Protecting Employees in the Face of International Risks

Increasing globalization and the growing world market presents employees with opportunities to travel and experience new countries and cultures. With travel comes risk, however. In the event of an unforeseen incident, it is an organization’s top priority to ensure its employees are safe and out of harm’s way.

By following proactive travel risk management strategies, employers can help ensure not only the safety of their employees abroad, but also the success of their businesses while avoiding major financial, legal and reputation costs. When developing travel policies, companies must consider the health, safety and security risks that their employees could encounter.

Security Risks
The frightening unknowns of crises such as sudden earthquakes or airport terror attacks can cause distress and chaos. It is the duty of a company’s human resources department to ensure employees are safe and secure, as being unprepared for such events could have dire consequences. For the best outcome, companies should proactively develop travel risk management plans before disaster strikes. Consider these guidelines for your company’s travel emergency plans:

  • Share information. Ensure employees are educated on how to avoid security risks in their destinations and share corresponding safety advice.
  • Develop a communication plan. Decide how employees should contact HR and/or other crisis response team members and vice versa in the event of an emergency.
  • Give employees information about who to contact if they’re in an emergency scenario. Create staffing patterns or third party resources that can accommodate after-hours calls.
  • Consider rearranging travel plans if there’s a high security risk. Use technologies, such as video conferencing, to keep business rolling as usual if employees need to conduct in-person meetings in destinations where it may be temporarily unsafe to travel.
  • Encourage employees to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The app provides updated travel warnings and alerts via email. It can also help the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate locate individuals in the event of a disaster.

Health Risks
Recent disease outbreaks in several countries have caused concern among business and leisure travelers alike. If organizations have plans for employees to travel to areas experiencing widespread illness, consider exercising flexibility. If a disease epidemic is dominating news headlines, there is a good chance employees will be concerned about going to a destination that’s affected. In these cases, advise alternative options such as video calls or contacting local partners to help out. On the other hand, if employees elect to travel to the location, it is the employer’s job to ensure they have the knowledge and resources they need to have a safe and successful trip. To help protect the health of a traveling employee, HR professionals should:

  • Research and understand destination-specific health risks and share this information with employees. Education is essential to preventing life-threatening situations.
  • Ask employees to fill out personal medical information Forms. An employee should bring a copy on the trip and also leave copies with trusted friends or family. In the event of a medical emergency, the trustees will be able to obtain important personal medical details from the document, such as insurance coverage, current or past medical conditions and emergency contact information.
  • Remind employees to carry prescription paperwork. This can prevent issues at airport security and can be useful should a new or similar prescription be necessary locally.
  • Confirm that employees are covered by health insurance that is accepted overseas. This will help avoid monstrous fees later on.

Potential Costs for the Business
The costs of not following these strategies can be far-reaching. Your employees’ health and safety is always of utmost importance. However, there are also some continuity issues to consider.

At the most basic level, a health or safety issue that affects a traveling employee will likely cause a loss in productivity and, therefore, an impact to your organization’s bottom line. Companies could furthermore face cancellation fees, lost deposits, unused inventory or lost sales. Additionally, medical bills, medical evacuations and security evacuations can pose huge financial burdens on both employees and the company.

Furthermore, an organization that doesn’t adequately prepare for potential risks and therefore compromises an employee’s safety can lose loyalty quickly. If employees know their colleagues were put in risky situations, they will likely lose trust in their companies—which could cause engagement (and business results) to decline.

Adding to the strain of a disillusioned workforce, legal disputes could arise. An injured worker seeking remedies could bring an injury claim against their employer. The cost a company could face when it comes to duty of care disputes depends on the complexity of the case, the length of time and whether it reaches a full trial. Businesses should be prepared for the possibility of facing court cases by following key risk management strategies before being pulled through lengthy and costly litigation processes.

There are also reputation costs to consider. One of the most damaging scenarios may be that the company’s failure to fulfill their duty of care obligation leads to media headlines resulting in serious brand damage. In this case, the news can mar the company’s reputation, causing stakeholders to pull away and resulting in devastating loss in revenue.

Above all, employees are the backbone of an organization, and their safety and security should be the top priority for every business. Devising a sound risk management plan for travelling employees is crucial for ensuring the safety of employees as well as the longevity of your business.

Disaster Losses Climb as Protection Gap Widens: Swiss Re Sigma Study

Global Economic losses from disaster events almost doubled in 2016 to $175 billion from $94 billion in 2015, according to the most recent Sigma Study from the Swiss Re Institute.

