About Brandon Righi

Brandon Righi is RIMS’ program and content manager.

Should You Respond to a Reservation of Rights Letter?

An organization buys insurance to transfer certain types of risks (depending on the policies purchased). If a covered event occurs that results in a loss, you submit a claim and get paid. Simple, right? That’s how it would seem, but many experienced risk managers know it doesn’t always go that smoothly.

A recent RIMS Executive Report discusses one of the most common instances when things don’t go according to plan, and the insurer sends along some unpleasant surprises. In “A Risk Manager’s Guide to Reservation of Rights,” we learn how an insurer protest against paying a claim is commonly initiated and communicated: the dreaded reservation of rights letter.

In case you’ve never had the pleasure of receiving one, a reservation of rights letter is “a notice that the insurer has reserved its rights to either limit or deny coverage for the claim, based on the terms and conditions of the policy or information uncovered in an investigation of the claim itself.” In other words, these legal notices can become hurdles for an organization trying to realize the value of the insurance it has purchased.

Many risk managers do nothing when they receive this letter—they assume that the insurer will act in good faith and everything will work out. The authors of the RIMS Executive Report, however, strongly encourage a more active response. At the very least, the risk manager should compare the wording of the letter to the insurance policy language in question, as well as draft a response to the letter. The authors state: “Generally, there is no requirement that a policyholder respond to an insurer’s reservation of rights letter, disagreeing with the reservation or the bases thereof. However, it is highly recommended that the policyholder do so.”

A response letter might look something like this:
In some cases, a well thought-out response can save an organization a large amount of money. A good example is the common insurer-proposed reservation to recover defense costs spent on defending a policyholder if the insurer determines at a later date that it did not, in fact, have a responsibility to defend. In order to reject this reservation and the big legal bills that could come with it down the road, many jurisdictions in the United States require that the insured respond to the reservation of rights letter and specifically disagree with this detail.

According to the authors: “Receipt of a reservation of rights notice should prompt a review by risk managers…leading to an informed decision and deliberate action: whether to accept the insurer’s interpretation of the coverage and defense obligations, or respond with a reservation of its own rights. If not, unexpected and unintended consequences may result.”

The report also includes more in-depth information on obligatory communications, the use of tolling agreements and conflicts of interest that arise in these situations. In a reservation of rights situation, there can be some tricky territory to navigate. For example, insureds are almost always contractually obligated to cooperate with the insurer’s investigation and defense of claims. Failure to communicate or cooperate with these efforts can be a breach of contract and result in loss of coverage. It is important for the insured (i.e., the risk manager) to “understand its obligations in the claims management and settlement process, and the continuing obliga­tions when a reservation of rights notification is issued.”

The balancing act is that “Insureds need to continue cooperating…regardless of any coverage disputes, to preserve the continuity of claim management as well as meet the policy obligation.”

As the coordinator between functional areas and the in-house risk expert, risk professionals have an important role in all of these stages.

RIMS Conference Veterans Offer Advice to First Time Attendees

Last week a member of the RIMS Opis online community asked an important question: “What advice can RIMS Annual Conference & Exhibition veterans give to someone attending the show for the first time?” Luckily, the risk management community rushed in with some sage advice.

First and foremost, several people pointed out how helpful the First Time Attendee Orientation (4:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 23) is. Aside from getting the conference layout, attending the orientation is a great opportunity to meet and get to know people, as “networking is a huge benefit—perhaps the biggest benefit—of attending the conference.”

Here are some other tips from previous attendees to get the most out of the conference:

