. As long as you can meet stakeholder expectations, you avoid long-term reputational damage.”

Wells Fargo’s scandal involved a violation of ethics, sparked an SEC investigation and forced the resignation of its CEO, John Stumpf. It’s safe to say stakeholders were severely disappointed.

That’s not to say, however, that a tarnished brand name doesn’t also impact the bottom line.

“Even if a bad event is short-lived, the equity markets react quickly, so there may be sharp equity dips. There may be some economic impact even over the short term,” Kossovsky said, “because sharp dips are dog whistles for activists, litigators and corporate raiders.”

Social Media Machine

The root of reputation risk’s tightening grip lies in the politicizing of business, and consumers’ increased desire to buy from companies that share their values. Social media may not be driving that trend, but it acts as a vehicle for it.

“Social media has really changed the game in terms of brand equity, and has given people another way to choose who they give their money to,” Howard of Willis Towers Watson said.

Platforms like Twitter make it easier for consumers to directly reach out to big companies and allow news to travel at warp speed.

“Social media are communication channels that can take a story and make it widely available. In that regard, the media risk is no different than that posed by a newspaper or radio channel,” Kossovsky said.

“The difference today that changes the strategy for risk managers and boards is that social media has been weaponized: Stories shared on social media don’t necessarily have to contain truthful content, and there’s not always an obvious difference between what’s true and what’s not.”

Helen Chue, Facebook’s global risk manager, agreed.

“More influential than social media platforms is today’s culture of immediacy and headlines. Because we are inundated with information from so many sources, we scan the headlines, form our opinions and go from there,” she said.

“It’s dangerous to draw conclusions without taking a balanced approach, but who has the time and patience to sift through all the different viewpoints?”

An environment of political divisiveness, driven by speed and immediacy of social media, creates the risk that false or half-true stories are disseminated before companies have a chance to clarify. This is what happened to Uber and New Balance.

“It creates the opportunity to turn a non-problem into a problem,” Kossovksy said.

“That’s how social media changes the calculus of risk management.”

Risk Mitigation

The best way to battle both political pressure and social media’s speed is through an ironclad communication strategy; a process that risk managers can lead.

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“Risk managers play a crucial role in mitigating reputation risk,” Howard said.

“They bring with them the discipline of managing and monitoring a risk, having a plan and responding to crisis. Now they really have to partner with communications, marketing and PR.”

They also have to get the attention of their board of directors.

“If you let a gap form between what you say and what you do, that gap is the definition of reputation risk.” — Nir Kossovksy, CEO of Steel City Re

“This is both a company-wide risk and personal leadership risk, so the board needs to drive a company-wide policy that protects the board as well,” Kossovsky said.

The art of mitigating reputation risk, he said, comes down to managing expectations. Corporate communications should clearly convey what a company believes and what it does not believe; what it can do and what it can’t do. And those stated values need to align with the operational reality. It comes down to creating credibility and legitimacy.

“If you let a gap form between what you say and what you do, that gap is the definition of reputation risk,” he said. A strong communication strategy can prevent adverse events from turning into reputational threats.

Willis Towers Watson helps clients test their strategies through a table-top exercise in which they have to respond to a social media-driven reputation event.

“We’ll say, ‘Something happened with X product, and now everyone’s on Twitter lambasting you and calling for resignations, etc.’ What do you do on day one? What do you do a week out? How long do you continue to monitor it and keep it on your radar?” Howard said.

“If you have that plan in place, you can fine-tune it going forward as circumstances change.”

Sometimes, though, the communication strategy fails, and a company falls short of meeting stakeholders’ expectations. Now it’s time for crisis management.

“Volatility creates vulnerability. If you stumble on your corporate message, it creates an opportunity for activists, litigators and corporate raiders to exploit. So you need to have authoritative third parties who can attest to your credibility and affirm the truth of the situation to open-minded stakeholders,” Kossovsky said.

Owning up to any mistakes, reaffirming the truth and being as transparent as possible will be key in any response plan.

Insuring the Risk

Recouping dollars lost from reputation damage requires a blend of mathematics with a little magic. While some traditional products are available, reputation risk is, for the most part, an intangible and uninsurable risk.

“Many companies have leveraged their captive insurance companies in the absence of traditional reputation products in the marketplace,” said Derrick Easton, managing director, alternative risk transfer solutions practice, Willis Towers Watson.

“It goes back to measuring a loss that can include lost revenue, or increased costs. Some companies build indexes in the same way we might create an index for a weather product, using rainfall or wind speed. For reputation, we might use stock price or a more refined index,” he said.

“If we can measure a potential loss, we can build a financing structure.”

While there’s no clear-cut way to measure losses from reputation damage, “stock performance and reported sales changes are some of the best tools we have,” Howard said.

Some insurers, including Allianz and Tokiomarine Kiln, and Steel City Re, an MGA, do offer reputation policies. When these fit a company’s needs, they have the ancillary benefit of affirming quality of governance and sending a signal that the insured is prepared to defend itself.

“Because reputation assurance is only available to companies that have demonstrated sound governance processes, it helps to convince people that if a bad piece of news happens, it’s idiosyncratic; it doesn’t reflect what the company really stands for,” Kossovsky of Steel City Re said.

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“And it tells activists, broadly defined, not to look for low-hanging fruit here.”

In a volatile political environment, companies fare best when they simply tell the truth.

“The American public will accept an apology if delivered quickly and if it’s sincere,” said Stephen Greyser, Richard P. Chapman professor (marketing/communications) emeritus, of the Harvard Business School.

“Tell the truth. Don’t stonewall. A bad social media campaign can be an embarrassment, but if you stick to the facts and apologize when you need to, people forget about the bad quickly.”

“Reputation is the crown jewel,” Chue said. “Given the power of social media’s reach, one individual can have a tsunami-like influence. And it can happen when you least expect it, and it will probably be something you thought was innocuous or even positive that sets off a maelstrom.

“Plan for the worst-case scenario. Be proactive in your plans to mitigate the aftermath and how to communicate. Own up to error. Be transparent. Salvage your crown jewel.” &

Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]