Long Tail Liability for Canadian Directors and Officers

August 4, 2011

This new case, based on old alleged wrongful acts, hits home because it is a Canadian Company in the insurance industry that is active in the US but not listed on a regulated US exchange. The case involves a July 2011 class action securities suit against Fairfax
Financial Holdings Limited (USA) and its Pink Sheet OTCBB trading, here. The allegations are common “violations of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934” and issuing “materially false and misleading statements regarding the Company’s business practices and financial results.” These allegations surround certain reinsurance contracts and the alleged
concealment of its lack of liquidity. Even the significant alleged financial damage (“a decline in market capitalization of approximately $300 million”), and the lead plaintiff being a pension fund, is not a surprise in the securities class action world. The interesting thing is the class period of May 21, 2003 to March 22, 2006. This is a great example of the very long period that can exist between the alleged “wrongful act” and the ultimate litigation and resulting claim that is noticed to the insurer.

This case is also a great example of systemic risk in the D&O insurance business. The Fairfax case is not unique because “in November 2004 the SEC and Attorney General for the State of New York began inquiries into the use of so-called “finite reinsurance” contracts” and launched a number of investigations against many well-known industry players.

Systemic risk in the long-tail, high-severity products should be a key concern for industry-based insurance programs (reciprocals, risk retention groups, group captives.) These programs may have value as a risk-management, defence management, deductible/retention management, political lobby or loss control tool, but should be used very carefully as a pure risk transfer vehicle.

The risk management spin: the plaintiff lawyer’s website, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, here, provides the complaint, here, which details the alleged “gimmicks” used to “artificially inflate the value of its assets” as well as the “lack of internal controls.” Complaints and legal decisions can present useful information for corporate governance risk identification and loss control activities, and with every public case there comes an increased expectation that other boards and senior management will learn for such cases. Here are a few of the governance issues I took from this case:

  1. Procedures to assess whether finite reinsurance contracts meet the prerequisites for risk transfer,
  2. Product inventory and coverage / risk explanations and evaluations of traditional and non-traditional products,
  3. Use of “reinsurance accounting” or “deposit accounting” and the risk transfer test, and understanding of the local accounting practices,
  4. Evaluation of management assumptions for reporting of profit or loss in foreign private investments,
  5. Evaluation of consolidated financial reporting,
  6. Controls for reporting of intercompany purchases and sales, write-offs, advances and foreign currency accounting, receivables,
  7. Adequate internal controls and (discoverable) communication regarding those controls, including bid/quote tracking, expense guidelines,
  8. Public statement oversight for accuracy of details and forward-looking statements,

The insurance spin: don’t let your insurance broker convince you that the only way to get coverage for a securities claim is to purchase “securities coverage” or the “side C” insuring agreement as part of your directors’ and officers’ liability insurance program. This coverage is very valuable, but that value may favour of the corporate entity. Depending on the structure and fine details of your D&O insurance program, the addition of “securities coverage” could be damaging to individual directors and officers of the organization.

The Towers Watson, 2010 Directors and Officers Liability Survey, here, suggested that 54% of respondents did not conduct any independent review of their D&O liability policy. The survey did not comment on the breadth or value of that independent review done for the other 46%. My question would be if that review included all areas in the policy that presented a risk of limit erosion or limit exhaustion to the detriment of individual directors and officers (not just “insuring clauses” or “definition of insured”, but “severability”, “allocation”, “predetermined defence costs”, “exceptions to exclusions”, “final adjudication in the conduct exclusions”.) My assumed answer “no in 98% of the 46%”, because most insurance brokers will provide a “free audit” of an insurance program, and in most of those cases, you get what you pay for.

The survey also suggests that 60% of participants purchased Side A/B/C coverage, and 14% were not sure how their program was structured. 24% said their coverage was blended with other non-D&O coverage like employment practices and fiduciary liability (but this could also include professional liability, crime, and others, even workers comp.) This blending of “first party” and “third party” claim, “entity” and “individual” coverage, and “claims-made (and reported)” and “occurrence/sustained” triggers can create very significant complications for eventual claim handling.

On the issue of exclusive policy limits for independent/outside directors only 4% said there was some such coverage in place. 80% of public company respondents said they purchased an “Excess Side A” or and “Excess Side A with Difference In Conditions (DIC)” features. Note, Side A is the “non-indemnified” loss insuring agreement for individual insured persons, it is not specific to independent or outside directors.

The Fairfax case could become a very good example for insurance company risk management, as the case may be part D&O, party Entity Coverage for Securities Claims, part Insurance Company Errors and Omissions (professional liability), and part Outside Directorship Liability insurance. The insurance risk is that the defence costs, judgments and/or settlement loss may be only partially or not at all covered by any of these policies. But the reality is that though the class action securities litigation risk may be very public, the resulting insurance risk will not likely see the light of day. The lack of publicity of insurance risk means the learning opportunity and loss control lessons are much more difficult to find.

