Getting close to the risk

January 29, 2007

The Professional Liability Underwriting Society sent out an interesting press release today: Patrick M. Kelly, the society’s president will ring the NASDAQ stock market’s closing bell Tuesday.

PLUS, of course, is the professional organization for underwriters, brokers and lawyers involved in the business of professional liability insurance–directors & officers, errors & omissions and the like.

The market close ceremony is intended to kick off the society’s annual D&O symposium to be held Wednesday and Thursday in New York.

Getting to preside over the market close event is quite an honor, I’m sure. Still given everything that’s been happening lately with issues like stock option backdating, seeing representatives from a group focused on professional liability underwriting venturing onto the trading floor makes one wonder whether they might be trying to get up close to the exposure.


History lesson

January 26, 2007

Before today I’d been unaware of the Bristol Channel flood of 1607, but now having learned about it I’m eager to read more.

Credit risk modelling firm Risk Management Solutions Inc. for making me aware of the 17th Century catastrophe through news of a report the firm has prepared suggesting that a repeat of the 1607 event would be the U.K.’s costliest natural disaster, producing losses that could exceed $25 billion.

While some contend the flooding that occured on Jan. 30, 1607 in southwest England and south Wales was the result of a tsunami, RMS said research shows the event was the result of a combination of persistent gale force winds, low atmospheric pressure and exceptionally high tides. As many as 2,000 people died in the 1607 catastrophe, and RMS said the hardest hit areas from a similar event today would include the cities of Bristol and Gloucester in England and Cardiff in Wales.

According to Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS, who is presenting his firm’s research on the flood at a conference in England Saturday focusing on the event, while the risk of a repeat of the 1607 flood is relatively low, it’s not negligible. The modelling firm’s research suggests such a comparable event could occur every 500 to 1,000 years, on average.

RMS also noted that  the tide was particularly high on Jan. 30, 1607 because tidal forces were at their most extreme, with the sun and moon both overhead at the equator and the moon at its closest point to Earth. Such extreme tidal forces are expected to occur every four-and-a-half years–with the conditions next being right this March 20.  


Household science

January 25, 2007

 I was only half paying attention to the radio the other morning as I heard the story about sterilizing kitchen sponges in the microwave, but it sounded like a pretty good idea.

The upshot of the report on the findings of a team of researchers at the University of Florida was that two minutes on high in the microwave would do a pretty effective job of killing nearly all bacteria, viruses, parasites and various other nasties that might be residing in a kitchen sponge. Evidently some other folks were similarly impressed, though either they were also only half-listening to the story, or the account omitted an important bit of information.

 As some household experimenters learned while they dealt with the aftermath of the sponge infernos that broke out in their microwaves, it’s essential that the sponge be wet. (It’s also important to let the sponge cool before reaching into the microwave and trying to remove it bare-handed).

That’s how we learn, I suppose. A few months back, for example, I learned that our new microwave is considerably more powerful than the one it replaced. In the process, I also discovered that microwave popcorn could actually be set aflame. I’m sure the blackened mass that remained after I tossed the flaming bag in the kitchen sink was quite germ-free, though.

Thank you, drive through

January 24, 2007

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s announcement last week that its television ad for this year’s Super Bowl would star the future ex-Mr. Britney Spears, rapper Kevin Federline,  prompted considerable amusement.

But consideration of recent events in K-Fed’s life and the response to his debut album (sales of which could be charitably described as lackluster) suggest he’s an inspired choice as the centerpiece of this year’s version of Nationwide’s “Life Comes at You Fast” marketing campaign.

The Nationwide spot evidently opens with what appears to be K-Fed in full rap-video mode, then reveals that he’s delivering his rhymes while working in a fast food restaurant. Previous ads in Nationwide’s Life Comes at You Fast campaign have starred Fabio and M.C. Hammer.  

