Unquantifiable Exposures

Top Five Uninsurable Risks

The complexities and nuances of these risks make it impossible for risk managers to find total coverage.
By: | September 2, 2014 • 11 min read

Whether it’s a Sriracha hot sauce maker being threatened with closure by city council or General Motors fighting for its reputation after recalling more cars than it made in the past three years, companies face a world of complex risks.

And some of those risks cannot be transferred via insurance products.

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How well are companies protected, for example, when new regulations get passed — such as the EPA’s proposed restrictions on coal burning plants that may drive some in the energy industry out of business, or the current political drumbeat against tax inversion practices?

What insurance covers a company whose rogue employee sells trade secrets to an outside company? How about when a pandemic shuts down operations?

Risk managers identify their organizational exposures as best they can and then work to manage or eliminate those risks. Sometimes, commercial insurance can be used to remove the bulk of that risk, but we’ve isolated five risks which many experts believe are uninsurable in many respects: For the time being anyway.

“For the most part, the insurance industry rises to the occasion and creates products for emerging risks that evolve over time,” said Carol Laufer, executive vice president, ACE Excess Casualty.

“For insureds, the purchase of products such as employment practices and cyber insurance eventually evolves from a discretionary spend to standard insurance coverage,” she said.

09012014_01_CS_sidebarWhile some coverage is available, these five threats are considered mostly uninsurable: reputational risk, regulatory risk, trade secret risk, political risk and pandemic risk.

For sure there are other challenging risks — such as weak economic conditions or skilled talent shortages — that also are uninsurable, but we have selected those for which risk managers are able to play an effective role in mitigating the risk.

Part of the problem in transferring such risks is the complexity involved in the exposures. Look at tax inversion — where a U.S. company merges with a foreign company to change their tax jurisdiction and lower their tax burden.

Is that a political risk? A regulatory risk? A reputational risk? It could be any one of them, or all three of them.

“I think it’s almost uncountable the ways that a loss could occur where that loss could be tied back to reputational risk or regulatory risk,” said David White, a national actuarial leader at KPMG.

At the same time, calling a risk uninsurable has nuances to it. Coverage for criminal fines and penalties, for example, are truly uninsurable. The law forbids such coverage, said Patrick Donnelly, chief broking officer, Aon Risk Solutions.

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But for other types of risks, there may be various products offered by brokers and underwriters to address some, but not all of the specific exposures faced by a company, he said. Such coverage, however, may be rare or expensive, or corporations may find risk transfer to be an ineffective way of hedging the risk.

“I’m very careful about branding something as truly uninsurable,” Donnelly said.

“It’s not black and white.”

Reputational Risk

General Motors might be the quintessential example of a company undergoing a reputational hit. It recalled nearly 30 million cars, and faces numerous lawsuits and investigations related to a delayed recall of 2.6 million cars — some manufactured more than a decade ago — with a faulty ignition switch that has been linked to 13 deaths and more than 50 accidents.

Video: As this report from the New York Times indicates, automakers have a long history of trying to maintain their reputations in the face of major recalls.

But every day brings another contender for the throne. One day, it’s American Apparel’s founder being suspended, and possibly eventually fired, for alleged sexual misconduct. Another day, it’s a viral video of a Comcast customer service representative who refuses to let a customer cancel his account.

Or it could be yet another cyber theft of customer information or a celebrity spokesman tweeting out an offensive comment.

While there are insurance products that provide coverage for crisis management/public relations costs and product recall expenses, only a limited market exists for loss of income or net profit for reputational harm, said Emily Freeman, global technology and privacy practice specialist at Lockton.

“You need to be able to wrap your arms around the risk and the value of risk before you can insure it,” said Tom Srail, senior vice president, Willis. “What a company name is worth has long been a risk to the industry.”

Freeman said Lockton has been involved in creating customized solutions for large clients that address specific threats of reputational harm. The client and underwriter negotiate the period of indemnity and loss adjustment, she said.

“The perils are not on an ‘all risk’ basis, but rather categories listed that are relevant to the client, such as disgrace of key persons or breach of sensitive data,” Freeman said.

“In my mind,” said KPMG’s White, “you can’t find policies that cover all types of reputational risk from whatever event that occurred.”

Regulatory Risk

When you think of regulatory risk, many risk managers keep an eye on the rules of the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Dodd-Frank Act or a regulatory agency such as the Food & Drug Administration.

