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How Technology Breaks Down Silos


New digital technologies and the data they are producing have forced collaboration among senior business leaders across all levels of all organizations. To obtain insights from data to drive decision-making and embed a data-driven approach within a company’s culture, it is critical for the C-suite to lead the way.

It’s easy to talk about collaboration, but much harder to act. Analyzing information, deriving insights and responding with effective strategies requires an understanding of the analytical tools themselves, as well as collaboration. As technologies get smarter and various functional groups collaborate, simply moving to single systems can give broader teams greater visibility to inefficiencies and broken processes.

But how does a business get to such a place? What tools and strategies bring about successful coordination of activities in such dynamic situations? And what are the challenges of working together that C-Suite executives should anticipate?

In Depth

Just about every functional group within an organization can now collect, connect and analyze data. But big data – from keyword searches, social sites, wearables, mobile devices, customer feedback and so on – presents challenges as well as opportunities for business leaders. One of the biggest is how to maximize the potential of this data by transcending organizational silos to unlock its true potential.

Technology is also transforming how businesses develop and deliver goods and services and is placing enormous new demands on those responsible for strategies to navigate the challenges. These are the people who need to apply institutional knowledge, implement changes and allocate resources toward new ways of working on a day-to-day basis.

Paul Mang, Global CEO of Analytics and leader of the Aon Center for Innovation and Analytics in Singapore, says there are two types of data analysis that can be leveraged to accomplish this: business analytics and enterprise analytics. Business analytics focus on the use of established tools and capabilities, while enterprise analytics “create new product or value propositions for existing clients or new client segments altogether.”  Short-term, enterprise analytics can lead to disruptive innovation while quickly contributing to improved long-term performance.

“Business and enterprise analytics should work side-by-side and complement each other” to support decision making, Mang says.

The Changing Role of the CIO

The need to become an effective data-driven organization has dramatically increased the importance of the chief information officer (CIO), a role that John Bruno, chief information officer at Aon, says is that of “an integrator – someone who works across the entire organization to embed data within the business.”  He sees the value that information technology (IT) brings, and notes that “IT is less about bits and bytes of data, but more about bringing them together to extract specific insights.”

The need to centralize and mine big data for market opportunities and to parse out weaknesses is also prompting some firms to create a C-suite level position of chief data officer (CDO). This role would be responsible for working with business managers to identify both internal and external data sets that they may not even realize exist, as well as continually looking for new ways to experiment and apply that data.

Equally critical to communicating changes in customer preferences and behaviors, and for their ability to leverage insights from customer purchase patterns into developing new products and services, is the chief marketing officer (CMO). Like the CMO, the effective CIO needs an intimate understanding of how current technology can increase the company’s sales.

However, Bruno says, “in any large organization, there are multiple leaders in different parts of the organization who address different elements of the same challenges. It’s the CEO who can see the whole view and works to have teams bring forward integrated solutions to distributed problems.” He sees the role of the CEO as one who looks beyond short-term disruptions and organizational adjustments to seize opportunities that ensure long-term growth.

This is why, increasingly, the role of the CIO/CDO is about balancing business needs against an incoming stream of opportunities – and risks. This broad cross-business knowledge can only come from constant and deliberate collaboration with the rest of the C-level executive suite. Above all, the CIO has to be able to effectively show how technology and the subsequent data it brings are assets rather than cost centers. For CIOs to really succeed, this means informing C-level colleagues about technology and the opportunities it can create.

Making Collaboration Count: Finance and HR

The role of the CFO is increasingly about analyzing data to give it meaning and partnering across the organization to make the information actionable. One area that is seeing CFOs use data to drive real results is in collaboration with the chief human resources officer (CHRO).

Eddie Short, Aon Hewitt’s managing director, Global Data & Analytics, says that in most organizations the C-Suite has not been getting sufficient insight into people-related business issues, typically owned by human resources (HR) teams. Today, with the CIO’s help, digital tools are increasingly being used by leading organizations to measure employee performance, reduce attrition and cultivate talent through a better understanding of the data about their workforce that they can gather and analyze.

