Risk Management

Seven Questions for Michael Liebowitz

Is risk management becoming too specialized? NYU's risk executive ponders that and other questions on risk management.
By: | March 13, 2017 • 4 min read
Topics: ERM | Risk Management

Michael Liebowitz, senior director of insurance and enterprise risk management at New York University, has come a long way from his very first job as a paperboy for the “Long Island Press.”

He came to the risk management profession in a “circuitous route,” he said, working in outside and inside claims before the “really bad underwriting” at a former company caused his department to become so “inundated with claims,” that he opted to leave the business.

Michael Liebowitz, senior director of insurance and enterprise risk management, New York University

He joined NYU Medical Center as an insurance specialist, handling primarily property, workers’ comp and medical malpractice, and later become director of risk management at NYU. In 2006, he served as president of RIMS.

I think the biggest thing I am proud of is that probably every place I’ve been employed, I’ve been able to go into the organization and create a risk management program where there wasn’t one, or identify deficiencies in risk management programs that had been in place and improve them,” he said.

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As for emerging risks, it’s cyber risk that most concerns Liebowitz. “Because the bad guys are always one step ahead of us. We are always playing catch up.”

These seven questions explore some of his thoughts on the risk management profession:

What is the risk management community doing right?

That’s a tough question. Risk management has now been fragmented. We have traditional risk management based upon an insurance model with loss control and safety and claim. Then you have enterprise risk management and looking at strategic risks. We are becoming subspecialists within a specialty.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad yet. It’s something that is still developing. There are very few people that have experience in all three disciplines.

What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

We are going from generalists to specialists and subspecialists. And I just don’t know if it’s good. It’s too early on to come up with a definitive opinion. It’s a concern. I have all of that experience so it doesn’t bother me, but a person coming out of school, they don’t know what they are getting into. We are siloing ourselves. I don’t think anybody sees it coming.

What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I don’t think the insurance industry has changed all that much since I entered 30-odd years ago. We still don’t have contract certainty. They still do things the old way. Instead of mailing a spreadsheet, we are emailing a spreadsheet and sending the same information to multiple different carriers and filling out multiple different applications.

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One way they have changed is they have decided that shareholder value is in some instances more important than insured interests. They put their shareholders before their insureds. This is a service industry; provide me with service. I am paying for it. That’s the negative.

The good side is they are putting more emphasis on loss control, loss reduction and claims identification and mitigation activities. They are trying to get ahead of the curve but those services don’t run that deep. They are very superficial. Some carriers don’t even understand what the four corners of their policy insure and I will leave it at that.

Was the contingent commission controversy overblown?

Yes. The way brokers get compensated hasn’t changed. What has changed is they are now telling you what they are making on your book of business and they are obligated to do that versus you having to ask them.

I would flip it around and say if you were really a diligent risk manager, you would have asked the question: What is the true cost of risk. And to get the true cost of risk, you have to know what you are paying your broker. It’s all about transparency and being smart enough to ask the question.

What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

China. It’s just so foreign from a Westerner’s point of view. Shanghai is a very modern city but you can walk two blocks in any direction and contrast it with old China. Chinese food there isn’t Chinese food here. From a food perspective, it’s very different. Culturally, it’s very different. As much as I love China and don’t mind going there – I’ve been there seven or eight times – it’s very difficult to wrap my head around it.

What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Cycling on the street. It’s dangerous between the potholes and cars and sand and leaves. You need to have eyes in the back of your head.

What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I like everything I do. It’s the variety, trying to solve problems and to make my clients able to do their business by protecting not only my client but the larger organization from the business some of them might engage in.

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

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