Risk Scenario

Swarmed

Lack of pre-loss planning leaves a manufacturer and its supply chain vulnerable in the face of disaster.
By: | November 2, 2015 • 9 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

Big Waters

Jill Heald is a woman that loves to focus and hates distractions.

Scenario_Swarmed

Heald paid close attention when an earthquake struck Japan in 2011 and a typhoon flooded Thailand that same year.

The press and the trade press laid out the gory details. Major companies; auto manufacturers, electronics companies and telecommunications companies were hit with supply chain losses they did not see coming. And the losses were big.

As the risk manager for Auto-Spire, an electronics manufacturer that makes integrated circuits used in the automotive industry, the Thailand and Japan losses made a deep impression on Heald. She vowed to herself that that sort of thing would never happen to her company.

Post-2011, shifts in Auto-Spire’s procurement process resulted in the company sourcing semi-conductors from an up and coming Malaysian manufacturer. Looking ahead to 2016, Heald in mid-2015 began thinking about and seeking approval for an ambitious contingent time element coverage insurance package.

“How big are we talking?” her broker asked her when she first sketched her plan in a phone call.

“Based on a brief meeting I had with Auto-Spire procurement folks, I believe a $25 million program should be sufficient, given the redundancy of our supply chain,” Heald told her broker.

Partner

Partner

“Well, we’re not going to get it all in one place,” the broker said. “Let me make some calls,” he said.

“How about we set up some face-to-face meetings with some of the underwriters?” Heald said.

“No need,” the broker said. “This is what you’re paying me for,” he said.

Unease gnawed at Heald after she hung up with the broker. It would make her feel a lot better to meet with the underwriters and some of their claims teams.

But the broker was who he was. Nobody had his contacts and he was a wizard with carrier relationships, or so everybody said.

Two days later the broker called her back.

“Okay I’ve got some ideas but we’ve got some work to do,” the broker said.

The nut was this: The CTE program that Heald was envisioning was going to require the participation of two, maybe three carriers. The way the broker presented the story, he’d been burning the midnight oil to connect with underwriters in the U.S. and Bermuda.

“So let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Heald said.

“We’ve got one U.S. carrier on the primary layer at $15 million.”

“Correct,” the broker said.

“And two carriers in the second layer at $5 million a pop. Both based in Bermuda,” Heald said.

“Again, correct,” the broker said.

They both agreed the premium prices were historically very good. The location of the semi-conductor maker was not a high flood risk. And the soft property market was another blessing.

Heald and her broker bound the coverage before Thanksgiving for the year 2016.

In April of 2016, Typhoon Lumba-Lumba, Malaysian for dolphin, strikes Malaysia as a CAT 4.

[poll id=”177″]

Confusion

The morning after the typhoon strikes, Heald is online and on the phone trying to determine if the city where the Auto-Spire semi-conductor supplier is located was heavily damaged in the storm.

Scenario_Swarmed

The good news is that it did not appear to be. The bad news comes within days when deliveries of semi-conductors from Malaysia to Auto-Spire’s U.S. factories slow to a crawl.

“Do we know what’s going on?” Heald said to an Auto-Spire executive in procurement at the end of the week.

“The communication there is horrible Jill,” the procurement executive said. “I wish I could tell you more, but right now I have next to nothing.”

“How could you have next to nothing?” Heald said to no one after she hung up with procurement. “It’s your job.”

Using her broker’s more robust international contacts, Heald pushes hard and gets some information. It’s just that the information she gets is not comforting.

The information is sketchy but it appears that several suppliers to the semi-conductor maker were knocked out by the typhoon.

Facing millions in lost sales, Heald and her broker file a claim on their CTE coverage for $20 million.

Heald is immediately descended upon by underwriters for the three carriers. The underwriters are demanding answers to a number of questions.

“We see there is no claims handling agreement associated with this program. Who’s the adjuster of record?” an underwriter for the U.S.-based carrier on the primary layer asked Heald.

“Adjuster of record? I’ve never heard of the phrase,” Jill Heald said.

Advertisement




With no claims handling agreement in place between Auto-Spire and the carriers on the CTE program, Heald spends weeks responding to the various carriers’ document requests.

Three weeks after the storm struck, Heald’s broker calls her with his version of good news.

“Hey, I talked to Ajax Ltd., they’re going to cut you a check for $1 million as an advance while these CTE claims get sorted out,” the broker said.