“People analytics,” as this emerging field is known, attempts to bridge the gap between HR and the rest of the organization by providing specific insights into an organization’s talent. “People analytics is all about connecting the value of your people to the strategic goals and objectives of the business,” Short says. “This approach represents a major opportunity for HR and finance leaders to take a road centered on the greatest asset that organizations have – their people – and start to shape the value-add they will create for the business over the next five to 10 years using predictive analytics.”

With skills shortages an increasingly pressing issue for many organizations around the world, gaining this kind of insight can help a business to identify and meet its future talent needs.

Aligning for Agility

As technology continues to disrupt, CEOs and the C-Suite in general must accept that there may not be a set playbook to follow to adapt and evolve. Flexibility is paramount, and often organizations must invent and reinvent as they move forward. Intelligently applying analytics tools to derive value from big data can help them navigate this new terrain.

“Today, CXOs want predictive insights,” Short says. “They want answers to the predictive ‘what could I do?’ questions as well as prescriptive – ‘what should I do?’ — questions.” Yet most tools and programs currently available are merely descriptive – to derive true insight needs additional interpretations from people who really understand the business.

This is where C-Suite collaboration becomes so vital. Organizations thrive when there are diverse and complementary personnel and systems working together. Sharing insights from the analysis of big data across the C-suite and across functions can position businesses to draw valuable insights from this data, harmonize planning around it, align their actions and understand the full value this brings both to their own divisions and the organization as a whole. And the more that data is shared, the more leading businesses discover that they can find answers to today’s – and tomorrow’s – questions.

With the measurable business benefits this data sharing can bring, the business case for breaking down silos within organizations is stronger than ever. Where this may have once been a C-Suite aspiration, the make-or-break implications of insights drawn from this data has made it a business imperative.

Talking Points

“In every industry, our analysis and our work with clients would suggest technology at a minimum is going to be a tremendous accelerant. So if you have a a business model, the opportunity to scale it more effectively, grow it more effectively gets… amplified.” – Greg Case, CEO, Aon

“The way that big data pervades most organizations today creates a dynamic environment for C-level executives to explore how it can and should be used strategically to add business value.” –  Economist Intelligence Unit

Further Reading

CEOs Expect More From Finance Function

Banking and insurance chief executive officers (CEOs) think it’s time for their chief financial officers (CFOs) to shine. But many also have deep misgivings about whether the finance function — and its leadership — is ready to deliver real value to the business strategy.

Winds of change keep blowing

Anyone that thinks that the financial services industry has been slow to change has clearly not spent much time in the finance function. Indeed, the last decade — the past 5 years in particular — have been all about change for finance executives.

Change has been driven from all sides: new accounting standards, increased capital adequacy and/or solvency rules, heightened reporting requirements, new regulatory directives and the recent shift towards more integrated reporting are just part of the change sweeping through the financial services industry and flowing into the finance (and risk) functions at financial institutions.

At the same time, bank and insurance CFOs also need to support the organization and its business strategy. New products are being introduced, businesses are being sold or acquired, non-strategic assets are being divested and new markets are coming into scope. And with each change, the finance function has needed to respond.

Rise above the fray

While bank and insurance sector CEOs seem to sympathize with the plight of the finance function, most clearly expect their CFOs to rise above the challenge. In a recent global survey of more than
370 CEOs commissioned by KPMG International, 67 percent of financial services respondents said they expect the role of their CFO to increase in significance over the next 5 years, the highest percentage among all c-suite executives.

The problem is that few of these CEOs seem to think their finance leadership is currently ready to take on this high profile role. The same survey found that just 53 percent of the financial services CEOs thought their CFO was viewed as a valuable business partner
by the business. Only around a third of respondents believed that their CFOs truly understood the challenges they face as CEOs. Just 19 percent thought that their CFO was currently playing a critical role in supporting the CEO and the board. Simply put, the data suggests that CFOs of financial institutions still have a long way to go if they hope to live up to their CEO’s expectations.

