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Companies that are considering putting their employees back on the road as pandemic-related restrictions ease need to be aware of the new realities of providing duty of care and adjust their approaches accordingly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps in the accepted corporate model of duty of care, one that is traditionally based on a combination of pre-travel intelligence briefings and alerts, tracking employees on work travel, and insurance plans, according to Global Guardian CEO Dale Buckner. “These three things all have value,” Buckner said. “My caveat is: the value is limited.”

When a crisis hits, Buckner explained, none of these three approaches can help an employee out of that situation. “There is no care involved in tracking people,” he said. The same is true for pre-travel intelligence briefs and insurance plans that are packed with restrictions often hidden in the fine print.

Buckner participated in a Global Guardian webinar on September 30. He was joined by Nara Rodrigues, assistant vice president at Lockton Companies, and Spencer Livingston, president of specialty risk and response at Global Guardian. Shannon Scully, vice president of marketing at Global Guardian, moderated the discussion.

A Typical Policy Has Its Limitations

“If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it is that we all need to better, more thoroughly understand our insurance policies and duty of care coverage and how with the right partners the two can complement one another even in the most extreme crisis,” said Scully.

Duty of care is about protecting a company’s brand and its balance sheet, said Rodrigues, a seasoned insurance consultant.

Buckner agreed, but added: “The transition from that protection of your balance sheet to execution on the ground in a crisis? Completely different things. That’s where there is an enormous misperception.” 

The gradual reopening of countries where the pandemic appears to be ebbing and vaccination rates are high presents new opportunities for companies to get their workforce back in the office and on the road again. But it also presents new threats, said Rodrigues.

“The most prepared organizations are the ones that understand that it is all about governance,” said Rodrigues, adding that increasingly so it is about “proactive governance.”

That means: “How are you preparing for a new world and possible new demands on your employees,” she said. As companies reopen, Rodrigues predicted business travel will be a top concern.

Companies are increasingly concerned about keeping their employees safe and should be looking at all options to do so. Rodrigues said three coverages apply to business travelers: an international package, business travel accident, and workers’ compensation. “These three coverages complement one another to provide your employees with a higher level of comfort when they are traveling,” she said.

Rodrigues conceded, however, that while having these three forms of coverage are a good start, there are limits to what they can achieve in a crisis.

The Importance of Planning Ahead

Livingston emphasized the importance of pre-planning for a crisis. Most important for a successful evacuation is what a company does before a crisis, he said.

Livingston suggested companies take the following steps:

GG_Blog__IndiaCOVID-05Consolidate insurance policies and have them all in one place so that they are easy to find in a crisis.

GG_Blog__IndiaCOVID-06Establish a relationship with your insurance broker who can provide valuable insights and help craft a package that works best for your organization.

GG_Blog__IndiaCOVID-07Insurance providers outsource response to another company. Identify and understand who these assistance providers are. Establishing a point of contact at the insurance provider, Livingston said, will ensure that there is a pre-existing relationship and the first call to the provider isn’t made during a crisis.

Livingston further underscored the importance of communications — externally, with the insurance provider, and internally, within the company. Internally, he said, companies should identify who is responsible for security, legal, human resources, finance, IT, public relations, and the points of contact in the C-suite. 

“If you can establish a communications protocol where all of the POCs from these divisions are notified and updated from the beginning,” he said, “it makes the process much smoother throughout the crisis.”

Next, companies should conduct tabletop exercises in which the internal stakeholders and some external ones, especially the insurance broker, can together run through a variety of crisis scenarios and their response to them. The nature of the crisis gamed during these exercises is a little less important than getting all the stakeholders in the room so that they can establish a relationship with each other, said Livingston.

Ask the Hard Questions

Livingston said that while shopping for providers, companies should thoroughly vet potential providers. “Part of it is understanding how they execute a mission… How often do they exercise these emergency response muscles,” he said.

Buckner suggested corporate leaders planning a duty of care strategy need to ask the hard questions:

  • Will my combined platform of insurance vendors, affiliates, and my infrastructure execute the last mile? Which means: is it actually going to get my people out of Afghanistan or out of New Orleans when the streets are flooded?
  • Where in the world are the vendor’s assets — aircraft, agents, vehicles?
  • Can they respond in real time, or do they need to bring in assets from outside, and if that is the case do those people have relationships on the ground, speak the local language, and understand the local culture?
  • Who are the kidnap and ransom negotiators, where do they sit, are they regionally oriented, and what language capabilities do they have?
  • When it comes to addressing cyber threats, where are the vendor’s analysts based, do they have the capability of negotiating through the dark web, can they execute ransom payments in bitcoin, and what is their track record?

“Once a crisis starts,” Buckner said, “those things matter, and those are the elements that will create the best outcome for you.”

If vendors do not already have assets on the ground, and these assets need to be brought in after the fact, “you are almost guaranteed to fail,” said Buckner. 

“We all get mired in the contract language, we never ask those very simple questions: ‘I am in the middle of Paris, and I am getting shot at, tell me who is coming to get me.’”

Buckner said it is also important that companies evaluate the performance of existing providers and platforms. How did they perform during a crisis? He advises changing platforms, people, and firms that have failed in the past.

Given that the pandemic has exposed deficiencies in existing systems, Buckner said, “The hard question you have to ask yourself is: Where are the seams and where are the gaps? That’s where your focus needs to be.”


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