Tag Archives: Alternative Risk Transfer

The Rise of Alternative Capital

A new Insurance Information Institute white paper examines the impact of alternative capital on reinsurance, says I.I.I. chief actuary and paper co-author Jim Lynch.

What sounds like a dry topic actually may in the long run significantly affect the entire insurance industry, right down to the humble buyer of a homeowners policy.

It’s a dry phrase, so let’s parse the phrase alternative capital on reinsurance by starting at its back end. Reinsurance is the insurance that insurance companies buy. Insurance companies accept risk with every policy. They work hard to ensure they don’t have too much risk in one area, like too many homes along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

When they do, they protect themselves by buying reinsurance. Instead of buying a policy that covers one risk, the insurance company enters into a treaty that can cover thousands in case of a catastrophe like a hurricane.

Catastrophes are a big deal for lines of business like homeowners. More than 30 percent of homeowners claim payments over a 17-year stretch came from catastrophes, according to a recent Insurance Research Council study, and many of those claims were paid by money that ultimately came from reinsurers.

Legally, the insurance company is obligated to pay all claims, regardless of any reinsurance it has. After Hurricane Awful, a homeowner files a claim with his or her insurer, and that insurer is responsible for payment, regardless of any reinsurance it may have purchased.

While reinsurance doesn’t affect the insurer’s obligations, the financial health of the insurer depends on the quality of its reinsurance arrangements. Insurance companies are careful to spread risk across many reinsurance companies, so the plight of one will not devastate their own affairs.

To the average person, a traditional reinsurance company looks a lot like an insurance company, run by professionals who underwrite risk and administer claims. The pool of money to cover extraordinary losses — capital — had been built from contributions by an original set of investors and augmented by earnings retained over decades.

Here’s where the word alternative comes in. The new arrangements feature two twists on traditional reinsurance.

First, the capital to protect against big losses doesn’t come from within the reinsurance company. It comes from outside investors like hedge funds, pensions and sovereign wealth funds.

Second, the reinsurance doesn’t sit within the confines of the traditional reinsurance company. Companies called collateralized reinsurers and sidecars let investors pop in and out of the reinsurance world relatively quickly. Some reinsurance is placed in the financial markets through structures known as catastrophe bonds.

The new investors don’t use the traditional structure, but they do use traditional tools. Most ally with traditional reinsurers to tap those companies’ underwriting acumen, and they use sophisticated models to price risks, just as reinsurers do. Deals are structured so to be as safe as placing a treaty with a traditional reinsurer.

Such deals have grown; their share of global reinsurance capital has doubled since the end of 2010, according to Aon Benfield Analytics.

The amount of capital in the reinsurance market drives prices in classic supply-demand fashion. As capital grows, reinsurance prices fall, and alternative capital has driven reinsurance rates lower, particularly for catastrophe reinsurance.

If insurers pay less for reinsurance, they pass along the savings to customers. Citizens Property Insurance, Florida’s largest homeowners writer, reduced rates 3.7 percent last year, in part because of lower reinsurance costs.

If, as some experts argue, alternative capital is the new normal, consumers will continue to benefit from lower rates. If, as others contend, it is akin to an investment fad, rates could creep higher as the fad recedes.

The I.I.I. white paper looks at the types of alternative capital, its growth and its future.

Insurance Potpourri

As we head into August and the weekend, here are some of the stories from around the insurance blogosphere that piqued our interest:

Bertha: Tropical storm warnings have been issued for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and other nearby islands as Tropical Storm Bertha — the second named storm of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season — approaches the Caribbean. Early Friday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that Bertha’s winds are near 45 mph with no significant change in strength expected in the next few days. The latest 5-day forecast track for Bertha via the NHC has it staying well off the U.S. East Coast — let’s hope it stays that way.

Commercial Rate Increases Slow: Prices for commercial property/casualty insurance continued to slide in the second quarter of 2014, according to the latest quarterly survey from the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. On average, prices for small, medium and large accounts eased by a modest -0.5 percent during the second quarter, compared with 1.5 percent in the first quarter. Competition continued to drive the market, the Council said. Of note, pricing for property fell into negative territory with a -2.6 percent drop last quarter compared with flat pricing in the first quarter.

