Insurers and the Economy


A California Labor Commission ruling that an Uber driver is a company employee, not an independent contractor may dampen fears that the on-demand economy spells the end for workers compensation, liability and health insurance. At least for now.

As reported by numerous news outlets, here and here, the decision out of California – though it applies to a single driver – could significantly increase costs for the ride-sharing business if it is copied by other states and in other cases.

It could also have potential implications for other segments of the economy important to property/casualty insurers.

As the New York Times reports:

The classification of freelancers is in dispute across a number of industries, including at other transportation companies. And the debate is set to escalate as the number of online companies and apps like Uber and others rises.”

The ruling, which commentators say could hurt Uber’s $40 billion-plus valuation, orders Uber to pay Barbara Berwick, $4,152 in expenses for the time she worked as an Uber driver last year.

Here are a couple of key excerpts from the California Labor Commission decision:

Plaintiffs’ work was integral to Defendants’ business. Defendants are in business to provide transportation services to passengers. Plaintiff did the actual transporting of those passengers. Without drivers such as Plaintiff, Defendants’ business would not exist.”

And:

Defendants hold themselves as nothing more than a neutral technological platform, designed simply to enable drivers and passengers to transact the business of transportation. The reality, however, is that Defendants are involved in every aspect of the operation.”

In response to the ruling (which it has appealed) Uber stated:

The California Labor Commission’s ruling is non-binding and applies to a single driver. Indeed it is contrary to a previous ruling by the same commission, which concluded in 2012 that the driver ‘performed services as an independent contractor, and not as a bona fide employee.’ Five other states have also come to the same conclusion.”

Potential insurance issues arising out of the on-demand or sharing economy are a recurring topic of conversation these days.

In a recent presentation I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig noted that traditional insurance will often not cover a worker engaged in offering labor or resources through these on-demand platforms.

For example, private passenger auto insurance generally won’t cover you while driving for Uber and a homeowners insurance policy won’t cover a homeowner for anything other than occasional rents of their property.

Also, Dr. Hartwig said: “Unless self-procured, on-demand workers (independent contractors) will generally have no workers comp recourse if injured on the job.”

As South Korean authorities step up efforts to stop the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, from spreading further, the president of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim has warned that the next global pandemic could be far deadlier than any experienced in recent years.

Speaking in Frankfurt earlier this week, Dr Kim said Ebola revealed the shortcomings of international and national systems to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

The next pandemic could move much more rapidly than Ebola, Dr Kim noted:

The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed an estimated 25 million people in 25 weeks. Bill Gates asked researchers to model the effect of a Spanish Flu-like illness on the modern world, and they predicted a similar disease would kill 33 million people in 250 days.”

It should come as no surprise that in a 2013 global survey, insurance industry executives said a global pandemic was their biggest worry, Dr Kim added.

The Financial Times blog The World points to World Bank estimates that a pandemic could kill tens of millions and wipe out between 5 to 10 percent of GDP of the global economy,

Meanwhile, South Korea is experiencing an outbreak of MERS second in size only to that in Saudi Arabia, where it originated in 2012, with 10 dead and 122 confirmed cases so far. Some 3,000 people are reported to have been quarantined to-date.

A Wall Street Journal Real Time Economics blog post points to the potential economic impact of MERS, noting that South Korea’s $30 billion tourism industry would bear the brunt. Analysts predict the outbreak could knock off anywhere from 0.1 to 0.8 percentage points from South Korea’s annual GDP growth.

Back to that 2013 insurance survey conducted by Towers Watson. Over 30,000 votes were cast and industry execs ranked global pandemic as their most important extreme risk in the long term.

I.I.I. has facts and statistics on mortality risk here.

By now you’ll have read the latest forecasts calling for a below-average Atlantic hurricane season.

NOAA, Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, North Carolina State University, WSI and London-based consortium Tropical Storm Risk all seem to concur in their respective outlooks that the 2015 hurricane season which officially begins June 1 will be well below-norm.

TSR, for example, predicts Atlantic hurricane activity in 2015 will be about 65 percent below the long-term average. Should this forecast verify, TSR noted that it would imply that the active phase for Atlantic hurricane activity which began in 1995 has likely ended.

Still it’s important to note that the forecasts come with the caveat that all predictions are just that, and the likelihood of issuing a precise forecast in late May is at best moderate. In other words, uncertainties remain.

These are wise words.

A recent report by Karen Clark & Co pointed to the rising vulnerability of the U.S. to hurricanes and other coastal hazards because of increasing concentrations of property values along the coast.