With semi-conductor shipments from Malaysia at a trickle, Heald takes little solace in this.

“Really? I guess I’ll take it,” Heald says. But the truth is that she’s worn down to a nub in all the back and forth between the carriers.

The lack of a claims handling agreement has translated into weeks of delays in getting claims information filed and adjusted. Each carrier has a different process for adjusting the claim.

All three carriers use the services of outside forensic accountants. Unfortunately, each carrier uses a different accounting firm.

There are also different terms and conditions between the different policies. Whether there could be coverage gaps created by those differing terms and conditions is an ongoing source of stress for Heald.

“There’s got to be a better way to do this,” she told her broker on the phone one day. “We should have had transparency into this ahead of time.”

“Look Jill, I’ve been doing this a long time,” the broker said.

“I don’t care how long you’ve been doing it. You and I could have done it better,” Heald shot back.

And one million is looking like a drop in the bucket next to lost sales to the automakers that are starting to reach into the tens of millions.

It’s now six weeks after the storm hit and the Malaysian supplier is still not fully back up to speed.

[poll id=”178″]

A Hellish Grind

The typhoon that struck Malaysia and clipped Auto-Spire’s supply chain resulted in $45 million in lost sales.

Scenario_Swarmed

Heald heaps the blame on herself, even though this is an organizational failure. Heald was led to believe that $25 million of CTE was sufficient but Auto-Spire’s dependence on third party suppliers was increased due to the recent shift in its procurement process.

It wasn’t that the carriers on the program didn’t pay the claim, they eventually did. But the delays caused by the lack of a claims handling agreement created serious tension between Heald and the Auto-Spire C-suites. Not to mention cash flow problems on top of the lost sales due to the crimp in Auto-Spire’s supply chain.

“A promise to pay is a promise to pay…. in a timely manner,” her CFO thundered at her when she broke the news to him that due to delays in adjusting the Malaysia claims the carriers still hadn’t cut Auto-Spire checks.

“They are going to pay Jim, it’s just that the claims process got extended more than we would like,” Heald told him.

“It’s not the carriers’ fault,” she added.

“How do you mean?” he said.

“It’s my fault actually,” Heald said.

“I should have had a pre-loss claims handling agreement in place. That would have streamlined the process much more and given all parties a clearer picture of the claims handling process.

“But you didn’t do that,” the CFO said.

“No, I didn’t,” Heald said.

“What about your broker, shouldn’t he have put something like this in place?”

“I don’t want to blame him either. The fact is that we didn’t do it,” Heald said.

“So how much time do you think that cost us, in terms of getting paid,” the CFO said.

“Hard to say,” Heald said. “Six weeks minimum,” she added.

“Do you know what it costs to borrow $20 million for six weeks?” the CFO said.

“Not off of the top of my head,” Heald said.

“A lot,” the CFO said. “A lot.”

It is also clear to Heald that she needs to develop a better channel of communication with the procurement group so that she can be in a better position to procure adequate insurance for the needs created by Auto-Spire’s supply chain.

She thought she was doing the right thing in putting together a substantial CTE program. Now it all feels like a cruel joke.

[poll id=”179″]

Bar-Lessons-Learned---Partner's-Content-V1b

Risk & Insurance® partnered with FM Global to produce this scenario. Below are FM Global’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.

What to Do Before a Loss

In most cases, you’ll receive no warning before disaster strikes. If you experience a sizable loss, the loss itself may be your smallest issue. You might also be worried about injuries, deaths, lost market share, revenue stream, notifying shareholders or something else.

When a loss happens, it is similar to the start of a professional sports game. It is a culmination of all the practice leading up to the game, only the practice is the pre-loss planning. That’s why pre-loss planning is so important. Before a loss occurs, work with your broker and/or insurer(s) to develop a plan for loss management that is carefully tailored to meet your unique needs.

The following is a list of the key information your loss management plan should cover:

  • procedures and guidelines for handling loss, including a clear delineation of who will report the loss to your insurance partner(s).
  • a detailed list of names and contact information of members of your emergency response team
  • key contacts at your subsidiaries and remote offices
  • contingency arrangements with emergency services and critical suppliers
  • tailored loss-handling and claims cooperation agreements with other program participants
  • global coordination requirements
  • assignment of emergency duties for local plant personnel, your corporate insurance department, your broker and others
  • a designated liaison to work with the adjuster

Without pre-loss planning, there can be fear of the unknown. However, with pre-loss planning it can be reassuring to know that you just have to pick up the phone and make only one call when a loss occurs, know who is coming to your site and know how your insurer will respond.