If you would like to learn more about insurance risk, securities class action risk, D&O/E&O/Fidelity insurance or loss control for publicly traded companies or insurance companies; or if you would like to have an in-depth review of your insurance program,
please contact me directly.

Greg Shields is a D&O, Professional Liability and Crime insurance specialist and a Partner at the University and Dundas (Toronto) branch of Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services. He can be reached at gshields@mitchellsandham.com,  416 862-5626, or Skype at risk.first. And more details of risk and loss control can be found on the Mitchell Sandham blog at https://mitchellsandham.wordpress.com/

CAUTION: This article does not constitute a legal opinion or insurance advice and must not be construed as such. It is important to always consult a registered and truly independent insurance broker and a lawyer who is a member of the Bar or Law Society of the relevant jurisdiction with regard to this material before making any insurance or legal decisions. All material is copyrighted by Mitchell Sandham Inc. and may not be reproduced in any form for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. Anyone seeking to link this document from any external website must receive the consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. by sending an e-mail to gshields@mitchellsandham.com.


Bribery and the Board in the Insurance Broker Business

August 1, 2011

 

Between the FCPA, UK Bribery Act and the CFPOA there are many new cases in the bribery landscape. However, there is a very recent case involving a multinational insurance brokerage. This case is not categorized as a direct bribery issue, but rather a failure to prevent bribery. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) announced last week, here, that it fined Willis Limited 6.9 million pounds for “failings in its anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls” which “created an unacceptable risk that payments by Willis Limited to overseas third parties could be used for corrupt purposes.”

This case changes the game before most people have even started to learn the rules. It is still very common for corporate leaders to respond to news of bribery enforcement by saying “everyone is doing it” and “that is just how we do business in (insert industry)(insert city).” Most internal and third party professionals will be quick to point out that such realities are not an acceptable defence to regulatory enforcement. However, those defences are still being attempted, and the result is industry based systemic risk as regulators then say “ok, where else and who else” and start flipping over rocks in other regions or at industry competitors. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see similar settlements in insurance brokerage industry.

The rules of the game are that directors and senior management need to turn their minds to controls and procedures to prevent this (recently) unacceptable behaviour. In the Willis case, it seems that the organization, unlike many other organizations, did in fact create and implement “appropriate anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls”, but the FSA has suggested with this fine that the existence of controls is not enough and they are required to “ensure that those systems and controls are adequately implemented and monitored”, at the grassroots level.

The time period of the payments in question was January 2005 to December 2009, which means that there is a long tail of liability involved with FSA bribery enforcement actions and therefore organizations and their governing minds had better respond quickly to create and/or increase their controls and control enforcement and monitoring.

The Willis case, and the recent Canadian CFPOA case against Niko Resources, here, might suggest that international bribery enforcement is not a game, because the value of the fines are many multiples of the alleged inappropriate payments in question (at least those values that were disclosed.) In the Niko case the payments in question were less than C$200,000, but the fine was C$9.6 million (the actual value of Niko’s business dealings in “high risk jurisdictions” were not disclosed.) In the Willis case, the total value of transactions over the five year period was 27 million pounds, with the suspicions payments totalling $227,000, and the fine being 6.895 million pounds (after a 30% discount for cooperation and early settlement.)

Here is the loss control opportunity presented by this case to directors, officers, management and employees of corporations doing business overseas (I know this is easier said than done, this is a just a blog):

  • Identify all payments to foreign third parties (especially in “high risk jurisdictions” – if it helps to narrow things down (kidding) the Niko case involved Bangladesh, the Willis case involved Egypt and Russia),
  • Establish and record the commercial rationale for all payments to foreign third parties – this needs to be done to the minute degree of demonstrating “in each case why it was necessary… to use an Overseas Third Party (OTP) to win business and what services (the company) would receive from that OTP in return for a share of its commission”
  • Understand that foreign official is a much broader group than you might think (other bribery cases have set the precedent that doctors and other medical staff in most countries are considered foreign officials, World Bank and IMF staff are foreign officials), 
  • Realize other enforcement examples are not just a learning opportunity but an obligation; the acting director of enforcement and financial crime in the Willis case specifically said this case was “particularly disappointing as we have repeatedly communicated with the industry on this issue”, 
  • Provide formal training to staff to recognize an affected payment and to record in detail (more than a brief description) the reasons and resulting services surrounding the payment. This is the only way to demonstrate adequate monitoring and effectiveness of anti-bribery systems and controls, 
  • Ensure adequate due diligence on OTP to assess how the OTP is connected to the organization’s client, the foreign official and any other involved third party, 
  • Recognize that you are responsible for indirect bribery or alleged bribery of a foreign official, not just for direct bribery. This means you are responsible for the actions of any Third Party that could be in a position of making improper payments to help your organization win or retain business from overseas clients or prospective clients, 
  • Ensure that this due diligence is applied to each and every time a payment is made to a Third Party, not just the inception of business with that Third Party.