Insured losses also rose steeply to $54 billion in 2016 from $38 billion in 2015, the study found. This led to a “protection gap,” as the company calls it, of some $121 billion, the difference between economic and insured losses, a figure highly indicative of the opportunity for greater insurance penetration, according to Swiss Re. “The shortfall in insurance relative to total economic losses from all disaster events…indicates the large opportunity for insurance to help strengthen worldwide resilience against disaster events,” said the report. The gap was $56 billion in 2015.

Total economic and insured losses in 2015 and 2016:

The two headline loss figures are the highest since 2012 and end a four-year decline as the year saw a higher amount of significant disaster events including earthquakes, storms, floods and wildfires worldwide. The report noted that some events hit areas with high insurance penetration, leading to the 42% jump in insured losses.

Despite the precipitous rise in both economic and insured losses, human losses plummeted to approximately 11,000 lost or missing in 2016, down from more than 26,000 in 2015.

Of the 327 disaster events last year, 191 were natural disasters while 136 were man-made. Regionally, Asia experienced the most disaster events with 128 leading to approximately $60 billion in economic losses. Asia also had the single most costly disaster event of 2016 as the April earthquake on Kyushu Island, Japan caused an estimated $25 billion-$30 billion in economic losses.

Insured losses of $54 billion almost equaled the $53 million inflation-adjusted annual average of the past 10 years, said the report, despite being 42% higher than 2015’s $38 billion. Natural catastrophes accounted for $46 billion of insured losses, equal to the 10-year annual average, as man-made disasters led to $8 billion of insured losses, according to the report.

“In 2016, both economic and insured losses were close to their 10-year averages. Insured losses made up about 30% of total losses, with some areas faring much better because of higher insurance penetration,” Kurt Karl, Swiss Re’s chief economist said in a statement.

More than half of insured losses occurred in North America as a record number of severe convective storm events hit the region. These included an April hail storm in Texas, which caused $3.5 billion in economic loss and $3 billion in insured loss as some 86% of losses were covered. An August system brought severe storms and flooding to Louisiana, causing $10 billion in economic loss and $3.1 billion in insured loss.

The region saw several major disaster events.

In May and June, wildfires in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada caused $4 billion in economic losses and $2.8 billion in insured losses, Canada’s largest-ever insurance loss. The fire consumed 590,000 hectares of land and caused the evacuation of about 88,000 people. In October, hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 storm in the North Atlantic since 2007, led to $12 billion in economic losses and $4 billion in insured losses while also, sadly, causing the greatest loss of life as 700 were lost, mainly in Haiti.

Flooding across Europe and China was also devastating at times. In May and June, severe rain and floods hit Belgium, France and parts of Germany, causing economic losses of $3.9 billion and insured losses of $2.9 billion. Flooding along China’s Yangtze River basin caused an estimated $22 billion in economic losses but low insurance penetration, in contrast to Europe, led to insured losses of just $400 million, according to the report.

Accounts Receivables Coverage Helps Fill Supply Chain Gaps

It is standard for companies to insure and protect cash, inventory, property, plants and equipment, and more recently, data. Companies are insuring every step in the supply chain and sales process from concept to delivery. What is often not insured, however, is the last but most important part of a sales transaction—getting paid. You can safely bring your product to market, but if a partner or customer defaults on payment and you have no recourse, you’ve lost your total investment. Your balance sheet takes the hit.

As with most risks, there is insurance for that, too. Accounts receivable insurance protects what is often a company’s most critical asset on the balance sheet. More than just protection from non-payment, accounts receivable insurance puts companies in a stronger position to secure loans with improved credit quality. With accounts receivable Insurance acting as a second source of repayment, a company can assure a lender it will not have covenant issues if there is default by a customer.

Consider these hypothetical scenarios: Bob’s company is based in Canada and he sells components to computer chip manufacturers throughout North America. He buys parts from foreign markets to make his product. The company that supplies Bob with parts has been working with Bob for 30 years. Bob has always paid them for their deliveries. Recently, Bob has struggled to receive payment from his customers in North America due to their decline in computer chip sales.

As a result, Bob is now finding it difficult to pay his supplier on time. The supplier believed Bob had risk management protections in place and would always pay them for their delivery. They never thought Bob would go bankrupt. Fortunately for both Bob and his supplier, he has accounts receivable Insurance. Even though he was exposed to the risk of his customers not paying, his accounts receivable Insurance kicked in as a second source of repayment.

