Supply Chain Risks

The Risks of Reshoring

Manufacturing’s return will require re-evaluating insurance programs, challenging underwriters to analyze new risks.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 6 min read

President Donald Trump pledged to create millions of jobs in the American economy. To achieve this goal he wants to convince companies to bring back the bulk of their supply chains to the United States.

But promoting the reshoring of manufacturing will be a hard task and, in order to accelerate this process, Trump looks set to experiment with policy measures that should have significant effect on the operations of multinational companies. The government can, for instance, implement tax reforms to reward companies that invest in America, or impose punitive tariffs on goods imported from suppliers located abroad.

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Trump can also use his well-known persuasion skills to shame firms into creating jobs at home, rather than elsewhere in the world. The latter strategy may already have borne fruit earlier this year with the likes of Ford Motor Co. and Carrier, which shelved plans to expand their production lines in Mexico, opting to invest in Michigan and Indiana instead.

Either way, the government appears to mean business.

“It does the American economy no long-term good to only keep the big box factories where we are now assembling ‘American’ products that are composed primarily of foreign components,” Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, told the “Financial Times” in January. “We need to manufacture those components in a robust domestic supply chain that will spur job and wage growth.”

“Costs have gone up significantly since the big outsourcing wave started some 15 years ago, and the economic advantages have narrowed.” – J. Paul Dittmann, executive director, Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee

If the administration manages to deliver on its promises, companies will have to review the way they deal with supply chain risks. Experts have warned, for example, that workers’ compensation issues could become a more important factor across their supply chain, and insurance programs could become more expensive as insurance coverages tend to be more comprehensive, and premiums higher, in America than in developing nations. But opportunities could also arise, for example in terms of lower transportation costs and proximity to the final consumer.

In fact, although the subject has gained plenty of attention due to the Trump government’s protectionist views, the reversal of the globalization of supply chains has been going on for some time already, said J. Paul Dittmann, the executive director at the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee.

“It is a trend that is already very strong and seems to be growing,” he said. The reasons for this movement are manifold. Higher geopolitical risks have increased the threat of disruption of supply chains around the world in ways that companies did not anticipate some years ago. Dealing with corrupt authorities in the developing world involves plenty of risks of falling afoul with American courts, and economies like China offer less of a cost advantage these days, as income and wage expectations are beginning to catch up with developed economies.

“Costs have gone up significantly since the big outsourcing wave started some 15 years ago, and the economic advantages have narrowed,” Dittmann said. “Many companies have been over-optimistic in their cost analysis, and they often do not fully understand the inventory impact of long distance outsourcing.”

Restructuring Supply Chains

SCM, a think-tank that publishes an annual study on the subject, observed that local-for-local supply chain management strategies have gained popularity among companies since 2012.
Furthermore, the argument that focuses on jobs creation was also played by the Barack Obama administration, and the Economic Development Agency has funded reshoring initiatives for several years already.

That said, Dittmann warned that the movement back to the United States must be a natural one, driven by economic factors, and not by government arm-twisting.

If the authorities want to give the phenomenon a boost, it should address tax and regulatory constraints to the operation of companies in the country, he said.

“To force supply chains into a certain region does not make a lot of sense, and it could put American companies into a position of disadvantage,” he said.

Protective measures could drive production costs up, as wages in America remain much higher than in countries that are vital supply chain markets, such as Mexico or China.

Experts have stressed that industries like consumer electronics, high tech and footwear could suffer considerable impact if restrictive actions are taken against China, while the automotive sector is exposed to any new tariffs on imports from Mexico.

Furthermore, tit-for-tat reactions from foreign governments could restrict the access of American companies to export markets, and retaliation from China would be bad news, for example, for the aerospace industry.

The rise of protectionism, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe and other parts of the world has actually been highlighted by the latest annual report on the matter by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply as a major factor behind an increase in supply chain risks.

Logan Payne, assistant vice president, global client services group, Lockton

The moving of supply chain links from emerging economies to the U.S. should also have a significant effect on the insurance programs of international companies.

It will require them to restructure their programs in order to reflect a broader American footprint, replacing local coverages purchased in foreign markets with others purchased in the U.S., and sometimes acquiring policies that are not really needed in other markets.

That’s the case, for example, with workers’ compensation policies, said Logan Payne, the assistant vice president in Lockton’s global client services group. “In some countries, workers’ compensation is covered by social security systems, while here it is necessary to purchase a separate insurance policy,” he said.

Working mostly in the United States also means that a higher share of a company’s activities will be exposed to a legal system where jury awards are much higher than elsewhere. Therefore, liability programs could become more expensive as local policies purchased abroad are replaced with American ones, Payne said.

The concentration of the supply chain in a single region also means a concentration of business interruption risks. As such, it increases the risk that production will suffer major disruption, if a large event hits one of the supply chain’s links.

On the other hand, risks linked to the shipment and transportation of goods and raw materials should be less of a worry, Payne said.

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“With a more regionalized supply chain, where supplies are much closer and there is less need for transoceanic cargo shipment, transportation is one area where insurance costs should be reduced,” he said.

An additional complication is that decisions about supply chains, more than ever, now entail a significant level of reputational risk.

“The basic message is to be more national, don’t just be global,” Richard Edelman, CEO of marketing firm Edelman, told Reuters during the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“Let’s try and pre-empt that tweet by having a long-term discussion about the supply chain.” &

Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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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]