I.I.I. Non-Resident Scholar: 2019 hurricane season projected to be slightly below-average

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season activity is projected to be slightly below-average, according to I.I.I. non-resident scholar Dr. Phil Klotzbach.

Dr. Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University (CSU), and his team are forecasting 13 named storms, five hurricanes, and two major hurricanes for the year.

A typical year has 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. Major hurricanes are defined as Category 3, 4, and 5 storms, where wind speeds reach at least 111 miles per hour.

A slower 2019 season might sound like welcome news after the 2018 Atlantic season saw 15 named storms, with eight of them becoming hurricanes (two major). However, major hurricanes can be potentially catastrophic, whether they hit during a relatively quiet year or not.

Sean Kevelighan, the I.I.I.’s CEO, stressed that homeowners and businesses need to prepare for the upcoming season. “For one, make sure you have insurance; especially for homeowners, you need coverage for both wind and flooding. Remember, these are two different policies, as flood is primarily offered via the National Flood Insurance Program. Secondly, take steps to ensure your home is fortified for resilience, such as having roof tie-downs and a good drainage system. And, finally, take inventory of your belongings as well as map out a safe evacuation route. Americans far too often bet on the storm not hitting them, but the unfortunate truth lies in historical data which shows virtually every mile of our Gulf and Eastern coastlands have been hit at one point or another.”

For more information on hurricane-proofing your home and business, check out the following:

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, March 29 to April 4

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Insurance can get weird

Yesterday’s post about insurance-related Guinness World Records got me thinking: what other weird insurance policies are out there?

If you know much about insurance, you know that the first place to inquire about weird insurance policies is Lloyd’s of London, legendary clearinghouse for the strange and unusual. (And innovative: they were the underwriters for the world’s first auto policy, the first aviation policy, and soon the first space tourism policy.)

Naturally, Lloyd’s has an entire webpage dedicated to what it (in what I imagine to be staid, Oxford-accented English) calls “innovation and unusual risks.” Some top hits include insurance coverage for David Beckham’s legs (£100 million), Keith Richards’ hands ($1.6 million), and cricketer Merv Hughes’ trademark mustache (£200,000).

My personal favorite is insurance for members of a Derbyshire Whisker Club who wanted coverage for their beards against “fire and theft.” Theft?

“Insurability”, or why we can have insurance for weird things

Weird insurance is an object lesson about “insurability.” Ideally, an insurable risk should have, at a minimum, the following features:

  • “Accidental”: insurability usually requires risks be accidental. Otherwise, an insured could just…burn down their house on purpose and collect the insurance money. That’s called fraud.
  • “Pure”: speaking of fraud, insurable risks should probably be “pure” and not speculative – meaning that an insured shouldn’t stand to gain financially from a loss.
  • “Measurable”: if a loss does happen, an insurer should need to know whether this can be measured in both time (can they tell when a loss happened) and money (how much should they pay out).

Fortunately for our hirsute Derbyshiremen, “beard insurance” satisfies all these criteria. Can a beard be destroyed by accidental fire? Check. The beard-wearer doesn’t stand to gain if his beard burns? Check. If the beard burns, we know when it happened and how much the loss would cost the bewhiskered gentleman? Check, check, and check.

There are other “ideal” features of an insurable risk, but they’re not deal breakers. They’re more like “nice to haves”. For example, some argue that an ideal risk is one that is common to a large pool of insureds, so that insurers can better project how much they might need to pay out in the event of a loss. Think of homeowners insurance: you’d probably want a large pool of homeowners to a) figure out the likelihood of certain losses and b) spread the risks out over a larger population.

Some underwriters at Lloyd’s clearly don’t think this is a requirement for insurability. After all, there is only one pair of legs belonging to David Beckham.

And it’s a good thing that a large pool isn’t always necessary requirement for insurability. For one, it means I can read about weird insurance policies. But for another, it means that as long as you’re not, say, abetting bad behavior like insuring an assassin or something, you can probably find someone willing to pay the price to cover your risks. Which makes for a better, more protected world.

Insurance Commissioner challenges Guinness record for tallest politician

istock

On March 27, Guinness World Records named Brooklyn councilman Robert Cornegy as the tallest male politician in the world. But his title was disputed by North Dakota insurance commissioner Jon Godfread who claims that he stands an inch and 3/4 higher than Cornegy’s 6 feet, 10 inches.

