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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Manager Focus

Better Together

Risk managers reveal what they value in their brokers.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 11 min read

Michael K. Sheehan, (left) Managing Director, Marsh and Grant Barkey, Director of Risk Management, Motivate International Inc.

Ask a broker what they can do for you and they will tell you. But let’s ask the risk manager.

What do risk managers really need in a broker? And what do the best brokers do to help risk managers succeed in their jobs?

Chet Porembski, system vice president and deputy general counsel, OhioHealth Corp.

Risk managers say it’s a broker who helps them look knowledgeable and prepared to their bosses. It’s someone who sweeps in like a superhero with an ingenious solution to a difficult problem.

Risk managers want to see brokers bring forth better products year after year. They want a broker who shows up at renewal time with new ideas, not just a rubber stamp.

Great brokers embed with the risk management team and learn everything they can about the company and its leaders. They help risk managers prepare and keep tabs throughout the year on changes at the organization with an eye towards planning the future.

“There’s the broker that sees themselves as just a hired ‘vendor,’ or I should say, somebody that basically just does the job at hand,” said Chet Porembski, system vice president and deputy general counsel at OhioHealth Corp.

“And then there’s the broker that views themselves very much as a business partner.  They truly bring added value to the relationship.”

These brokers look at the tough issues the risk manager is facing and bring in the resources to try to help their client in ways even the client might not have thought about yet. They also do advanced planning that makes the risk manager’s job easier when a problem arises.

“That’s the kind of broker I want.” Porembski said.

And that’s the kind of broker many risk managers need more than ever.

“The only way that the relationship is going to be successful is if you build a tremendous amount of trust.” — Frances Clark, director of risk management and insurance, Sentara Healthcare

That’s because risk managers are under increasing pressure these days. They carry more weight as corporations shrink their departments to cut costs.

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Climate change, cyber threats and geopolitical shifts are turning what were once unthinkable losses into risks that are almost commonplace. And this is all happening in an under-insured risk environment, according a study by PwC entitled Broking 2020: Leading from the Front in a New Era of Risk.

Thankfully there are good brokers out there, risk managers say, who can bring more value to a client today than ever before and help ease that fear.

Brokers — the traditional intermediary in the risk transfer chain — do in fact have a tangible and growing role in developing viable and innovative solutions for the risk manager, according to PwC’s study.

They are the “global risk facilitation leaders.”

“[Whatever] organizations are doing in the short term — be this dealing with market instability or just going about day to-day business — they need to be looking at how to keep pace with the sweeping social, technological, economic, environmental and political (STEEP) developments that are transforming the world,” PwC said in the report.

Advisors That Are Getting It Done

Cyber risks are just one growing challenge that all organizations grapple with.

Frances Clark, director of risk management and insurance at Sentara Healthcare, remembers when her broker first suggested that she hold a leadership tabletop cyber drill.

Clark said her broker kept saying, “I know this is going to be a painful experience, but you are going to come out so much better in the long run.”

Frances Clark, director of risk management and insurance, Sentara Healthcare

Her broker was right, and went so far as to help arrange a system-wide drill that included representatives from the legal, finance, security, communications, marketing and medical teams.

They reviewed the many ways a cyber attack can happen and then practiced a response.

“We benefitted greatly from that exercise,” Clark said.

When Doctors on Demand developed a telemedicine app to offer mental health services through mobile devices, the company ran up against insurance limitations across state lines. All states require that the physician giving the advice be licensed in the same state where the patient is located.

The concern was for patient encounters where the patient actually crossed state boundaries during the encounter, due to the utilization of a mobile phone. The patient may have started with a properly licensed physician in the original state, but then crossed into a neighboring state where the physician was not licensed.

Larry Hansard, a regional managing director at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., and a 2017 Power Broker®, worked to secure medical professional liability coverage without the traditional licensure exclusions placed on medical professionals by insurance carriers.

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The initiative he helped develop actually changes how health care can be delivered to patients. It allows the emerging telemedicine sector to now offer services around the world.

Two-thirds of the risk managers in the PwC Broker 2020 survey labeled their brokers as “trusted advisors.” But the same survey found that some participants see their broker as more of a straightforward service provider rather than as a source for solutions.

The survey results indicate there is plenty of room for brokers to bring more value to clients.

OhioHealth’s brokers meet each year with OhioHealth’s risk management team to review insurance coverages.  And when the health system holds quarterly risk management retreats, the brokers attend. They bring with them education and insights on a broad range of topics, from property insurance markets to cyber solutions.

Porembski’s brokers also collaborate with the risk managers when there’s an upcoming presentation on risk issues to senior management. Sometimes the brokers help prepare the presentation, he said.

“We end up looking exceptionally good to our senior leaders and our board,” he said.

Involving the broker in interactions with leaders outside the traditional risk management team has benefits beyond selling products, he said. It extends the relationship circle.

Clark tries not to think of her brokers as outside vendors just providing a service. She wants them to be as committed and knowledgeable about the organization as she is.

“The only way that the relationship is going to be successful is if you build a tremendous amount of trust,” Clark said.

“You have to be completely open and honest about everything, no matter how bad it is, or how bad it may look to the market or underwriters.”

“Once you establish that trusting relationship, I think everything else falls into place,” she adds.

Sentara underwent significant growth recently, acquiring five hospitals in about six years. The expansion required a vast amount of integration on insurance programs and a merger of risk management departments and claims.

Clark said her brokers rolled up their sleeves and expertly navigated her through the consolidation.

“I can’t reiterate enough how most risk managers don’t know how to deal with an M&A unless you’ve gone through it.”

She said she wouldn’t have been able to manage the risk of the mergers without her broker’s counsel.

