All posts by Lucian McMahon

Insurance protection for a rainy day

I snapped this picture in southern Georgia. No outdoor weddings that day.

June weather in New York City can be fickle. As the I.I.I.’s own Brent Carris reported, this fickleness can lead to chaos for the city’s outdoor music festivals, like the recent fiasco at this year’s Gov Ball. Carris noted that event organizers will often have event cancellation insurance to protect themselves financially.

But this got me thinking: is there rain insurance?

Weather insurance

The answer: yes, actually. It’s usually called “weather insurance” – and covers financial losses resulting from adverse weather, including rain. Typically, weather insurance is useful if you’re planning an outdoor event, like a wedding or a bar mitzvah. Commercial events can also buy this insurance, like fairs or festivals.

According to Trusted Choice, weather insurance is often tailored to a specific event’s needs. For example, a sailing regatta in San Francisco might want to be covered for excessive fog, whereas a baseball tournament in Arizona might want to be covered for extreme temperatures. Of course, these covered perils can be combined: it gets hot in southern Florida and rains a lot, so you might want to cover your golf tournament for both high temperatures and precipitation. Plus, you know, hurricanes.

How the coverage gets triggered also depends on the event: one-day events might want their policies to kick in if a certain amount of rain falls over a certain amount of time. Other events that last multiple days or weeks might want the trigger to be if rainfall or temperatures exceed their averages during the policy period.

Special event insurance

Okay, cool, that means I can protect myself in case I have to cancel my invitational street hockey tournament. But what if I have to cancel or postpone for non-weather reasons? That’s where “special event insurance” comes in. It’s broader than just plain weather insurance and will cover other causes of cancellation.

In the case of a wedding, special event insurance can cover cancellation due to, among other things: death or illness of a key participant, or if the bride or grooms is suddenly called to military duty. You can also cover your gifts in case they’re stolen or damaged. You can even cover your losses if one of your third-party providers can’t uphold their promises to you. For example, you could be covered if the bridal salon goes out of business and you have to get a dress somewhere else, or the photographer fails to show up and you need to deputize your cousins to take pictures with their smartphones.

Ticket insurance

It’s not just event organizers who can get insurance protection, though. There are also products to protect attendees. For example, Allianz calls its product “Global Assistance Event Ticket Protector Insurance,” which roughly translates into English as “ticket insurance”.

According to the Ticketmaster website, this insurance will reimburse you 100 percent of your ticket (including taxes and shipping) if any of a long list of things happens that prevents you from enjoying your event. Illness or serious injury, for example. Military duty is also covered (who knew there was such a high risk of someone being whisked away to military duty on short notice?). You’ll also be covered if a traffic accident keeps you from getting to the venue, or if your plane is delayed getting in.

However, being lazy is not a covered cause of loss: “Please note that no benefits will be extended for cancellations due to simply changing your mind.”

Human-wildlife conflict insurance: the next frontier for microinsurance?

AB Consultants and IIED at a consultative forum, Kenya

Most wildlife in New York City is of the insect or rodent kind (though a peregrine falcon did once hang out on my air conditioner for a few minutes.) Not so in many parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and parts of North America. And as human populations continue to expand into natural habitats, there arise the inevitable clashes between humans and wildlife.

There’s even a term for this phenomenon: “human-wildlife conflict” (HWC). The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) notes that this conflict includes wild animals destroying crops, killing livestock, damaging property – and even attacking (and injuring) humans themselves. Humans will often retaliate by killing wild animals to prevent future attacks.

One way to help communities at risk of wildlife conflict is (drumroll please) insurance. To learn more about this kind of insurance, I spoke with Barbara Chesire-Chabbaga, director and lead consultant for AB Consultants, an organization that aids in the development of microinsurance and digital financial services across Sub-Saharan Africa. Her company is actively working to develop a microinsurance product for human-wildlife conflict.

