The Profession

Ray Van Eperen

Ray Van Eperen and his Kimberly-Clark team trained more than 6,000 of their colleagues in risk mitigation.
By: | February 22, 2016 • 7 min read

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R&I: What was your first job?

I delivered newspapers for the “Appleton Post-Crescent” for three years. I am an early morning person and my lifelong start in getting up early started with my newspaper delivery job. You will see me in the office many times at 4 – 4:30 a.m.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was in Houston (with The Hartford) and my father came down for Thanksgiving and told me that Kimberly-Clark had an opening in risk management. I thought, “Why not try that?” and sure enough it turned out great. I thought it was a good transition to go from the claims arena to the world of risk.

R&I: What are some of the keys to doing risk management well?

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I tell people that you need certain skills. I call it blocking and tackling. Meaning you need to know how to manage claims and you need to know how to place coverage. No matter where we grow from a corporate perspective or a continuous improvement perspective, you still need those blocking and tackling skills. We’re doing a good job of that so I am real proud of seeing that continue on.

R&I: Where does risk management need to sharpen its game?

I think one area that we need to improve is quantifying risk appetite. Most companies are looking to determine what impact a risk could have on the business.

It is no longer just a property and casualty risk it’s an enterprise risk. It is difficult to quantify risk appetite. It’s very easy to work in ranges, we’re good at that.

We’re getting better at quantifying risk appetite, but I think it’s an opportunity for the whole industry.

R&I: How can people do a better job of quantifying risk appetite?

You need to understand your business. If you can do that, you will have a better picture over all. Bring in other people, legal, the business team, the HR team. Have that group sit and discuss risk appetite and try to move forward on quantifying it.

R&I: What resources are you using to expand your capabilities in enterprise risk management?

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A great example is our partnering with academic institutions.  At Kimberly-Clark, we partner with the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

R&I: How do you partner with the university?

I give educational presentations at least two times per year to the school of business there. Members of the university, professors and students, visit our annual risk management conference. We also bring in risk management students to spend a couple of days with the risk management department.

We’re getting better at quantifying risk appetite, but I think it’s an opportunity for the whole industry.

R&I: What’s the value of the RIMS conference for you?

I look at the risk management conferences as a great learning opportunity. At the most recent RIMS conference in New Orleans, for example, I had eight separate meetings with the CEO or president of a carrier. They allowed me to probe them on emerging risks. I love the fact that I had access to them and they’re all right there.

R&I: What emerging risks do you see?

We discussed emerging technology risks like driverless cars and drones, but as the risk manager for a manufacturer with operations around the world I think water shortages are also going to play a big part.

Another risk is social media. It just takes one person to post a video, or some other complaint about your company and it can cause you substantial reputational damage.

R&I: The reputational risks with social media are worrisome, are they not?

They really are and I need to see some strong insurance products. I am meeting next month with a carrier to look at some reputational coverage and see how that might apply.

R&I: Is there an emerging commercial risk that you think is most concerning?

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I don’t think it is emerging as much as it is problematic and I’m talking about political risk. Turn back the clock just a few years. All of a sudden Venezuela is in the news. Last year it was Russia. This year it’s Argentina. The world changes so frequently. That’s not an emerging risk but we have to determine how to manage that proactively. We have manufacturing operations in 37 countries and sell our products in more than 150.

R&I: Are there risk management tools that are very valuable to you?

I tell people the perfect tool is face-to-face collaboration. We get into the world of emails and texts, and the problem is if you don’t have the face-to-face tools, you can’t build your negotiation skill-set. You can’t read people, you don’t know how to respond to people.

As a result of the technology dependence, you see many new members of organizations not having that negotiation skill-set.

R&I: How happy are you with your carrier relationships?

I look at our carriers and our brokers and I can say we have a good rapport with them. My team members know all of our brokers, that’s obvious, and we know all of our underwriters.

I require the team to make sure that no matter if it’s a multi-year program, or a single year program, every year, at least once, you need to see that underwriter. Spend some time, tell them about where we are going, how the risks are being managed, sell the corporation.

And learn more about them. We have seen in the past, business results or senior management can change and it can have an impact on the company over all.

R&I: Is pricing the thing that’s most affected by those changes; terms or conditions?

The biggest changes and concerns are what lines they’re going to write. They might say they’re not that active in something and if they’re saying that, what they mean is they’re really not that competitive.

They really don’t want to negotiate much in the area of coverages. So you see more of a limited product. Then you go across the street and you see carrier “X” and they say I want to be in that business.

In order to leverage those differences you need to meet with the companies and understand them.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic?

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Optimistic. Kimberly-Clark’s stock price is at an all-time high. So that shows you what’s going on from a consumer perspective. But I mentioned it before. Political instability globally could impact us any day.

R&I: Do you or did you have a risk management or insurance mentor?

Every interaction is a chance to learn something. I have learned things from my executive assistant and my CEO and from everyone in between.

R&I: What in your career are you most proud of?

No question about it. The global risk management team drove a cultural change at Kimberly -Clark. We aggressively trained Kimberly-Clark employees to take smart risks. In the past four years we have educated more than 6,000 Kimberly-Clark employees live worldwide.

R&I: Your favorite movie?

“Taken” because Liam Neeson’s character and I have very similar skill-sets (laughs).

R&I: Do you have a favorite drink?

Stella Artois (the famous Belgian beer). My parents always told me work hard, play hard so when I get a break, I’ll grab a beer and relax.

R&I: You work for a global company. What’s the most interesting country you’ve visited?

The most interesting was Thailand. I was visiting a zoo there and was shocked at the number of risks. You’re standing in front of elephants and the only thing between you and the elephant is a two by four.

When I was there something grabbed my arm; it was a monkey. That’s a part of the world that has some opportunities for risk improvement.

R&I: Does the world have a modern hero and who is it?

It’s the men and women of this country who defend us. But we have a lot of heroes in this world and there is never just one.

R&I: What about your work do you find rewarding?

Our global risk management team maintains the freedom and the authority to make decisions and drive results. With that authority, you can find incredible value and satisfaction.

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

If you tell somebody you work in insurance they’re going to say, “Oh my God he’s trying to sell me a life insurance policy.”  But if you tell somebody about a lawsuit or some other risk that you are working on they will say that is a world that is pretty interesting.

How can you not enjoy tackling different challenges throughout your day?




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He 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]