In the November 2023 issue of News & Notes, we cover the following topics: Thanksgiving break closing checklist and reminders, minimizing virus outbreaks at the chapter house, kitchen safety reminders and recommendations, and we share a webinar about designing with Gen Zers in mind.

Read More

As winter arrives, it is important that we consider the potential of freeze claims, especially during breaks for the upcoming holidays. Preventing frozen pipes is probably the most important consideration over the winter breaks, but closing the chapter house before Thanksgiving break involves several additional tasks to ensure that everything is in order and secure. Here’s a checklist we’ve developed to help:

Before break:

  • Schedule a house-wide cleaning. Make sure all common areas are clean and tidy, and that all personal belongings are removed from shared spaces.
  • Unplug all non-essential appliances. This includes electronics, lamps, and small kitchen appliances.
  • Keep the heat on. Set the thermostat at or above 60 degrees during breaks to ensure the pipes don’t freeze.
  • Dispose of perishable items in the kitchen
  • Close all windows and doors securely. This will help to keep out pests and drafts.
  • Lock all doors and windows. Make sure all windows and doors are locked.
  • Notify the police and fire department that the house will be vacant. This will help to ensure that they are aware of the situation in case of an emergency.

During the break:

  • Have someone check on the house regularly. 
  • Shovel snow and ice from the sidewalks and walkways. This will help to prevent slips and falls.
  • Clear any fallen branches or other debris from the yard. This will help to prevent damage to the house or property.

After returning:

  • Check for any leaks or damage to the house. Contact Heather Cox, MJ’s Claims Service Manager, if you notice any damage. 
  • Turn up the thermostat and let the house warm up.

Additional tips:

  • Leave a list of emergency contact information in a visible location. This could include the names and phone numbers of the House Corporation President, house director, and local police and fire department.
  • Consider having a professional plumber winterize the house for longer breaks. This will help to prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Consider installing a water detection/heat monitoring system. Learn more here.
  • Review our resource on preventing frozen pipes. Be prepared before cold temperatures arrive by reviewing our resource on preventing frozen pipes in the first place.
Read More

This edition of the MJ Sorority newsletter covers the following topics: chapter security webinar, winter driving reminders and infographic, preventing check fraud, 2024 economic outlook, FAQs, and more.

Read More
Read More

When winter weather strikes, drivers face out-of-the-ordinary challenges when they get behind the wheel. Snow, slush or icy roads are involved in nearly one in four weather-related vehicle crashes. These conditions can make it harder for drivers to see, slow down and stop – all factors that can increase the chances of an accident.

If you must travel during winter weather, preparing your car in advance, knowing the forecast and driving based on road conditions are three key ways to help you drive more safely. Following are some winter driving safety tips to help you prepare for the elements – before you face them – on the road.

Preparing Your Vehicle
As temperatures start to drop, it’s time to make sure your car is stocked with a winter driving survival kit, including an ice scraper, a snow shovel and sand or road salt. This way, you’ll be prepared if winter weather arrives while you’re away from home. It’s also a good time to check your tires to determine whether it’s time to replace them or whether you need snow tires.

A few habits to adopt regularly during the winter months can also help prepare you for a wintry drive. Keep your windshield wipers in good condition and your windshield fluid reservoir filled so you can clear snow and ice from your windshield. Make it a practice to keep your gas tank full so you can run your engine and stay warm if you get stuck or stranded.

Keeping your gas tank full in extended cold weather can also help minimize the amount of water vapor in your tank, which can freeze when temperatures drop. In addition to keeping the tank full, consider keeping your vehicle in a garage and using fuel additives such as dry gas to help eliminate water vapor that could freeze in your gas lines. You should also either drive or run your car in a well-ventilated area at least every few days to help avoid a dead battery, another cold weather concern.

Watching the Weather
If you plan to travel when inclement weather looms, monitor road and weather conditions by checking local news stations or Internet traffic and weather sites. You can sign up for weather alerts to receive text messages and optional alerts for your area. Do not check your phone while driving and avoid all unnecessary distractions when you’re behind the wheel.

Driving for Winter Conditions
Before you leave the driveway or parking lot, take time to clear snow and ice off your car, including your windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors, hood, roof and trunk. Drive with your headlights on and be sure to keep them clean to improve visibility. Use caution when snow banks limit your view of oncoming traffic.