Human-wildlife conflict: deadly and costly

HWC is a reality of daily life in many places with high populations of both humans and wildlife. Take Kenya: more than 65 percent of wildlife lives outside protected areas, which means human-wildlife interaction is inevitable in communities that live near those protected areas.

Unfortunately, death and injury (for both humans and wildlife) are not uncommon outcomes of HWC. But crop damage is the most frequent cause of loss from HWC. Chabbaga noted that, in Kenya “close to 3,000 cases of crop damage were recorded between the years of 2015 and the first 2 months of 2017, compared with 148 death and injury incidences.” And these numbers probably underreport the frequency of HWC crop damage.

Furthermore, crop damage can have significant ramifications for communities that depend on farming and livestock rearing. A single attack that leads to crop damage could impact that year’s harvest, which can result in a financial domino effect that reverberates long after the attack.

Compensation schemes as financial mitigation

Chabbaga did note that compensation schemes for HWC are not a new idea, especially in areas with high rates of human-wildlife interaction. Indeed, financial mitigation for HWC has long been believed to yield significant benefits, by offsetting the actual losses themselves and by reducing wildlife retaliatory killings. Some of these schemes include the Big Life Foundation, the Amboseli Trust for Elephants and the Maasai Wilderness and Conversation Trust.

A typical compensation scheme will reimburse farmers for certain amounts if a wild animal destroyed their property, subject to certain conditions (like making sure that their farms are well-enclosed, and animals are well herded and away from protected areas, for example).

But straight compensation schemes have their limitations. They can be expensive, and often rely on donations, which leads to issues with financial stability and sustainability. Chabbaga cited a compensation scheme in the Mwaluganje elephant sanctuary, in which farmers yielded farmland for conservation purposes and were compensated yearly. But the scheme collapsed when funding ran out.

That’s where insurance comes in. “Microinsurance has the ability to pool larger numbers, employ technology and manage the entire client journey from registration to claim settlement in such a way that client value and the business cases are well-balanced,” argued Chabbaga.

Human-wildlife conflict insurance: better compensation, more sustainable?

“Human wildlife conflict is a new risk that has previously not been considered by insurance companies, but there is a general optimistic overview that HWC is an insurable risk worth exploring,” said Chabbaga.

AB Consultants is currently working on developing just that kind of HWC microinsurance in partnership with the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) and funded by the Darwin Initiative. Referred to as “Livelihoods Insurance From Elephants” (LIFE), the project is currently focused on two regions in Sri Lanka and Kenya, to determine how best to design an insurance product that can reduce losses for small-holder farmers and other low-income households from HWC. As you can probably guess from the name, the project is currently focused specifically on human-elephant conflict.

The LIFE project is still in the development phase and Chabbaga said that they’re still toying with the specific details of how to structure the policy, but she did give some idea of what the insurance will look like. “With microinsurance, the idea is to bundle as many risks as possible. With that in mind, it is possible that the scheme will include a majority, if not all, HWC related risks i.e. crop and property damage, death and injury.” Microinsurance typically has minimal exclusions, but for HWC insurance an important exclusion would be to deny coverage to a loss incurred by illegal activities such as poaching or trespassing into protected areas.

Consumers in the two pilot regions have so far expressed positive attitudes towards this insurance. The plan is to begin product rollout in January 2020.

For more information about microinsurance more generally, check out our webpage.

J.D. Power Study on insurers and data: a matter of trust

As insurance professionals, we’re always talking about harnessing new data streams to improve our products. The benefits are obvious, we tell ourselves – think of the potential to align prices with real risks! But sometimes, we also need to ask ourselves: do our customers actually want us to use these data? Do they like the idea of us scouring their social media footprints to help price their insurance coverage?

A recent J.D. Power survey asks exactly these questions – and found that we have a long way to go before our customers get comfortable with their personal insurance company collecting troves of their data. The survey found that 55 percent of customers don’t trust their insurance company to collect and use “alternate data”. Only 22 percent affirmatively trust their insurer. (Alternate data includes anything from driving behavior to social media; basically, anything that goes beyond what we traditionally consider insurance-relevant data, like age.)

