Sponsored: Aspen Insurance

Rising to the Challenge

Aspen Insurance’s Onshore Construction team demonstrates how a dedicated specialty market can compete and continue to grow by attracting top talent, building relationships and maintaining sound underwriting principles and discipline.
By: | September 7, 2017 • 5 min read

The insurance market is constantly changing, creating challenges for insurers, brokers and clients. Margins are thin and competition remains aggressive in a number of sectors as companies seek to maintain market share and look at ways in which they can remain relevant.

Aspen Insurance’s Onshore Construction team — underwriting within a market segment that has also experienced its ups and downs — demonstrates how a dedicated specialty market can compete and continue to grow by attracting and developing top talent, building relationships based on unparalleled expertise and mutual understanding, and by maintaining sound underwriting principles and discipline.

“We have a great story to tell,” said Ryan Hucker, Vice President, Construction, Aspen Insurance. ”Our approach and focus as a specialty insurer allows Aspen Insurance to respond to our client’s needs while delivering exceptional service. We want the right clients and the right business where we are able to supply thought leadership and offer a value proposition, as opposed to just capacity.”

Leveraging Experience and Expertise

Ryan Hucker, Vice President, Construction

“Our team is by far our biggest asset,” added Hucker. “Brokers and clients recognize our deep industry expertise, from our global leaders to our production underwriters and risk engineers. I regularly hear people in the market talk about the talent we have on our team.”

Aspen Insurance operates as an integrated business with its highly-skilled underwriting and claims personnel working as “one team”. This approach creates a seamless end-to-end client experience, with knowledge transferring between underwriting and claims to the broker and client.

“We value long-standing relationships with our brokers and clients, and strive to provide tailor-made solutions to meet their needs. Our ability to evaluate their multiple exposures and commit capacity based on this understanding allows us to build meaningful, long-term partnerships within the construction segment. Our claims personnel possess the necessary skills to actively respond to complex claims scenarios and deliver on our contractual commitments. This approach, and successful execution of our commitments, creates demand for our involvement on future projects.”

The organizational structure at Aspen, characterized by a global footprint and culture of collaboration and sharing of expertise, allows the underwriting teams to appropriately evaluate construction opportunities, regardless of where or how a potential client approaches them. This teamwork is particularly visible when reviewing new construction projects as the Energy and Construction unit regularly works hand-in-hand with the Inland Marine and E&S Property teams. Each has a different area of construction segment focus suited to meet the needs of their client base. The teams review submissions on a case-by-case basis to determine which has the most suitable expertise, experience and resources to successfully underwrite the project. “We carefully consider the appropriate internal team so that we can provide the best experience for the client,” Hucker said.

Disciplined Underwriting

This culture of cross-team collaboration also allows Aspen Insurance to consider construction projects from new angles and offer additional coverage solutions from a multi-line perspective.

“We have recently expanded into civil infrastructure space, for example, and have a strong appetite to underwrite these complex risks,” Hucker said. Infrastructure projects – including transportation systems, roads, tunnels, bridges and railroads – are large endeavors that typically involve several stakeholders. “Civil projects represent unique underwriting challenges and often involve many different technical exposures. Our approach evaluates the technical aspects of the project work but also focuses heavily on the professionals performing the work and their risk control and mitigation strategies,” Hucker said.

Given their size and complexity, all civil projects are expected to encounter unexpected conditions, and the contractors overseeing the work have to be experienced enough to recognize the situation and develop appropriate solutions.

“We carefully evaluate the contractor’s history and experience as well as their key project management personnel. We determine the work activities they are self-performing, how much they are subcontracting to third parties, and what the selection criteria is for key subcontractors,” Hucker said. “We focus on obtaining a comprehensive understanding of the methods the contractor will deploy to monitor and control the project exposures which then permits an appropriate commitment of our capacity, coupled with meeting the client’s coverage needs.”

On energy-related projects, the technology involved and a demonstration of its acceptability is also a key factor in the underwriting equation. Whether it’s a simple cycle gas turbine, a combined cycle power plant, or a large renewable energy project, Hucker’s team examines whether the technology is tried and true, or more of a prototype.