While Mr. Federline apparently has a sense of humor, others, apparently, don’t–the National Restaurant Assn. is encouraging Nationwide to refrain from showing the ad. In a letter to the insurer, Steven C. Anderson, the restaurant group’s president and CEO, said his group hoped Nationwide would not air any ad “that would imply that working in a restaurant is demeaning and unpleasant.”

It’s understandable that the trade group would want to stand up for its members, and it’s laudable that it’s seeking to protect the dignity of line workers in fast food restaurants. But Nationwide’s ad is far from the first creative undertaking to look to the fast food setting for humor.

Talk about marketing risk!

January 23, 2007

I saw a Reuters story today about an interesting promotion conducted by consumer products giant Unilever. According to the report, a direct mail campaign promoting a brand of margarine saw the Anglo-Dutch company sending knives to 200,000 Dutch families.

 Evidently three children wound up being injured by the knives, which had a metal blade and a plastic hilt, and 50 parents filed complaints. Since mailing out the marketing piece earlier this month, Unilever said it sent a second letter urging recipients of the original promotional materials to dispose of the knife. The company said it hasn’t received any requests for compensation from recipients of its pointed campaign.

This isn’t the first time a company’s marketing efforts have left me shaking my head, though the account of this Unilever campaign was a particular stunner. It’s a good thing the folks responsible weren’t marketing one of the Call of Duty video games, they might have sent out hand grenades! It’s probably an even better thing for Unilever that the company wasn’t sending out this marketing packet in the U.S. Imagine the response a campaign like this might generate among some particularly enterprising plaintiff’s lawyers!

An undeniable truth

January 22, 2007

While some continue to debate the reality of global climate change (takes more than increased storm frequency and melting polar ice–including the collapse of ancient ice shelves the size of 11,000 football fields–to convince some folks, I guess), it’s interesting to see the insurance industry–which has real money on the line–moving to accept the reality.

Earlier this month, Lloyd’s of London Chairman Lord Peter Levene joined those in the industry who’ve warned of the potential impact of climate change. Now the National Assn. of Mutual Insurance Cos. has moved to focus attention on the issue by creating a climate change Web site.

NAMIC says the site won’t take a position on the causes of climate change, but rather will examine the ways the issue is affecting the industry, and the ways insurers and reinsurers in the U.S. and Europe are responding.

With all it has at stake, it makes sense that the insurance industry would look to put itself front and center in the effort to understand the impact of global climate change, and insert itself into the public policy debate over how to deal with it. The debate over the actual causes of climate change remain a political hot potato, but, like the polar bear dealing with a shrinking ice pack, the insurance industry is finding the reality impossible to ignore.

Hartford wants its umbrella back

January 19, 2007

In an editorial in yesterday’s Hartford Courant, the newspaper mourned that the red umbrella that’s currently part of the Citigroup logo is likely to be lost to a rebranding effort the company plans to undertake.

The umbrella, of course, came Citigroup’s way when predecessor company Citicorp acquired the Hartford-based Travelers Insurance Co. in 1998. In 2002 Citigroup spun off the insurer’s property/casualty insurance business into Travelers Property Casualty Corp., but kept the umbrella. With Travelers having since become part of St. Paul Travelers Cos.–and having a red winged shield as its logo–that company says it has no interest in the apparently soon to be available umbrella.

But while the red umbrella might not have a place in future branding efforts, it does still resonate in Connecticut. Beneath the headline “Symbol of a Gentler Time,” the Courant editorial recalled a 3,000-pound red neon umbrella once adorning Hartford’s Travelers Tower, which together with the umbrella’s place in Travelers ads in print and on television branded Hartford “ground zero for the insurance industry.”

It’s amazing, but sometimes a logo or company brand can grow beyond the property of a company into a cherished symbol in which an entire community feels ownership. Here in Chicago, Federated Department Stores continues to deal with fallout from the company’s decision last year to rename and rebrand the Marshall Field’s department stores as Macy’s. I don’t know how the kind of passionate brand loyalty demonstrated by long-time Field’s shoppers picketing outside the newly named Macy’s stores factors into marketing plans, but it seems to me it’s something that needs to be considered.