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Conversation with Wharton’s Howard Kunreuther: The Business of Insurance

Working Capital Conversations: Leading thinkers, practitioners and experts discuss the ideas that drive global business.

Many of us spent our recent Memorial Day weekend not only welcoming summer and paying respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, but also we kept an eye on Texas and Oklahoma.

You surely know: Devastating tornadoes and storms caused widespread damage and terrible flooding: At least 14 people died, and more are missing; Houston officials declared an emergency at the highest level of its four-tiered emergency management system; schools and businesses were closed or delayed.

The human toll is terrible and occupies our thoughts and prayers. For survivors – residents and businesses – their next set of prayers just may be to answer the question: Will my insurance cover this? And how will my rates skyrocket now?

51UXuJQ91DL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Insurance and risk management are central to business and personal well-being – They’re also a very hard to understand. How should risk be measured and analyzed? Given that natural disasters – from Florida to New York to Texas and beyond – regularly and unexpectedly create massive business and personal loss, how can individuals and organizations, private and governmental, make better decisions regarding risk? Indeed, what should the public-private relationship in insurance look like?

Few think about the mechanics, consequences and business of insurance more than Howard Kunreuther. He is Professor of Decision Sciences and Business and Public Policy at the Wharton School, as well as co-director of the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. He has served as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council and written numerous papers and books – including the landmark “Insurance and Behavioral Economics: Improving Decisions in the Most Misunderstood Industry” – on his long-standing interest in ways that society can better manage low-probability, high-consequence events related to technological and natural hazards.

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