“We have an appetite for prototypical technologies, but this exposure should be approached with caution. The research and development risks associated with newer technology should be mostly absorbed by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) until they can demonstrate the technology is fit-for-purpose. Transparent communication between the OEM, contractor, owner, broker, underwriter, and risk engineers facilitates the evaluation and acceptability of technology risks. We then work closely with our brokers to tailor policy wording that appropriately apportions the technology risk.”

Looking Forward with Optimism

Looking ahead, Hucker is confident that Aspen Insurance’s Construction team is well positioned for the future. “Our brokers and clients want Aspen on their projects because they value our expertise and commitment to the construction segment. They recognize we are a long-term market and our intention is to be here over the long haul through prudent delivery of underwriting capacity coupled with a high level of innovation and service quality,” he said.

To learn more about Aspen’s Energy and Construction practice, visit https://www.aspen.co/Insurance/Insurance-lines/Marine-Aviation-Transportation/US-MEC/.

This article is provided for informational purposes only, does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views, and reflects the opinion of the authors in light of market, regulatory and other conditions which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.

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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 Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Aspen Insurance is a business segment of Aspen Insurance Holdings Limited.

Absence Management

Establishing Balance With Volunteers

It’s good business to allow job-leave for volunteer emergency responders, whether or not state laws apply.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 7 min read

If 2017 had a moniker, it might be “the year of the natural disasters,” thanks to a phenomenal array of catastrophic or severe events— hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, ice storms and floods.

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Combined with smaller-scale fires and other emergencies, these incidents tax the resources of local and state emergency services, often prompting the need to call volunteer emergency responders into action.

But as lean as most organizations are already running, volunteer activities can sometimes cause friction between employees and employers. Handling conflicts the wrong way can potentially lead to legal headaches, harm employee morale and batter a company’s reputation.

State by State Variations

Most employers are aware of the various federal and state leave laws protecting their employees, including family and medical leave, pregnancy leave and military leave. But leave laws that protect the livelihoods of volunteer emergency responders are more likely to fly under the radar of some HR managers and risk managers.

Such laws don’t exist in every state, but more than 20 states do have some type of law in place to protect volunteers including emergency responders, firefighters, disaster workers, medical responders, ambulance drivers or peace officers.

Marti Cardi, vice president of Product Compliance for Matrix Absence Management

The laws vary broadly. Nearly all specify that such leave be unpaid, and that employees disclose their volunteer status to employers and provide documentation for each leave. But there is a spectrum of variations in terms of what may trigger an eligible leave. Some, for instance, apply for any emergency that prompts a call from the volunteer’s affiliated responder group. Others may require a government declaration of emergency for the law to be triggered.

While many of the laws do not explicitly require employers to let employees leave work when called to an emergency during a shift, most specify that an employee may be late or even miss work entirely without facing termination or any other adverse employment action.

Some states mandate a maximum number of unpaid leave days that a volunteer can claim. But others may place more significant burdens on employers. In California, for instance, employers with 50 or more employees are required to grant up to 14 days of unpaid leave for training activities in addition to any leave taken to respond to emergency events. For multistate employers, keeping on top of what obligations may apply in each circumstance can be a challenge.

Significant Risks

Large or mid-sized employers may rely on absence management providers to keep them in compliance. For smaller employers though, it may be as simple as looking up a state’s law via Google to find out what’s required. However, checking in with the state department of labor or the company’s attorney may be the best way to get the correct facts.

“I would caution that just because you don’t find something [on the internet], it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” said absence management and employment law attorney Marti Cardi, vice president of Product Compliance for Matrix Absence Management.

For example, Cardi said, an obscure Texas law provides job-protected leave for volunteer ham radio operators called into service during an emergency.

Cardi said employers should task HR to investigate the laws in each state the company operates in, and to ensure that supervisors are educated about the existence of these laws.

“If a supervisor is told by one of his or her employees, ‘Sorry I’m not coming in today … I’ve been called to volunteer firefighter duty for the [nearby region] fire,’” she said, you want to be sure that the supervisor knows not to take action against the employee, and to contact HR for guidance.