But the issue is somewhat more nuanced than that. Customers are, unsurprisingly, more comfortable sharing data that they already share. Thirty-nine percent are okay with sharing utility, phone, or rent payment information.  And 45 percent are willing to share their driving data with an insurer.

This could actually be good news for insurers. It shows that customers might change their perceptions of trust regarding their insurer as they become more used to sharing the data. J.D. Power notes that “Initially, customers are more comfortable sharing alternative data they are more accustomed to sharing elsewhere. Driving data and its use in telematics or usage-based insurance programs is fairly common knowledge among customers.”

It’s when the data becomes more personal, like social media posts, that customers grow wary. Only 15 percent and 14 percent were willing to share online activity and social media data, respectively. And a sizable chunk (35 percent) isn’t willing to share any alternative data at all.

Additionally, insurance customers are sensitive about what their insurers are using their data for. For example, 65 percent think it’s reasonable for an insurer to use alternative data to help recover stolen vehicles; 63 percent for an insurer to tailor coverage; and 60 percent for more accurate premium pricing. But they become less accommodating when it comes to using data for things like marketing – 55 percent don’t think that’s a reasonable use of their data.

According to J.D. Power, customers are “jaded by the current overwhelming state of marketing, [so] insurers need to underscore the value” of the data their collecting to the customer. That means the responsibility lies with insurers to prove to their customers that the data collection is worth it.

Not surprisingly, even if a customer thinks it’s okay for an insurer to collect their data, the odds are good they’re worried about privacy. Fully 85 percent consider the risks of privacy and security breaches a disadvantage to sharing their data – even if they’re okay with sharing to begin with. And 74 percent think insurers should ask their customers before collecting and using their alternative data.

The upshot is that customer acceptance of alternative data is a gradual process. Customers want to know what data is being collected. They want to know how it’s being used. And if insurers can connect the dots for them – can demonstrate the value that the alternative data is bringing – then their trust and acceptance will grow. As the J.D. Power survey shows, this has already started happening with driving data. How this will play out with other alternative data will largely be up to how well insurers can prove themselves trustworthy data custodians.

How bad is the storm damage? Ask Waffle House

Some people keep an eye on the S&P 500 index. Others, on the Waffle House Index.

It all apparently began with former head of the Florida Department of Emergency Management, William Craig Fugate. Fugate would use the Waffle House diner chain as a proxy for how businesses and communities in the surrounding area were recovering after a disaster.

The Index (WHI) is pretty simple, as a FEMA blog post explains:

  • If a Waffle House is open and serving its full menu: green. That means the diner probably has power or is running on a generator.
  • If a Waffle House is open but serving a limited menu: yellow. The diner probably doesn’t have electricity or running water but can still cook on a gas stove.
  • If a Waffle House is closed: red. The disaster is bad enough that not even Waffle House is serving eggs and grits.

The WHI is a good proxy because the Waffle House – open 24/7, 365 days a year – has excellent risk management procedures in place and often stays open during natural disasters. If even the Waffle House is closed, then you know the situation is bad and the broader community is likely severely impacted.

The I.I.I.’s own Lynne McChristian was once able to grab dinner thanks to a code yellow WHI. “During the 2004 hurricanes in Florida, the disaster response team I was leading lined up outside Waffle House for dinner, as it was the only place open,” McChristian said. She fed six people for $30. Not bad.

The WHI is so good a proxy, in fact, that even FEMA keeps an eye on the index during a natural disaster.

Back in 2016, the WHI went red before Hurricane Matthew hit Florida. As FiveThirtyEight reported, it sparked a, well, colorful reaction:

Waffle House announced Oct. 6 that it was pre-emptively closing some restaurants on a 90-mile stretch of Interstate 95 between Fort Pierce and Titusville in Florida. (In the next few days, as the storm churned up the coast and flooded North Carolina, it would close 98 all told.) And as soon as the announcement went out, media tracking the storm, and customers on social media, invoked the closings as a sign of the apocalypse.