Grading the Broker

Mike Lubben, director of global risk management at Henry Crown & Co. in Chicago, sets standard expectations of his insurance brokers: know the exposures, understand how a risk manager has to sell ideas internally and understand the urgency of requests.

He lets his brokers know his expectations with regular report cards, complete with letter grades. And he isn’t shy about giving out Fs.

  • How did the broker service the EPLI coverage?
  • Did the broker provide expertise and coverage analysis?
  • Was there anything creative?
  • Did the broker recommend new endorsements based on the previous exposure?
  • Did the broker recommend any risk mitigation programs?
  • How well did he communicate and help with presentations?

“A good broker will think this is fantastic,” Lubben said.

This method starts the conversation. It helps Lubben establish long relationships with some stellar brokers.  But if the broker misses the mark, Lubben can have a talk with them about ways to do better in the future. Some brokers he has sent away.

Recently a broker failed on what Lubben calls “blocking and tackling,” the basics like returning phone calls within one day and responding promptly to emails.

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Lubben gave him an “F” on those subjects and told him why. The broker still didn’t improve his game and was eventually replaced.

For many people, insurance can seem very routine from renewal to renewal. But a really good broker will break from routine and come back with some kind of enhancement or improvement.

If the renewal is flat with no change in premium, then Clark says she’ll ask, “What are you going to do for me this year?”

The best brokers are always striving for better, she said.

“Without the brokering community, you would be hard pressed to do your job. I really appreciate what the brokers do, they bring a level of expertise that we can’t possibly have on all lines of coverage.” — Mike Lubben, director of global risk management at Henry Crown & Co.

Motivate International Inc., which operates more than half of the bike share fleets in North America, went through a recent renewal.

Their broker, Marsh, explored more than 10 options with different strategies and programs. In the end, after all of that, they decided the expiring coverage was the best fit.

“Those exercises are very valuable for risk managers,” said Grant Barkey, Motivate’s director of risk management.

“As an innovative company committed to delivering best-in-class services, we believe thorough exploration leads to informed decision-making.”

A good broker understands that a company’s day-to-day operations and a highly effective risk management program have implications for what type of policy should be procured, he said.

Brokers need to partner with risk managers to figure out what those options are, and what the markets are saying and then succinctly relay the information to management.
They also need to have the tact and curiosity to inquire about future plans and figure out what resources might be needed to better serve their client.

When PwC surveyed risk managers, most put their insurance carriers and industry groups ahead of their brokers as the primary source of cyber and supply chain risk solutions; yet these areas are still cited as risk managers’ top concerns.

“Becoming the go-to partners for developing and coordinating innovative and effective solutions in these priority risk areas is at the heart of the commercial opportunity for brokers.” PwC said in its report.

“Yet, our survey suggests that these are important areas where brokers are falling short of the market’s demands and therefore need to adapt.

For example, less than a third of respondents are very satisfied with brokers’ analytical and modelling services across a range of areas.”

When participants were asked how their brokers could be more efficient, respondents put risk analysis at the top of PwC’s survey list. Significantly, more than a third also cited ‘big data’ analysis.

Finding the Right Fit

Paul Kim, Co-CBO of U.S. Retail at Aon Risk Solutions, helps match brokers to risk managers. He keeps in mind that insurance companies tend to sell product, while the clients are looking to manage risks. The right broker assists in mapping risks to existing products and also customizing broad solutions, he said.

“The risk manager’s job has become more complex in the current environment, but there are so many tools available for those individuals to make better informed decisions that truly help protect the overall risk profile of their companies,” Kim said.

Paul Kim, Co-CBO of U.S. Retail, Aon Risk Solutions

That’s why finding the right broker should be first and foremost, he said. Look for an individual with strong industry knowledge, product expertise and market relationships. A strong broker is able to effectively communicate what the risk manager’s goals are to the marketplace to be able to execute and achieve those goals.

“Not every broker can do that,” Kim said.

“Not every broker is the right broker.”

PwC said those brokers who quickly master the art and science of identifying ambiguous threats and then mobilize a broad private/public stakeholder pool to economically manage those risks over time will pull ahead of their competition.

“We’re really generalist,” Lubben said.

“Without the brokering community, you would be hard pressed to do your job. I really appreciate what the brokers do, they bring a level of expertise that we can’t possibly have on all lines of coverage.”

When selecting a broker, the risk manager should also take into account the entire organization behind the broker. Ask about the additional support systems that are available to the broker’s clients.

The company should have a deep bench so when the primary broker is out of the office there’s someone else to rely on who is almost as knowledgeable. The broker organization should also be able to assist you with your budgeting and forecasting from a financial risk perspective.

In PwC’s survey of risk managers, nearly three-quarters want analytics from their broker to help inform their decisionmaking, with concerns over new and emerging risks being a strong driver for this demand.

Clark also thinks it is vitally important for a broker to offer a claims advocate, somebody on the outside, when you are dealing with a carrier on a complicated claim.

“Otherwise you are vulnerable to what the carrier says,” Clark said.

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To lead in this new era of risk, it’s also important that brokers forge close relationships with a broader set of stakeholders that includes governments, academia, specialist risk consultancies and even their industry peers, PwC said in the report.

It’s also going to be important to develop shared databases and research capabilities.

In turn, brokers need to assure this diverse stakeholder group that they are the right party to lead.

Clark, at Sentara Healthcare, said she knows what her risk exposures are today, but she’d like her brokers to anticipate her needs before she does.

“It’s kind of crazy, but amazingly some of them do it,” Clark said.

The broker will also use past experience and industry knowledge to anticipate where policy terms and conditions can be tweaked and improved upon.

“They will, say, advise us that we need to change this policy language, and then a year later you have a claim on that and you thank your lucky stars that they changed it,” Clark said.

“It is amazing to me every time it happens.”  &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]