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Risk Management

The Profession

Being a hero, said Ensign-Bickford Industries' Rick Roberts, depends on the way a person behaves when they succeed or fail at a task.
By: | December 10, 2014 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

It was back with Aetna in 1979. The area I worked in designed forms for use on new computers. It was insurance-related work but not underwriting. This work was the beginning of Aetna’s move to major automation.

R&I: How did you get your start in the business?

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Rick Roberts, director, risk management & employee benefits, Ensign-Bickford Industries

I moved around Aetna in various internal consulting positions and then completed the three-course ARM program. I had applied for a risk management position at Aetna in 1987 and was not selected. However, the person they hired to handle risk management left within a year and I reapplied. I guess due to my perseverance, they gave me a chance and I got the position. Best luck I have had in my career.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I guess at the top of the list now is cyber risk. Like many risk specialists I’m trying to figure out its impact to our operations. For us, we think the issue would be if someone was able to get in and close our systems down for a long period of time. Are we prepared for a cyber attack that closes our system down for a two- or three-week period?

R&I: Where do you think the risk management community is providing its most vital function?

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I think the risk management community is better at elevating key risk issues in our respective companies and making sure that these risks are being reviewed and are known by senior management.

R&I: What are some of those key issues?

Taking a more holistic look at risk, for one thing. What will the impact be if a couple of non-related events happen at the same time, for instance? Like, if you have a tsunami at one site and a major fire at another site and they are simultaneous events. This helps to address catastrophic or “tail events” that could occur outside of the three standard deviations from the mean. It provides a good review of high CAT, very low-frequency events. These are the “black swan” events that have not been assessed before an event like 9/11.

R6-14p42_Profession.inddR&I: Do you find that colleagues can frequently help you solve coverage issues?

Through RIMS, risk specialists are willing and able to share a lot of experiences. … At one point, my organization was looking into an international travel policy. I was able to go to two chapter contacts, including a former boss of mine. They gave me a wealth of information I used prior to approaching our broker to see what type of program would work best for us.

R&I: What surprises you most about the way the risk management and insurance industries have changed over the last few decades?

For me personally when I first started in the job some 26 years ago, the business was very much insurance-focused. Insurance represented 85 to 90 percent of my job and that was the foundation of everything around risk. Now, it encompasses only 10 to 15 percent. I’m being asked to get into enterprise risk management and contract work, as well as involvement in different aspects of the company, such as supply chain and cyber.

R&I: What are some of the latest happenings at the Spencer Educational Foundation where you are a director?

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The Spencer Educational Foundation does a lot of work with students and younger risk professionals trying to attract these younger folks into the risk profession. Spencer also has a great program that I plan to utilize next year where it grants up to $4,000 to bring in interns from local universities to show them how the risk management function works at your company. These students get a great, first-hand experience in the working world and get to make many contacts that can lead to work when they are done with college.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

That’s a good question. My opinion is there should be complete transparency around all compensation received by brokers, then we as the buyer can determine whether it’s appropriate or not. There can be the appearance of a conflict of interest when the broker is being paid by the insurer as well as by the buyer when there is no disclosure.

“That unpredictability [of risk management] makes every day exciting.”    — Rick Roberts, director, risk management & employee benefits, Ensign-Bickford Industries

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

When I was younger I used to jump off a cliff, 65 or 70 feet down, at an old quarry in Southern Connecticut, which when I look at it now seems kind of stupid. But I might try some skydiving!

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Going back to school to get my MBA as an old guy of 52 at the University of Hartford.

R&I: What is your favorite book?

“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. He was a keynote at RIMS in L.A. two years ago. It’s a business book about decision-making. It forces you to ask the question “why?” “Why” customers buy versus “what” they buy. It talks about how we approach business situations to keep customers happy and coming back.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Blue Goodness. It’s a health drink made of a bunch of different berries. It’s a really good one!

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The folks that appeal to me as heroes are golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. They’re on full display and the way they behave when they fail or succeed is impeccable, both in sports and all the different businesses they still are running today.

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R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

The diversity of the work and the fact that no two days are ever the same. That unpredictability makes every day exciting.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

They’re beginning to understand the risk management function because of the publicity our work has received. Risk management seems to be seen in a very favorable light these days. People kind of get it when you say you’re involved in managing risk now because they understand the importance of loss control and the benefit of preventing injuries.

Janet Aschkenasy is a freelance financial writer based in New York. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]