The Miami Herald: “When Waffle House surrenders to a hurricane, you know it’s bad.” The Washington Post: “Hurricane Matthew is so scary even the always-open eatery is evacuating.” A faithful customer on Twitter: “GOD IN HEAVEN THIS IS THE END!”

For those in the path of natural disasters (including tornadoes): stay safe and keep close watch on the WHI to see if you can still get an All-Star Special after the storm is over.

How to insure your college tuition

The most tangible benefit of insurance is to make someone whole after a loss. Sometimes that means paying for a new roof. Other times that means cutting a check after a car is totaled.

If you have “tuition insurance,” it could also mean refunding your college tuition if you have to withdraw during the semester.

To learn more about this kind of insurance, I spoke with Paul D. Richardson, Liberty Mutual’s managing director for tuition insurance distribution. The 2018 – 2019 academic year is Liberty’s first foray into offering tuition insurance.

Refunding tuition in case the unexpected happens

Tuition insurance is a simple concept: it will refund college costs if a student has to withdraw from school at any point during the semester because of an unforeseen event, like an illness, accident or mental health issue. Those costs include tuition, room and board, and any mandatory fees assessed on the student.

The student (or, more likely, parents) just needs to buy the coverage before the semester starts. Premiums are usually about 1 percent of the total costs. Not a bad deal if you can recover $25,000 for $250.

Richardson pointed out that this isn’t really a new concept. But traditionally, tuition insurance was only available through a few select universities. Parents might not have even known it existed. And if they did, they were often under the (incorrect) impression that the university would refund their costs if their kid withdrew – so why buy insurance on top of the already-exorbitant cost of college?

University refunds are not guaranteed

“A lot of parents and students are unaware of how university refund policies work,” Richardson said. “Usually they operate on a sliding scale.” But if the student has to withdraw a month or so into the semester, in many cases they might not get any money back at all.

That’s where tuition insurance comes in. “Tuition insurance covers the gap,” Richardson said. Whatever the university doesn’t refund gets picked up by the policy to make sure that reimbursement is 100 percent. It’s a relatively affordable way to protect a significant financial investment.

The nitty-gritty details

Obviously, it’s not that simple. Like any policy, there are terms and conditions to tuition insurance. A key aspect is that the student has to withdraw entirely from the academic semester. “To qualify for reimbursement, they can’t earn any academic credit as a result of the withdrawal,” said Richardson. Tuition insurance wouldn’t be needed if a student misses a few weeks of class and then returns to pass their final exams, since they would not be out any tuition dollars.

It also doesn’t apply during summer break. “The policy period is the first day of classes and ends the last day of classes,” Richardson said.

Tuition insurance also comes with exclusions. For example, while pre-existing medical conditions are generally covered, there are some situations where coverage would not apply.  Poor academic performance is not covered, unsurprisingly.

Sports injuries are probably covered, since they’re usually within the scope of a student’s academic life. But there is no coverage for professional sports, like if you’re getting paid to participate in an intramural Ultimate Frisbee tournament.

And not all recreational injuries are covered. “Activities that come with an upfront serious potential for a major accident are often excluded,” Richardson said. “We look at each case individually but generally we draw the line at something that would cause an accident that is an extremely high risk. Like skydiving, that’s actually a named exclusion in the policy.”

Customizable coverage

Every student’s needs are unique. That’s why the Liberty Mutual tuition insurance product is highly customizable. Living off-campus? Then you’ll probably get a cheaper premium that doesn’t cover room and board. Have a scholarship? Depending on the terms of the grant, you may be able to cover that as well. “We’re trying to allow students and families to customize their price point based on their financial needs,” said Richardson.

You can learn more about Liberty Mutual’s program here.