Taking an enterprise-wide view of performance

A number of CFOs at the top global banks and insurers are now starting to focus on developing and improving their enterprise performance management (EPM) capabilities. Essentially, they are starting to recognize that — by combining financial data with operational and customer data through the latest wave of integrated EPM solutions — CFOs can start to take a leading role in helping to dynamically manage the planning and execution of the business strategy.

EPM delivers benefits across the organization. At the finance level, improved EPM capabilities enable finance functions to optimize their finance operations and dynamically generate more value-adding reports, allowing the finance function to become a more vital business partner across the enterprise.

It can improve the speed, relevance and access to the type of performance reporting and analysis that creates real business insights when and where it is needed most: in the business. And it can help create better alignment between the organization’s diverse back-office functions (such as risk, capital management, compliance and operations) to drive better end-to-end decision making based on a single set of balanced key performance indicators (KPIs).

Improved EPM capabilities also allow the finance function to become a better — and more strategic — business partner.
In some cases, this is achieved by driving valuable forward-looking analysis and planning through the EPM’s integrated business and financial planning features. Using these advanced EPM functionalities enables finance functions to better anticipate and even predict business outcomes, leveraging sophisticated ‘what-if’ scenario-based analysis capabilities based on key business drivers, events and relationships. And, in doing so, it can help the finance function become more integrated with the organization’s sales and operations planning processes.

This forward-looking EPM feature is especially important for financial institutions, as new accounting standards like IFRS9 for financial instruments and IFRS4 Phase 2 for insurance contracts (both life and non-life) forces them to disclose fair market values and net present value (NPV) calculations on their financial assets and liabilities. This, in turn, will likely make results more volatile and more transparent, which will lead organizations to demand even greater control than they have today.

Many financial services organizations are also seeking to improve their end- to-end performance in key areas such as customer performance. Some have even defined new roles specifically to support improvements in their end- to-end processes. As a result, some organizations are finding that EPM helps deliver a consistent end-to-end framework that ensures consistency in definitions, improves connectivity to show correlations and encourages the reuse of data to improve reconciliation.

Aligning the Risk and Finance functions of insurance companies with EPM

For insurers, one of the big benefits of EPM is closer alignment between the finance and the risk functions.

Creating this alignment is more important today than ever. The finance function is critical to measuring and reporting financial metrics such as gross premiums, investment returns, claims paid and overall profitability, while the risk function needs to estimate the technical reserves based on a complex array of actuarial models covering insurance, market and operational risks. Together, these two form the basis for the all-important equity and solvency ratios of the company.

The latest generation of insurance- specific EPM systems can bring both worlds more closely together. Not only are they able to generate the usual financial and certain regulatory reporting requirements, but they can also support the integrated business planning and management reporting needs of the company through innovate data cubes, on-the-fly dashboard generators and real-time analytical capabilities.

From discretionary to mandatory

Perhaps most importantly, a strong EPM capability can enable management to make better business decisions. It can help improve speed and access to information. Leveraging new technologies (such as those on offer at the KPMG Data Observatory), EPM can deliver improved visualization and analytics capabilities, thereby empowering the organization with competitive insights. And it can make sure everyone is looking at consistent data from the same source, improving decision- making confidence. Essentially, it can help management answer the big questions that they are struggling to answer today.

This is exactly what CEOs say they want from their CFOs. Indeed, when we asked CEOs of large financial institutions what their CFO could do to deliver more value, three initiatives boiled to the top:

1. applying financial data analysis to help the organization achieve profitable growth;

2. using financial data analysis to create and implement new operating models; and

3. finding ways to turn the regulatory environment into a competitive advantage.

All three can be achieved through improved EPM capabilities.

As a result, most CFOs are starting to recognize that investing into EPM is no longer a discretionary activity. It is a source of potential competitive advantage, a way to better manage regulatory requirements and a path to improved efficiency and cost savings. As such, EPM is quickly becoming a mandatory capability for finance functions in the financial services industry.

