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

Property

Insurers Take to the Skies

This year’s hurricane season sees the use of drones and other aerial intelligence gathering systems as insurers seek to estimate claims costs.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 6 min read

For Southern communities, current recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey will recall the painful devastation of 2005, when Katrina and Wilma struck. But those who look skyward will notice one conspicuous difference this time around: drones.

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Much has changed since Katrina and Wilma, both economically and technologically. The insurance industry evolved as well. Drones and other visual intelligence systems (VIS) are set to play an increasing role in loss assessment, claims handling and underwriting.

Farmers Insurance, which announced in August it launched a fleet of drones to enhance weather-related property damage claim assessment, confirmed it deployed its fleet in the aftermath of Harvey.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now,” said George Mathew, CEO of Kespry, Farmers’ drone and aerial intelligence platform provider partner.

“The current wind and hail damage season that we are entering is when many of the insurance carriers are switching from proof of concept work to full production rollout.”

 According to Mathew, Farmers’ fleet focused on wind damage in and around Corpus Christi, Texas, at the time of this writing. “Additional work is already underway in the greater Houston area and will expand in the coming weeks and months,” he added.

No doubt other carriers have fleets in the air. AIG, for example, occupied the forefront of VIS since winning its drone operation license in 2015. It deployed drones to inspections sites in the U.S. and abroad, including stadiums, hotels, office buildings, private homes, construction sites and energy plants.

Claims Response

At present, insurers are primarily using VIS for CAT loss assessment. After a catastrophe, access is often prohibited or impossible. Drones allow access for assessing damage over potentially vast areas in a more cost-effective and time-sensitive manner than sending human inspectors with clipboards and cameras.

“Drones improve risk analysis by providing a more efficient alternative to capturing aerial photos from a sky-view. They allow insurers to rapidly assess the scope of damages and provide access that may not otherwise be available,” explained Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy at JLT Specialty USA.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now.” — George Mathew, CEO, Kespry

“In our experience, competitive advantage is gained mostly by claims departments and third-party administrators. Having the capability to provide exact measurements and details from photos taken by drones allows insurers to expedite the claim processing time,” he added.

Indeed, as tech becomes more disruptive, insurers will increasingly seek to take advantage of VIS technologies to help them provide faster, more accurate and more efficient insurance solutions.

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader, Marsh

One way Farmers is differentiating its drone program is by employing its own FAA-licensed drone operators, who are also Farmers-trained claim representatives.

Keith Daly, E.V.P. and chief claims officer for Farmers Insurance, said when launching the program that this sets Farmers apart from most carriers, who typically engage third-party drone pilots to conduct evaluations.

“In the end, it’s all about the experience for the policyholder who has their claim adjudicated in the most expeditious manner possible,” said Mathew.

“The technology should simply work and just melt away into the background. That’s why we don’t just focus on building an industrial-grade drone, but a complete aerial intelligence platform for — in this case — claims management.”

Insurance Applications

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader at Marsh, believes that, while currently employed primarily to assess catastrophic damage, VIS will increasingly be employed to inspect standard property damage claims.

However, he admitted that at this stage they are better at identifying binary factors such as the area affected by a peril rather than complex assessments, since VIS cannot look inside structures nor assess their structural integrity.

“If a chemical plant suffers an explosion, it might be difficult to say whether the plant is fully or partially out of operation, for example, which would affect a business interruption claim dramatically.

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“But for simpler assessments, such as identifying how many houses or industrial units have been destroyed by a tornado, or how many rental cars in a lot have suffered hail damage from a storm, a VIS drone could do this easily, and the insurer can calculate its estimated losses from there,” he said.

In addition,VIS possess powerful applications for pre-loss risk assessment and underwriting. The high-end drones used by insurers can capture not just visual images, but mapping heat, moisture or 3D topography, among other variables.

This has clear applications in the assessment and completion of claims, but also in potentially mitigating risk before an event happens, and pricing insurance accordingly.

“VIS and drones will play an increasing underwriting support role as they can help underwriters get a better idea of the risk — a picture tells a thousand words and is so much better than a report,” said Ellis.

VIS images allow underwriters to see risks in real time, and to visually spot risk factors that could get overlooked using traditional checks or even mature visual technologies like satellites. For example, VIS could map thermal hotspots that could signal danger or poor maintenance at a chemical plant.

Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy, JLT Specialty USA

“Risk and underwriting are very natural adjacencies, especially when high risk/high value policies are being underwritten,” said Mathew.

“We are in a transformational moment in insurance where claims processing, risk management and underwriting can be reimagined with entirely new sources of data. The drone just happens to be one of most compelling of those sources.”

Ellis added that drones also could be employed to monitor supplies in the marine, agriculture or oil sectors, for example, to ensure shipments, inventories and supply chains are running uninterrupted.

“However, we’re still mainly seeing insurers using VIS drones for loss assessment and estimates, and it’s not even clear how extensively they are using drones for that purpose at this point,” he noted.

“Insurers are experimenting with this technology, but given that some of the laws around drone use are still developing and restrictions are often placed on using drones [after] a CAT event, the extent to which VIS is being used is not made overly public.”

Drone inspections could raise liability risks of their own, particularly if undertaken in busy spaces in which they could cause human injury.

Privacy issues also are a potential stumbling block, so insurers are dipping their toes into the water carefully.

Risk Improvement

There is no doubt, however, that VIS use will increase among insurers.

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“Although our clients do not have tremendous experience utilizing drones, this technology is beneficial in many ways, from providing security monitoring of their perimeter to loss control inspections of areas that would otherwise require more costly inspections using heavy equipment or climbers,” said Luck.

In other words, drones could help insurance buyers spot weaknesses, mitigate risk and ultimately win more favorable coverage from their insurers.

“Some risks will see pricing and coverage improvements because the information and data provided by drones will put underwriters at ease and reduce uncertainty,” said Ellis.

The flip-side, he noted, is that there will be fewer places to hide for companies with poor risk management that may have been benefiting from underwriters not being able to access the full picture.

Either way, drones will increasingly help insurers differentiate good risks from bad. In time, they may also help insurance buyers differentiate between carriers, too. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]