Godfread, who played basketball at the University of Iowa, said he didn’t know that “being a tall politician was a thing,” and that he’d probably get in touch with Guinness. A spokeswoman from Guinness said that the organization would be “be happy to receive an application” from Godfread.

Guinness keeps track of a wide range of unusual records. Insurance related records include: The highest ever insurance valuation ($100 million) of a painting for the move of the Mona Lisa from Paris to the U.S. for a special exhibition; Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu highest insured hair ($1 million); and the largest ever life insurance policy ($201 million).

 

 

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, March 22 to March 28

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The Treasury yield curve inverted. What does it mean for insurance?

The Treasury yield curve inverted last weekend and many are concerned: Sustained inverted yield curves are often harbingers of recession. Insurers could also feel the impact, since the yield curve can influence an insurer’s rates, profits, and portfolio structure.

Source: Wall Street Journal

What’s next?

An inverted yield curve may be cause for concern. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, an inverted yield curve preceded all nine U.S. recessions since 1955. The Fed estimates that typically a recession occurs within two years of the inverted yield curve.

An inverted yield curve is not a perfect predictor of future recessions. There has been one false positive, in late 1966, in which an inverted yield curve was followed by an economic slowdown, not a recession. There have also been several “flattenings” of the curve, which did not lead to recession.

But what makes last week’s shift in the 1- year Treasury curve worrisome is the convergence of other negative signals over the last year – including expected macroeconomic considerations such as the waning of the 2017 tax reform.

How might insurance be impacted by a sustained inverted yield curve?

An inverted yield curve has multiple implications for insurance, some of which depend on the nature of an insurance company’s liabilities and investment profile.

Lower long-term rates hurt insurers whose claims take a long time to settle, like workers compensation. The money set aside to settle those claims gets invested in long-term securities. When those rates fall, insurers enjoy less investment income, which lowers profits. This puts pressure on insurers to raise rates to make up for the lost investment income.

The inverted yield curve also has implications for insurer investments. Given investments in fixed income and real estate, an inverted yield curve will require adjustments to avoid mismatch in obligations and revenues. Remedial actions could include selling assets to realize capital gains because the asset value of the bonds that had been bought at higher rates would now be more valuable.

The yield curve: a brief primer

The “yield curve” is a relationship between 10-year Treasury bond yields and three-month bond yields. Usually, the 10-year bonds have higher yields than three-month bonds, to compensate investors for longer-term risks.

Source: Investopedia

But when there is recession risk and fears of falling interest rates, investors will invest in longer-term bonds to “lock in” at yields that are currently higher than they think will exist in the future. This increased demand for longer-term bonds will, paradoxically, lower yields since bond prices and interest rates are inversely related. At the same time, short-term bond demand goes down (since everyone is running to the long-term bonds), which increases yield.

If this happens, the three-month bonds will have lower yields than the 10-year bonds. And voila: the “normal” yield curve inverts.

Source: Investopedia

The longer the inversion lasts, the higher the odds of a recession in the following quarter. For example, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the yield curve inverted in August 2006 prior to the onset of the Great Recession in December 2007.

Ask a life insurance agent

photo courtesy of Robert Stevenson

 

The Triple-I blog received the terrific opportunity to ask State Farm life insurance agent, Robert Stevenson, a few questions about getting the most out of the often-misunderstood financial product.

What is your educational background and what was the path that led you to become a life insurance agent?

Robert Stevenson: I grew up in Savannah, Georgia and attended Hampton University in Virginia. I was working on my master’s degree when I accepted an opportunity with State Farm Insurance Corporate Headquarters. My job was to help the company expand its presence on the east and west coast. During that time, I learned about becoming a State Farm agent, and fell in love with it. I worked hard, and in December of 2000, opened my agency in New York, New York. As a State Farm agent, I’m a small business owner – I get to know people on a personal level. Helping them manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams is truly rewarding. I’ve never looked back.

What advice would you give students that are considering becoming life insurance agents?

RS: You have to listen and you have to care. This is more than a job. It’s helping people protect what’s most important to them. People don’t always want to talk about life insurance. It’s uncomfortable. But, let’s be honest. Someday you will die. No one in the history of the world has ever cheated it. That’s why, you have to make sure people are protected, and that they understand the bigger picture. You’re taking care of families and protecting the lifestyle they spent years building. While nothing can bring someone back, a family’s dreams can still be achieved because their loved one had life insurance. It’s truly a gift of love. You need to help people understand this.