Many emotions come with an actual loss. Pre-loss planning can provide you that much needed level of confidence when you need it most in your job.





Advertisement

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Reputational Risk

Under Siege

Driven by social media, political wars spill over into the corporate arena, threatening reputations.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 12 min read

On Jan. 28, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called a strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport, one day after President Trump signed an executive order banning entry of foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations, including a blanket ban on refugees. The strike was an act of solidarity with immigrants, and a public display of the Alliance’s opposition to the executive order.

Advertisement




Uber, however, continued to service the airport, tweeting that it would halt surge pricing during the protests. Some saw it as an opportunistic ploy to get more riders to use Uber. A #deleteUber Twitter campaign was quickly born, with users tweeting screen shots of themselves removing the app from their smartphones.

More than 200,000 were estimated to have uninstalled the ride-sharing service over the course of the weekend.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick reacted, creating a $3 million legal defense fund to provide lawyers and immigration experts for any of its drivers that were barred from the U.S., and promising that drivers would be compensated for lost wages.

Over the same weekend, in response to the travel ban, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that the company would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years. Then it was Starbucks turn to get punished in the public arena. A #boycottStarbucks campaign was launched by people who felt the company should focus more on hiring American veterans.

Athletic shoemaker New Balance suffered blowback in November of 2016 when its vice president of communications, Matt LeBretton, told the “Wall Street Journal” in an interview that he believed “things are going to move in the right direction” under the new administration. Angry customers began posting pictures of themselves trashing or even burning their New Balance sneakers.

These social media-fueled public relations crises demonstrate how fickle public opinion can be. They also serve as warning signs of growing reputational risk for corporations.

Uber, for example, typically stops its surge pricing in the event of emergency so as not to exploit a crisis for its own benefit. To do so during the protests and taxi strike at JFK was perhaps meant to show its respect for the event.

Helen Chue, global risk manager, Facebook

Starbucks’ 10,000 refugee hires would be spread out across its locations around the globe, not just in the U.S., where the coffee conglomerate already promised to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025.

New Balance’s LeBretton was speaking specifically about the Trans-Pacific Partnership during his interview, and how the deal could hurt sneaker production in the U.S. while favoring foreign producers — he wasn’t talking about Trump’s other proposed plans.

These companies, in reality, did nothing as abhorrent and scandalous as the Twitterverse may have led some to believe, but context isn’t always provided in 140 characters.

Public Pressure

Complaints and boycotts have been launched at companies via social media for perhaps as long as social media has existed. But the current contentious environment created by one of the most divisive leaders in American history now colors every public statement made by prominent business leaders with a political tint. Executives are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They’re exposed to reputational damage whether they oppose or endorse a Trump action, or even if they do nothing at all.

Take Elon Musk, for example, founder of Tesla and SpaceX and a well-known advocate for climate research and environmental protection. He came under fire for not publicly denouncing the travel ban and for keeping his seat on Trump’s business advisory council.

Musk has largely avoided the limelight on political issues, couching statements when he makes them at all — as most executives are wont to do. But he was prodded to defend himself on Twitter after some users suggested he was a hypocrite.

“Be proactive in your plans to mitigate the aftermath and how to communicate. Own up to error. Be transparent. Salvage your crown jewel.” —Helen Chue, global risk manager, Facebook

A strategy of avoidance may no longer work as consumers, employees and the public at large pressure companies to make a statement or take action in response to political events.

“A large segment of the population expects the people they do business with and the companies they buy from to support their point of view or respond to political or social issues in a certain way,” said Chrystina M. Howard, senior vice president, strategic risk consulting, Willis Towers Watson.

In a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t environment, reputation risk is expanding, and risk managers need to re-evaluate how they assess their exposure and build mitigation strategies.

A True Crisis?

The challenge begins with determining whether a negative public relations event is really a crisis. Is it a temporary blow to a brand, or does it have the potential to do long-term reputation damage? Misreading the signs could lead companies to overreact and further tarnish their image.

“These sudden public relations crises are a source of panic for companies, but sometimes it sounds much worse than it actually is. The financial ramifications may not be anywhere near what was feared,” Howard said.

“Uber is probably a good example of what not to do,” said Jeff Cartwright, director of communications at Morning Consult, a brand and political intelligence firm.