There is a very strong argument that the Willis case is not a bribery case, it is a books and records case, but FSA does not seem to care about the distinction. The case has been lumped in with the recent UK Bribery Act / FCPA / CFPOA bribery enforcement actions, so it is getting media attention that it may or may not deserve.

Is this a good example of directors’ and officers’ liability? No, not directly. There was no mention of negligence by an individually named director or officer. But many bribery enforcement actions have spawned downstream criminal, civil and securities liability lawsuits, so if directors and officers do not learn and react to the public pain suffered by other entities, they have a good chance of facing personal liability.

My advice, be careful about extending your D&O insurance policy to FCPA / UK Bribery / CFPOA enforcement action if you don’t fully understand how your policy is exposed to Entity Coverage or other risk of erosion or exhaustion of its limits of liability. There is no regulation or oversight of D&O policy wordings or pricing in Canada, so your assumption of the level of “personal loss” coverage in your D&O policy might be incorrect. Without early investigation you might not find that out until it is too late.

Greg Shields is a D&O, Professional Liability and Crime insurance specialist and a Partner at the University and Dundas (Toronto) branch of Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services. He can be reached at gshields@mitchellsandham.com, 416 862-5626, or Skype at risk.first. And more details of risk and loss control can be found on the Mitchell Sandham blog at https://mitchellsandham.wordpress.com/

CAUTION: This article does not constitute a legal opinion or insurance advice and must not be construed as such. It is important to always consult a registered and truly independent insurance broker and a lawyer who is a member of the Bar or Law Society of the relevant jurisdiction with regard to this material before making any insurance or legal decisions. All material is copyrighted by Mitchell Sandham Inc. and may not be reproduced in any form for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. Anyone seeking to link this document from any external website must receive the consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. by sending an e-mail to gshields@mitchellsandham.com.


CFPOA (Bribery) Enforcement Action on the Rise

July 8, 2011

 

Risk Management will be a particular challenge based on the “ground level” exposures and the difficulty identifying and controlling risk that is created by a vast number of activities conducted by a large number of people with significant geographic and supervisory separation.

Therefore, based on single aggregate limits, and considerable number of parties and matters insured under a typical D&O insurance policy, a full understanding of how and where limits are sharing should be a top priority for D&O buyers.

In past blog posts I have been critical of Canadian regulation and enforcement of Bribery. But, I can now suggest there has been an extraordinary increase in Canadian corporate bribery enforcement. I am not suggesting the alarm bells should be raised, as the number of cases has gone from one to two (two to three if you include individuals), and I am sure that 99.something % of Canadians (and nearing that number of politicians) could not tell you what CFPOA stands for. This is not as easily said of FCPA. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, here, in the US has seen significant press over the last year. This should be no surprise, the US government provides a website listing enforcement actions in chronological order (there are 14 actions under ‘A’ alone), a dedicated email address for reporting violations, and transparency on settlements/judgments (which have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars.)

I wouldn’t be worried about wiretaps and agents posing as foreign government officials……, if your organization does absolutely no business (purchasing or selling, travel or expenses) outside of Canada. We are not known for aggressively fighting white collar (I prefer the term “financial”) crime. However, if you do any business outside of Canada, perhaps some risk identification and loss control is a good idea.

CFPOA stands for The Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. It can be found on a Canadian government site, here, but there is no “enforcement” section, or any obvious “report bribery or corruption” contact information. I don’t even recommend a search of Canadian government information regarding corruption or bribery, as it is a time wasting and frustrating exercise in ineffective links and extraordinarily outdated reports. Prior to this very recent case, I could find reference to only two criminal prosecutions in Canada since the 1999 inception the act and the only one with a dollar figure was for $25,000.

In June, enforcement of bribery in Canada actually made publication. I would like to say that it made headlines, but the only page-one google hits for “bribery enforcement in Canada” were law firm briefs and low profile blogs.

The recent case is Niko Resources Ltd., here, which is based on bribery of a junior energy minister in Bangladesh. As per the Reuters report by Scott Haggett, “the charges stemmed from providing a car worth $191,000 and a $5,000 trip”, but the fine is $8,260,000 plus a victim surcharge of 15% for a total $9.5 million fine. This does not include legal costs and it does not contemplate the reputational damage to Niko, or their 3.2% fall in market cap of their shares (which equates to more than $120 million.) Class action securities claims have been started for less.

A CFPOA settlement in this range is material to even the biggest Canadian corporations and it obvious that the intent is to send a warning signal to all Canadian companies, directors and senior management (and to try to get the Government out of the news for being complete ineffective on bribery and corruption.)

Here is the corporate governance, risk management and insurance spin. For this we will have to look outside of Canada because, in the article here at Canadian Lawyer Magazine by Andi Balla, it has been expressed by the head of the RCMP unit in charge of investigation corruption of foreign officials that “Canadian legislation is very short and hard to interpret.”