But the threat of regulation is immense and often unpredictable. In just one year, 2012, there were 17,763 changes to laws, rules and regulations affecting the banking and financial sectors alone, according to The Network, a training and compliance company.

“From a risk management or risk mitigation perspective, you can’t really predict regulations. You can prepare for them, but you can’t predict them or price them.” — David White, national actuarial leader, KPMG

Plus, risks can emanate from all sectors of government. One recent example is Huy Fong Foods, the manufacturer of Sriracha hot sauce, which was temporarily shut down by a judge following a lawsuit by the city council of Irwindale, Calif., after four families (one of which was related to a city councilman) complained about odors.

Eventually, the city dropped its lawsuit and its declaration that the factory was a “public nuisance,” but it took months for the situation to resolve itself.

“From a risk management or risk mitigation perspective, you can’t really predict regulations. You can prepare for them, but you can’t predict them or price them,” White said. “Regulatory risk is handled through risk mitigation, not risk transfer.”

Tom Srail, senior vice president, Willis

Tom Srail, senior vice president, Willis

“Even in the United States,” Srail said, “a government or state can put an industry or a company, if they want to, out of business or severely restrict their ability to operate.”

Certainly, the energy industry has been facing that threat since 2008 when President Obama noted that coal-powered plants can still be built, but at a steep regulatory cost.

“It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” Obama said.

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While a final rule has not yet been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the president has recently called on it to enact new emissions regulations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated the regulations will cost the economy about $50 billion annually.

“There are some creative products underwriters have tried over the years … but there is definitely nothing off the shelf or run of the mill,” Srail said of regulatory risk.

“There’s nothing easy to do.”

Trade Secret Risk

“I find trade secrets to be one of the most dangerous areas,” said attorney Rudy Telscher, a partner at Harness Dickey & Pierce, who recently won a patent infringement case at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There are no boundaries. It’s such a nebulous area.”

It can include anything from a disgruntled employee taking customer lists or R&D information to his next job, a foreign government stealing trade secrets or a hacker burrowing into a computer system to steal a company’s version of its special sauce.

Globalization and the expanded use of supply chain partners increase the potential exposure. Plus, even when a company is able to pursue trade secret litigation, courts consider whether reasonable precautions had been taken to secure the proprietary information.

“The violation,” said Bob Fletcher, president, Intellectual Property Insurance Services Corp., which offers insurance to litigate intellectual property cases, “is not the use [of a trade secret]. The violation is, ‘How did you get the information?’ ”

In any event, said Aon’s Donnelly, “an organization would have a very difficult time obtaining an insurance policy that adequately protects them against the theft or wrongful disclosure of their trade secrets and the potential damage that could do to the company if that trade secret got out.”

Rudy Telscher, partner, Harness Dickey & Pierce

Rudy Telscher, partner, Harness Dickey & Pierce

More common than industrial espionage, however, are the run-of-the-mill business discussions that revolve around synergies and potential partnerships between enterprises. Often, the nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) covering such discussions are not specific enough to protect the parties, Telscher said.

It is the party receiving the information that is most at risk, he said. If the discussions dissolve, that party may find itself accused of acting upon trade secrets because the NDA did not specify the information that was to be disclosed and held confidential.

“The more information you receive, the greater the risk there will be a lawsuit if you don’t end up doing a deal and you move forward on your own,” Telscher said.

Political Risk

In this era of globalization, companies establish operations all over the world, and the world is not a stable place.

Upheaval — or the increasing threat of it — is prevalent on just about every continent of the globe. Certainly, the possibilities in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America are concerning to risk managers.

An Emergencies Ministry member walks at a site of Malaysian airliner flight MH17, which was brought down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 295 people aboard.

An Emergencies Ministry member walks at a site of Malaysian airliner flight MH17, which was brought down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 295 people aboard.

While political violence and trade credit coverage is available in the majority of cases, companies continue to face uninsurable exposures.

“It’s definitely tricky,” said Mark Garbowski, a shareholder at Anderson Kill.

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“Based on the policies I have seen, there will always be some aspects of it that will be fully outside the scope of what can be covered.”

And only “a minority” of companies actually buy the cover, said John Hegeman, AIG senior vice president, specialty lines-political risk.

“I think the principal reason is most risk managers view it as a self-insured business risk,” he said.

“Pretty much anything an insured thinks is really essential to their operations can be covered, but you have to identify it and understand what it is.”

Often, said Richard Maxwell, chief underwriting officer and global head of political risk and trade credit insurance for XL Group, corporations wait too long in the face of deteriorating conditions and insurers will not accept the risk.

