Column: Roger's Soapbox

A Sobering Step Too Far?

By: | June 1, 2017 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Puritanism was a religious reform movement that arose in England in the late 16th century. Agents sent to the northern colonies in the New World laid the foundations for the religious, intellectual, and social order of the nascent United States.

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The British got over the idea, and became instead stoics, who regulate themselves, whereas puritans know what’s best for everyone else.

The new puritanism had, until recently, limited itself to sex and smoking.

In matters sexual, swains at UK universities are advised to receive written permission from the objects of their desire 24 hours ahead of an intended union, to head off the potential for misunderstanding.

Smoking, of course, has replaced blasphemy as the ultimate depravity. Beastly smokers — of which I am one — are now considered akin to terrorists. We hateses them. Where there’s smoke, there’s puritans. Before becoming the most hated man in Europe, Tony Blair wanted to ban smoking everywhere. Instead, everywhere banned Tony Blair.

By all means punish those who practice excess. But dictate moral behavior to those who don’t? Not on your life.

Lloyd’s of London had its genesis in a drinking environment (coffee), not long after the old puritanism held sway. Lloyd’s has now banned its 800 employees from drinking alcohol of any sort before 5:00pm, and would probably prefer them to not drink thereafter. Gross misconduct charges and possible termination will follow for those who break the rules.

Here I must also declare an interest. I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage since 1986, because I was, and doubtless still am, an alcoholic. It never affected my work, mind you, and thereby hangs a tale. As drunk as I was each night, I am an adult, and understood that work mattered.

Lloyd’s apparently regards its employees as children. No smoking; no drinking; no sex please (they’re British); and no enjoyment of any kind whatsoever at work.

Puritans were often represented dramatically as “secretly lascivious purveyors of feigned piety.” I don’t know how well that description suits the Lloyd’s people, but the term “condescending” fits nicely.

Lloyd’s wants its workplace to be a drab, joyless environment. It fails to see the benefit of employees networking over a lunchtime pint, as they have for 300 years. A glass of wine or a pint of beer with lunch is no worse for most people than a Diet Coke.

By all means punish those who practice excess. But dictate moral behavior to those who don’t? Not on your life. Many of the brightest, hardest-working insurance people I know enjoy a glass of wine with lunch. One imagines they will seek employment in industries that respect their intelligence and self-control.

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Until now, I had thought of insurance as one such industry. A spot of alcohol need not ruin a day’s work or a person’s career. But a ban on lunchtime drinking will damage Lloyd’s, because most adults hate being told what to do by people whose moral compass is set on stun.

Insurance underwriting was recently rated by Oxford University as the job most likely to be susceptible to automation, with 98.9 percent of its practitioners at risk. I’d bet Lloyd’s is bursting to introduce the idea of underwriting by robots. To ease their arrival, Lime Street is already treating its human resources as automatons. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Emerging Multipliers

It’s not that these risks are new; it’s that they’re coming at you at a volume and rate you never imagined before.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 3 min read

Underwriters have plenty to worry about, but there is one word that perhaps rattles them more than any other word. That word is aggregation.

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Aggregation, in the transferred or covered risk usage, represents the multiplying potential of a risk. For examples, we can look back to the asbestos claims that did so much damage to Lloyds’ of London names and syndicates in the mid-1990s.

More recently, underwriters expressed fears about the aggregation of risk from lawsuits by football players at various levels of the sport. Players, from Pee Wee on up to the NFL, claim to have suffered irreversible brain damage from hits to the head.

That risk scenario has yet to fully play out — it will be decades in doing so — but it is already producing claims in the billions.

This year’s edition of our national-award winning coverage of the Most Dangerous Emerging Risks focuses on risks that have always existed. The emergent — and more dangerous — piece to the puzzle is that these risks are now super-charged with risk multipliers.

Take reputational risk, for example. Businesses and individuals that were sharply managed have always protected their reputations fiercely. In days past, a lapse in ethics or morals could be extremely damaging to one’s reputation, but it might take days, weeks, even years of work by newspaper reporters, idle gossips or political enemies to dig it out and make it public.

Brand new technologies, brand new commercial covers. It all works well; until it doesn’t.

These days, the speed at which Internet connectedness and social media can spread information makes reputational risk an existential threat. Information that can stop a glittering career dead in its tracks can be shared by millions with a casual, thoughtless tap or swipe on their smartphones.

Aggregation of uninsured risk is another area of focus of our Most Dangerous Emerging Risks (MDER) coverage.

The beauty of the insurance model is that the business expands to cover personal and commercial risks as the world expands. The more cars on the planet, the more car insurance to sell.

The more people, the more life insurance. Brand new technologies, brand new commercial covers. It all works well; until it doesn’t.

As Risk & Insurance® associate editor Michelle Kerr and her sources point out, growing populations and rising property values, combined with an increase in high-severity catastrophes, threaten to push the insurance coverage gap to critical levels.

This aggregation of uninsured value got a recent proof in CAT-filled 2017. The global tally for natural disaster losses in 2017 was $330 billion; 60 percent of it was uninsured.

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This uninsured gap threatens to place unsustainable pressure on public resources and hamstring society’s ability to respond to natural disasters, which show no sign of slowing down or tempering.

A related threat, the combination of a failing infrastructure and increasing storm severity, marks our third MDER. This MDER looks at the largely uninsurable risk of business interruption that results not from damage to your property or your suppliers’ property, but to publicly maintained infrastructure that provides ingress and egress to your property. It’s a danger coming into shape more and more frequently.

As always, our goal in writing about these threats is not to engage in fear mongering. It’s to initiate and expand a dialogue that can hopefully result in better planning and mitigation, saving the lives and limbs of businesses here and around the world.

2018 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Critical Coverage Gap

Growing populations and rising property values, combined with an increase in high-severity catastrophes, are pushing the insurance protection gap to a critical level.

Climate Change as a Business Interruption Multiplier

Crumbling roads and bridges isolate companies and trigger business interruption losses.

 

Reputation’s Existential Threat

Social media — the very tool used to connect people in an instant — can threaten a business’s reputation just as quickly.

 

AI as a Risk Multiplier

AI has potential, but it comes with risks. Mitigating these risks helps insurers and insureds alike, enabling advances in almost every field.

 

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