Wrapping Up Another Active Hurricane Season

The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season officially comes to a close today  Ã¢â‚¬“ another active season and one that produced 19 named storms, of which 10 became hurricanes and one became a major hurricane, according to NOAA’s recap.

However, as NOAA says, this year proved it’s wrong to think that only major hurricanes can ruin lives and impact local economies.

Four storms made U.S. landfall this year, including devastating post-tropical cyclone Sandy in New Jersey and Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana.

This season marks the second consecutive year that the mid-Atlantic and Northeast suffered devastating impacts from a named storm. NOAA  reminds us  that both Sandy, and Irene last year, caused fatalities, injuries, and tremendous destruction from coastal storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, and wind.

A press release cites Laura Furgione, acting director of NOAA’s National Weather Service:

We are hopeful that after the 2012 hurricane season, more families and businesses all along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts become more “weather ready† by understanding the risks associated with living near the coastline.†

Here’s the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season recap in 4.5 minutes, courtesy of NOAA Vizualizations:

Dr. Jeff Masters offers his  take on the season over at Wunderblog.

Additional I.I.I. facts+stats on the season are available here.


Insurers Among Top Scorers In Corporate Equality Index

A record number of businesses, spanning nearly every industry and major geographic area of the United States, ranked as top scorers in this year’s Corporate Equality Index released by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

When the CEI was launched in 2001, only 13 businesses achieved a top score. This year, a record 252 businesses, including 12 insurers, achieved the top rating of 100 percent.

According to HRC, the results demonstrate that a new normal has arrived:

The policies, benefits and practices businesses must implement to earn a perfect score are best-in-class demonstrations of corporate commitments to LGBT workers.†

The number of insurers achieving the top rating almost doubled to 12, up from seven a year ago.

Insurers receiving the 100 percent rating this year are: AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah, AIG, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Chubb Corp, Hartford Financial Services Group, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, ING North America, MetLife  Nationwide, Progressive Corp, Prudential Financial, and Sun Life Financial.

Aon, Deloitte  and Marsh & McLennan were among other insurance-related businesses to earn the top rating.

The CEI rates employers on a scale from 0 to 100 percent based on their LGBT workplace policies, benefits and practices, including non-discrimination policies and training, partner benefits, transgender inclusive health insurance coverage and LGBT resource groups.

A total of 889 businesses have been rated in the 2013 CEI, including the entire Fortune 500. This year saw the largest growth in the survey’s history with 54 new businesses participating.

Cyber Monday Risks

You’ve had your fill of turkey, the games have been played, Black Friday has come and gone, but you haven’t lost your appetite to shop.

A record 129.2 million Americans are expected to shop online this Cyber Monday, up from the 122.8 million who shopped last year, according to a survey conducted for Shop.org by BIGinsight.

The same survey finds the number of shoppers planning to use their smartphones or other mobile device this Cyber Monday has increased by 14.4 percent to 20.4 million, from 17.8 million in 2011. In fact, in just three years, the number of Americans saying they would use their mobile device to shop on Cyber Monday has jumped from just 3.6 million in 2009 to 20.4 million in 2012.

All of this means that as we make our holiday purchases, we’re opening ourselves up to many risks, including identity theft and fraud.

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) warns that many criminals have found using the internet to be an easier and less riskier way to target victims.

The ITRC notes that some of the issues holiday shoppers will face this year are:

–Exposing themselves to identity theft while using public Wi-Fi to shop online.

–Engaging in deals that are just “too good to be true†.

–Using debit cards at a POS terminal rather than credit cards, exposing themselves to greater risk.

While online shopping is both easy and convenient, consumers should take necessary precautions to protect their data and financial assets.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) offers some timely tips to help protect your identity this holiday season.

Thanksgiving Travel Tips

Thanksgiving – the holiday of turkey, shopping, football,  and for many Americans, travel.

The AAA projects 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, up 0.7 percent from the 43.3 million people who traveled last year.

This is the fourth consecutive year of growing holiday travelers since 2008 when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent. It remains to be seen what impact Hurricane Sandy will have on travel  from the Mid-Atlantic region.

While stories of air travel often dominate the news, in fact the AAA says some 90 percent of travelers, or 39.1 million people plan to travel by car this Thanksgiving.

The Wall Street Journal Driver’s Seat blog has more on this story.

If you’re renting a car for your holiday travel, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has tips to make sure you’re properly insured.