“Buy the cover before the barn is on fire,” he said.

Generally, policies cover a host of risks, including government expropriation of an asset, destruction of an asset due to war or political violence, credit default of trade receivables, and when foreign governments block transfer and convertibility of currency.

Some countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the like, are not insurable, said Jochen Duemler, CEO and head of Euler Hermes Americas Region, which offers risk coverage in nearly 200 countries.

Argentina is a recurring problem, and as for Venezuela, it’s not uninsurable, he said, “but we would say we pretty much have no exposure there and are very, very reluctant” to offer coverage.

Overall, policies exclude losses that occur when currency is devalued, losses that occur as a result of a nuclear incident and non-payment of premium, or any losses to suppliers or partners as a result of political violence, except for trade receivables.

Policies also require insureds to make certain warranties and representations that are included in the insurance contract.

Policy disputes can arise when property is expropriated or licenses are cancelled due to what a foreign government says are reasonable or legally justified regulatory actions, according to an article on political risk coverage by Robert C. Leventhal, an attorney with Foley and Lardner.

Another area of dispute emerges when assets are jeopardized by “creeping expropriations,” such as a series of actions by the government as opposed to a single act, he said.

Pandemic Risk

Many risk managers aren’t too worried about the Ebola pandemic in West Africa that has already killed more than 900 people. And they probably aren’t all that worried — if they even know — about the four cases of pneumonic plague in Colorado that are life-threatening.

But who among them can forget the H1N1 pandemic influenza virus known as the swine flu, that in 2009 killed more than 250,000 people worldwide, including more than 3,600 in North America.

At one point, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that as many as two in five workers might become infected or have to stay home to care for an ill family member.

Video: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the role airports play in spreading disease and pandemics, according to this report by Voice of America.

A pandemic flu is something all risk managers should worry about. And there’s no coverage for it.

“A pandemic is a very difficult exposure to insure in any meaningful way. You can do some work around it, but it’s a very, very difficult risk to insure and no one really insures it,” said John McLaughlin, managing director of the higher education practice at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

For schools or universities, his specialty, there may be some loss of tuition coverage available, but “it’s not very cost effective.”

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For business, supply-chain insurance may offer some protection, but that coverage still has a limited take-up.

Companies may also be able to craft special wording for property or D&O policies, he said.

“You never say never. There’s always some solution that you can work up,” he said.

But, McLaughlin said, a healthier perspective for a risk manager is to analyze how the risk would impact the organization and to devise solutions that are not insurance-related.

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Catastrophe Risk

Material Resiliency

New materials, methods and ideas are empowering property owners to rein in their catastrophe risks.
By: | October 12, 2017 • 11 min read

The 2017 hurricane season is one for the record books. Rebuilding efforts are underway, with builders working to make insureds whole again as soon as possible … at least until the next storm comes along.

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And therein lies the problem with recovery in disaster-prone regions. It evokes the oft-quoted definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

So what if we did it differently? What if instead of rebuilding to make structures “like new,” we rebuilt to make them better, more resilient, less prone to damage?

The reality is, we don’t really have a choice. Climate change is ushering in weather systems that are increasingly volatile. Wildfires are raging like never before. Sea-level rise is threatening our coasts, and there’s no way to dial any of it back.

Nevertheless, people will continue to build homes and businesses along the coast. Real estate developers will continue to nestle luxury homes into wooded foothills.

That means communities need to come to terms with the risk and plan for it intelligently.

Michael Brown, vice president and property manager, Golden Bear Insurance

“Natural disasters are going to happen,” said Michael Brown, vice president and property manager with Golden Bear Insurance. “But if we plan and build communities around the idea that something bad may happen someday, then that community can bounce back faster afterward.”

In any natural disaster, he added, “the property damage is extreme. But the biggest portion of the losses, both insured and uninsured, are the time element pieces. How long was the business closed? How long were homeowners unable to occupy their homes? Those are the pieces that drag on for months — years in some cases — and really drive the economic loss.”

That’s the motivation behind new materials, designs and strategies being implemented in the construction and repair of at-risk residential and commercial properties.

Powerful Flood Solutions

Newer building products move the needle significantly in terms of efficacy.

For new or restored structures in flood-prone regions, Georgia Pacific produces gypsum panels that incorporate fiberglass mats instead of paper facings and comply with the latest FEMA requirements for flood damage resistance and mold resistance. Wall boards made from magnesium oxide (MgO) don’t absorb water at all and have the added benefits of being environmentally friendly and non-flammable.