Based on the US experience with FCPA, and the very recent UK Bribery Act, the issue of Bribery will receive increased focus as a material Corporate Governance, Risk Management and Compliance responsibility. Risk Management will be a particular challenge based on the “ground level” exposures and the difficulty identifying and controlling risk that is created by a vast number of activities conducted by a large number of people with significant geographic and supervisory separation.

Like most other corporate risks, good loss control will come from establishing, communicating, enforcing and monitoring policies and procedures. But identifying, qualifying and quantifying risk in order develop specific risk based policies and procedures is much easier (not to mention quicker) to say than do.

The U.K. Ministry of Justice, regarding the new U.K. Bribery Act (took effect July 1, 2011), here, has provided some Guidance, here, to their legislation. But enacting policies and procedures is further complicated by the vague language of the official guidance which uses phrases like “extremely unlikely to engage Section 1” (the section prohibiting Active and Passive bribery), and introduces the “reasonable person” test and “common sense approach”. One area that makes it difficult to define or identify risk is the “associated persons” language which is not easily defined and includes any person or entity who “performs services” for the company. Therefore, direct and even indirect contractors could create a risk of liability for the corporation.

Other concerns with the U.K. guidance is that many terms are not defined. One such term is “close connection”, because this close connection to the U.K. could apply to the person committing the offence, or to place of incorporation, or to the location of the consenting senior officers. Another important term “carry on business”, because the parent company or even a subsidiary entity does not have to be incorporated in the U.K. in order to be responsible under the Act.

Directors of affected companies will to have look at the “relative ‘value’ of the spend” in every foreign business dealing and determine its ‘proximity’ to a pending business deal in order to identify activities that generate risk. They will then have to prioritize which activities could become the subject of scrutiny under the Act and direct resources accordingly.

The insurance response has yet to be determined. Some ideas are presented by Anjali Das, a partner in the Chicago office of the Wilson Elser law firm, are published in The D&O Diary Blog, here.

Insurance underwriters will eventually be requesting copies of Anti-Bribery policies and procedures, but that has not started (in Canada) and we hope to provide warning of any such change.

Directors, if not already, will soon be asking their General Counsel, CFO, Corporate Secretary, or whoever else is their go-to-person on personal liability and directors’ and officers’ liability insurance (D&O), about the potential response of their D&O policy to a CFPOA investigation. Since there are many dozens of different D&O policy wording and hundreds of endorsements in current use in Canada, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Your current in force policy wording needs to be reviewed. I suggest asking for an electronic searchable version from your insurance broker and searching for the term “fine”. If you are attempting to find the answer in paper form I recommend starting from the last endorsement and working backward. It is common for large publicly-traded companies to have more than 20 endorsements on their D&O policy, changing a good portion of the base policy wording. You will likely see a “fines and penalties” exclusion (unfortunately not in the exclusion section,) hidden in the definition of Loss. However, there may be a ‘carve-back’ (and exception to the exclusion) for defence costs.

Before you do anything regarding affirmative insurance coverage for an CFPOA action, an examination of priorities is warranted. Meaning, what do all of the Insureds, or at least Classes of Insureds, want the policy to do? I have not seen a CFPOA exclusion used in Canada, and Canadian underwriters are not likely to take a knee-jerk reaction to the Niko CFPOA enforcement action. I have also not seen any specific CFPOA endorsements in the Canadian marketplace, but I am sure they are in the works. But, the “broadening” of coverage to include Loss based on CFPOA actions may not be in the best interest of all Insureds. There is usually only one limit of liability available and it is shared by every director, officer, employee and the corporate entity (including every subsidiary) for every individual allegation, investigation and lawsuit. Also, it is common that in the middle of a potentially large group of claims (or circumstances which could lead to a claim) policy limits are not renewed (refreshed) at the expiry of the policy and therefore the one limit of liability may be the only limit available for all of these parties and matters for many years.

Therefore, based on single aggregate limits, and considerable number of parties and matters insured under a typical D&O insurance policy, a full understanding of how and where limits are sharing should be a top priority for D&O buyers.

I try not to subject my readers to 2,000 words in a post, but this does not give the corporate governance, risk management and insurance spin the detail it deserves. Therefore, if you would like more details in these areas, or if you would like help understanding your D&O policy and its potential triggers (positive and negative) regarding CFPOA enforcement, notice obligations or risk of limit exhaustion, please don’t hesitate to call me directly.

Greg Shields is a D&O, Professional Liability and Crime insurance specialist and a Partner at the University and Dundas (Toronto) branch of Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services. He can be reached at gshields@mitchellsandham.com,  416 862-5626, or Skype at risk.first. And more details of risk and loss control can be found on the Mitchell Sandham blog at https://mitchellsandham.wordpress.com/

CAUTION: This article does not constitute a legal opinion or insurance advice and must not be construed as such. It is important to always consult a registered and truly independent insurance broker and a lawyer who is a member of the Bar or Law Society of the relevant jurisdiction with regard to this material before making any insurance or legal decisions. All material is copyrighted by Mitchell Sandham Inc. and may not be reproduced in any form for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. Anyone seeking to link this document from any external website must receive the consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. by sending an e-mail to gshields@mitchellsandham.com.