As you get on the road, remember that speed limits are meant for dry roads, not roads covered in snow and ice. You should reduce your speed and increase your following distance as road conditions and visibility worsen. Avoid using cruise control in snowy or icy conditions – you want to have as much control over your car as possible. Be cautious on bridges and overpasses as they are commonly the first areas to become icy. Avoid passing snow plows and sand trucks because the drivers may have limited visibility and the road in front of them could be worse than the road behind.

Breaking Down or Getting Stuck
If you are unexpectedly caught in a snowstorm and are stranded or get stuck in snow, if your car is safely out of harm’s way, stay in your car and wait for help. You can run the car heater to stay warm for 10 minutes every hour, but first, make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow. There is a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning if snow blocks the pipe and enables the deadly gas to build up in your car. Open your window slightly to help prevent any buildup.

Remember, driving in winter weather can be challenging, even for experienced drivers. Slowing down, allowing increased time to come to a stop, wearing your seatbelt, devoting your full attention to the road and being aware of changing conditions can help you drive more safely. If your travel route takes you into remote areas with limited cell phone coverage, consider informing a third party of your travel plans and share with them your route and when you plan to arrive. This way, if you are overdue, first responders will know where to start looking. If you’re unsure whether it is safe to drive, consider waiting until the roads improve.

Source:
https://www.travelers.com/resources/auto/safe-driving/winter-driving-safety-tips

Read More

In the past few issues of News & Notes, we have written about changing dynamics in the property insurance industry. In recent years, insurance companies have found themselves at the forefront of a complex and evolving challenge: the impact of changing weather patterns on property coverage. As the world grapples with more frequent and severe weather events, such as hurricanes, wildfires, and floods, insurance providers have found themselves at a crossroads, compelled to make difficult decisions regarding property coverage. These changes reflect the growing recognition that the traditional insurance models may no longer suffice in the face of a rapidly changing climate landscape.

Insurance companies are increasingly restricting coverage or raising premiums for property insurance as a response to the escalating risks associated with changing weather patterns. Rising temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and the intensification of extreme weather events have significantly increased the likelihood of property damage. Consequently, insurance providers are left with the unenviable task of recalibrating their risk assessments and pricing models to maintain their financial stability while continuing to offer coverage to policyholders. This shift underscores the critical need for a proactive and comprehensive approach to managing risk, including building reserve funds for your chapter facilities.

We have asked our business partner, Blu & Co., to develop a resource for house corporations that will help House Corporations fund for the future:

Building Up Reserve Funds Building and Using Insurance Reserves for Sustainability

By: Annmarie Novotney, CPA
Audit Director / Owner Blu & Co.

National fraternities and sororities have been dealing with changing circumstances on many fronts over the last five years.  Part of this changing landscape involves property management and adapting to significant increases in property claims across the nation.  As a result, property owners must prepare for higher property deductibles, due to the increase in the frequency of claims and in the increase in the severity (cost) of claims than in years past.  

It is critical to an organization’s sustainability to have adequate short-term cash reserves and liquidity resources for operational flexibility and for ensuring that organizational commitments are met timely.  Beyond short-term cash reserves, fraternities and sororities should also consider building reserves to fund insurance deductibles as claims are incurred.  Such reserves (often designated by the Board of Directors) are funded so that intermittent claims can be managed without disrupting already tight operating budgets.

In considering building an insurance reserve fund, organizations should consider the following areas:

  • Understanding the risk landscape (past, present, and future) – collaboration with an organization’s current insurance provider and property managers or housing team members can aid in understanding what claims have been incurred, properties at risk for issues now, and what deferred maintenance issues might be present in the future.  Understanding risks by geographic location as it relates to weather and catastrophic events is also helpful in determining how much to reserve and how sustainable that reserve will be over time. If you are unsure of your house corporation’s loss experience, contact your Client Executive at MJ Sorority.
  • Starting a reserve fund – organizations can formally designate funds (through Board resolution) to function as an insurance reserve that cannot be spent on other purposes.  This can formally separate these funds from operating cash and other financial assets and keep reporting and tracking of these funds segregated within the organization’s financial statements.  Organizations can also fund a new reserve by designating surplus dollars annually be deposited into an insurance reserve.  Creating a one-time assessment charged to members, or charging a new annual fee are also options to establish a reserve fund or continue to fund reserves. 
  • Investing your reserve fund – organizations need to consider where reserve funds will be housed and how they will be invested.  Organizations should consider a separate investment policy statement for reserve funds.  Keeping reserves in short-term insured bank accounts allows for some return on those funds without taking on market risk.  Certificates of deposit or sweep accounts can also be used if they do not lock up all funds for specified periods of time.  Depending on the size of the reserve, it might make sense to invest in longer-term opportunities to increase investment return.  In all cases, liquid cash will need to be accessible to some degree for those claim deductibles should they occur. 
  • Drawing from your reserve fund – organizations also need to consider how to spend from reserve funds.  A policy on spending should be established and should include what constitutes an approved expense, how often reserves can be drawn upon, and what approvals are needed to draw (approvals usually involve Board or Finance Committee approval).  Determining a minimum threshold that must be left in the reserve at all times should also be considered.