Highway safety facts+stats from the I.I.I. also  show  that 50 more people die in traffic crashes during Thanksgiving week than during other weeks of the year, according to a University of Alabama study. Speeding, alcohol, time of day, weather, factors that affect crashes all year, are exaggerated during the holiday.

To all our readers, safe travels and Happy Thanksgiving!

Social Media Usage Increases Among Fortune 500

The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has released its annual report on social media usage by Fortune 500 companies.

It shows a surge forward in the adoption and use of social media and new communications tools among this year’s Fortune 500.

Of note for the insurance industry in 2012:

Some 81 percent of companies in the property and casualty insurance industry (stock) had Twitter accounts, while 69 percent had corporate Facebook pages. As for blogging, just 19 percent of these companies had corporate blogs.

Several  P/C insurers have also adopted specialty blogs—those focusing on the company career paths and hiring information, social responsibility and community causes—including State Farm Insurance Cos and Liberty Mutual Insurance Group.

Back to the broader picture:

Overall, the study notes that some 73 percent of the 2012 F500 had corporate Twitter accounts, 66 percent had a corporate Facebook page and 28 percent had corporate blogs.

Furthermore, in the past year, F500 companies have increased their adoption of blogging by 5 percent, their use of Twitter for corporate communications by 11 percent and their use of Facebook pages by 8 percent.

For the first time this year’s study recorded corporate and specialty YouTube accounts. It found some 62 percent of the 2012 F500 (309 companies) had corporate YouTube accounts and 2 percent (11 companies) are posting on Pinterest.

The study notes:

It is obvious that there has been a surge forward in the adoption and use of social media and new communications tools among this year’s Fortune 500. For years, this group has lagged behind other sectors and at times appeared to shun social media. These latest numbers show a renewed interest that includes using these tools for engagement, hiring and fundraising as well as for corporate advancement.”

Eat, Fry, Love: Tips for a Safer Thanksgiving Turkey

With Thanksgiving less than a week away many of us are busy with shopping and food preparations for the Thanksgiving Day feast.

While there are lots of ways to prepare turkey, it has become popular to deep-fry the Thanksgiving bird. As more amateur cooks attempt this method, people are at risk for fryer related fires and injuries.

According to State Farm claims data, more cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. In fact, grease and cooking-related claims more than double on Thanksgiving Day compared to an average day in November.

In an effort to reverse this trend State Farm last year teamed up with celebrity William Shatner to produce a short video that warns people about the dangers of improper turkey frying. The video went viral and as a result State Farm grease and cooking-related fire claims occurring on Thanksgiving Day were carved in half.

To get the safety message out in 2012, State Farm has launched a new version of the video called “Eat, Fry, Love: A Cautionary Remix† reminding us that you can get a “moister, tastier turkey† and be safe at the same time.

Here it is:

MarketScout: Commercial Rate Increases Ease

Online insurance exchange MarketScout just reported that the composite rate for U.S. commercial lines increased by 4 percent in October, a moderation from the 5 percent increase in September 2012.

Richard Kerr, CEO of MarketScout put the results in perspective:

While the composite rate may have moderated in October, we believe Superstorm Sandy will cause a month on month composite rate increase in November. It will take months before we know the magnitude of insured claims, but as time passes, the projection for insured losses continues to increase.†

Property, business owners (BOP) and general liability all saw an easing in rates from plus 6 percent in September to plus 5 percent in October.

MarketScout noted that these three coverages represent a large volume of business, thus the drop in the overall composite rate from plus 5 percent to plus 4 percent.

By account size, small sized accounts (premiums up to $25,000) increased 5 percent, while medium and large accounts ($25,001 to $1 million) were up 4 percent and jumbo accounts (over $1 million) were up 3 percent.

By industry classification, service, habitational and contracting risks were up the most with an increase of 5 percent.

Business Insurance  and PC360 have more on this story.

Further information from the I.I.I. on industry results and market conditions is available here.

Climate Change and Hurricane Sandy

As we basked in 70 degree temperatures in parts of the Northeast on Sunday, just a few days in the wake of a nor’easter and nearly two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, it’s understandable that the topic of climate change is trending online.

In a post over at the Wall Street Journal’s Metropolis blog, Eric Holthaus asks the direct question: did climate change factor into recent storms?

He cites the connection between long-term sea level rise and the enhanced coastal flooding that devastated parts of Greater New York as evidence of a much clearer link between Sandy and climate change.

New York Harbor’s average water level is now 12 to 18 inches higher than it was in the 1880s, Holthaus says, and scientists estimate about 8 to 12 inches of that is a direct result of global warming. So, more people were affected in the tri-state during Hurricane Sandy than would have been if the same storm had struck in a world without climate change.