Mitchell Sandham Featured in Canadian Insurance Top Broker Magazine!

July 8, 2011

 

Mitchell Sandham is excited to have an article featured in Canadian Insurance Top Broker Magazine, called “D&O and E&O: How much is enough?” by Greg Shields.  Please click here to access the article.   

 


What is the Direction of Canadian Corporate Fraud?

June 23, 2011

 

Interesting article on Corporate Fraud and Executive Compensation available, here, at Marketwatch.

I will let you read it, but the Greg’s notes on it, 1) “97% of companies on the S&P 500 Index pay incentive compensation to executives even when the company is underperforming its peers”, and 2) “FBI Director Robert Mueller recently told Congress that the FBI had 667 ongoing probes into corporate fraud and 1,700 open cases of securities fraud.”

In case the authors are correct in their observation that crime is not down we are just numb to it, why don’t we do a quick “lest we forget” and recount: Bernard Madoff, Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay, Dennis Kozlowski, John Rigas, Joe Nacchio, James McDermott Jr., Sam Waksal, Sam Israel, Bernie Ebbers (see the Time article, here, called Top 10 Crooked CEOs).

Now, just in case you are like many Canadians who have allowed themself to be lulled into a false sense of security, based on a lack of fraud enforcement in Canada and extraordinarly little media coverage attention to corporate fraud and a Canadian moral superiority complex, here is the Canadian content.

Please keep in mind that thanks to the absence of criminal enforcement in Canada, some of these cases should be classified as securities concerns and not allegations of fraud against any individuals. Based on the low level of media coverage, you may never have heard about these incidents – Barry Landen (here, Penna estate fraud, not huge, but very sad), Peter Sbaraglia and Robert Mander (here, accused by OSC of $40 million fraud), Milowe Brost and Gary Sorenson (here, Brost was jailed this year for forgery, but accused with Sorenson of a Ponzi scheme which could reach $400 million), Wolfgang Stolzenberg (here, accused of a $1 billion fraud in the Castors Holdings case), Ronald Weinberg, Hasanain Panju, and Lino Pasquale Matteo and John Xanthoudakis (here, facing 36 charges including fraud and publishing a false prospectus in the Cinar case, with Xanthoudakis also being part of Norshield (here, $215 million alleged fraud) and Matteo also part of Mount Real (here), Earl Jones (here, surrendered and pleaded guilty (so I don’t know how quick I would be to count that as a win for our justice system) to two fraud charges related to a $50 million Ponzi scheme that ran from 1982 to 2009),  Ian Thow (here, originally accused of a $32 million Ponzi fraud but pleaded guilty on amounts totaling $8 million and sentenced to 9 years). There are many more, but I have run out of time, and hopefully opened a few eyes.

I have decided to avoid pure Canadian class actions securities claims due to the risk of suggesting fraud in any of these cases, and/or the risk of reprisal for any such inference. But I can assure you that we have had more than our share of securities related games played in Canada resulting in massive losses suffered by Canadian investors.

Now the risk management spin. There are many ways for investors, fund managers, investment advisors, directors and officers to protect yourself.

  1. If things are going absolutely great and you have no complaints or concerns about your current position: pull your head out of the sand and start your own investigation immediately. Take two, three, four hours, pull out a recent prospectus, annual report or one of those intentionally complicated sell sheets, and read the fine print, notes and management assumptions. If it does not make any sense, read it again. If it still doesn’t make any sense, start asking questions and preface each question with “pretend you are answering this question like I am your mother or your five year old” (keep in mind that some of the people above did actually defraud their mother);
  2. If a few things are bugging you but you can’t put your finger on it, see point 1 above.
  3. If you have not invested or accepted the board position, see the points above;
  4. Request evidence of Fidelity/Crime insurance. You can’t rely on this in place of the points above, but at least you will get some comfort that the company and the individuals have been vetted by a large financial institution who shares a financial exposure to the company. Then take the evidence of insurance, Google the name of the insurer, call the company from the info online, not the one on the evidence of insurance, and confirm the company and policy actually exist. This four minutes will be more due diligence than most stakeholders perform, and it will improve your comfort level with your risk;
  5. Repeat point 4 for Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance (D&O) and Professional Liability insurance (E&O). Many, but not all, fraudsters avoid any additional audit, review or questions, (unfortunately they don’t seem to be subject to much of that from regulators, auditors, lawyers, suppliers or investors), so they reject any suggestion of insurance coverage as a waste of money;
  6. Find the references to a contract, sales agreement, independent third party review, or other “feel good statement” attributed to any third party in any company document, pick two (or if you are really diligent, three) and take four minutes to Google the name, call the company or person from the online information, and confirm the details of the pronouncement;
  7. Read the Ian Thow link above and the victim statements detailed in the sentencing decision, and be thankful they allowed their tragic and embarrassing stories to be publicized so that we can learn without having to suffer more loss that we already have (yes, every mutual fund holder, pensioner, bank client and insurance buyer pays a significant amount for fraud losses every year.) It could be the most valuable 20 minutes of your life.