Live webcast: I.I.I. CEO Sean Kevelighan talks insurance market dynamics at CAS spring meeting

Sean Kevelighan, I.I.I. CEO

Interested in the state of the insurance market? Tune in to a free live webcast on Monday, May 20th at 11:20 a.m. ET to watch Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) CEO Sean Kevelighan talk about the industry at the Casualty Actuarial Society’s Spring Meeting.

Kevelighan will address the insurance market’s financial performance over the last 15 years with a special focus on rising auto costs and on leadership needed to sustain the business model, create jobs and promote/facilitate economic growth. Plus, he’ll touch on InsurTech and digital transformation in insurance.

No pre-registration is required to watch the webcast, just go to this link at 11:20 a.m. to watch the live session.

Florida has passed AOB reform – but will it be enough?

As we noted a few weeks ago, the Florida Senate has passed a bill designed to reform parts of the state’s insurance assignment of benefits (AOB) system. Governor Ron DeSantis has stated that he plans to sign the bill into law. (You can view the Senate version of the bill, SB 122, here).

Florida’s AOB system has long been in dire need of reform.

As we document in our report “Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis”, an assignment of benefits (AOB) is a contract that allows a third party – a contractor, a medical provider, an auto repair shop – to bill an insurance company directly for repairs or other services done for the policyholder.

The process is innocuous and common throughout the country. But as our report notes, Florida’s unique legal system richly rewards plaintiff’s attorneys and vendors when they submit inflated bills to insurance companies and then file lawsuits when those bills are disputed. Tens of thousands of lawsuits.

Reform only addresses property insurance

The new AOB bill is designed to curtail at least some of this abuse by addressing how AOBs can be executed and how plaintiff’s attorneys can be compensated. But it’s important to note that the bill addresses AOBs in property insurance.

For good reason: AOB abuse has been a growing problem in homeowners property insurance.

Other lines also face AOB abuse

However, AOB abuse is not limited to property insurance. As we document in our report, the abuse actually started in personal injury protection (PIP) claims in personal auto insurance and then spread to homeowners following PIP reform in 2012. The abuse also spread into auto glass coverage in the past few years, though there was a decrease in auto glass abuse in 2018.

The lesson here is that AOB abuse is not limited to one line of insurance. Indeed, reforms could push abuse into a different line, as was the case with homeowners and auto glass after PIP was reformed.

While reforming AOBs in property insurance could have a significant impact on the problem in Florida, it remains to be seen whether abuse overall will change with reform. Some have argued that the abuse could continue in other lines where the reform doesn’t reach, like auto glass. And perhaps it could move into another line that hasn’t even been abused yet, like businessowners insurance. There are also worries that abusive AOB claims could spike right before the reform comes into effect.

For more information about the scope of the problem, download our report here.

Pushback continues against ALI restatement of liability insurance

In May 2018, the American Law Institute (ALI) gave final approval to its “Restatement of Law, Liability Insurance.” Portions of the restatement continue to prove controversial, and state legislators have begun pushing back against it.

The ALI is an independent organization of legal professionals that seeks to clarify and simplify U.S. case law to help judges in their decisions. To this end, the ALI publishes a variety of materials that describe what the case law says in various areas, including insurance. One of the materials the ALI publishes is called a “restatement of law,” which attempts to describe common law and its statutory elements. It’s basically a way for judges to know where the law currently stands on a variety of issues.

The latest restatement addresses liability insurance and includes provisions that have met with vocal opposition from state legislatures, the insurance industry, and lawyers. These include, among other things, possible changes to how insurance policies can be interpreted; how coverages are triggered for “long-tail” claims (claims that can last for many years, like environmental losses); and how an insurer might be held responsible for breaching its duty to defend.

Opponents argue that some provisions of the restatement could fundamentally – and improperly – change how liability law operates. That in so changing liability law, the restatement arrogates powers to regulate insurance that properly belong to state legislatures. That many aspects of the restatement do not accurately reflect current state case law and weigh the scales against the legal rights of insurance companies. That portions of the restatement are less a description of law than they are a “wish list” for what the law should be.

Others have called these criticisms of the restatement unfounded or have sought a more balanced response to its changes.