What is the most common misconception that your clients have about life insurance?

RS: That they don’t need it. That they have enough. Often, I’ll hear the response, “I have it through my employer.” But, there’s a chance that benefit can be taken away. Also, if you have life insurance though an employer, and you get a new job, you might not receive the same coverage in your new position. Or, if you retire, it’s likely you won’t receive the same amount you once had. It’s wise to be proactive and read the fine print. Health and age also play a role in life insurance. I often hear, “I’ll wait till I’m married or have kids to get it.” Problem is, as we get older, our health tends to decline. Therefore, if you wait to get life insurance, you’ll likely end up paying more for it.

How do you help a client determine how much insurance they need and what type of policy is best for them?

RS: I start by forecasting. I ask customers questions like, “Where do you want to be in five, 10, 20, 30 years? Do you want to be married? Own a business? Have children? Travel? What’s your dream?” It’s vital for people to understand the importance of investing so they can generate more income as the years go by. Life insurance is not an afterthought. It’s the foundation of an investment strategy. You can’t invest in mutual funds, or stocks, or your child’s college, or buy rental properties, etc., if you don’t have the income. If something happens to you – your family is able to replace your income and still achieve their dreams.

It’s also important to help customers understand the difference between term life and whole life. Term does exactly what it sounds like – it covers you for a period of time. If you die within that period of time, your family is covered. But, think about this. Let’s say you’re 35, and you want to buy 20 or 30 years of term life insurance. Do you think you’ll be living 20 or 30 years from now? When I ask people that question, most answer, “Yes.” That’s when I remind them, when 20/30 years goes by and they’re still living, they won’t receive this payout.  Whole life covers you for the entire length of your life. No matter what. It guarantees your family will get paid. It’s more expensive up front, but you’re guaranteeing a payment – it builds value you can cash out.

How does one make sure that their life insurance policy does not get lost and that their beneficiaries get paid as quickly as possible after their death?

RS: When we sell a life policy, we tell our clients, “Make sure your loved ones are aware of the policy and each of you know where important documents are located.” For example, the safe in your house. Also, as life changes, periodic updates with your State Farm agent or financial planner are a smart idea to ensure everyone is on the same page.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

RS: That’s a tough one. I’d say, when I got my securities license. It allows you to sell packaged investment products like mutual funds and variable annuities. Getting this takes a lot of work and involves rigorous testing. I had one opportunity to pass it. That was a lot of pressure. But it was worth it. Getting my securities license gave me the opportunity to open my office and help people.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

RS: I enjoy reading and golf. Having activities like these lets me to unwind. But more so, I love spending time with my family. I have a son and a daughter who keep me busy. Family time is important. All things in equal parts. That’s what keeps life joyful.

Put a smoke alarm checkup on your spring cleaning list

istock.com

By Lynne McChristian, I.I.I. Non-resident Scholar and Media Spokesperson

Ah, spring! The season of renewal, of fresh beginnings, of flowers in bloom – and of fresh batteries in the smoke alarm. Yes, you probably overlooked that last item, so here’s a reminder to put it on the spring to-do list.

Checking (and changing) the batteries in the smoke alarm is a good springtime habit. Most homes have a smoke alarm, but if you don’t check it with regularity,  you can’t be sure it’s working. It is one of those out-of-sight, out-of-mind things, so here’s a reminder to put your home or business smoke alarm top of mind.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or in homes where the smoke alarm was not working. NFPA also points to missing or disconnected batteries as the reason for inoperable smoke alarms. Dead batteries cause 25 percent of smoke alarm failures.

That chirping sound you hear at night? It’s not the first robin of spring. It’s the smoke alarm battery alerting you that it’s time for a change. And, if your smoke alarm is more than 10 years old, replace the entire alarm. It’s inexpensive protection that is worth every cent.

Most insurance companies offer discounts for smoke alarms, particularly monitored systems. After you check the batteries and/or upgrade your smoke alarm, check with your insurer on any possible discount. It might be a small amount, but the alarm itself is big protection – for every season.

 

New York City’s Disaster Resiliency

Istock.com, J. Lazarin, New York City, USA – October 31, 2012: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

It was a balmy 67-degree day in New York on March 15, which prompted the inevitable joke that since it’s warm outside, then climate change must be real. The wry comment was made by one of the speakers at the New York Academy of Science’s symposium Science for decision making in a warmer word: 10 years of the NPCC.