With prosecutions being rare and convictions (without a guilty plea) being almost non-existent, one can only surmise the actual number for frauds that are currently being perpetrated in Canada.

So what is the direction of Canadian corporate (aka, white collar, or financial) fraud? It doesn’t matter, there is plenty of it right now to warrant concern and the 4 hours and 44 minutes of time suggested above.

Greg Shields is a D&O, Professional Liability and Crime insurance specialist and a Partner at the University and Dundas (Toronto) branch of Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services. He can be reached at gshields@mitchellsandham.com,  416 862-5626, or Skype at risk.first. And more details of risk and loss control can be found on the Mitchell Sandham blog at https://mitchellsandham.wordpress.com/

CAUTION: This article does not constitute a legal opinion or insurance advice and must not be construed as such. It is important to always consult a registered and truly independent insurance broker and a lawyer who is a member of the Bar or Law Society of the relevant jurisdiction with regard to this material before making any insurance or legal decisions. All material is copyrighted by Mitchell Sandham Inc. and may not be reproduced in any form for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. Anyone seeking to link this document from any external website must receive the consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. by sending an e-mail to gshields@mitchellsandham.com.


Franchisor – Franchisee Risk in Canada

May 27, 2011

I have heard many people complain about Tim Hortons donuts being smaller than the competition, and that “always fresh” donuts (actually it is doughnuts) actually means “recently frozen”, but most of us wish we owned THI shares (trading at a 53 wk HI with a 36% increase over this time last year and a 55% increase over two years.)

However, there is a group who is not very happy about it. A (small) group of franchisees filed a $1.95 billion class-action lawsuit against Tim Hortons claiming breach of contract, breach of duty of fair dealing, negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment stemming from Hortons’ conversion to frozen donuts. As with many franchisee claims, they seem to have a problem with inflated prices within the mandatory supply agreements. MACLEANS.ca released an article, here, in September last year, on the suit and the connections within the class action claim. They followed-up with a second article, here, a few weeks ago because the corporation provided a breakdown of average store profits. Please note this action has not been certified and the court has not ruled on the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

It will be interesting to see if the court takes one look at the growth in per store profit since the introduction of the frozen product strategy and class action claim. But, the most important thing about this action is the risks it identifies for other franchisor entities. Outside of the almost $2 billion demand, the legal costs, distraction of management, franchisee infighting and the extraordinary reputational damage, actual loss will be difficult to measure. In the Tim Hortons case, a separate group of franchisees incurred considerable legal costs in an attempt to seek intervenor status, here, in the class action so they could argue against the certification of the action and protect private information and their corporate brand. Their motion was denied.

Franchisee – Franchisor risks are different from non-franchise operations, because franchise companies have the same exposures to property loss, general liability lawsuits, management liability, shareholder lawsuits, and employment practices and crime risk as any other operation, but they have a unique supportive / hostile relationship with their key business partner. The business model can be extraordinarily successful, and Tim Hortons is a textbook example, growing from one Canadian coffee shop in 1964 to 3,000 Canadian and 600 US stores today. But success can bread contempt and recent or ongoing franchise cases include the likes of Tim Hortons, Midas Inc., Quiznos, General Motors and Shoppers Drug Mart (see Financial Post, here.)

Managing franchise risks may come down to communication.

Risk management by contract language can be a mine field. Simple contract language may not provide the protection that many franchisors expect because language prohibiting class actions is common but the courts are still certifying national class actions. I do not suggest removing the language, just do not rely on it as your only form of risk management.

Another form of risk management could come from pre-screening potential franchisees. Myers Briggs and other personality tests are very common for large organizations, but there are now test specifically designed to measure future success of potential franchisees (here.) Individual franchisees may be more interested in starting a claim or participating in a class action if their individual franchise is not as successfully as other operations. It is easier to accuse the franchisor of collusion or negligence than it is to recognize that they are not cut-out to be a franchise owner.

Franchisor liability insurance is available in the insurance marketplace in Canada. It can respond to claims made by franchisees alleging breach of contract, breach of duty of fair dealing, negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. Limits of liability can be available from $1 million to $25 million or more, but large limits may become prohibitively expensive. The value of this insurance is not only in its response to defence costs, settlements or court awards, but also the support in the claim. One major issue for franchisors, is that they may not have the time and experience needed to find the best, non-conflicted, and most experience counsel available for their case. The lawyers who helped draft contract language may not have litigation defence experience, or may be conflicted out of handling your defence if their contract language has any connection to the underlying allegations. The insurance can also have a calming effect on public reaction to news of a lawsuit, because stakeholders are comforted to know that there will be at least some insurance in place to cover losses.  Finally, the value of any franchise is the ongoing relationship between franchisee and franchisor. A third party insurer being inserted into a dispute between franchisee and franchisor can help maintain the long-term relationships between the parties.