  • Download the RIMS app. The app will help to keep you on schedule. “I love this app because you can add your own events, see who is attending and plan your schedule. It even has a map!”
  • Leave the uncomfortable shoes at home. The Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia is massive, and attendees will be doing a lot of walking. That said, don’t opt for flip-flops either, as most attendees are in business formal or business casual attire. One commenter shared this helpful system, “I can’t emphasize comfortable shoes enough! I log 25,000+ steps each day of RIMS and it is non-stop from morning to night. I bring a backpack and carry dressier shoes if I need to put them on for a specific meeting during the day.”
  • Take advantage of free food. “If you work this out right, you won’t buy any meals (except the occasional),” one commenter said. “There are many opportunities to eat for free at a RIMS Annual Conference, and that’s just on the tradeshow floor!” There are also several evening events hosted by underwriters and brokers, some of which splurge on impressive entertainment.
  • Get organized, but stay flexible. There are more than 150 education sessions, tradeshow floor activities and general sessions to attend. Before you get to Philadelphia, make note of the sessions you would like to attend, and put holds on your calendar along with location information. That way you won’t feel overwhelmed and flustered when you’re on site. There will inevitably be things that pop up when you’re at RIMS 2017—your plans will change, and that’s OK.
  • Find a show veteran to tag along with. Doing this can help with maneuvering the Exhibition Hall and to learn how to “work” the tradeshow floor.
  • Talk to the people around you. This can’t be emphasized enough. During down time before or after education sessions, during meals and at parties, be sure to meet new people and collect their business cards. Many business deals and careers have received big boosts from new connections made at the annual conference.
  • Bring a very tall stack of business cards!

Finally, a RIMS member advised attendees who don’t want to leave their healthy habits at home amidst all of the activity and parties, to “embrace wellness” with these tips:

  • Take part in the 5K Fun Run. This event will take place on Tuesday morning, before the start of educational sessions. It’s a great way to network, raise money for Spencer Educational Foundation (which supports the next generation of rising risk professionals), and experience the host city with an early morning perspective.
  • Visit the Wellness ZENter. The ZENter will be located centrally in the RIMS Marketplace Exhibit Hall.
  • Drink plenty of water. In addition to the health-conscious choices available at RIMS meals, look for other options, such as infusers and water bottles, in vendor handouts and giveaways.

Weighing In on Stand-Up Workstations and Exercise Balls

Stand-up workstations and exercise balls used for sitting in place of an office chair are gaining popularity. This has been fueled by reports of workers at Google, Facebook and other companies trading in their chairs to stand, or bounce, while working. They cite studies of the harm that hours of sitting can do.

Even here at the RIMS office several employees prefer sitting (or bouncing) on exercise balls to the familiar rolling desk chair, or working at a stand-up desk. Risk professionals have long been discussing the merits and downsides of these two popular choices.

But are these alternative ergonomic preferences really that beneficial?

Recently in an online discussion, some members of the RIMS Opis community said they were not in favor of exercise balls as ergonomic solutions. A risk manager in Oregon stated it bluntly: “Exercise balls should be limited to fitness programs. Your [workers comp] will own the injury if an employee slips off the ball and hits [his or her] head or has a soft tissue injury from the fall.” Several other commenters agreed that the balls are unstable and their use is discouraged or officially prohibited.

A CEO said: “While great for encouraging engagement of your core muscles during exercise, [balls] are not good for sitting at a workstation and in fact, research shows, increase your risk of ergonomic injury.”

In fact, some research has found their benefits negligible. A study of 28 subjects found that exercise or chair balls offer no advantages over a traditional workplace chair. According to a study by BioMed Central:

Results:

The results showed no significant difference with regard to spinal curvature between seating types. Initial sitting curvature was found to increase significantly over 30 minutes in both the desk chair and stability ball. In addition the results of the usability questionnaire showed a significant difference in three of the eight questions, in favor of the desk chair.

Conclusion:

No benefits were found through sitting on a stability ball over that of a desk chair in prolonged sitting as both seating types were found to replicate a poor sitting position through a kyphosed [outwardly curved spine] and slumped posture. The clinical implications of this study serve to benefit any healthcare professional considering use of the stability ball as a replacement desk chair.

In another online comment, a Missouri risk manager suggested a compromise, elaborating that while his organization allows their use, “They cannot be free-standing balls… they must be part of a chair ball with wheels and a seat backing.”

Stand-up desks received more positive feedback. Several risk professionals cited research equating excessive sitting and sedentary lifestyles with serious chronic health problems. A number of commenters shared anecdotes about how stand-up workstations have helped employee health issues. Several users noted that in their newly renovated, or soon-to-be-renovated, offices, stand-up workstations are de rigueur.

Who pays for these workstations? Most who commented said, or implied, that their companies foot the bill for stand-up desks if an employee requests them. Most seem willing to make the investment based on reports that providing ergonomic options can reduce workers comp claims.