But regardless of who is right, state legislatures have begun to act against the restatement. The National Conference of Insurance Legislators has come out against it. Arkansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas have all recently passed legislation that in some form seeks to curtail or condemn the use of the restatement under their respective insurance laws. The Kentucky and Indiana legislatures have also passed resolutions stating their opposition to the ALI’s restatement.

How this will all shake out remains to be seen: will the restatement of law for liability insurance begin to make its mark in case law? Will legislation against the restatement continue to spread? Only time will tell.

Offshore wind farms: what’s the insurance angle?

In January 2019, wind power accounted for about 7 percent of net energy generation in the United States. While that doesn’t sound like much, wind power has been a significant contributor to new electricity generation over the past few years (though natural gas still leads the pack).

While most wind farms are onshore, wind farms on large lakes and oceans are becoming increasingly popular. Most notably, offshore wind speeds are much faster and steadier than on land. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that wind off U.S. coasts offers a technical resource potential of about 7,200 terawatt-hours of electricity generation per year – which basically translates to double the country’s current electricity use. Even if just 1 percent of this potential is tapped into, that can end up powering nearly 6.5 million homes.

What’s the insurance angle?

Constructing and operating an offshore wind turbine is no stroll on the beach. Start-up costs can be significant (though they have been declining rapidly). And many pieces – both literal and logistical – need to come together before a wind farm can start generating electricity: transporting the towers and blades out to sea on specialized vessels; sinking foundations into the ocean or lake floor; constructing onshore and offshore power substations; laying cable between the turbine and the land. Plus, there’s Mother Nature to reckon with, like hurricanes and lightning strikes (a very common danger facing wind turbines, unsurprisingly).

Offshore wind operations are complex, with many unique risks. But the insurance marketplace is sophisticated and offers coverage for all phases of wind farm construction and operation.

There is no standard “offshore wind turbine” insurance policy. In all likelihood, windfarm insurance policies are a tailored mixture of many different policies to meet an operator’s unique needs.

Let’s walk through some of the coverages that might be made available.

Wind turbine construction

Builder’s risk property insurance: this insurance covers property during a construction project. There is no standard builder’s risk form, so coverage can vary widely, but usually the coverage applies to the building being constructed and any materials being used on site.

Liability wrap-up insurance: Typically all the engineers, contractors, subcontractors, etc. on a construction project have their own general and professional liability insurance. But for big, complicated projects like an offshore wind farm, the project owner might purchase what’s called a “wrap-up”, which basically, well, wraps up everyone’s liability insurance into one policy. This both simplifies the risk management process and offers cost savings to everyone involved.

Delay in start-up insurance: Affectionately called “DSU insurance,” this coverage protects developers and owners of any revenue lost due to a delay in finishing construction. For example, if a wind turbine’s construction is delayed because of a storm, DSU could cover the operator for their lost revenue.

Wind turbine operation

Property/liability insurance: Like pretty much every commercial operation, wind turbine operations probably have a package of property and liability insurance. The former will cover the actual turbine from certain types of losses (like fire); the latter will cover the wind turbine owners from any liability they might incur against others, like if the turbine collapses and hits a nearby boat.

Wind operations might also have business interruption coverage, which could kick-in if a turbine stops functioning and the operator losses money during the downtime. They may also have separate coverage protecting them from any pollution or environmental liability arising out of the turbine’s operations.

Ocean marine insurance

Offshore wind operators may also consider ocean marine insurance coverages, which can include:

  • Hull insurance: insuring a vessel for physical damage.
  • Ocean marine liability insurance: covering liability arising out of a vessel’s operation, including collision damage and, often, wreck cleanups.
  • Ocean marine cargo insurance: covering damage to cargo on a vessel.

Insurance plays a vital role in developing offshore wind farms. Operators and investors already face significant costs just to get a turbine out to sea. Knowing that insurance will protect them if something goes wrong is one of the reasons they’re willing to take on these vital energy projects in the first place.

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