A few words of caution regarding insurance coverage: 1) a D&O policy is not designed to coverage the vast majority of total loss from a franchisee vs franchisor lawsuit, 2) you should determine the appropriate insurance broker based on experience, independence and effort, but only let one broker approach and negotiate with potential insurers, 3) don’t make assumptions about what the policies cover, ask questions and discuss claim scenarios and policy exclusions with your broker.

If you would like more information on franchise liability insurance please don’t hesitate to contact me directly, Greg Shields, Partner, Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services, gshields@mitchellsandham.com, or at 416 862-5626.

CAUTION: This is not an exhaustive list of definitions, duties, liabilities, limitations, defences, or suggested actions. The information contained in the Mitchell Sandham website or blog does not constitute a legal opinion or insurance advice and must not be construed as such. It is important to always consult a registered insurance broker and a lawyer who is a member of the Bar or Law Society of the relevant jurisdiction with regard to this material before making any insurance or legal decisions. All material is copyrighted by Mitchell Sandham Inc. and may not be reproduced in any form for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. Anyone seeking to link this site from any external website must receive the consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. by sending an e-mail to gshields@mitchellsandham.com


Bill 65 – Ontario Not-For-Profit Corporations Act

April 26, 2011

NFPCA – the new Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, 2010, (NFPCA), here, passed by the Ontario Government October 19, 2010, is the new framework for Ontario’s 46,000 not-for-profit corporations (NFP).

NFPs may also incorporate federally and therefore subject to the federal Not-for-profit Corporations Act.

The NFPCA will replace the Ontario Corporations Act for the legislation of NFPs (over a transition period of three years.)

Actions: As Directors and Officers of NFPs you will need to:

Amend letters patent, supplementary letter patent, by-laws, or special resolutions,

Confirm NFP “purposes” – now the NFP can conduct commercial activities so long as they advance the NFPs purposes, even if the transaction is contrary to the corporation’s articles or by-laws,

Understand the definitions of:

“public benefit corporations” – defined as (a) a charitable corporation (a corporation incorporated for relief of poverty, advancement of education, advancement of religion or other charitable purpose) or (b) a non-charitable corporation that receives more than $10,000 in a financial year, (i) in the form of donations or gifts from persons who are not members, directors, officers, or employees of the corporation, or (ii) in the form of grants or similar forms of financial assistance from the federal government or a provincial or municipal government or an agency of any such government.

“non-public benefit corporations” – a corporation that is not a public benefit corporation.

Understand the Audit Requirements for these different structures,

Know your Duties:

Duty of Care to, (i) act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the corporation; and (ii)  exercise the care, diligence and skill that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in comparable circumstances

Duty to Comply with the Act and the regulations, and the corporation’s articles and by-laws, and not to contract out of statutory duty

Disclosure of any conflict of interest (par. 41 of the Act), even if the material contract or transaction or proposed material contract or transaction that, in the ordinary course of the corporation’s business, would not require approval by the directors or members.

The conflicted director or officer must also remove themselves from the meeting and not vote on any resolution unless for indemnity or insurance.

Continuing Disclosure of any interest in any person (other corporation or entity) involved in any contract or transaction with the entity

Understand your Liability:

Jointly and severally liable for money or property distributed or paid, (i) to a member, a director or an officer contrary to this Act, (ii) as an indemnity contrary to this Act.

Limitation of Liability: Any action commenced after two years form the date of the resolution authorizing the action complained of.

Jointly and severally liability to the employees of the corporation for all debts (wages, etc.) not exceeding, (i) six months’ wages… and (ii) 12 months’ vacation pay, payable or accrued while they are directors.

Limitation of Liability: Only liable if, (i) the corporation cannot satisfy the debt, or (ii) before or after the action is commenced, the corporation goes into liquidation, is ordered to be wound up or makes an authorized assignment under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (Canada), or a receiving order under that Act is made against it, and, in any such case, the claim for the debt has been proved

Know your potential Defences:

Where the director or officer acted honestly and in good faith, and where the contract or transaction was reasonable and fair to the corporation at the time it was approved, and if the contract or transaction is confirmed or approved by special resolution at a meeting of the members duly called for that purpose; and the nature and extent of the director’s or officer’s interest in the contract or transaction are disclosed in reasonable detail in the notice calling the meeting.

