Tag Archives: risk

How can insurers enhance risk culture and governance control?

An insurance company’s overall culture consists of a set of subcultures. Experts within those subcultures make decisions differently. In his Best’s Review article “Culture Compass,” Milliman’s Neil Cantle explains why insurers need to approach modern business governance with less rigidity. He also describes how understanding culture can help a company empower its experts to make local decisions in harmony with established risk appetite and corporate values. This process produces an overall risk culture essential to the company’s governance framework.

We need to recognize that there is more than one valid perspective to be heard when deciding a course of action. Cultural Theory shows that four such views are always present: pragmatists believe that the world is uncertain and unpredictable; conservators believe the world is high risk; maximizers see the world as low risk and fundamentally self-correcting; and, managers know the world is risky, but believe it can be managed.

In conducting our work we want to ensure that each of these views is considered and debated, the surprising outcome being that the result of such a discussion is not a compromise, suboptimal for all, but rather will be a solution that actually works better for all parties. Creating a culture where this type of debate is acceptable is therefore an important, and often overlooked, part of the governance framework.

It turns out that culture is actually a much more important feature of our business than we might have thought—not just a nice-to-have after all, but actually an integral part of our control framework. When the board sets the risk appetite, it is establishing the tone for how business should be done. It must be clear what the objectives are and how you feel about the uncertainties associated with their delivery. By describing the types of risks that are to be actively sought, in return for a reward, those that are to be accepted and those that are to be avoided, the board is providing a set of guiding principles that staff can use when making its daily decisions about which actions to take next. In any situation, someone can ask: “Is this a risk we should be taking, and how much of it can we take?” Testing the likely consequences of the action against the risk appetite provides a way to move forward. The question also requires them to know what is going on more widely. Assuming the company has a finite appetite for risk, the answer to the “how much” part of the question requires you to know how much appetite has already been used elsewhere. This requires a culture that supports and promotes knowledge-sharing across department boundaries.

Milliman coauthored paper wins ERM Research Excellence Award

The Actuarial Foundation recently presented its ERM Research Excellence Award in Memory of Hubert Mueller to Milliman’s Neil Cantle and Systemic Consult’s Neil Allen and Christos Ellinas. The award recognizes their significant contributions to the growing body of enterprise risk management (ERM) knowledge and research. The award is given annually to the author(s) of the best overall paper at the ERM Symposium. The recipients received the award for their paper entitled “How Resilient is Your Organisation? From Local Failures to Systemic Risk.”

If the World Cup is disrupted, insurers may be the big losers

Carbone-WilliamMillions of eyes will turn toward the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil this summer. Most will be looking to see if Neymar can lead the home squad to glory, if Argentina can pull an upset, or if one of the European powers will prevail. (Apologies to the Yanks and Sam’s Army, but the odds, and a daunting schedule, don’t bode well for Team U.S.A.) There will also be a smaller set of eyes watching the news to see if civil unrest, labor strikes, or failed infrastructure will cause games to be delayed, rescheduled, or possibly even canceled. These would be the eyes of those who have written event cancellation coverage for the World Cup.

Event cancellation coverage is common for major sporting events, from Wimbledon to the Olympics. Details of the coverage provided are hard to come by, which is due to confidentiality concerns, but the basic premise is quite clear. While complete cancellations are rare, delays and rescheduling costs are covered as well. Insurers tend to treat most events similarly, but there are certainly more risks associated with the Olympic Games and World Cup. These events span several weeks and many sites over a wide area, and have more money invested in them than annual or regional sporting events. TV coverage and corporate sponsors are also buying coverage to protect their investments. For the Sochi games, the International Olympic Committee purchased roughly $500 million of the nearly $3 billion in coverage provided. The impact of a major disruption would be immense.

This year’s World Cup appears to be a much riskier event than normal. While Sochi had to contend with credible terrorist threats and spring-like weather conditions, Brazil is facing a multitude of issues as the tournament approaches. While travel logistics were always a concern with World Cup matches taking place all across the 3 million square miles of the country, now preparations and civil unrest are the chief concerns. Stadium preparations are coming down to the wire, labor unions are striking to take advantage of the increased international attention, and the Brazilian public is generally unhappy at the level of waste and corruption as promised infrastructure improvements have fallen by the wayside. The Sochi Olympics faced similar corruption charges, but the Brazilian public has been more demonstrative in their protests than the Russians were. Combine these potential disruptions with the necessary travel to get teams from site to site on time, and the potential for delayed matches is significant.

Typically, riskier events with large coverage amounts would be priced accordingly, but not so with event cancellation insurance. Much like trip cancellation insurance, the insured often purchases coverage well in advance of the event, but the similarities don’t end there. Both coverages experience a long period between time of purchase and the peak of exposure to loss. For example, a snow-weary traveler booking a Caribbean cruise for Labor Day weekend in January will purchase a policy to cover the trip. The likelihood of the trip being canceled from January through July is slim, but the factors affecting the likelihood of a cancellation can change dramatically. The price may have risen if forecasters called for an exceedingly active hurricane season or the cruise line started on a path to failure, but the insurer cannot adjust the price of the coverage for these events. Similarly, the Brazilian World Cup coverage was priced before the Soccerex Global Convention was called off and the reports of construction delays and infrastructure issues began. Coverage for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio was also priced without considering the experience of Pope Francis’s visit in 2013, this year’s World Cup, or the knowledge of the major delays in preparation, as cancellation policies for the Olympics were likely purchased several years ago. One important contrast to trip cancellation policies is that event cancellation risks are highly concentrated and difficult to diversify over time and location.

As it is necessary to price event cancellation policies well in advance, it is likely that the true risk of a disruption of the World Cup or the Rio Olympics was not accurately measured when the policies were sold. As the event draws closer, the true risks associated with the events become clear, but it is too late to adjust the premium. However, history has shown these cancellations are rare, so it’s possible the only claim made this year will be for the Donovan family’s trip cancellation policy.

Liquidity risk concerns for insurers

Banking institutions have greater liquidity concerns than insurance companies. However, some issues have heightened insurers’ need for protection against liquidity risk. This Best’s Review article (subscription required) takes a look at how interest rate risk could adversely affect the cash an insurance company has on hand. The article quotes Milliman’s Noel Abkemeier discussing these concerns.

Here is an excerpt:

But several developments have caused concern about liquidity risk in the industry. These include the impact of continued low interest rates, the possibility of sudden spikes in interest rates and the impact of the Dodd-Frank reform act on fixed income liquidity.

“Interest rate risk is a real concern for insurers, where insurers are faced with two issues,” said Noel Abkemeier, consulting actuary for Milliman. “One is when current interest rates remain low and it’s hard to make ends meet. The second is liquidity risk, when interest rates go up and there is a significant risk of depletion of asset values. This could cause a crunch if there is sufficient appeal for customers to transfer out or exchange an old policy and buy a new policy that has higher interest rates.”

… Insurers have been seeking to counter the impact of low interest rates on spread compression and earnings volatility by “strategically derisking their legacy product portfolios,” according to the 2013 Best’s Special Report, U.S. Life/Annuity Review & Preview. “Strategies include exiting, repricing or de-emphasizing certain business lines, particularly interest-sensitive business,” the report said.

…”I think that the divestments (of insurance companies out of the annuity business) were done at distressed prices, which basically said that the company wanted to get rid of this business,” Milliman’s Abkemeier said. “I think what caused companies to divest themselves is still a risk for those who haven’t divested.”

For more Milliman perspective on risk, click here.