“They maybe went over the top in trying to reverse the way they handled the protests at JFK.”

Tracking brand value in real time can give risk managers insight into the true impact of a negative social media campaign or bad press.  Michael Ramlet, CEO and co-founder of Morning Consult, said most events don’t damage brands as much as trending hashtags make it appear.

Morning Consult’s proprietary brand tracking tool allows companies to measure their brand perception against influencing events like a spike of Twitter mentions and news stories. More often than not, overall brand loyalty remains on par with industry averages.

In Uber’s case, Twitter mentions spiked to roughly 8,800 on Jan. 29, up from about 1,000 the day before. By Jan. 31, though, the number was back down to around 1,250 and quickly settled back down to its average numbers. From the beginning of the #deleteUber campaign through the end of February, Uber’s favorability shrunk from 50 percent to roughly 40 percent, based on a series of polls taken by 18,908 respondents.

Advertisement




It’s a significant dip, but likely not a permanent stain on the company’s reputation, especially after Kalanick’s public show of support for immigrants and rejection of the travel ban. Uber’s favorability rating remained higher than competitor Lyft’s throughout the ordeal.

“The #deleteUber campaign turned out to be a very local thing that didn’t have a widespread impact,” Ramlet said.

“Twitter at best is an imputed analysis of what people are saying. The vocal minority might be very active, but there might be a silent majority who still think fondly of a brand, or at least have no negative opinions of it.”

He said risk managers can also benefit by breaking down their brand perception into geographic and demographic subsets. It can, for example, show whether a brand is favored more heavily by Democrats or Republicans.

“If you have that data on day one, it can help you determine how to respond if, say, Trump tweets at you,” Ramlet said.

Of course, some spikes in news media and social media attention are indicative of much deeper problems and true reputational risk.

After the Wells Fargo dummy-account scandal broke, for example, unfavorability ratings as measured by Morning Consult jumped from roughly 20 percent to nearly 55 percent, while favorability dropped from 50 percent to 30 percent. Net favorability, which stood at 33 percent pre-scandal, fell to -4 percent post-scandal.

“They went from being the most popular bank to the least popular in less than four months, according to our data,” Ramlet said.

The contrast between Uber’s and Wells Fargo’s stories demonstrates the difference between a more surface-level public-relations event that temporarily hurts brand image, and a true reputation event.

“Failures that produce real and lasting damage to reputation include failures of ethics, innovation, safety, security, quality and sustainability,” said Nir Kossovksy, CEO of Steel City Re.

“Activists make a lot of noise that can be channeled through various media, but for the most part in the business world, stakeholders are interested in the goods and services a company offers, not in their political or social views. As long as you can meet stakeholder expectations, you avoid long-term reputational damage.”

Wells Fargo’s scandal involved a violation of ethics, sparked an SEC investigation and forced the resignation of its CEO, John Stumpf. It’s safe to say stakeholders were severely disappointed.

That’s not to say, however, that a tarnished brand name doesn’t also impact the bottom line.

“Even if a bad event is short-lived, the equity markets react quickly, so there may be sharp equity dips. There may be some economic impact even over the short term,” Kossovsky said, “because sharp dips are dog whistles for activists, litigators and corporate raiders.”

Social Media Machine

The root of reputation risk’s tightening grip lies in the politicizing of business, and consumers’ increased desire to buy from companies that share their values. Social media may not be driving that trend, but it acts as a vehicle for it.

“Social media has really changed the game in terms of brand equity, and has given people another way to choose who they give their money to,” Howard of Willis Towers Watson said.

Platforms like Twitter make it easier for consumers to directly reach out to big companies and allow news to travel at warp speed.

“Social media are communication channels that can take a story and make it widely available. In that regard, the media risk is no different than that posed by a newspaper or radio channel,” Kossovsky said.

“The difference today that changes the strategy for risk managers and boards is that social media has been weaponized: Stories shared on social media don’t necessarily have to contain truthful content, and there’s not always an obvious difference between what’s true and what’s not.”

Helen Chue, Facebook’s global risk manager, agreed.

“More influential than social media platforms is today’s culture of immediacy and headlines. Because we are inundated with information from so many sources, we scan the headlines, form our opinions and go from there,” she said.

“It’s dangerous to draw conclusions without taking a balanced approach, but who has the time and patience to sift through all the different viewpoints?”