Not all are sold on the benefits, however. A commenter from Chicago said, “As odd as it sounds, stand-up desks may not be wholly safe…. People get tired and fall down using them. And there is no confirmation standing is less stressful than sitting. Folks very quickly started to complain of sore hips, knees, feet and spines.”

A Virginia risk manager shared the wisdom of moderation and the middle ground, saying, “While sitting is bad—and the motive for getting a standing desk—standing all day can cause myriad lower back, leg and feet issues. It would be similar to what risk managers at grocery stores have to deal with their cashiers on their feet all day. Interspersing standing with sitting is key.”

Some researchers agree with this conclusion. A New York Times article reported that 15 minutes per hour at a standing workstation is recommended over standing all day.

Mitigating Environmental Risks at Argos

Ana Maria Duque is the environmental assessment manager at Argos in Colombia. Here’s what she had to say about the environmental challenges her company faces.

RMM: Please describe what you do for Argos.

AMD: In my current role as environmental assessment manager, I oversee planning and implementation of the processes related to environmental assessment of projects, water and biodiversity management, and administration of environmental liabilities across the three regions where the company is present: Colombia, Caribbean and Central America and the United States. The purpose is to ensure compliance with environmental regulations and the organization’s environmental policy.

RMM: What is Argos’ philosophy on environmental challenges?

AMD: We are committed to develop our production activities responsibly, seeking a balance among profit generation, social development and environmental impact mitigation. This is why we have defined an environmental policy with goals up to 2025. Our goals are to promote prevention, mitigation, correction or compensation of the environmental impacts caused by our operations. Efforts are organized into five pillars that represent our main risks and opportunities: climate change, eco-efficiency (including water and atmospheric emissions), biodiversity, sustainable construction and environmental awareness.

RMM: Why should corporate risk managers be paying attention to environmental issues?

AMD: Corporate risk managers must pay attention to environmental issues since businesses, as well as other human activities, depend on goods and services provided by ecosystems, such as fresh water, timber, climate regulation, natural hazard protection and recreation. At the same time, business activities can negatively impact ecosystems, jeopardizing their ability to supply these goods and services. These dependencies and impacts pose several types of risks and opportunities to companies which need to be properly managed to ensure the sustainability of the business.

RMM: Are risk managers receptive to environmental issues, or is there more convincing to be done?

AMD: Environmental issues are an integral part of the business strategy of large corporations, that have understood the importance of managing environmental issues in order to ensure successful corporate performance and contribute to a sustainable world. There are some small companies, however, that are not completely aware of their dependence and impact on ecosystems, and therefore they have not integrated the management of these risks and opportunities into their business strategy. Environmental awareness is growing among these companies as well, and they are starting to realize the importance of managing these issues.

RMM: How does Argos handle water risks in Colombia and the region?

AMD: We are committed to using water in an efficient and responsible manner, focusing our management strategy in two action lines: efficient water use, by measuring the consumption in our operations and implementing reduction plans; and water risk management, through the identification, evaluation and management of water-related risks at our facilities. Our targets are to reduce by 30% the specific water consumption in the cement business by 2025; and 20% in the concrete production, across all the three regions where we are present. In order to measure our exposure to water scarcity risks, we monitor the water stress degree of the basins where our facilities are located, using the WBCSD [World Business Council for Sustainable Development] Global Water Tool. Furthermore, we assess the exposure to several categories of water risks at a local level using the tools WRI [World Resources Institute] Aqueduct and WWF [World Wildlife Fund] Water Risk Filter. This allows us to prioritize the sites where we need to develop action plans. We have also endorsed the CEO Water Mandate aiming to adopt and implement a comprehensive water management approach in its six action lines: direct operations, supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement and transparency.

RMM: What other environmental risks should be on the minds of risk managers?

AMD: All risks and opportunities derived from the companies’ dependencies and impacts on ecosystems must be on the minds of corporate risk managers, including those related to biodiversity, air quality and climate change. But more importantly, environmental issues need to be the top priority of the board of directors to ensure that the company invests what is needed to address those issues.

RMM: What do you envision as an ideal interaction between risk managers and environmental assessors/engineers?

AMD: Within the companies, risk and environmental managers should work together in order to raise awareness to the strategic level of the risks and opportunities related to environmental issues, as well as to develop and adopt robust action plans that allow the companies to mitigate their environmental risks and foster their environmental opportunities. This adds value to both the companies and society.