Where the director exercised the care, diligence and skill that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in comparable circumstances

Where the director relied in good faith on, (i) financial statements presented by an officer or auditor (note, see previous blog post, here, regarding the Hercules case, here,  and auditors protection from director suits), (ii) report or advice   of an officer or employee of the corporation, if it is reasonable in the circumstances to rely on the report or advice; or (iii) a report of a lawyer, accountant, engineer, appraiser or other person whose profession lends credibility to a statement made by them.

Where the director recorded their dissent to a decision in the minutes of the meeting; however, a director who was not present at a meeting at which a resolution was passed or action taken is deemed to have consented to the resolution or action unless within seven days after becoming aware of the resolution, the director, (i) causes his or her dissent to be placed with the minutes of the meeting; or (ii) submits his or her dissent to the corporation.

Get comfortable with your Protection:

Indemnity agreements and indemnification from your corporation is a legitimate contract for the corporation, so long as it covers only directors and officers or former directors and officers of the corporation against  all costs, charges and expenses, including an amount paid to settle an action or satisfy a judgment, reasonably incurred by the individual in respect of any civil, criminal, administrative, investigative or other action or proceeding in which the individual is involved because of that association with the corporation or other entity, but only when they acted at the corporations request. However, this indemnification is only allowed if the individual acted honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the corporation or other entity, and, if the matter is a criminal or administrative proceeding that is enforced by a monetary penalty, the individual had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her conduct was lawful.

The concerns with this indemnity:

                Financial impairment of the entity,

Granting indemnification is a very subjective test which will be based on the interests and attitudes of the remainder of the board of directors and/or members of the corporation at the time the costs need to be paid (which may be a completely different group from when the original transaction/decision occurred),

The indemnity provision is based on a “may indemnity” language, making that indemnification even more subjective,

The limitation of the indemnity is based on “shall not indemnify” language, suggesting the intent of the legislation was to make withholding indemnity easier than providing indemnity.

Insurance Coverage:

Directors have a responsibility to question management on all operations and risk of the business, including the current and proposed insurance coverage for General Liability and Property risk, as well as other operation-specific risk (Products Liability, Media Liability, Automobile, Environmental Impairment, Employee Benefits, Workers Compensation, Professional Liability, Crime, Employment Practices, Fiduciary Liability, Contracting, Construction, etc.) This is not the forum for full explanation of these insurance products, but appropriate risk management in these areas is a priority over Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance, but, unfortunately, even extraordinary effort and due diligence in managing operational risk will not protect directors from 100% of their risk.

Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance (D&O) has become critical for attracting and retaining a solid and experienced board of directors. However, most directors do not know how this insurance coverage actually works and many insurance buyers (not always a director) don’t know that there is no regulation of insurance policy contracts or premiums in Canada.  Therefore, with dozens of insurance companies (and Managing General Agents, who are not insurance companies), hundreds of policy wordings, thousands of endorsements and even more insurance brokers, selection of your insurance broker is your most important decision.

Unless you have D&O insurance experience, are willing to read every line of every policy being presented, and able to research the quality of the insurer(s) backing your coverage, then you need to rely on your insurance broker (and you should only use one.) Therefore, it is appropriate to question potential brokerage service providers on their, 1) strategy and recommendations for coverage and placement, 2) insurance market reach (how many market they deal with on this coverage line and who those companies are), 3) experience with this coverage line, including types of related products and claims, 4) independence (of the brokerage and the proposed insurance markets, including ownership, debt and remuneration agreements), 5) possible conflicts of interest, and 6) their dedication to you as a client over many years

D&O coverage questioning should include, but not be limited to, the following issues, 1. Continuity of Coverage, 2. Sharing of Limits, 3. Limit Exhaustion, 4. Severability (parties and matters), 5. Exclusions and their Preamble, 6. Hidden Exclusions and where to find them, 7. Exposures, and 8. Limit Adequacy.

Finally, don’t let any broker approach any insurance market on your behalf until you have selected your brokerage service provider. Board members might think they are helping the process by calling their insurance friend to investigate D&O coverage. But some brokers will use that opportunity to approach many markets with little or no information in an attempt to “block markets” from the legitimate broker. Being approached by multiple brokers for the same risk will create concern for the individual insurance company underwriters and may limit negotiating ability, increase premium and/or reduce coverage.

If you would like help navigating the risk of being a director officer, or you would like more information on insurance and D&O claim examples, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly, Greg Shields, Partner, Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services, gshields@mitchellsandham.com, or at 416 862-5626.

CAUTION: This is not an exhaustive list of definitions, duties, liabilities, limitations, defences, or suggested actions. The information contained in the Mitchell Sandham website or blog does not constitute a legal opinion or insurance advice and must not be construed as such. It is important to always consult a registered insurance broker and a lawyer who is a member of the Bar or Law Society of the relevant jurisdiction with regard to this material before making any insurance or legal decisions. All material is copyrighted by Mitchell Sandham Inc. and may not be reproduced in any form for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. Anyone seeking to link this site from any external website must receive the consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. by sending an e-mail to gshields@mitchellsandham.com.