CAT Bond, ILS Market Dashboard: Looking for real-time metrics of the growing insurance-linked securities (ILS) and catastrophe bond market? Look no further than the just-launched Artemis Dashboard, an easy-to-use tool that allows you to access the data behind the transactions. You can view the current size of the market, issuance for the current year, top sponsors in the market as well as analyze outstanding cat bond and ILS market by key metrics such as the mix of perils, triggers, expected loss levels and pricing, and also data about the development of the market over time.

The I.I.I. has additional resources on these topics. Check out I.I.I. facts + statistics on hurricanes and catastrophe bonds.

New York MTA in Storm Surge Catastrophe Bond First

Superstorm Sandy highlighted the enormous risk of storm surge along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, so we’re interested to read that the captive insurer of the New York Mass Transit Authority (MTA) has accessed the capital markets to cover it in the event of storm surge resulting from a named storm.

Artemis blog reports that this is the first time in the history of the catastrophe bond market that a transaction has provided cover just for storm surge:

Hurricane and tropical storm induced storm surge is included in many U.S. wind cat bonds, so it is not particularly diversifying, but it has never been structured into a cat bond as the sole peril in this way and is an interesting addition to the market that could spur more issuance of storm surge cat bonds. It’s another sign of the increasing maturity and flexibility in the cat bond market, as well as the increasing appetite investors are showing for catastrophe risk.†

Artemis adds that the sponsor, the captive insurer of the New York Mass Transit Authority (MTA), has significant exposure to storm surge, as evidenced by the losses it faced from last year’s hurricane Sandy:

The MTA suffered a loss in the region of $5 billion from the storm, predominantly from surge due to flooded transit tunnels and subways, so it is encouraging to see it turn to the catastrophe bond market for a new source of reinsurance protection.†

The $125 million catastrophe bond will be issued by First Mutual Transportation Assurance Co. (FMTAC), the MTA’s captive insurer and sold via MetroCat Re Ltd, a Bermuda domiciled special purpose insurer.

Artemis says the deal offers protection against named storms that generate a storm surge event index that equals or exceeds 8.5 feet for Area A or 15.5 feet for Area B. Area A includes tidal gauges located in The Battery, Sandy Hook and Rockaway Inlet, while Area B includes tidal gauges in East Creak and Kings Point.

Business Insurance has more on this story.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on catastrophe bonds.

Isaac and Catastrophe Bonds

As Hurricane Isaac hit the Gulf coast as a Category 1 storm, an interesting tidbit came across the wires regarding state-run property insurer Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

In a press release, think tank R Street Institute noted that Pelican Re – a $125 million catastrophe bond issued by Louisiana Citizens – would be triggered if the storm produces more than $200 million in losses for the residual market entity.

If these conditions are met, Isaac would be the first storm ever to trigger a catastrophe bond issued by a state-run insurer.

Over at Artemis blog, there was more discussion:

Pelican Re does not cover pure flood damage so that is in its favour, however we believe storm surge caused by hurricane is covered and wind damage most certainly is. Louisiana Citizens has a great amount of exposure in the coastal areas where hurricane Isaac is currently making the greatest impact. As Pelican Re is an indemnity cat bond it is unlikely we will understand whether there has been an impact for some time as claims come in and losses to Louisiana Citizens are quantified.†

An updated paper on the residual market property plans from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) notes that a growing number of plans are accessing the capital markets as part of their reinsurance strategy, bolstering their ability to fund losses during hurricane season.

As well as Louisiana Citizens, Florida Citizens also accessed the capital markets in 2012, issuing a $750 million catastrophe bond – making it the largest single peril catastrophe bond in the history of the insurance-linked securities market.

They join a growing list that includes North Carolina’s Beach and Windstorm Plan and the Massachusetts Fair Plan.

For more information on the catastrophe bond market, check out this I.I.I. backgrounder on alternative risk-financing options.