An environment of political divisiveness, driven by speed and immediacy of social media, creates the risk that false or half-true stories are disseminated before companies have a chance to clarify. This is what happened to Uber and New Balance.

“It creates the opportunity to turn a non-problem into a problem,” Kossovksy said.

“That’s how social media changes the calculus of risk management.”

Risk Mitigation

The best way to battle both political pressure and social media’s speed is through an ironclad communication strategy; a process that risk managers can lead.

Advertisement




“Risk managers play a crucial role in mitigating reputation risk,” Howard said.

“They bring with them the discipline of managing and monitoring a risk, having a plan and responding to crisis. Now they really have to partner with communications, marketing and PR.”

They also have to get the attention of their board of directors.

“If you let a gap form between what you say and what you do, that gap is the definition of reputation risk.” — Nir Kossovksy, CEO of Steel City Re

“This is both a company-wide risk and personal leadership risk, so the board needs to drive a company-wide policy that protects the board as well,” Kossovsky said.

The art of mitigating reputation risk, he said, comes down to managing expectations. Corporate communications should clearly convey what a company believes and what it does not believe; what it can do and what it can’t do. And those stated values need to align with the operational reality. It comes down to creating credibility and legitimacy.

“If you let a gap form between what you say and what you do, that gap is the definition of reputation risk,” he said. A strong communication strategy can prevent adverse events from turning into reputational threats.

Willis Towers Watson helps clients test their strategies through a table-top exercise in which they have to respond to a social media-driven reputation event.

“We’ll say, ‘Something happened with X product, and now everyone’s on Twitter lambasting you and calling for resignations, etc.’ What do you do on day one? What do you do a week out? How long do you continue to monitor it and keep it on your radar?” Howard said.

“If you have that plan in place, you can fine-tune it going forward as circumstances change.”

Sometimes, though, the communication strategy fails, and a company falls short of meeting stakeholders’ expectations. Now it’s time for crisis management.

“Volatility creates vulnerability. If you stumble on your corporate message, it creates an opportunity for activists, litigators and corporate raiders to exploit. So you need to have authoritative third parties who can attest to your credibility and affirm the truth of the situation to open-minded stakeholders,” Kossovsky said.

Owning up to any mistakes, reaffirming the truth and being as transparent as possible will be key in any response plan.

Insuring the Risk

Recouping dollars lost from reputation damage requires a blend of mathematics with a little magic. While some traditional products are available, reputation risk is, for the most part, an intangible and uninsurable risk.

“Many companies have leveraged their captive insurance companies in the absence of traditional reputation products in the marketplace,” said Derrick Easton, managing director, alternative risk transfer solutions practice, Willis Towers Watson.

“It goes back to measuring a loss that can include lost revenue, or increased costs. Some companies build indexes in the same way we might create an index for a weather product, using rainfall or wind speed. For reputation, we might use stock price or a more refined index,” he said.

“If we can measure a potential loss, we can build a financing structure.”

While there’s no clear-cut way to measure losses from reputation damage, “stock performance and reported sales changes are some of the best tools we have,” Howard said.

Some insurers, including Allianz and Tokiomarine Kiln, and Steel City Re, an MGA, do offer reputation policies. When these fit a company’s needs, they have the ancillary benefit of affirming quality of governance and sending a signal that the insured is prepared to defend itself.

“Because reputation assurance is only available to companies that have demonstrated sound governance processes, it helps to convince people that if a bad piece of news happens, it’s idiosyncratic; it doesn’t reflect what the company really stands for,” Kossovsky of Steel City Re said.

Advertisement




“And it tells activists, broadly defined, not to look for low-hanging fruit here.”

In a volatile political environment, companies fare best when they simply tell the truth.

“The American public will accept an apology if delivered quickly and if it’s sincere,” said Stephen Greyser, Richard P. Chapman professor (marketing/communications) emeritus, of the Harvard Business School.

“Tell the truth. Don’t stonewall. A bad social media campaign can be an embarrassment, but if you stick to the facts and apologize when you need to, people forget about the bad quickly.”

“Reputation is the crown jewel,” Chue said. “Given the power of social media’s reach, one individual can have a tsunami-like influence. And it can happen when you least expect it, and it will probably be something you thought was innocuous or even positive that sets off a maelstrom.

“Plan for the worst-case scenario. Be proactive in your plans to mitigate the aftermath and how to communicate. Own up to error. Be transparent. Salvage your crown jewel.” &

Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]