More than just a reporting tool

We have used words like ‘discipline’ and ‘capability’ when we refer to EPM, rather than ‘software’ or ‘solution’. That is because EPM is much more than simply a tool or software package that is ‘bolted-on’ to consolidate and analyze global data from existing ERP systems. In fact, the real value of EPM comes only when the organization — led by the finance function — starts to turn that data into real, reliable and actionable insights. And that requires a holistic approach to EPM that spans the enterprise and the whole operating lifecycle (as illustrated in Figure 1).

To start, organizations may want to consider flipping the historical ‘plan-do- check-act’ approach on its head. Indeed, creating a robust and appropriate EPM program requires finance functions to start with the ‘act’ (i.e. what insights does the business need in order to act), and then ‘check’ what information is required and whether it is available. Only then should finance functions move onto the ‘do’ of building the solution and, ultimately, the planning that can be achieved once the information is available. Once EPM programs are in full swing, finance functions can then go back to the traditional and continuous ‘plan-do-check-act’ lifecycle process and culture.

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Become a value player: Solve the business’ problems

Securing ‘buy-in’ from the business for a new approach to EPM is not easy; fatigue with new change programs is high and executives are competing fiercely for resources for their own programs. But buy-in is critical, not only at the executive level but throughout the business and across the enterprise.

In this busy environment, CFOs may want to start by helping the business answer one specific (yet critical) management question: “How can I best help you achieve your business goals?” Maybe it’s about finding the optimal pricing mix for their products and services. Maybe it’s about identifying the right acquisition targets to drive profitable growth. Or maybe it’s about identifying the most profitable customer segments and channels.

The key is in working collaboratively with the business to solve their problems and then using that opportunity and outcome to drive greater appetite for more advanced EPM capabilities within the business.

Bank CFOs leverage EPM to become more strategic

Most banking CFOs are already well on their way to moving from being a scorekeeper to becoming a business partner. But EPM enables CFOs in the banking sector to move one step further by allowing the finance function to combine multiple sets of data — financial, customer, risk and operational, for example — to provide the organization with deeper, more valuable and more strategic reports.

Our experience suggests that the ability to leverage and adopt new technology and approaches will be key. Some of the leading banking CFOs are already using data visualization and predictive analytics to collect, analyze and communicate key data sets. And early adopters are now investing into robo-advisors and other automated technologies that can reduce or eliminate manual intervention.

A business-led approach

When we work with banks and insurance CFOs to create stronger EPM lifecycle discipline and improve their EPM capabilities, we focus on creating a holistic enterprise performance management model and approach that recognizes the transformation
that is required in process, people and technology to allow CFOs to drive real value from their finance teams.

In doing so, we lead our clients through a business-led technology transformation that instills the necessary EPM awareness, capabilities and skills across the enterprise and throughout the business, helping CFOs meet the evolving and increasingly sophisticated demands of their organization.

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Questions to evaluate if your organization needs improved Enterprise Performance Management capabilities …

  1. Doesyourexecutiveteamhave real insight into the group’s true profitability by product, service/ channel, country/region and customer?
  2. Is your organization combining financial, operational and customer data to make better decisions and create a competitive advantage?
  3. Are you able to anticipate future regulatory changes and use those insights to gain entry to new markets using innovative channels faster than your competitors?
  4. Do you know which channels currently provide the best growth and profitability and do you have a plan for optimizing them?
  5. Are you able to conduct collaborative planning across all of your business functions to optimize investment decisions and improve shareholder return while at the same time maximizing capital efficiency?

Reprinted from (Regulatory Challenges Facing the Insurance Industry in 2016,) Copyright: 2016 KPMG LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership and the U.S. member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss entity. All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A. The KPMG name and logo are registered trademarks or trademarks of KPMG International.

All information provided is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act upon such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the facts of a particular situation.

For additional news and information, please access KPMG’s global web site.

Leadership Coaching: Is It For You?

Have you experienced the benefits of leadership coaching? Years ago, U.K. business leaders appeared to just see it as an American business fad (for a culture that has also embraced the benefits of therapists and given us great TV like “In Treatment“). However, over the last decade, more and more U.K. businesses have embraced executive coaching, and the academic evidence for efficacy has grown substantially. Even in 2005, 88% of U.K. organizations reported using coaching and, by 2009, 93% of U.S. organizations.

