New outbreaks of the H5N1 flu virus are reported to have infected and killed birds and poultry in Russia, Hong Kong, Hungary and Japan this week. Meanwhile, Australia, Singapore, and Japan announced they are stepping up their preparedness efforts. I.I.I.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s latest update from our resident bird flu expert and economist Dr. Steven Weisbart notes that at least 164 people have died and 270 have been confirmed infected since December 2003, the start of the current outbreak. In 2006 alone there were one-third more infections and nearly twice as many deaths as in 2005. Human infection is still believed to be mainly from birds to humans, basically from very close contact with infected chickens and similar birds in home environments.Ã‚ There are still no cases of birds or people in the U.S. with this flu virus.Ã‚
As insurers, legislators and regulators grapple with how to maintain viable insurance markets in the post-Katrina and Rita era; we tip our hat to Illinois Sen. and presidential hopeful Barack Obama who addressed a Senate committee hearing on Gulf Coast rebuilding held in New Orleans Monday. Obama told the committee: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Rebuilding New Orleans is not just good for the Gulf or the state of Louisiana, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s good for our nation.Ã¢â‚¬ Good point. Some 18 months since the most costly disaster in U.S. history and of the billions of dollars of government aid promised for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction, only a fraction has reached the hands of those affected. For our industryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s part, some 95 percent of the 1.2 million homeowners insurance claims in Louisiana and Mississippi had been settled by the stormÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one-year anniversary on August 2006. With an above-average hurricane season forecast for 2007, and landfall probabilities and intensities up across all regions, the importance of the rebuilding effort in the Gulf cannot be underestimated. Indeed,Ã‚ insurers areÃ‚ not alone in pushing for stronger building codes across the country. Check out I.I.I.’s Louisiana insurance market overview. for the latest catastrophe info.
Our industry also has a powerful story to tell in terms of the major contribution it makes to state, local and national economies. The Insurance Information InstituteÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s online publication Ã¢â‚¬Å“A Firm FoundationÃ¢â‚¬ shows the myriad ways in which insurance supports the economy. The I.I.I. has also created state-specific editions which concentrate on the insurance industryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s role as a key player in the California, Florida, Maryland and Texas economies. Dozens of charts highlight the economic support provided by the insurance industry, from defraying the costs of catastrophes, to providing employment, to fueling the capital markets.
In todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s increasingly competitive marketplace, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not surprising to hear thatÃ‚ a satisfiedÃ‚ customer is not necessarily a loyal oneÃ‚ when it comes to insurance. How to attract new customers and retain existing ones is an ongoing challenge for this industry, as any other. In their inaugural World Insurance Report, consulting group Capgemini and the European Financial Management & Marketing Association (EFMA), offer insurers tips on how to better meet customer needs. The report throws out some interesting findings. For example, while price is the most important factor overall in choosing an insurance product, the degree of price-sensitivity varies substantially by insurance type and by country. American customers, in particular, also view product and brand/trust as key factors when purchasing insurance. Further, despite customers showing a strong preference for buying insurance via the Internet, the number actually buying online is low.