Environmental Risk

Seven Questions for Richard Sheldon

Mold, emerging contaminants, and increasing claims complexity are all issues to watch in the area of environmental risk.
By: | May 9, 2017 • 4 min read

Willis Towers Watson’s Richard Sheldon has more than 30 years of experience in environmental consulting, insurance underwriting and brokerage. He joined WTW in 2004 and is now responsible for the management of the firm’s North American Environmental Practice Team. Here is his take on a number of environmental exposures facing insureds.

R&I: We hear a lot about mold, that it’s an ongoing — even growing — problem for commercial property owners. How are carriers responding to this issue? Are they changing coverage terms and in what way(s)? 

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RS: The market is at a crossroads for mold coverage currently and underwriting review for this coverage is certainly becoming more stringent. Insurers are looking at limitations such as “per door” mold deductibles for habitational and hospitality risks in particular; time element coverage designs are being contemplated; and increased deductibles are being applied overall for mold coverage.  Some markets will not cover wood frame construction at all. Some have considered limiting coverage to Acts of God, while others have said they will not cover Acts of God. Insureds need to be prepared for possible coverage changes at renewal, and to either seek alternatives, or to adjust their level of risk tolerance.

R&I: Are there new contaminants that are becoming an environmental problem for property owners? What are they and why are they coming to the fore now? 

RS: PFAS (Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) have been identified by the U.S. E.P.A. as an emerging contaminant. And this is leading to some “re-opener” claims for clean-up on facilities that used these chemicals in their processes or for firefighting. Lead in drinking water has certainly also been a concern for both clients and carriers since the crisis in Flint, Mich.

R&I: Given the drumbeat of talk about regulatory change in Washington, DC, how are clients reacting? What are the most pressing questions you’re getting from them about the liability landscape?

RS: At this point, companies are watching closely to see if and how this might materialize. But so far, we haven’t seen any reactions broadly from clients or the insurance marketplace — but this could certainly change. We are hearing a lot of chatter about what activities the various states (who in some cases are charged with administering environmental regulations) will take and speculation about adequate resources going forward. Regardless of where the regulation, enforcement or budget goes, underwriters are still going to want to see insureds demonstrate they are being responsible relative to their environmental exposures.

R&I: What do you hear from carriers given all this talk of regulatory change? What are they doing to prepare for this possible shift?  

RS: Carriers have not sent any significant messages to the marketplace yet on this topic. But we do know that many have been analyzing their books more rigorously, and in particular, more so since the exit by AIG from a major part of the environmental business. Any feelings by carriers that reductions in regulatory budget could lead to diminished enforcement may further increase this scrutiny, especially for higher-risk classes of business.

R&I: We hear that managing and reporting environmental claims is becoming increasingly complex. What factors are playing into this? 

RS: Both the frequency and severity of claims has increased, driven mostly by the remediation of mold and pre-existing contamination triggered during site development activities. Each environmental claim is unique and can take on a life of its own based on the circumstances surrounding it. As brokers, we spend a lot of time working with specialty underwriters to educate clients and risk managers on the various aspects of environmental coverage and how it will respond. In addition to risk transfer, many insureds are pursuing options to secure insurance capital to help finance potential environmental losses.

R&I: Given that managing and reporting environmental claims is more complex, what should insureds be doing to improve their processes? 

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RS: Timely notice is most critical. Insureds should have a robust risk management communication program to make sure that environmental claims are reported from the field to their risk manager as soon as possible. In addition, insureds should understand coverage terms relative to carrier consent for any remediation activities. Insureds should also understand what coverage they have for emergency response, and whether there are capacity and/or time restrictions for that coverage.

R&ILooking ahead a bit, what environmental risks do you see that are emerging, that might not be a problem for insureds now, but very well could be in five years? 

RS: New risks can always emerge that we can’t anticipate. However there are some issues on the horizon that could escalate — such as trace pharmaceuticals in water, e-waste, and oil and gas industry impacts from exploration and production. The biggest question for our market is how underwriters will respond to the ongoing and increasing frequency and severity of claims.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

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

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

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

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

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I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

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

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Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

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

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

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

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]