Protecting Your Business from Wildfires

There are currently about 60 large wildfires burning in the United States, mostly in western states. But a combination of high temperatures and dry and windy conditions can make wildfires a threat almost anywhere. Adding to the situation is the fact that more and more businesses are expanding into the wildland-urban interface (WUI)—wildfire-prone areas where homes and businesses are located. This creates a growing wildfire risk to businesses, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IIBHS).

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America lists the most expensive U.S. wildfires to date, all in western states:

To protect buildings from wildfires, IIBHS recommends that businesses survey the materials and design features of their structures; as well as the types of plants used, their location and maintenance.

Organizations also should determine their fire hazard severity zone (FHSZ) by evaluating the landscape, fire history in the area and terrain features such as slope of the land. Organizations can request the FHSZ rating from local building or fire officials in their area.

IIBHS notes three sources of wildfire ignition:

  1. Burning embers, or firebrands, generated by a wildfire and made worse in windy conditions.
    • Embers can ignite in several ways: By igniting combustible construction materials directly when accumulating on or immediately adjacent to them. Combustible construction materials are those that ignite and burn such as wood, plastic, and wood-plastic products used in decking and siding. By igniting nearby plants and accumulated debris such as pine needles or other combustible materials such as a wood pile. By entering a building through openings, such as an open window or attic vent, and ignite combustible items inside the building.
  1. Direct flame contact from the wildfire
  2. Radiant heat emanating from the fire

It is critical to assess a building’s construction, including roofs, windows, vents and exterior walls, also important is the area surrounding a structure, including trees and plants, IIBHS said.

A defensible space zone around the building will reduce the risk of fire. This includes consideration of specific types of plants and how they are grouped and maintained.

Plant characteristics associated with higher combustibility include:

  • Narrow leaves or needles (often evergreen)
  • Volatile resins and oils, as indicated by leaves that have an aromatic odor when crushed
  • Accumulation of fine, twiggy, dry, or dead material on the plant or on the ground under the plant
  • Loose or papery bark that often falls off and accumulates on the ground (such as palms and eucalyptus).

Corporate Culture and Risk Management

According to an April New York Times article, “Uber’s core company values included making bold bets, being “obsessed” with the customer, and to “always be hustling.” The company emphasized meritocracy, setting employees up as rivals and overlooking transgressions of its high performers. At its worst, Uber maintained an “unrestrained culture” that has since resulted in several allegations of harassment. A published blog post by engineer Susan Fowler, indicated that “the culture was stoked—and even fostered—by those at the top of the company.”

Adoption of a strong risk culture
An effective risk culture is not a matter of risk assessment or level of compliance; it is a matter of “conviction” – a corporate state of mind where human beings can take well-informed risk decisions because they want to, not because they have to.—@RiskCultureBuilder on Twitter

The “tone at the top” describes the climate and overall philosophy set by the board of directors and executive team to drive the culture and behaviors of all employees. In companies ranging from Uber to small businesses, this tone permeates the enterprise in a number of ways, including executive communications and onboarding and learning programs, as well as the policies and procedures designed to empower and/or control employee decision-making. The right tone stresses a high standard of ethics and a culture of compliance, but should be balanced with a message that empowers managers to take risks—appropriately—in the pursuit of short- and long-term rewards for the business.

Translating the tone into a strong risk culture requires reinforcement to employees defining how their decisions and actions affect the broader mission of the company. Then, through change management and strong accountability, culture and risk management can be aligned to keep everyone “rowing in the same direction.”

Drivers of risk culture
Many companies today have defined a “culture statement,” put it down on paper, and socialized it to employees. This is only the first step in driving employees to make the right risk management decisions, however. Consider a few of the levers that companies can pull to drive behaviors towards a stronger risk culture:

  • Performance management and compensation – Are corporate and employee goals tied to desired risk management outcomes?
  • Corporate governance – From the board of directors down, are enough questions being asked? Is there too much reliance on historical data?
  • Management reporting – Is attention to certain metrics—often short-term in nature—driving decisions that could cannibalize long-term outcomes?
  • Investor Relations – Are reasonable expectations being set with a company’s shareholders when it comes to risk versus reward?

While company leaders can help drive the desired corporate culture, this alone will not guarantee good risk management decisions every day. All employees must be taught risk management techniques, and relevant risk management skills should be built into the company’s overarching competency model. A risk culture that positions employees as an integral part of risk management will drive more successful and predictable business outcomes.