The NPCC is the New York City Panel on Climate Change, an independent body of scientists that advises the city on climate risks and resiliency. The symposium coincided with the release of the NPCC’s 2019 report, which found that in the New York City area extreme weather events are becoming more pronounced, high temperatures in summer are rising, and heavy downpours are increasing.

“The report tracks increasing risks for the city and region due to climate change,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, co-chair of the NPCC and senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “It continues to lay the science foundation for development of flexible adaptation pathways for changing climate conditions.”

“What you can’t measure, you can’t manage,” said Columbia University’s Klaus Jacob, paraphrasing Peter Drucker and making a concise case for the importance of the work the NPCC is doing.

The changes in temperature and precipitation that New Yorkers are experiencing are broadly tracking the climate change projections made by the NPCC in 2015. However, the 2019 report notes that such comparisons should be viewed with caution because of the role that natural variation plays in the short term.

William Solecki, co-chair of the NPCC said “Recent scientific advances have…helped the panel craft new sets of tools and methods, such as a prototype system for tracking these risks and the effectiveness of corresponding climate strategies.”

One such tool is the Antarctic Rapid Ice Melt Scenario, which the NPCC created to model the effects of melting ice sheets on sea level rise around NYC. The model predicts that under a high-end scenario, monthly tidal flooding will begin to affect many neighborhoods around Jamaica Bay by the 2050s and other coastal areas throughout the city by the 2080s.

The NPCC 2019 report recommends that the city establish a coordinated indicator and monitoring system to enable the city and its communities to better monitor climate change trends, impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation measures.

The report also notes the important role of insurance in support of climate change adaptation and mitigation. “Public–private partnerships are essential for facilitating infrastructure resilience, particularly for publicly owned infrastructure systems that often lack resources for resilience improvements. Coordination of insurance and finance is an important future direction to achieve comprehensive resiliency in infrastructure that reduces negative climate change consequences,” said the report.

The I.I.I.’s primer on climate change and insurance issues can be found here.

Blockchain: the anatomy of a hype

Remember blockchains?

They were going to change the world. Is there a problem or challenge? Consider using a blockchain. Engaged in a business? Consider the blockchain. Thinking about where to get lunch? Again, blockchain.

No industry would be left un-disrupted. Insurance would never be the same again.

And sure, that all might come to pass someday. Very smart people are working on blockchain applications. But right now it seems like the hype bubble is bursting, at least in the public mind.

Here are Google searches for “blockchain” over the past five years in the “finance” category:

Data source: Google Trends

Here is the search for “cryptocurrency”:

Data source: Google Trends

And just for fun, here’s the valuation of bitcoin:

Data source: CoinDesk

I’m not the first person to notice this, of course. The Gartner “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” 2018 report put “blockchains” on the cusp of the dreaded “trough of disillusionment”.

Source: Gartner

Trough of disillusionment. Sounds ominous.

Why the cool down about blockchains? The short answer: expectations have begun to re-align with reality.

There are several reasons why.

Earlier this year I wrote an article for the Actuarial Review about blockchains – and how they might be solutions in search of a problem. In the article, I cited Stephen J. Mildenhall from the School of Risk Management of St. John’s University, who compared a blockchain to a military tank. In theory you could drive your kids to school in a tank. But why would you? Tanks are extremely expensive, slow and inefficient (plus, I’m not sure they’re road-legal). A minivan would be a better solution. Like a minivan, a simple SQL database could probably do most jobs that a blockchain could do, except much more cheaply, quickly and efficiently.

Another big sell of blockchains was that they were theoretically unhackable. As I wrote last year, that’s only kinda-sorta the case. Blockchains themselves might be unhackable (depending on their governance structures), but for a lot of applications they need to connect to that extremely hackable thing called The Internet. Which is why you’re regularly reading about massive cryptocurrency heists.

But just because we’re in the trough of disillusionment (sorry, I just love that phrase), doesn’t spell the end for blockchains. This is a normal process for emerging technologies: a new technology is developed, everyone gets extremely excited, then reality kicks in and the hard (and underreported) work begins of perfecting the technology for real-world use.

I wouldn’t be surprised if blockchains quietly become ubiquitous for some applications in the near future – but how they’re integrated and what kind of real impact they’ll have are anyone’s guess.

In the meantime: beware the hype about any emerging technology.

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