Blue & Co.’s Not-for-Profit Services Team advises organizations on ways to improve both the balances and the utilization of reserves and liquidity resources to enhance sustainability over time.  Please reach out to your local Blue & Co. advisor with any questions regarding these recommendations. 

Read More

We have recently had several claims involving fraudulent checks. Sororities aren’t the only victims. In an alert sent out in February, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, reported that, “Despite the declining use of checks in the United States, criminals have been increasingly targeting the U.S. Mail since the COVID-19 pandemic to commit check fraud.” Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods, making it crucial for organizations to stay vigilant. These fraudulent activities encompass a range of tactics, including counterfeit checks, altered payee information, and even identity theft to gain access to legitimate bank accounts. As a result, it is imperative for chapter and house corporation officers and volunteers to be aware of these risks and adopt strategies to mitigate the threat of check fraud. We recommend the following strategies:

  1. Secure your checks: Store your checkbook, blank checks, and deposit slips in a secure and locked location. Limit access to these items to only trusted individuals. Consider using a secure check stock with built-in security features like watermarks or microprinting.
  2. Try and limit exposure by reducing check use. Transitioning to electronic checks and digital payment methods reduce the risk associated with paper checks.
  3. Make sure you’re following internal safety measures. Chubb Insurance, the insurance company who writes your Crime Insurance Coverage, has some basic risk management rules and guidelines for the entities under your organization’s national insurance policy. These conditions are referred to as “required conditions” and list out specific requirements in the financial management to ensure that there is dual control of the financial transactions at all times. These measures help prevent check fraud, as well as other financial crimes. Read more here.
  4. Consider Positive Pay: Enroll in Positive Pay services offered by your bank. This service helps detect discrepancies by matching the checks presented for payment with a list of authorized checks you’ve issued. Positive pay procedures set permissions in a checking account, so the company gets confirmation before a check or ACH Debit against your company is processed. ACH: ACH stands for Automated Clearing House and is a network that transactions pass through in the United States. The network exists to manage the transfers and organize them. ACH debit is the transaction executed through the Automated Clearing House Network.
  5. Train employees and volunteers: Educate employees and volunteers about the risks of check fraud and teach them how to recognize signs of suspicious activity. Ensure they understand the importance of safeguarding sensitive financial information.
  6. Stay informed: Keep yourself informed about the latest trends in check fraud and adapt your prevention strategies accordingly. Criminals continually evolve their tactics, so staying up-to-date is essential. Count on MJ Sorority to continually monitor the trends and communicate new strategies to you.
Read More

This edition of the MJ Sorority newsletter covers the following topics: property market insurance update, building a reserve fund, addressing check fraud , 2024 economic outlook, FAQs, and more.

Read More

Semi-annual email newsletter sent to chapter presidents, officers, and chapter advisors.

Read More

Background
Over the past five years, property insurance companies have faced significant challenges in maintaining profitability. A surge in catastrophic claims, changing weather patterns, and rising temperatures have contributed to this crisis. Factors such as the increasing severity of claims, dramatic rise in material costs, and historical underinsurance have compounded the problem. Additionally, there has been a startling rise in the number of billion-dollar disasters. These issues have forced insurance companies to implement rate increases, reduce coverage limits, and modify terms and conditions. The situation reached a breaking point with the devastating Hurricane Ian and subsequent winter storm of 2023. We are now in the midst of the worst property insurance market the industry has ever seen.

The Changing Landscape
The current state of the property insurance market demands a shift in the way insurance is approached. Insurers are being forced to move away from acting as quasi-warranty replacement policies and focus more on covering larger or catastrophic claims. Property owners must prepare for higher property deductibles and invest in building modifications and maintenance measures that reduce potential weather damage and the extent of damage. The industry is refining its underwriting strategies for risks such as tornadoes, wind, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, hailstorms, and freezes. Predictive modeling is getting more sophisticated and accurate, enabling insurers to better assess risk based on big data, the increasing speed of climate change, and subsequent specific locations prone to particular risks.

