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RIMS 2017

The Tools to Face Uncertainty

Speakers at this year’s RIMS conference in Philadelphia will address political and economic uncertainties, and how risk managers can transform them into opportunities.
By: | March 3, 2017 • 7 min read

The theme for this year’s annual RIMS conference, “Risk Revolution,” calls on attendees to “disrupt the status quo” in their organizations.

This year in particular will challenge risk managers to change the way they think about the future. Around the world, political upheaval has wrought economic uncertainty. Brexit, Donald Trump’s surprise presidential win, and other populist movements are shattering the very idea of a status quo.

These topics will be the subject of both session presentations and informal discussions among the roughly 10,000 attendees converging on the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from April 23-26.

“We have evolved in an ever-changing business environment so that the status quo is no longer acceptable. It needs to be constantly revisited,” said RIMS CEO Mary Roth. “In every industry, what we did in the past may not be the best way to proceed in the future.”

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Patrick Harker, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said in an early January segment on Wharton Business Radio that “my biggest concern is concern. The biggest risk we face is uncertainty.”

Uncertainty is so ominous because unlike a defined risk, it is not necessarily manageable.

“The risk manager is in the midst of a ‘risk revolution,’ evolving into a risk strategist who is required to have plans to deal with both controllable and uncontrollable matters.”  — Scott Addis, president and founder, Beyond Insurance

“Risk is best defined as an ‘unknown’ that has a measurable probability of outcome. Uncertainty, on the other hand, involves an unknown with no measurable probability of outcome,” said Scott Addis, president and founder of Beyond Insurance and a speaker at the conference.

“Uncertainty is not quantifiable because future events are too unpredictable and information is insufficient.”

Unanswered Questions

Uncertainty will affect U.S. businesses on multiple fronts. Corporate tax changes and international trade policies are two examples.

Import tariffs and potential trade restrictions imposed with the intention of boosting American manufacturing and job creation could also limit free competition globally and drive up operating costs.

“This can happen in any country that adopts nationalistic policies. From a management perspective, we have to produce at a higher cost,” said Roger Kashlak, professor of international business at Loyola University Maryland and another presenter at RIMS this year.

Scott Addis, president and founder, Beyond Insurance

Restrictive trade policies could also compound the negative impact of a strong U.S. dollar, which makes American exports more expensive and less desirable around the world. With a diminished standing in the global marketplace, it may be hard for businesses to recoup the higher cost of labor that comes with manufacturing at home.

“There’s a cost to this political churn if you play it out. In the short term, you will create jobs that come with tax breaks for businesses, and that’s a good thing. But long term it’s very risky because we’ll miss out on competitive benefits and have higher costs,” Kashlak said.

Regulatory changes also come with a set of pros and cons. In general, less regulatory oversight means more freedom and fewer costs of compliance, which attracts foreign investment and stimulates economic activity. But over the long term, relaxed regulations could be detrimental.

The current administration’s stance on energy regulation offers a good example. If corporations are not held to standards that call for them to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and if subsidies for “green” companies are done away with, it provides greater freedom for businesses in every sector to choose how they produce and consume energy. More choices and fewer compliance hurdles are unquestionably good for business.

But without environmental regulation, the long term effects of climate change could also elevate risk for every sector over the long term. And as other countries invest in clean energy resources, the U.S. could lose competitive standing in that industry.

“You have to play it out from both sides,” Kashlak said. “What will we gain, and what will we be missing?”

Unfortunately for risk managers, confusion among the political ranks and strong influence exerted by the general populace on both sides of these issues make it difficult to know just which way the winds will blow.

Planning for the Unknown

Balancing short and long term goals against potential risks in the face of so much uncertainty will be a key challenge for risk managers.

“One of the biggest challenges facing any decision-maker  is developing long-term strategies while still recognizing the need to deal with the short term,” said Howard Kunreuther, James G. Dinan professor of decision sciences and business and public policy at the Wharton School and co-director of the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Howard Kunreuther, co-director, Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, University of Pennsylvania

“We all tend to be myopic by focusing on short term impacts. But corporations, more so than individuals, also recognize the need to develop short term and long term strategies. There is thus a need to build in short term incentives to enable long term planning,” he said.

Short term impacts include end-of-year balance sheets and bonuses. But Kunreuther suggested that insurers should change their way of thinking to broaden what “short term” means. They can, for example, move away from annual property policies and toward three- to five-year terms, which would promote longer term thinking in a way that is still manageable.

Darin Goodwiler, chief compliance, risk and ethics officer at CFA Institute, said that reliable information and intelligence monitoring is the key to being prepared to react to change over the long term.

“One of the biggest challenges in any decision is developing long-term strategies while still recognizing the need to deal with the short term.”  — Howard Kunreuther, co-director, Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, University of Pennsylvania

“Risk managers need trusted and defendable information, and the faster you get it, the better equipped you are to respond to any event,” said Goodwiler, who will also be presenting a session at RIMS.

The challenge, though, lies in the vast amount of information to be gathered, and the question of where to get the best quality, most dependable facts.

“Today, the risk manager is expected to have a keen awareness of a host of issues that range from international trade policies, regulatory updates, immigration laws and import/export tax changes,” Addis of Beyond Insurance said. Risk managers will have to expand their own understanding of political and economic issues, and identify both internal and external resources and experts to fill in the gaps when necessary.

Goodwiler suggested that the best way to start planning for the future is to look back. Examine your organization’s past 20 years; what events made a significant impact, either positive or negative? How did your company respond? Are these repeatable events?

That analysis tips off risk managers to pre-event indicators. In the face of uncertainty, it’s important to be able to tell when an event or change is coming and start a proactive response to mitigate the full negative impact — or in the best case scenario, leverage it to create a positive impact. Know who the decision-makers in your organization are, and have a plan to get information into their hands as fast as possible.

Opportunities for Risk Managers

On the upside, this level of uncertainty opens an opportunity for risk managers to become strategic partners in their organizations. They can take a leading role in data and intelligence gathering, in formulating plans to identify critical upcoming changes and response plans, and in educating senior executives and boards of directors on long term risks.

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“The risk manager is in the midst of a ‘risk revolution,’ evolving into a risk strategist who is required to have plans to deal with both controllable and uncontrollable matters,” Addis said.

Recognizing that trend, this year’s RIMS conference features a new Executive Leadership track, which Roth said, “is positioned for senior professionals that are engaged in driving strategy throughout their organization.” Sessions in this track will examine “international strategic planning and ERM, the threats and opportunities of Brexit, and risk and resiliency in the changing world.”

“As leaders in risk management and representatives of the risk management community, we feel it’s imperative to engage our members and attendees in that dialogue and look at ways that others are addressing these changes and challenges,” she said. “We have to provide a forum for individuals to find out what best practices are out there and how other risk professionals are addressing the challenges they’re facing.” &

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

To the High Net Worth Homeowner: Build a Disaster Resiliency Plan You Can Be Proud Of

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]