During his keynote presentation at the 2016 TMG Executive Summit, cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs reinforced this point when referring to the risk culture needed to deal with cyber risk: “…layers of technology are not enough to stop a data breach…security is only as effective as the people managing it.” Although achieving a strong risk culture is no small undertaking, the benefits will be significant as more and more risks are mitigated before impact.

Reputational Crises Put CEOs at Risk

When reputational crises hit, market cap, sales, margins and profits are all on the line. And these situations are becoming more frequent—and more costly—than ever, with a recent study showing an increase in losses from reputational attacks increasing by more than 400% in the past five years.

But it is not only the corporate entity facing challenges, individuals in leadership—particularly CEOs—face personal risk as well. It has become clear that CEOs need tools to protect themselves as well as their companies’ reputations. Since damage from reputational attacks takes place in the court of public opinion, traditional liability solutions, such as directors and officers coverage, are not effective. But new tools are available in the form of a reputation assurance solution that can help deter attacks from even happening and bundled insurances to mitigate the damage when they do occur.

Research by Steel City Re has found that:

  • Financial losses related to reputational attacks have increased by more than 400% in the past five years, a trend that continues.
  • There is an increase in public anger and, as a result, more blame is being cast upon recognizable targets, such as CEOs.
  • Anger by stakeholders is fueled by disappointment—the gap between expectations and reality—which is all too often fueled by the company’s own actions.

Against that backdrop, the turnover rate among CEOs is increasing, with 58 of the S&P 500’s CEOs transitioning out of their jobs in 2016 according to SpencerStuart (although not all as a result of reputational crises). That is the highest number since 2006, a 13% increase over 2015, and a 57% increase over 2012.

If that weren’t enough reason for concern, history shows that when strong companies and their brands come under fire, their reputations eventually recover, despite the initial and medium-term impacts. Individual reputations of those companies’ leadership are not nearly as resilient, however, especially at a time when society; be it the media, social media, politicians or direct stakeholders; seems intent on personifying crises and affixing blame on individuals in positions of authority. And for CEOs, a reputational crises can affect their career and compensation for many years ahead.

In this environment, it is essential that risk managers understand the tools that are available to protect both companies and senior executives personally. Serving as a third-party warranty and available only to highly qualified insureds, reputation insurance attests to the efficacy of the company’s governance and operational practices, as adopted and overseen by the board and implemented by the CEO. Such coverage can deter reputational attacks in much the same way as a security sign on the front lawn deters burglars. It is a sign of quality governance. And when incidents do occur, it provides a built in alternative narrative to counter the attacks that are bound to occur. Finally, it gives the company and key individuals financial indemnification to mitigate any damage that ultimately does take place.

Just as “doing the right thing” did not protect directors and officers from liability in the era before the wide adoption of D&O insurance, it is no guarantee that attacks in the court of public opinion won’t take a significant financial toll. But it is one of the few solutions proven in the court of public opinion. In today’s culture, reputations are in jeopardy as never before and risk managers must utilize all tools available to protect those on the front lines.

Second Quarter Sees 1% rise in Commercial Lines Rates

Closer attention to underwriting and losses has led to premium increases averaging 1% in the second quarter of 2017, continuing an upward trend this year. The transportation sector, most notably auto-related exposures, is seeing the highest increases, up to 4%, according to a report released today by MarketScout.

“We now have two consecutive quarters of composite rate premium increases. Insurers are adjusting pricing as they should, based upon losses incurred, expense loads and targeted returns on equity,” Richard Kerr, CEO and Founder of MarketScout said in a statement.

By account size, organizations smaller to medium-size saw the highest premium increases. Small accounts (under $25,000 premium) increased from up 1% to up 2%, medium accounts ($25,001 – $250,000) went from flat to plus 1%, large accounts ($250,001 – $1 million) were unchanged and jumbo accounts (more than $1 million) were down 1% compared to a drop of 2% the prior quarter.
By coverage class, commercial property and inland marine adjusted from down 1% in the first quarter, to up 1% in the second quarter. Commercial auto rates rose from up 3% to up 4%. EPLI also went from up 1% to up 2%. Fiduciary adjusted downward to flat or no increase compared to up 1% in the prior quarter. All other coverage classifications were unchanged from the previous quarter, according to the report.
By industry class, public entity rates moderated from up 1% to flat. Transportation risks experienced slightly lower rate increases with second quarter rates up 4% compared to 5% first quarter.