The crisis is not isolated to a single insurance company but is affecting the entire industry. The reinsurance market, heavily impacted by Hurricane Ian, is facing a day of reckoning. Rate increases and adjustments to coverage limits, deductibles, exclusions, and limitations have become prevalent. This situation poses challenges for insurance providers and agents, as many markets have declined coverage due to a concentration of residential frame housing values, as we already seeing in Florida and California.

Facing the Current Situation

MJ Sorority has shielded clients from market volatility in the past (see graphic) but now is being forced to address the evolving landscape. The insurance provider for the MJ Sorority Program, Travelers Insurance Company, informed us that they would be addressing conditions, rates, and deductibles upon each client’s renewal. Travelers’ actions are indicative of industry-wide changes that require careful consideration. Rest assured that unlike what we’re seeing in the homeowners’ markets[1], capacity and coverage are not at risk.

Conclusion
The property insurance market is facing unprecedented challenges due to an array of factors. Insurers and insureds alike must adapt to the evolving landscape by embracing a new business model that emphasizes coverage for larger or catastrophic claims. Increased property deductibles, building modifications, and refined underwriting practices are crucial steps. The industry’s focus on predictive modeling and big data can help allocate risk more effectively. MJ Sorority understands the difficulties posed by the crisis, and we are dedicated to enhancing risk management advice and resources, particularly regarding wind and hail perils, both at the headquarters level and among local housing volunteers.

By working together, insurers and insureds can navigate the perfect storm and ensure continued protection against unforeseen property losses. Please do not hesitate to reach out to your Client Executive with questions and concerns.


[1] For further reading about the insurance market, refer to the links embedded in the document above or review the following links fur further reading:

Read More

This edition of the MJ Sorority newsletter covers the following topics: property market insurance update, back to school risk management resources, 2024 economic outlook, FAQs, and more.

Read More

National fraternities and sororities have been dealing with changing circumstances on many fronts over the
last five years. Part of this changing landscape involves property management and adapting to significant
increases in property claims across the nation. As a result, property owners must prepare for higher property
deductibles, due to the increase in the frequency of claims and in the increase in the severity (cost) of claims
than in years past.

It is critical to an organization’s sustainability to have adequate short-term cash reserves and liquidity resources
for operational flexibility and for ensuring that organizational commitments are met timely. Beyond short-term cash reserves, fraternities and sororities should also consider building reserves to fund insurance
deductibles as claims are incurred. Such reserves (often designated by the Board of Directors) are funded so
that intermittent claims can be managed without disrupting already tight operating budgets.
In considering building an insurance reserve fund, organizations should consider the following areas:

  • Understanding the risk landscape (past, present, and future) – collaboration with an organization’s current insurance provider and property managers or housing team members can aid in understanding what claims have been incurred, properties at risk for issues now, and what deferred maintenance issues might be present in the future. Understanding risks by geographic location as it relates to weather and catastrophic events is also helpful in determining how much to reserve and how sustainable that reserve will be over time. If you are unsure of your house corporation’s loss experience, contact your Client Executive at MJ Sorority.
  • Starting a reserve fund – organizations can formally designate funds (through Board resolution) to function as an insurance reserve that cannot be spent on other purposes. This can formally separate these funds from operating cash and other financial assets and keep reporting and tracking of these funds segregated within the organization’s financial statements. Organizations can also fund a new reserve by designating surplus dollars annually be deposited into an insurance reserve. Creating a one-time assessment charged to members, or charging a new annual fee are also options to establish a reserve fund or continue to fund reserves.
  • Investing your reserve fund – organizations need to consider where reserve funds will be housed and how they will be invested. Organizations should consider a separate investment policy statement for reserve funds. Keeping reserves in short-term insured bank accounts allows for some return on those funds without taking on market risk. Certificates of deposit or sweep accounts can also be used if they do not lock up all funds for specified periods of time. Depending on the size of the reserve, it might make sense to invest in longer-term opportunities to increase investment return. In all cases, liquid cash will need to be accessible to some degree for those claim deductibles should they occur.
  • Drawing from your reserve fund – organizations also need to consider how to spend from reserve funds. A policy on spending should be established and should include what constitutes an approved expense, how often reserves can be drawn upon, and what approvals are needed to draw (approvals usually involve Board or Finance Committee approval). Determining a minimum threshold that must be left in the reserve at all times should also be considered.

Blue & Co.’s Not-for-Profit Services Team advises organizations on ways to improve both the balances and the utilization of reserves and liquidity resources to enhance sustainability over time. Please reach out to your local Blue & Co. advisor with any questions regarding these recommendations.

Thanks to our partners at Blue & Co. for this resource.

Read More