Part 3: Supply chain disruption

Supply chain disruptions

Global supply chains are facing the worst disruption since the 1970s, with businesses grappling with everything from trade barriers to goods and labour shortages.  

Current supply chain disruption can be traced back to the pandemic. As lockdowns shut down production lines and fuelled very different consumer buying habits, there were shortages in everything from timber to toilet paper. 

Pandemic-related disruption may be behind us now, especially since China abandoned its zero-Covid policy in December 2022, but other disruptors remain.

A shortage of lorry drivers has grounded goods around the world. In the UK, the Road Haulage Association says the combination of an ageing workforce, the loss of EU drivers and the economic shock caused by the pandemic mean the sector has a 50,000 shortfall in drivers.1

Trade barriers are another cause of disruption. Brexit has reduced the amount of goods that flow between the UK and the EU. The latest government figures show that total trade in goods (imports plus exports) with EU countries was down by 23.1% in the first quarter of 2021.2

“Following Brexit, there is the potential for freight timescales to be impacted meaning that the length of time to obtain materials may lead to longer contracts. This could potentially affect a company’s client base if they turn elsewhere for their goods and service demands,” says Joe Roberts, Speciality Lines Underwriting Manager, Allianz.

Another major supply chain challenge results from the war in Ukraine. This has seen supplies of metals, grains and other commodities seriously affected. As an example, between them, Russia and Ukraine account for almost a third of the global wheat export market.3

Even the weather can cause disruption. In February 2023, British supermarkets were forced to ration tomatoes and other vegetables as cold weather, heavy rain and flooding ruined the harvest in southern Europe.

D&O insurance implications

Supply chain disruption is a headache for businesses but also for D&O insurers. As delays in the supply chain can increase the likelihood of businesses failing to meet contractual agreements, this pushes up the risk of insolvency and litigation.

The UK is already seeing a sharp rise in the number of registered company insolvencies. In February 2023, 1,783 businesses in England and Wales were declared insolvent – a 17% increase on a year earlier.

While factors such as lorry driver shortages and the weather are out of most business owners’ hands, there are ways to manage the risk in a supply chain.

Understand the supply chain

As a business grows its supply chain can become increasingly complex but it is essential to maintain a comprehensive view across all suppliers. Undertaking due diligence on second and third tier suppliers, as well as first tier, will help to identify any weak links that could potentially bring the whole chain down.

cargo ship

Spread the risk

Having one or two suppliers may simplify supply chain management – and give a business access to special terms – but it can also leave it exposed to additional risk.

“If there is an over-reliance on one supplier, this could potentially bring an enhanced risk where increasing supply costs or delays in the supply of materials affect the company’s profits,” says Joe Roberts, Speciality Lines Underwriting Manager, Allianz.

Having more than one supplier means that, if one fails to deliver, there’s a back-up. It can also encourage healthy competition on pricing. Companies can benefit from this diversification by choosing different types of suppliers, for example a UK and a European supplier or an SME and a larger company.

Build relationships

It’s also beneficial for a company to build strong relationships with all its suppliers and customers, especially when there is the potential for supply chain disruption. Having good relationships with suppliers encourages collaboration and can prove particularly valuable in challenging times.

Similarly, working closely with customers can help manage expectations and open up discussions about alternative ways to deliver services or goods.

business meeting

Technology and supply chain risk management can also help to manage risk across a company’s suppliers. These approaches can identify potential risks quickly and ensure that goods are moved in the most efficient way possible.

But, as supply chain disruption continues, businesses must ensure that risk is kept to a minimum with all their suppliers and customers.