A Brief History of Risk Management at UCB

November 21, 2012

So far so good on Israel and Gaza, so let's get back to the thread!

Well into the 1980s there was little, if any, formal structure to risk management at UC. Conscientious employees and managers worried about what could go wrong in their unit, and maybe took a few corrective actions. But that was pretty much it.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate those good old days. Ah, we were so innocent. Protestors didn’t even bring their lawyers to demonstrations back then!

But America was changing, becoming more litigious. By the mid-1980s, an increase in claims and lawsuits led to a steep climb in insurance premiums. Many large institutions, both public and private, noted the impact of insurance costs on their budgets, then noted the high overhead and tidy profits of the insurance companies. In a move that seems quaint by today’s standards, they decided to in-source by setting up their own insurance programs. Not only did they save a fortune, but they gained control over what their insurance policies would and would not pay for – and if you’ve ever had to fight with an insurance company, you can appreciate the importance of that!

The University of California became self-insured for most perils in 1985. (Notable exception: we don’t have earthquake insurance, and will be dependent on the largesse of California voters and the legislature if one or more campuses are seriously damaged by a Big One.) The self-insurance programs were controlled and funded by the Office of the President, and a Risk Management office was set up at each campus.

The name of the office was misleading. It really should have been called the Insurance office, for in its early incarnation, Risk Management’s chief duty was to interpret and administer the new self-insurance programs. The first risk manager at UC Berkeley, Richard Coleman, and his staff spent most of their time figuring out who and what was covered, handling claims and lawsuits, and issuing or reviewing insurance documents.

That’s only one part of risk management.

The other part is loss prevention: anticipating what might go wrong and taking steps to prevent it. The cost savings of the 1980s proved short-lived because the self-insurance programs, as originally conceived, primarily addressed the result of the claims boom (higher premiums), not the cause. The number of claims and lawsuits continued to rise. By the mid-1990s, the self-insurance programs were tens of millions of dollars in debt.

OP’s response was to transfer the cost of the self-insurance programs to the campuses. If you’re a budget officer, you’re almost certainly familiar with the GAEL charge. GAEL stands for General, Automobile, and Employment Liability, and it’s the payroll tax (currently 85 cents per $100) that funds those three self-insurance programs. (There’s a separate charge for Workers’ Compensation.) The GAEL charge eventually stabilized the finances of the self-insurance programs.

But there was still that nagging problem of too many claims and lawsuits . . .