Of the $90 trillion in total U.S. property exposure, over $16 trillion is in the first tier of Gulf and Atlantic coastal counties, an increase from $14.5 trillion in 2012, KCC said.

KCC then superimposed 100 year U.S. hurricane events on the 2014 property values in its database. The result was that three regions—Texas, Florida and the Northeast—emerge as the most likely for mega-catastrophes.

In all of these regions, the largest losses from the 100 year hurricanes making landfall near Galveston-Houston, Miami and Western Long Island, are much larger than the 100 year PMLs (Probable Maximum Losses).

As insurance industry execs know, it only takes one hurricane to make landfall for a below-average season to become active and record losses to ensue. Here’s a visual of what the 1992 season—the year of Hurricane Andrew—looked like, courtesy of Weather Underground:

at1992

Hurricane facts and statistics are available from the I.I.I. here.

Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) chief actuary James Lynch is on the road.

Spring is heavy conference season. I type this from an Orlando hotel room on May 14, after day one of the Annual Issues Symposium put on by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). Ahead are trips to Colorado, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as two meetings close to home, in New York.

The NCCI conference is perhaps best known for president and chief executive officer Steve Klingel’s summary of the workers compensation line in a single word or phrase. This year: Calm now . . . but turbulence ahead. With premium up 4.6 percent and the combined ratio (98) at its lowest since 2006, workers comp results have been good, but outside pressures could make the ride bumpy.

One pressure is low interest rates. Years can pass from the time an insurer collects premium and injury claims get paid, and insurers in the meantime invest that premium, with the proceeds helping pay for claims and bolstering profits.

Interest rates have been so low for so long that the industry can’t rely on interest rates to deliver results anymore.

Another is the sharing economy. As Dr. Robert Hartwig, president of the I.I.I. and an economist, noted later that day, the smartphone has made it easy to summon people to do ad hoc jobs, with the best known being Uber’s ride-sharing battalion.

Those workers are independent contractors (though that has been challenged) and as such don’t get traditional benefits, including workers comp coverage. As the sharing economy grows, workers comp could shrink.

The third is a series of attacks on the basic principles of workers compensation. News reports suggest workers comp doesn’t compensate injuries equitably; lawsuits suggest the line has violated the Grand Bargain that gives up a big tort payoff in exchange for a steady flow of benefits; and a nascent movement would let employers opt out of the workers compensation system altogether.

But workers comp has survived a lot in the century since it took hold in the United States and seems well-equipped to handle the, well, turbulence.

“While I am confident that we will work our way through these challenges,” Klingel said, “it is important to be realistic about current conditions and to recognize that the current positive results may not last.”

The I.I.I. has more workers comp facts and statistics available here.

It’s always heartening to read about insurance being made available to a market or sector that for whatever reason has not been able to benefit from risk transfer in the face of natural disaster.

So the news that countries of Central America will now be able to access affordable catastrophe cover by joining the former Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility—now the CCRIF SPC—is a positive.

A memorandum of understanding signed by the Council of Ministers of Finance of Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic (COSEFIN) and CCRIF SPC will allow Central American countries to join the sovereign catastrophe risk insurance pool.

Nicaragua has signed a participation agreement to become the first Central American country to join the pool. Other member nations of COSEFIN are expected to join later this year and in 2016.

A press release puts some context around the need:

Nine countries in Central America and the Caribbean experienced at least one disaster with an economic impact of more than 50 percent of their annual gross domestic product (GDP) since 1980.

The impact of Haiti’s earthquake was estimated at 120 percent of GDP. That same year, tropical cyclone Agatha, in Guatemala, had devastating consequences and poverty rates increased by 5.5 percent.

Climate change also represents a significant development challenge, with average economic losses due to weather-related disasters amounting to 1 percent or more of GDP in 10 Caribbean countries and four Central American nations, including Nicaragua.”

As Artemis blog reports here, some 16 Caribbean countries are now members of the 2007-established CCRIF SPC, benefiting from parametric insurance products covering tropical storm and hurricane risks, earthquake risks or excess rainfall risks.

The risk pooling facility helps its members to access post-event risk financing, based on the actual event parameters, with a rapid payout and disbursement of as little as two weeks possible. This enables countries to access financing for recovery from natural catastrophes, while benefiting from cheaper premiums due to the risk pooling nature.”

The newly-expanded 23-nation partnership is a win-win for both existing and new CCRIF members, providing low prices due to more efficient use of capital and insurance market instruments. New members will be able to take advantage of CCRIF’s low premium costs and existing members could realize premium reductions due to the increased size of the CCRIF portfolio.