Here is another example regarding the uncertainty of political events in a global economy and how they can impact a company’s balance sheet. A U.S. exporter is selling to Latin America and there are a few countries within the region that are approaching elections. A regime change could mean changes in policies, resulting in the possible cancellation of an import or export license, a moratorium on the payment of any external debts outside the country, or the inability to convert local currency to hard exchangeable currency to make payment. With an accounts receivable program protecting assets, the exporter is able to securely transact with their customers in a foreign market, knowing they’ve mitigated the risk of non-payment due to any potential policy changes or actions.

These examples are not hard to imagine. What is startling to see are estimates that only 8% of U.S. companies have accounts receivable insurance compared with 70% of European companies. In Europe, boards mandate this coverage. This underscores the differences between regional risk perceptions. Perhaps there is a greater recognition of the account receivable risks for companies operating in multiple countries, including developing nations with a high degree of political instability.

With the new U.S. administration, Brexit and other unpredictable market forces in play, it is certain that we will be seeing shifts in the global economy. Undoubtedly, there will be bumps along the supply chain as well, and companies will face challenges, including non-payment.

These bumps are not only for the largest global organizations, however. Middle-market companies will face a new competitive landscape, with a push to focus manufacturing in the U.S., and changes to the flow of their supply chain. This will impact costs and the need for extra working capital. Accounts receivable insurance should be viewed as a tool to bolster the balance sheet to provide the liquidity needed to advance business goals.

Accounts receivable coverage provides a competitive edge by giving suppliers the ability to extend credit to their customers as opposed to requiring payment in advance or on delivery. It can be helpful in lengthening payment terms with customers to match or exceed the competition and allows for these aggressive growth strategies without taking additional balance sheet risk. Accounts receivable insurance also can help a company obtain a higher advance rate with lenders that use accounts receivables as collateral. This will provide increased liquidity without having to increase the asset base and can help in negotiating lower borrowing rates.

Supply chain risks are currently taking center stage as one of our greatest concerns. Don’t forget to protect the ultimate objective in the sales process—collecting payment.

International Women’s Day: Risk Management Issues to Watch

A 2013 piece on the role of women in risk management remains the most controversial article we’ve ever run in Risk Management magazine and the one that received the most comments and letters to the editor, hands down. Many of those reader comments were…let’s just say less than kind or receptive.

Today, International Women’s Day, offers the perfect opportunity to revisit that article, Woman at Work: Why Women Should Lead Risk Management, and some of our more recent coverage of pressing issues like the wage gap and gender parity at the board level.

The significance of this conversation is ever clearer, given not only the political climate and regulatory concerns, but also the simple data about the bottom line. Just last year, the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY found that almost a third of companies globally have no women in either board or C-suite positions, 60% have no female board members, 50% have no female top executives, and less than 5% have a female CEO. After analyzing 21,980 publicly traded companies from 91 countries and a wide range of industries, their report, Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Study, found that organizations with leadership that is at least 30% female could add up to 6 percentage points to its net margin.

“The impact of having more women in senior leadership on net margin, when a third of companies studied do not, begs the question of what would be the global economic impact if more women rose in the ranks?” said Stephen R. Howe Jr., EY’s U.S. chairman and Americas managing partner. “The research demonstrates that while increasing the number of women directors and CEOs is important, growing the percentage of female leaders in the C-suite would likely benefit the bottom line even more.”

While study after study comes to similar conclusions, a recent report from EY explored why businesses need gender diversity for the innovation to thrive. Five disconnects continue to hold businesses back from achieving gender diversity on their boards, the firm found:

  1. The reality disconnect: Business leaders assume the issue is nearly solved despite little progress within their own companies.
  2. The data disconnect: Companies don’t effectively measure how well women are progressing through the workforce and into senior leadership.
  3. The pipeline disconnect: Organizations aren’t creating pipelines for future female leaders.
  4. The perception and perspective disconnect: Men and women don’t see issues the same way.
  5. The progress disconnect: Different sectors agree on the value of diversity but are making uneven progress toward gender parity.

Check out some of our previous coverage of key issues regarding women in business and risk management specifically:
Equal Work, Unequal Pay: Risks of the Gender Wage Gap
The Wage Gap in the Boardroom
Is the Insurance Industry Improving for Women?
Boards Still Lagging on Gender Parity
Preparing for New Pay Equity Requirements