Managing Risk in a Certainly Uncertain World

 
 

Managing Risk in a Certainly Uncertain World

Historic drought in the Midwest, scorching temperatures across the country, a rare “derecho” that slammed Washington, D.C. and Superstorm Sandy make extreme weather events a top-of-mind issue for business and consumers alike. The Washington State Department of Ecology earlier this year released a report entitled “Preparing for a Changing Climate”, an integrated response plan for the impacts of climate change on our state (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/climatechange/ipa_responsestrategy.htm).

The report is a response to the reality that more frequent natural catastrophes may be “the new normal”, placing individuals and organizations at higher risk. Scientists predict current weather trends will continue and in some cases accelerate, posing significant risks to human health, forests, agriculture, supplies of fresh water, coastlines, and other natural resources vital to Washington State’s economy, environment, and way of life.

Businesses would benefit from following the state’s lead in preparing for the impacts of climate change. Prudent leaders should take steps to understand and quantify the risks to their businesses, make adjustments where possible, and mitigate inescapable consequences through insurance or other innovative methods.

Below are three steps CEOs, CFOs and risk managers can take to prepare for an uncertain future, where the critical questions are not if, but when, will climate-driven catastrophes strike, and how devastating willtheir impacts be to operations.

Step 1: Perform a risk analysis to identify exposures based on the organization’s susceptibility to likely impacts of climate change. For instance, are you a manufacturer that relies on cheap power to produce yourgoods? How would a tripling of energy costs impact your bottom line? For fruit or vegetable growers, what would happen if water rates tripled, or access was rationed?  How will warming oceans affect a commercial fishing company’s catch?

Forward-thinking organizations are working to better understand natural disasters and their potential to disrupt business. Three years ago, I-5 was closed for a week due to flooding between Seattle and Portland. The entire Kent Valley braces for the impacts of the winter and spring rains, which seem to increase in intensity and frequency each year.  If your business involves transportation, warehousing or manufacturing in or near flood-prone areas, you would be wise to establish and test contingency plans now, rather than hoping for better weather.

By looking ahead and considering a wide range of possible scenarios, smart businesses can position themselves to protect, if not expand, their businesses now and in the years to come.

Step 2:  Insurance companies are (understandably) reviewing their approaches to offering policies, coverages and limits.  And you can be sure that rates will go up commensurate with increased risk and likelihood of claims.  Only after you have completed a thorough risk assessment can you create a proper cost/benefit analysis of available insurance coverage.

Step 3: In addition to traditional insurance policies that transfer financial impacts of hazard losses, there are new and innovative ways for companies to hedge climate risk. There is a wide range of products – forwards, futures, options, swaps – designed to enable buyers to reduce risk associated with adverse or unexpected weather conditions. These products are available to address an array of weather events, including temperatures, snowfall, frost and hurricanes, in many parts of the United States and the world.

Now is the time to take a serious look at your exposure to climate-related risks. Considering a range of potential futures enables you to make adjustments that may help you avoid material adverse impacts, and could position you to thrive in a changing environment. A rigorous assessment will also prepare you to make more informed choices regarding insurance or other hedging tools designed to address unanticipated or unavoidable climate-related losses.

Mark Twain is well known for the adage, “Everyone complains about weather, but no one does anything about it.” Today, organizations can challenge Twain’s maxim by deploying a wide range of risk management tools and techniques to evaluate, control, and finance weather risks.

 

Seth Shapiro is a senior vice president and risk strategist at Kibble & Prentice, a USI company. He can be reached at 206-441-6300 or seth.shapiro@kpcom.com

 

Looking for high investment returns? Consider investing in a family business.

Looking for high investment returns? Consider investing in a family business.

 
 

Investors do not lack opportunities to deploy their capital, but being able to generate respectable returns is much more difficult. Part of the problem is finding unique investment opportunities with significant upside in a crowded market. The best option may be to put money to work in a privately-held company.

But private companies pose challenges when it comes to understanding their business, and analysis of the company may be fraught with pitfalls. Or it may be that investors are simply not aware of the opportunity in the first place.

There is, however, an important trend that is clearly discernable in relation to family-held businesses. Wealthy families and individuals are increasingly attracted to the idea of providing capital directly to family businesses as part of their overall investing strategy. And the attraction is reciprocated – family-owned businesses are increasingly open to the idea of wealthy families and individuals providing capital.

At Cascadia Capital, we are seeing a rapid increase in the practice of families investing in families, which can be a highly effective solution for both businesses and investors. Family businesses can be attractive investments, particularly for other family businesses, private companies, individuals, or family offices, which are wealth management companies investing on behalf of a single family or individual. Family run businesses often employ management styles that these investors understand well and can offer portfolio diversification without the hefty fees charged by private equity funds and investment firms; fees that, over time, can add up to millions of dollars.

According to a recent survey by the Family Office Exchange, about 70 percent of family offices now pursue this strategy of direct investing. This may be, in part, due to a shift by family offices seeking to bypass layers of fees and a lack of transparency and control that are inherent to the private equity fund model. Instead, many family offices now prefer to invest directly on a deal-by-deal basis offering more direct control, additional flexibility for longer-term holds, and lower fees. 

From the perspective of family businesses, a significant number are considering alternative solutions to meet their strategic objectives. In the event of a sale, an acquisition by another family can be a compelling solution compared to a private equity or strategic buyer transaction. And when seeking financing for business activities, direct investments from family offices can offer significantly more flexibility than funding from private equity firms that are beholden to rigid criteria and fixed investment periods.

 

The benefits for family businesses of having a direct relationship with their investors or buyers can be numerous. For example, if a family is looking to sell its business, family office buyers can provide liquidity and the opportunity for owners to exit without having to sell to a competitor. If a family is looking for additional financing to fund growth, direct family office investments can offer more favorable terms than other traditional sources of financing.

 Importantly, wealthy families and individuals are more likely to take a long-term view of their investment and are not constrained by exit strategies devised to maximize value within a given time period. Further, these investors often made their money owning and operating successful companies and, as a result, are more likely to understand the nuances and unique challenges of family run businesses. 

This investment trend, while also being experienced in other parts of the country, is gaining momentum in the Pacific Northwest. We are increasingly finding private direct investments to be an effective solution for our family-owned business clients and our family office clients.

Choosing the right investment partner is one of the most challenging decisions a family business can make. We have worked with many private, family run businesses to design long-term, flexible capital solutions and introduce our clients to suitable family office and private investors with common objectives.

 For family offices, like any investment opportunity, buying into family businesses can be very attractive, but it is not without risk. Prior to investing, proper analysis calls for extensive financial due diligence to ensure interests and incentives are well aligned in the transaction. Success depends on ensuring both a structural and cultural fit. We actively encourage family business owners and family investors to work with experienced advisors to carefully explore every available option before determining the best course of action.

Christian Schiller is a managing director at Cascadia Capital, specializing in advising family businesses. Cascadia Capital is a Seattle-based investment bank serving middle market clients, globally.