Consider this example: the CCRIF made a $7.75 million payout to the Haitian government some two weeks after the January 2010 earthquake hit close to Port-au-Prince. The value represented approximately 20 times the premium of $385,500 based on Haiti’s catastrophe insurance policy for earthquakes for the 2009/2010 policy year.

A major hurricane or earthquake hitting a densely populated metropolitan area like Miami or Los Angeles will leave insurers facing losses that far exceed their estimated 100 year probable maximum loss (PML) due to highly concentrated property values, a new report suggests.

In its analysis, Karen Clark & Company (KCC) notes that the PMLs that the insurance industry has been using to manage risk and rating agencies and regulators have been using to monitor solvency can give a false sense of security.

For example, it says the 100 year hurricane making a direct hit on downtown Miami will cause over $250 billion insured losses today, twice the estimated 100 year PML.

Insurers typically manage their potential catastrophe losses to the 100 year PMLs, but because of increasingly concentrated property values in several major metropolitan areas, the losses insurers will suffer from the 100 year event will greatly exceed their estimated 100 year PMLs.”

Instead, the report suggests new risk metrics—Characteristic Events (CEs)—could help insurers better understand their catastrophe loss potential and avoid surprise solvency-impairing events.

The CE approach defines the probabilities of a mega-catastrophe event based on the hazard rather than the loss and gives a more complete picture of catastrophe loss potential.

Rather than simulating many thousands of random events, the CE approach creates events using all of the scientific knowledge about the events in specific regions.

This information is then used to develop events with characteristics reflecting various return periods of interest, such as 100 and 250 year, which are then floated to estimate losses at specific locations.

To protect against solvency-impairing events, the report suggests insurers should monitor their exposure concentrations with additional metrics, such as the CEs and the CE to PML ratio.

KCC estimates that overall U.S. insured property values increased by 9 percent from 2012 to 2014, faster than the general economy.

The state with the most property value is California, followed by New York and Texas. The top 10 states account for over 50 percent of the U.S. total.

U.S. vulnerability to hurricanes and other coastal hazards continues to rise because of increasing concentrations of property values along the coast.

Of the $90 trillion in total U.S. property exposure, over $16 trillion is in the first tier of Gulf and Atlantic coastal counties, up from $14.5 trillion in 2012, KCC estimates.

 

Nearly 37 percent of the United States and more than 98 percent of the state of California is in some form of drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor.

Its weekly update shows that more than 44 percent of California is now in a state of exceptional drought, with little relief in sight.

The report says:

Continued dryness resulted in an expansion of Exceptional Drought (D4) in northwest California. Statewide snowpack remains at 5 percent as of April 6, 2015.”

Here’s the visual on that:

20150407_usdm_home

What could this mean for wildfire season?

The April 1 Outlook issued by the National Interagency Fire Center warned that parts of California will likely see increased wildfire activity earlier than usual thanks to the effects of the long-term drought.

Here’s what the significant wildfire potential looks like by June and July:

extended_outlook

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recently issued Spring Outlook calls for drought conditions to persist in California, Nevada and Oregon through June with the onset of the dry season in April.

In its Outlook, NOAA said:

If the drought persists as predicted in the Far West, it will likely result in an active wildfire season, continued stress on crops due to low reservoir levels, and an expansion of water conservation measures.”

I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires and insurance are available here.

 

The April 2013 Boston bombing may have marked the first successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the September 11, 2001 tragedy, but terrorism on a global scale is increasing.

Yesterday’s attack by the Al-Shabaab terror group at a university in Kenya and a recent attack by gunmen targeting foreign tourists at the Bardo museum in Tunisia point to the persistent nature of the terrorist threat.

Groups connected with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State committed close to 200 attacks per year between 2007 and 2010, a number that grew by more than 200 percent, to about 600 attacks in 2013, according to the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland.

Latest threats to U.S. targets include calls by Al-Shabaab for attacks on shopping malls.

And a recent intelligence assessment circulated by the Department of Homeland Security focused on the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists.

On January 12, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2015.

A new I.I.I. white paper, Terrorism Risk Insurance Program: Renewed and Restructured, takes us through each of more than eight distinct layers of taxpayer protection provided under TRIA’s renewed structure.

While TRIA from its inception was designed as a terrorism risk sharing mechanism between the public and private sector, an overwhelming share of the risk is borne by private insurers, a share which has increased steadily over time.

Today, all but the very largest (and least likely) terrorist attacks would be financed entirely within the private sector.

Enactment of the 2015 reauthorization legislation has brought clarity and stability to policyholders and the insurance marketplace once again, the I.I.I. notes.