“Training supervisors to be aware of this kind of absence is really important.”

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An employer that does terminate a protected volunteer for responding to an emergency may be ordered to pay back wages and reinstate the employee. In some cases, the employee may also be able to sue for wrongful termination.

And of course, “you don’t want to be the company in the headlines that is getting sued because you fired the volunteer firefighter,” she added.

If an employer bars a volunteer from responding, the worst-case scenario may be a third-party claim. Failure to comply with the law could give rise to a claim along the lines of “‘If you had complied with your statutory obligation to give Jane Doe time to respond, my loved one would not have died,’” explained Philadelphia-based Jonathan Segal, partner at law firm Duane Morris and managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute.

“That’s the claim I think is the largest in terms of legal risk.”

Even if no one dies or is seriously injured, he added, “there could still be significant reputational risk if an individual were to go to the media and say, ‘Look, I got called by the fire department and I wasn’t allowed to go.’”

The Right Thing to Do

What employers should be thinking about, Segal said, is that whether or not you have a legal obligation to provide job-protected leave for volunteer responders, “there’s still the question of what are the consequences if you don’t?”

Employee morale should be factored in, he said. The last thing any company wants is for employees to perceive it as insensitive to their interests or the interests of the community at large.

“Sometimes employers need to go beyond the law, and this is one of those times,” — Jonathan Segal, partner, Duane Morris; managing principal, Duane Morris Institute

“How is this going to resonate with my employees, with my workforce, how are people going to see this? These are all relevant factors to consider,” he said.

There’s an argument to be made for employers to look at the bigger picture when it comes to any volunteer responders on their payroll, said Segal.

“Sometimes employers need to go beyond the law, and this is one of those times,” he said. “Think about the case where’s there’s not a specific state law [for emergency responders] and you say to a volunteer, ‘No, you can’t leave to deal with this fire’ and then people die. You as an employer have potentially played a role, indirectly, because you didn’t allow the first responder or responders to go,” he said.

The bottom line is that “it’s the right thing to do, even if it’s not required by law,” agreed Cardi.

“I feel that companies should have a policy that they’re not going to discipline or discharge someone for absences due to this kind of civic service, subject to verification of course.”

Clear Policy

While most employers do strive to be good corporate citizens, it goes without question that employers need to guard their own interests. It’s not especially likely that volunteer responders will try to take advantage of the unpaid leave allowed them, but of course, it could happen.

That’s why it’s important to have policies that are aligned with state laws. Those policies could include:

  • Notifying the company of any volunteer affiliations either upon hire or as soon they are activated as volunteers.
  • Requiring that employees notify a supervisor as soon as possible if called to an emergency (state requirements vary).
  • Requiring documentation after the event from the head of the entity supervising the volunteer’s activities.

If at some point it becomes excessive – someone has responded to emergencies five times in nine weeks, then it’s time to examine the specifics of the law and have a discussion with the employee about what’s reasonable, said Segal. It may also be time to ask specifics about whether the person is volunteering each time, or are they being called.

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In some cases, the discussion may need to be about finding a middle ground, especially if an employee has taken on an excessively demanding volunteer role.

“We encourage volunteers to pick the style that best fits their schedule,” said Greta Gustafson, a representative of the American Red Cross. “Disaster volunteers can elect to respond to disasters locally, nationally, or even virtually, and each assignment varies in length — from responding overnight to a home fire in your community to deploying across the country for several weeks following a hurricane.

“The Red Cross encourages all volunteers to talk with their employers to determine their availability and to communicate this with their local Red Cross chapter.”

Segal suggests approaching it as an interactive dialogue — borrowing from the ADA. “Employers may need to open a discussion along the lines of ‘I need you here this week because this week we have a deliverable on Friday and you’re critical to that client deliverable,’” he said, but also identify when the employee’s absence would be less critical.

No doubt there will be tough calls. An employer may have its hands full just trying to meet basic customer needs and need all hands on deck.

“That may be a situation where you say, ‘First let me check the law,’” said Segal. If there’s a leave law that applies, “then I’m going to need to comply with it. If there’s not, then you may need to balance competing interests and say, ‘We need you here.’” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]