Global Travel Assistance Could Cut Losses. If We Could Get Employees to Use It

There are numerous services and insurance coverages to support global business travel. The problem is that employees may spurn them.
By: | October 9, 2019

Technology and risk management have happily come together to offer a range of services to support global business travel. Unfortunately, many business travelers think they know better or are too focused on their jobs to take advantage of these services and better protect themselves.

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Peter Hindmarsh, vice president of global benefit solutions for Pacific Resources, a division of Brown & Brown, said it’s a fairly common practice for companies to make available to business travelers well-researched information on the risks they may face in various countries and what services the company can make available to them.

“Despite the best efforts in communicating that and reinforcing it, employees don’t typically take advantage of it,” Hindmarsh said.

Car accidents, muggings and serious health incidents can happen to any traveler, whether they’re traveling from Boston to Beirut, or merely hopping a commuter train for a 45-minute jaunt to a business meeting.

“Unless they have a serious pre-condition, they don’t think these things can happen to them,” Hindmarsh said. “So, despite people’s best efforts, the employee is not prepared for what happens.”

When something does happen, according to Erika Weisbrod, director, security solutions, Americas, for International SOS, the costs to businesses can be substantial.

Here are just a few of the risks facing organizations that fail to prepare employees for travel risks or protect employees traveling overseas.

Legal/Financial Penalties

First, according to Weisbrod, are the direct legal/financial penalties that can befall companies when they face a lawsuit from an injured worker or the family of a worker who in the most tragic of cases is killed while traveling on the job.

“If that traveler says that their employer did not provide sufficient duty of care, that they were not providing awareness of the foreseeable risks in the destinations they are traveling to, there could be a lawsuit,” Weisbrod said.

Missteps Can Impact Reputational Risk

If an international incident attracts media attention, the name of the injured party’s employer will be broadcast, and reputational damage will result.

There is also the risk that company morale will suffer when a respected colleague suffers an incident while abroad.

“We have the concern of, ‘Do I want to travel for business if this happened to my colleague?’ ” Weisbrod added.

Erica Weisbrod, director, security solutions, Americas, International SOS

What if key producers start balking at travel assignments? What if business relationships that thrive due to face-to-face meetings start to whither due to a lack of personal contact?

“We look at the cost for expatriates and longer-term assignments,” Weisbrod said.

“If you look at the cost of a failed expatriate assignment, it’s not just that you’re paying for that individual to come home — it could be medevac, it could be a security situation — but then someone is not doing that job and the cost to fill that position, of not having someone in that role, the business costs can be quite significant,” she said.

As always, there are well-versed business minds working to address the risks of business travel.

Jeff Delmore, a vice president and corporate risk manager for FM Global, strategically developed a cross-functional team of FM Global’s loss prevention engineers and IT professionals back in 2017.

The team set a goal of providing all traveling FM Global employees with mobile access to up-to-date business travel risk information.

After 15 months of work, the company now has Travel Shield, the company’s enterprise-wide global travel risk management program that provides a risk-based heat map, pointing out health and security risks for FM Global employees going abroad.

For his work, Delmore was awarded a Risk All Star Award from Risk & Insurance® earlier this year.

Products Providing Protection

In addition to dashboards that use the latest analytics to provide employees with up-to-date travel risk information, there is an umbrella of travel risk insurance products to give companies an extra layer of protection.

“A lot of employers have a business travel accident plan,” said Pacific Resource’s Hindmarsh. “It’s a lump sum payment for a large event.

“But the key thing that we talk to employers about is having group international travel insurance for all of their employees,” he said.

Companies like International SOS provide detailed information on medical capabilities in various countries.

But there are some events, whether they be health or security-related or both, that require evacuation, and that can get very expensive — well into the six figures. Group international travel insurance is designed to cover just such an event.

“Many are not aware of the risk,” Hindmarsh said.

“They think their U.S.-based health insurer is going to cover it. Either they don’t — in the case of medical evacuation costs — because the benefits are U.S.-based, or even if they cover someone overseas, they would make such a mess of the claim payment it’s not worthwhile even trying to get the claim paid,” he said.

According to Hindmarsh and Smita Bhargava, a senior vice president with Clements Worldwide, there are a large number of carriers offering group international travel insurance. Capacity is ample and rates are reasonable.

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Bhargava recommends streamlining policies as much as possible, so that human resources and other professionals overseeing employee benefits know exactly which broker or carrier to turn to when there is an event.

Close examination of policies is also important, she said.  Bhargava has seen instances where an incident happened to an employee in one country, and the company’s travel risk policy excluded that country.

“So, on the front end, it looks like the right policy, but on the back end, it actually excludes all the countries that are high risk,” she said.

Coverage Is Affordable

Hindmarsh said risk management and medical care continue to evolve and become more sophisticated and companies continue to see a favorable rate environment for purchasing cover.

“These plans are very inexpensive for the coverage you get,” he said.

“The level of risk and use is not that great, and the number of critical incidents might be declining over the years as health care gets more sophisticated throughout the world and people have more of a handle on how they should [approach] a medical situation,” he said.

“Most of the employers that we work with, especially when we inherit an older plan, we are usually negotiating for the price to go down, not up.” &

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

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]