The next revolution in coaching for businesses is the expansion of coaching to a wider leadership population. Once the preserve of CEOs or main board members, leadership coaching is now being expanded at progressive businesses to include all directors, talent pipeline candidates or, in some cases, the wider organization through team coaching. My personal interest is in the benefits of coaching for the rising stars who are today’s customer insight leaders.

There is a growing trend to create customer insight director or chief knowledge officer roles, often for individuals who have never held C-suite responsibilities. Such leaders are ideal candidates for coaching, not because of any deficits, but rather to ensure that they perform as well as possible and achieve the challenging goals for their new strategic focus.

So, what does coaching entail? Very briefly, the term covers a multitude of approaches and has many possible definitions. But experts now agree that executive coaching can be defined as: “a relationship-based intervention. Its focus is on the enhancement of personal performance at work through behavioral, cognitive and motivational interventions used by the coach, which provide change in the client.”

That more academic definition hints at the fact of multiple models or techniques that can be used, where helpful, to facilitate sessions. The qualification that I’m completing on executive coaching includes learning coaching models: goal-oriented; cognitive behavioral; positive psychology; and neurolinguistic programming. My own experience of coaching executives has taught me that different models can be appropriate at different times, with different clients, in different organizational contexts. The most important skill is still genuine active listening, but frameworks to help guide sessions and clear goals to be achieved do both help.

I’m encouraged by the positive messages being given by a number of organizations with regard to the importance of coaching (see “Coaching at Work” magazine). However, I have not yet seen this commitment applied to the customer insight leadership population. I hope that change will come, and I am focusing part of my business on helping to meet that need.

Have you seen the benefits of coaching or mentoring in your leadership role? I’d love to hear more about your experience of this emerging profession.

Better Way to Assess Cyber Risks?

As the saying goes, there are two kinds of motorcyclists: Those who have fallen off their bikes and those who will.

The insurance industry assesses the corporate world’s cybersecurity risk much the same way. Everyone is equally at risk, and, therefore, everyone pays the price for higher insurance premiums.

Not a day seems to go by without news of a high-profile security breach. It’s no surprise, then, that the cybersecurity insurance market is expected to rise to $7.5 billion by 2020, according to PwC. Even worse, the industry does not have effective actuarial models for corporate cybersecurity, say Mike Baukes and Alan Sharp-Paul, the co-founders and co-CEOs of UpGuard.

The two audacious Australians have developed what they say is a better way to assess the risk for cybersecurity breaches.


Alan Sharp-Paul (L) and Mike Baukes (R), Co-Founders and CO-CEOs, UpGuard

The pair’s company recently unveiled its Cybersecurity Threat Assessment Rating (CSTAR), the industry’s first cybersecurity preparedness score for businesses. UpGuard’s CSTAR ranking is a FICO-like score that allows businesses to measurably understand the risk of data breaches and unplanned outages because of misconfigurations and software vulnerabilities, while also offering insurance carriers a new standard by which to more effectively assess risk and compliance profiles.

According to Baukes and Sharp-Paul, many companies forego available policies due to perceived high cost and uncertainty that their organizations will suffer an attack. With countless patches and endpoint fixes slapped onto IT infrastructure to hastily remediate breaches, companies have found themselves with less visibility into their core systems than ever before and, as a result, no way to understand how at-risk they are for hacks. With CSTAR, businesses are able to regain transparency into their own stack and take the appropriate steps to bolster their cybersecurity. Insurance carriers, meanwhile, can make smarter underwriting decisions while accelerating the availability of comprehensive and cost-effective cybersecurity insurance policies for businesses. It’s a win-win for both the insurance industry and for businesses.

After spending years in financial services in Australia and the U.K. and witnessing the disarray of corporate IT, Up-Guard’s two co-founders decided they could make a difference by developing a better way for corporations to understand their software portfolios and their associated potential risk for security breaches. Baukes says, “Our experience showed that that there were thousands of applications and thousands of machines powering all of this critical infrastructure. And the thing that we learned throughout all this was just how hard it is for an IT organization to understand and get a handle on what they’ve got.”