In the week before Christmas when Congress adjourned without renewing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), Jeffrey DeBoer, president and CEO of The Real Estate Roundtable, a trade group representing real estate industry leaders, said:

This law does not stop terrorist attacks. But it does disrupt terrorists’ goals of damaging our economy.”

The I.I.I. paper makes a similar point:

Since its creation in 2002, the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, and its successors, have been critical components of America’s national economic security infrastructure. TRIA has cost taxpayers virtually nothing, yet the law continues to provide tangible benefits to the U.S. economy in the form of terrorism insurance market stability, affordability and availability.”

For a federally backed program, that is quite a success story.

The amount of financial loss caused by catastrophes not covered by insurance is growing, according to the latest Swiss Re sigma report.

This so-called global insurance protection or funding gap totaled $75 billion in 2014.

The rate of growth of total losses has outpaced the growth of insured losses over the course of the last three decades, Swiss Re notes:

In terms of the 10-year moving average, insured losses grew at 10.7 percent between 1979 and 2014, and total losses by 11.4 percent.”

Here’s the Swiss Re visual showing global insured vs. uninsured losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters from 1970 to 2014:

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Lack of insurance cover clearly remains an issue in many countries.

Swiss Re gives the example of low pressure system Yvette last May which brought very heavy rain in Europe to Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia – in some areas the heaviest downpour in 120 years. Yvette resulted in 82 fatalities, the largest loss of life from a natural catastrophe in Europe in 2014, and total losses were estimated to be $3 billion – mostly uninsured.

Areas of the United States are also underinsured, sigma reports. Last August’s South Napa earthquake caused structural and inventory damage of $0.7 billion, particularly in the numerous local wine barrel storage facilities. However, the insured loss was just $0.16 billion.

As Lucia Bevere, co-author of the sigma study, notes:

In spite of high exposure to seismic risk, insurance take-up in San Francisco County and California state generally is still very low, even for commercial properties. That’s why insured losses, in certain areas, can be surprisingly low when disaster events happen.”

Meanwhile, the economic cost of natural disasters continues to rise due to economic development, population growth, a higher concentration of assets in exposed areas and a changing climate.

Without a commensurate increase in insurance penetration, the above will likely result in a widening protection gap over the long term, sigma concludes.

I.I.I. has more facts and statistics on global catastrophes available here.

A protracted labor dispute that continues to disrupt operations at U.S. West coast ports underscores the supply chain risk facing global businesses.

Disruptions have steadily worsened since October, culminating in a partial shutdown of all 29 West coast ports over the holiday weekend.

The Wall Street Journal reports that operations to load and unload cargo vessels resumed Tuesday as Labor Secretary Tom Perez met with both sides in the labor dispute in an attempt to broker a settlement amid growing concerns over the impact on the economy.

More than 40 percent of all cargo shipped into the U.S. comes through these ports, so the dispute has potential knock on effects for many businesses.

A number of companies have already taken steps to mitigate the supply chain threat, according to reports. For example, Japanese car manufacturer Honda Motor Co, among others, has been using air freighters to transport some key parts from Asia to their U.S. factories – at significant extra expense.

On Sunday Honda also said it would have to slow production for a week at U.S.-based plants in Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario, Canada, as parts it ships from Asia have been held up by the dispute.

Toyota Motor Corp. has also reduced overtime at some U.S. manufacturing plants as a result of the dispute.

A brief published by Marsh last year noted that a West Coast port strike or shutdown could have broad consequences for global trade, business and economic conditions.

Organizations with effective risk management and insurance strategies in place will be best prepared to manage and respond to situations that hamper their flow of goods and finances, Marsh noted.

In 2002, a similar labor dispute ultimately led to the shutdown of ports along the West coast costing the U.S. economy around $1 billion each day, and creating a backlog that took six months to clear.

Many businesses purchase marine cargo insurance to protect against physical loss or damage to cargo during transit. This type of insurance generally will not respond in the event that a strike or other disruption at a port delays the arrival of insured cargo, unless there is actual physical damage to the cargo, according to Marsh.

However, some policyholders may have obtained endorsements to their insurance policies, or purchased additional coverage to protect themselves from the effects of port disruption.

Trade disruption insurance (TDI), supply chain insurance, and specialty business interruption insurance may also provide coverage for the financial consequences of a port disruption, Marsh wrote.

A study by FM Global of more than 600 financial executives found that supply chain risk, more than any other, was regarded as having the greatest potential to disrupt their top revenue driver. FM Global’s Resilience Index can help executives evaluate and manage supply chain risk.

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