In the UK, advanced flood-resilient structures built with water-resilient concrete-block partitions are being fitted with not only MgO wallboards, but also wood-look porcelain or ceramic flooring that’s non-permeable and fire-resistant — without sacrificing aesthetics. Drains are installed in the flooring, along with sub-flooring gullies and submersible pumps that push the water back outside. Outlets and appliance motors are all situated above expected flood levels. Doors are equipped with sliding flood panels.

In the event of flooding that exceeds a depth of two feet, automatic opening window panels (flood inlets) are triggered by sensors to allow flood water to enter the property slowly, to reduce external pressure that could damage the structure.

Carl Solly, vice president and chief engineer, FM Global

Controlled inflow buys time for a homeowner to raise furniture up on blocks, or for a business owner to raise pallets of goods up to higher shelves or move equipment to a higher elevation.

Water intrusion is reduced dramatically, and even when it happens, there is little to no damage. Water is pushed into the floor drains, surfaces are allowed to dry, and then it’s back to business as usual in days rather than months — likely with no insurance claim filed.

Dramatic improvements are happening on this side of the pond as well. For entities that need permanent on-site flood solutions, barriers like flood gates and retractable flood walls are the most sophisticated they’ve ever been.

After suffering $4 billion in damage during Superstorm Sandy, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority invested heavily in flexible fabric flood panels that are made with Kevlar® and can be unrolled quickly and easily. Additional flood gates hinged to air grates are passively activated by the weight of incoming water entering the grates.

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The transit authority is also testing a prototype “resilient tunnel plug” — essentially a giant air bag that can be deployed quickly to seal off sections of subway tunnel. The plug is designed to withstand not only flood but also biochemical attack.

Even temporary solutions are leaps and bounds beyond the days when sandbagging was typically the best option. New as-needed barrier methods include inflatable bladders that can be placed around a building’s perimeter and filled with water to keep floodwater and flood debris at bay.

“People have always said, ‘Well, I’m in a flood plain, it’s inevitable. It’s an act of God,’ ” said Carl Solly, vice president and chief engineer, FM Global. “In the last several years, we’ve really been trying to deliver the message that you can do something about your flood risk.”

Shake, Pummel and Burn

Flood is far from the only problem benefiting from smart engineering. FM Global is working with manufacturers to develop and certify roofing material designed to better withstand the localized hailstorms that often plague southeastern and midwestern states.

Current materials rated for severe hail can withstand hailstones up to 1 ¾ inches in diameter. The new product, rated for “very severe” hail can tolerate hailstones up to 2 ½ inches. The difference sounds small, but it’s far from it.

“It’s about three times the amount of impact energy when it hits the roof [compared to a 1 ¾ hailstone],” explained Solly. “That’s a big difference.”

As for “bouncing back” after a catastrophic fire, Solly said that’s a fairly tall order. But even there, technology is helping to reduce the severity of fires so that disruption is minimal.

FM Global researchers recently pioneered the concept of SMART sprinklers — shorthand for Simultaneous Monitoring and Assessment Response Technology — which can sense a fire earlier than traditional systems and activate targeted sprinkler heads when needed and shut off once the fire is out.

“You’ll catch it with less water, so from a water usage perspective, a water damage perspective and a smoke damage perspective, we think that has an opportunity to be a big difference-maker in the fire protection industry, particular with high-challenge fires,” said Solly.

“You’ve got a better chance of stopping what normally would be a really tough fire to catch.”

In addition, added Brown, smarter sprinkler systems, much like burglar alarms, could be programmed to notify the fire department instantly, even when a structure is unoccupied.

For earthquake risk, said Brown, resilient building efforts are less about new materials than they are about more strategic ways of using traditional materials.

“Here in California we wrap homes in stucco around the wood frame to help the whole building move as a unit. Stucco is concrete so it does crack. I end up with a building that’s got some cosmetic damage … but you don’t have to rebuild the building. It does its job in terms of absorbing a lot of the ground motion before it pushes the building beyond its design tolerances.”

Using stronger, larger steel brackets where the walls meet the roof or the floor or each other, said Brown, “keeps the north wall from moving in one direction while the west wall moves a different direction.”

Those kinds of stress points can push modest earthquake damage to catastrophic levels, he said.