“Today, everything is out in the cloud,” Sharp-Paul says. “We’re all more connected. Employees are connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Now what keeps CIOs and CEOs up at night is, ‘If we get breached, I could get thrown in jail. I could get sued.’ It’s a very, very different world we live in today. We built a system to help companies understand and prevent downtime, and helping them save on project costs is just as relevant today from a security perspective.”

The two initially started a consulting company to help companies catalogue and manage their software platforms and applications. According to Sharp-Paul, “We realized the biggest problem companies have from an IT perspective is that they don’t really have appropriate visibility into what they’ve got and how it’s changing because so many things are changing daily in these environments that it’s really hard for them to know what ‘good’ looks like.”

Sharp-Paul and Baukes’s consulting led them to develop software to automate the process, providing the means to quickly and effectively crawl every server and software application to present a profile of what needed to be updated or patched and to identify the system holes that allowed for security breaches.

As Baukes tells it, “Getting that all to mix well and be safe, secure and capable of pinpointing where problems go wrong really quickly is an incredibly difficult task. So, we built up the first commercial version of the product—a very rudimentary version—and we shopped it around, and people were very excited at the time.”

From there, the pair realized their software had commercial potential and implications more far-reaching than what they had first thought. “We started with that very simple version with a few sales and no sales force—just Alan and [me] at the time—growing to the point now where we now have 3,000-plus customers, and the team is steadily being built,” Baukes says.

Now, the company has nearly 50 employees and is growing fast. The Mountain View, CA–based company attracted early seed funding from the likes of Peter Thiel, Dave McClure and Scott Petry, leading to a near $9 million Series A funding underwritten by August Capital.

The co-CEOs admit the co-managing arrangement is unconventional and would be challenging to make work under different circumstances. However, Baukes and Sharp-Paul feel their skills and temperament complement each other.

“To be honest, when people ask us about it, my first response is always that it’s a terrible idea,” Sharp-Paul says. “And that’s not because it’s been a horrible experience for us. It’s because I kind of think we’re really the exception. And the only reason I say that is that I know the unique things we went through and the type of people we are that makes this work. I can’t imagine that being a common thing at all.”

Baukes is generally a more aggressive and strategic thinker, while Sharp-Paul describes himself as more pragmatic and conservative.

Sharp-Paul and Baukes first worked together at the Colonial First State Investment firm back in Sydney, where the two lived the DevOps experience before DevOps became the buzzy concept that it is today. There, Sharp-Paul was a web developer, and Baukes was a systems administrator, and they talked a lot about things like continuous integration and continuous delivery.

“Now these are all fantastic things,” Sharp-Paul says. “But you need a foundation or a basis of understanding what you have. I mean, we like to say you can’t automate what you don’t understand. Or you can’t secure or fix what you don’t understand. And that’s always missing. Everyone’s trying to rush to this goal of DevOps or moving to the cloud. Everyone wanted to be there, but companies and vendors in particular weren’t helping businesses on the journey there.”

Baukes says, “Once you have that base understanding of what you have, then that opens everything else up. You can think about DevOps. You can think about automation. At the time, we were thinking, ‘Why hasn’t anyone thought to do this before?’ It seemed like such a foundational, basic thing. It was almost like it was so foundational that everyone just moved past it, and they were looking at the next shiny thing down the road. I think that was the white space. That was our opportunity. We jumped on it.”

As it turns out, in the world of corporate IT, applications never get retired. Even worse, the people who manage them move on because the life cycle of an employee at a company is short. As as result, the institutional knowledge about these applications is lost.

“Corporate memory is so short typically,” Sharp-Paul says. “They often get to this point five years down the track where they rediscover this server or this application, and everyone’s too scared to touch it because they don’t know what it does. They don’t know how it works. The people with the knowledge just left with it all in their heads. We come across that all the time.”

Sharp-Paul and Baukes had always seemed destined to do something on their own.

“I always had a healthy disrespect for authority. Throughout my corporate life, I was looking outside to see what else is [WAS?] out there,” Sharp-Paul says. “I actually started the first step of creating a business on my own—with something as mundane as a French language website that I used when I moved overseas for a couple of years. … It taught me that I can actually build something myself that makes money.”