He concludes:

For the victims of Hurricane Sandy, it may come as little consolation, but history may show them to be—with absolute certainty—among the first people in the United States directly affected by climate change.”

In another post over at Scientific American’s Observations blog, Mark Fischetti writes that scientists, journalists and even insurers are starting to drop the caveats, and simply say that climate change is causing big storms.

Fischetti suggests that as scientists collect more and more data over time, more of them will be willing to make the same data-based statements.

A recent study by Munich Re reported that North America was most affected by the rising number of natural catastrophes. Specifically, it noted a nearly five-fold increase in the number of weather related loss events in North America for the past 30 years, compared with an increase of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America.

In a press release announcing the study, Munich Re said:

Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run more probably also tropical cyclone intensity. The view that weather extremes are becoming more frequent and intense in various regions due to global warming is in keeping with current scientific findings†¦Ã¢â‚¬ 

Munich Re  added:

Up to now, however, the increasing losses caused by weather related natural catastrophes have been primarily driven by socio-economic factors, such as population growth, urban sprawl and increasing wealth.†

Check out I.I.I. information on climate change and insurance.

Coastal Exposure

The arrival of Winter Storm Athena (so-named by the Weather Channel), the first Nor’easter of the season, and just nine days after Hurricane Sandy has much of the Northeast covered in snow.

Such weather events really underscore the perils of coastal living. AIR Worldwide estimates the value of insured coastal properties in hurricane-prone states at $10.2 billion in 2012, of which $3.9 billion is located in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

When a disaster hits, there are many layers of facts and figures that together can help us as we try to adequately describe an event.

For example, the Census Bureau has a new tool, OnTheMap for Emergency Management that helps communities prepare for an emergency. The Director’s Blog reports that the tool traced the path of Hurricane Sandy and provides information about the potentially affected population, the kinds of businesses impacted by a natural disaster, and the number and characteristics of workers, as well as where they live.

If you’re wondering how many people were impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the Director’s Blog says that almost 4.4 million people lived in counties declared as disaster areas in New Jersey, more than 11 million in New York and more than 2 million in Connecticut in 2011.

Census Bureau data also tells us that there were 479,075 business establishments in the Connecticut, New Jersey and New York counties declared major disaster areas. Total employment and annual payroll in these areas was 6.7 million and $427.4 billion respectively. These counties represent 61.2 percent of the total employment in Connecticut, 45.7 percent of total employment in New Jersey, and 59.2 percent of the total employment in New York state.

When it comes to the key role played by insurers in state economies, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has state-specific editions of its online resource A Firm Foundation. Check out the New Jersey and New York editions for more information.

Post-Sandy: What You Need to Know

As a resident of Essex County, New Jersey, it’s been a surreal week. Superstorm Sandy caused damage in U.S. East coast communities from Virginia to Maine, but especially in the New York/New Jersey region.

Latest estimates from catastrophe modeler Eqecat put insured losses at up to $20 billion and total economic damage at up to $50 billion.

Eqecat said a number of factors influenced its revised estimates including large electric and utility losses that will trigger significantly more insured losses (business interruption) than were expected.

As my neighbors deal with downed trees, damaged homes, lack of power/heat and food spoilage, I’ve been asked a few questions on insurance coverage.

Here are  my top 3, with reference to the Insurance Information Institute’s (I.I.I.) Hurricane Sandy FAQs:

1. A tree fell on my house or garage, can I file a claim?

The short answer is yes. If a tree hit your home, that damage is covered under your homeowners insurance policy. If your tree fell on your neighbor’s home or garage, his or her insurer would pay for the damage; however, if the felled tree was poorly maintained or diseased and you took no steps to take care of it, their insurer may seek reimbursement from you for the damages. Homeowners insurance policies do not pay for removal of trees or landscaping debris that did no damage to an insured structure.

2. The power went out during the storm and I had to throw out all the spoiled food in the refrigerator and freezer, is this covered?

Following a hurricane, some insurance companies may include food-spoilage coverage, usually for a set amount that can range from $250 to $500 per appliance. Check with your agent or insurance company.

3. Should I still file a claim if I think the damage is less than my deductible?

Yes. Sometimes there may be additional damage that becomes evident in the months following a significant storm. Filing a claim, even if the damage total is under your deductible, will protect you in the event further repairs are needed. And if your home suffers damage from more than one storm in a single season, the damage from the first storm may apply toward the deductible amount.