One earthquake innovation still in the beta phase is a project out of the U.C. Berkeley Seismological lab, using the accelerometers in smartphones as virtual seismometers. Participating phones have an app that detects certain types of ground motion. As phones pick up earthquake wave patterns, they ping the server which checks nearby smartphones to see if they sensed the same pattern, all in microseconds. If an earthquake pattern can be confirmed, an alarm will be sent to every cellphone within a logical radius.

That might only buy people an extra two to five minutes before the event, said Brown, “but if you are the operators of Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter trains, that’s enough time to slow all the trains down to five miles an hour. If you are Google, that’s enough time to park a bunch of hard drives in your server farm so that they’re better able to resist shaking and not be damaged too badly.”

Raising Standards

Cost, of course, will impact the take-up of resilient materials and tools. If it’s three times more expensive to build a home out of the resilient materials, a lot of builders aren’t going to want to because the home will be tougher to sell.

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FM Global’s Approvals division tests and certifies a variety of products aimed at mitigating disaster peril. That can help increase property owner confidence in these materials, particularly for commercial structures.

“When you’re betting millions of dollars and the future of your business — or at least the near-term future of your business — you really need to know that it’s going to work,” said Solly.

With just-in-time manufacturing, a company may have a few days’ worth of stock on hand rather than three months’ worth.

“So you can’t afford to be out of business for weeks, because your customers are going to go somewhere else for your product,” he said.

Building standards and codes can help drive adoption of resilient measures in both commercial and residential construction. But more work needs to be done to raise standards to meet the goal of resilience.

Effecting real resilience is something leaders across the spectrum should be talking about, including brokers and carriers, government and research agencies, building products manufacturers, and corporate executives.

If lives are saved in an earthquake, but a building is still damaged to the point where it needs to be torn down, said Brown “that building owner, that community, is going to have a much longer path to full recovery. We want the building codes strengthened to an immediate occupancy [goal] — we want people to be able to move right back into that building so there’s a much shorter window of disruption.

“It’s certainly better for me as the insurer,” he said, “but it’s even better for the guy that owns the building or runs his business out of it because now his employees still have a place to come to work and they can still get paid.”

Every single business able to minimize its downtime in this way helps the entire community be more resilient, he added. It creates that snowball effect in a good way. When businesses are able to stay open or reopen quickly, he said, workers don’t lose a meaningful amount of pay. Everybody’s in a better position to continue shopping and supporting the local economy.

“If you just shorten the line of people who are looking for some sort of federal aid, or state aid because they’ve had a massive financial disaster — maybe we can turn those into moderate to small financial disasters. That’s the key, I think, to communities being more resilient.”

Driving Demand

As the likelihood increases that property owners will experience a second loss or even third loss, some insurers are looking at ways to invest in resilience — a smarter long-term business plan than paying to rebuild again and again.

One new initiative is Lex Flood Ready, the product of a partnership between Lexington Insurance and The Flood Insurance Agency (TFIA). Flood Ready is a coverage enhancement for Lexington Private Market Flood clients that will not only indemnify property owners that suffer flood damage but will also provide the funds to rebuild them to a higher standard of resiliency when replacing floors and walls.

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Resilience proponents advocate a variety of approaches to encourage take-up, including tax credits, resilience grants, insurance incentives and other partnerships, as well as encouraging lenders to engage borrowers by making the flood risk assessments part of the mortgage process.

A certification scheme similar to LEED could also help drive resilience efforts. The UK is currently beta-testing a certification program called Home Quality Mark, developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). Properties are rated on stringent criteria that considers not just disaster resilience, but energy performance and cost, durability and environmental impact.

“Getting people from diverse perspectives thinking about it and talking about it is going to be the avenue to finding the right answers.” — Michael Brown, VP and property manager, Golden Bear Insurance

That’s something builders would be able to use to add value to their properties, offsetting the cost of building in resilience and driving consumer demand for properties built to the highest standards.

With increased resilience will come questions for insurers, said Brown. “It will open up a can of worms.”

It will create something of an arms race among insurance companies, he said. “Who’s going to be the first one to figure out what’s the right way to insure that? What’s the right price? What are the right terms and conditions?” Admittedly, it’s a good problem to have.

Effecting real resilience is something leaders across the spectrum should be talking about, including brokers and carriers, government and research agencies, building products manufacturers, and corporate executives.

“Getting people from diverse perspectives thinking about it and talking about it is going to be the avenue to finding the right answers,” said Brown.

“That kind of mentality top to bottom in the industry is going to be necessary. It’s not the first time we’ve dealt with disruptive things and we will continue doing it. It’s what keeps the game interesting.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]