Baukes agrees.

“The big difference is that I grew up in an immigrant family in the middle of nowhere, effectively. I won’t say the Australian Outback, but really rural,” he says. “We built everything ourselves. My father was a great wheeler and dealer. So, I learned a lot of from him. I fell into all of this by playing computer games and was really good at it, frankly. For me, that was a springboard into an accidental corporate life. I always knew that I would do something else.”

Now, for the future?

Baukes says, “It makes good business sense to quantify the risk in your company’s IT systems and report it effectively. And I think that for us, we could continue growing our business with that in mind—giving people visibility, helping them get to the truth of what they’ve got, teaching them how to configure it, and showing them if they’re vulnerable. That is beginning to accelerate for us, and we’re incredibly proud of that.

“We truly believe that, over time, CSTAR will be adopted as an industry standard that companies and carriers alike can rely on to make critical coverage and cybersecurity decisions.”


Medical Marijuana’s Growing Pains

Since California led the way in 1996, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical or recreational marijuana sale and use. In 2016, several states are considering bills that would legalize medical marijuana, reduce jail time or fines for possession and amend existing marijuana laws. In 2014, Congress even put its support toward medical marijuana and hemp growers in the omnibus bill.

As the medical marijuana (MMJ) industry grows beyond infancy, so does the scrutiny of its business liabilities. It seems every week brings a new growing pain for the industry. Here are three important liability concerns that you and your clients should be considering.

Product Liability

Product liability insurance is typically excluded from general liability policies for MMJ dispensaries and grow operations. This is for a couple of reasons: (1) the illegality of the product on a federal level and (2) lack of FDA approval for marijuana for consumption.

Product liability is an essential coverage for MMJ operations as it protects them in the event of claims because of illness or injury from cannabis products. These claims are on the rise as more individuals are exposed to MMJ, particularly when those individuals experiment with various ways of consuming THC.

A class action filed in Colorado in 2014 (Coombs v. Beyond Broadway) alleges that people became ill after eating THC-infused chocolate samples at an event. The class action is open to all attendees who may have been served at the event, so the demand and settlement could be dramatic.

This claim would be handled under the product liability policy. This coverage is available as a stand-alone product, though some carriers may be willing to package it back in with the general liability and rate it separately.

Product Recall

In the Wild West that is the cannabis industry right now, a trend is emerging: product recall.

Cannabis products are being recalled at an alarming rate. Denver alone has recalled 13 products in 13 weeks, including a vape pen oil containing a dangerous, banned pesticide. In October 2015, a number of products were recalled because of banned pesticide content.

Product recall is expensive, and none of those expenses are covered by product liability insurance. In fact, in nearly all of the product recall cases in Denver, no one was sickened by the pesticide-laden products. Cannabis purchased to make the products was independently tested by the manufacturer and voluntarily recalled.

Independent third-party testing is important for quality control, especially in the marijuana industry. When every media outlet and government organization has their eyes on your clients, they need to be one step ahead, so testing product before shipment or sale should be part of any risk management plan.

Product recall insurance is becoming essential. This coverage is written on a manuscript basis to fit the needs of your client and can cover everything from retrieval and shipping costs to destruction costs and even provide public relations help to rebuild and maintain the insured’s reputation.

Professional Liability

With medical cannabis, the dispensary takes on the responsibility of a highly regulated pharmacy. Insureds may be compliant with all state and local rules and regulations, but mistakes do occur. The most common are:

  • Failing to give the correct product to the patient or an authorized caregiver.
  • Failing to confirm the identity of the patient or caregiver before dispensing.
  • Failing to protect patient privacy.

All of the above and more can be covered with a properly written professional liability or E&O policy. Protecting patient privacy can also fall under cyber liability, which your clients should also be concerned about.

MMJ business owners have the same concerns as any other business: profitability, legality, providing a valuable service to the community. As insurance professionals, not only must we look beyond the nature of the business to see the similarities, but also the industry-specific concerns.