Are Late, Wet Hurricanes Becoming a Trend?

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Insurance Information Institute

Hurricane Zeta became the 11th named storm and 6th hurricane to hit the United States yesterday, as the extremely active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season continues. Zeta struck just one day before the eighth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.  

Sandy was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic season, causing $70 billion in economic damages and resulting in over 70 fatalities when it made landfall in New Jersey. It surprised an under-prepared New Jersey and New York City when it arrived. Sandy was no longer a hurricane when it made landfall, having undergone transition into an extra-tropical (e.g., non-tropical) low pressure area earlier that day. Although it was no longer a hurricane upon its arrival, it was still immensely damaging due especially to its large size, as well as its interaction with a strong storm system moving east.

There is some history of late-season hurricanes colluding with early winter storms. But Colorado State University climate scientist and Triple-I non-resident scholar Dr. PhilKlotzbach says it would be an overstatement to call this a trend.

“We haven’t really seen a trend in late-season hurricane activity,” Klotzbach said. “A lot of what drives late-season hurricane activity is the phase of El Niño or La Niña. If you have a La Niña, like we have this year, which is colder water in the eastern and central tropical Pacific, that tends to reduce the vertical wind shear that typically tears apart hurricanes. Reduced wind shear tends to keep the hurricane season going longer.”

Klotzbach noted that 2012 was neither an El Niño nor La Niña year.

What made Sandy different?

Hurricane Sandy was a massive aberration.

“Normally, when storms spin up in the Caribbean and move northeast, they continue moving northeast into the North Atlantic and do not significantly impact land,” Klotzbach said. “Unfortunately, with Sandy it started moving northwest.” Indeed, Sandy managed to wreak havoc across the Northeast and other parts of the country, including dumping as much as 36 inches of snow in West Virginia.

“There was a big high-pressure area over the Atlantic Provinces of Canada that built to the north of Sandy and drove the storm to the northwest,” Klotzbach explained. “The sustained winds were strong, maxing out around 80 mph, but the real problem with Sandy was its tremendous size.”

Given the large size of Sandy, it drove a huge storm surge that spanned from New Jersey to Connecticut including New York City.

“The storm surge from Sandy was incredible,” Klotzbach said. “The surge also coincided with astronomical high tide, which exacerbated the inland penetration of water from the coast. For example, the storm tide at the Battery on the southern tip of Manhattan exceeded 14 feet.”

What we can do

The public needs to be more informed about the dangers of these kinds of storms. Even though Sandy wasn’t technically a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey, Klotzbach believes the transition of the storm from hurricane to extra-tropical may have been confusing for people who didn’t understand that the storm wasn’t less of a threat after its classification was altered.

“Just because the storm was changing in structure doesn’t mean it wasn’t a significant threat,” Klotzbach said. “It had just about the same maximum winds as when it was a hurricane. People also looked at the maximum wind and saw that it was 80mph and didn’t think it was that much of a problem. But it was an enormous storm, so the surge was much bigger than what you’d expect from an average category 1 hurricane. From that perspective, there were challenges with conveying the magnitude of the threat.”

Indeed, Klotzbach gives a dire warning about the risks associated with not taking these storms seriously.

“A lot of it is in the messaging when these storms are going from tropical to extra-tropical,” he said. “We need to convey how these threats are changing and that just because a system is becoming extra-tropical doesn’t mean that the threat has gone away. We need to get more social science integrated into meteorology to better convey these results to the general public.”

Cross-posted from Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator.

Mangrove Insurance:
Parametric + Indemnity May Aid Coastal Resilience

Earlier this year, I wrote about the role mangrove forests and coral reefs play in mitigating tropical storm damage and how insurance might help protect these critical resources. A recent Nature Conservancy study looks specifically at opportunities in mangrove protection and restoration and identifies where insurance could be used to support their resilience benefits.

In many places, mangroves are the first line of defense, their aerial roots helping to reduce erosion and dissipate storm surge. In Florida, one study found, mangroves alone prevented $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25% in counties with mangroves. Another study found mangroves actively prevent more than $65 billion in property damage and protect over 15 million people every year worldwide.  

Unfortunately, they frequently fall victim to development that creates the greatest potential for storm-related losses.

The Nature Conservancy study describes the implementation of a coral reef insurance product in Quintana Roo, Mexico, and explores how the model could be adapted for mangrove preservation. In Quintana Roo, a trust fund accepts money from public, private and philanthropic sources, as well as a federal fee collected from beachfront property owners who wish to use the beach for commercial purposes. It uses those funds to buy the insurance – a parametric product that is triggered if wind speeds in a designated area exceed 100 knots.

Parametric policies cover risks without the complications of sending adjusters to assess damage after a catastrophe. Instead of paying for damage that has occurred, it pays out if certain agreed-upon conditions are met – for example, a specific wind speed or earthquake magnitude in a particular area. If coverage is triggered, a payment is made, regardless of damage. Speed of payment and reduced administration costs can ease the burden on both insurers and policyholders.

“Unlike coral reefs, however, mangroves do not usually require rapid post-storm interventions in order to survive,” the study says. This means an indemnity insurance policy might be created that delivers payments based on post-catastrophe assessments of mangrove damage. “There are a variety of insurance products available that can be tailored to meet the specific needs of mangroves, with initial payouts made quickly through parametric covers and assessed payouts made through indemnity cover at a later stage.”

Before a mangrove insurance policy can be developed and deployed, a full feasibility study would need to be conducted.  The Nature Conservancy report recommends that this include “higher-resolution flood-risk models, estimation of the wind-reduction benefits of mangroves, and the construction of fragility curves to show the relationship between damage to a mangrove forest and some component of a storm event, such as storm surge or wind speed.”

P/C Insurers Remained Profitable In 2020’s First-Half Despite Challenges

Dr. Steven Weisbart

The U.S.’s property/casualty (P/C) insurers turned in a profitable performance in 2020’s first-half even as the industry’s net income dropped 26 percent compared to 2019’s first-half, according to Dr. Steven Weisbart, Chief Economist, Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I).

“The first half of 2020 was by most measures financially successful for insurers writing P/C insurance. Two measures of the industry’s health—revenue and capital—rose in the first half of 2020,” Dr. Weisbart observed, in a commentary he wrote following the release of a report this week by Verisk and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA).  P/C insurers write auto, home, and business insurance coverage.

Net income after taxes for P/C insurers was $24.3 billion in the first half of 2020 whereas this same figure stood at $32.8 billion in the first half of 2019. Contributing to that drop was $1.4 billion in realized capital losses on insurer investments in 2020’s first half, a swing from $4.3 billion in realized capital gains a year earlier, Verisk and APCIA found.

The uncertainty within insurance and capital markets due to COVID-19 could be seen in a number of ways, Dr. Weisbart’s commentary noted, as catastrophe-related claim payouts grew in 2020’s first-half, U.S. auto insurers offered to their policyholders pandemic-related premium relief, and the policyholder’s surplus dropped to $772 billion at the end of 2020’s first quarter before rebounding to $826 billion at the end of 2020’s first half.  The policyholders’ surplus is the amount of money remaining after the insurance industry’s cumulative liabilities are subtracted from its assets.

A COVID-19 Vaccine Is Precious Cargo

By John Miklus, President, American Institute of Marine Underwriters (AIMU)

While it’s not a panacea, a vaccine for COVID-19 is expected to go a long way toward reducing the number of cases and slowing transmission of the virus. Development and testing is moving at a frenetic pace, meaning that in the not too distant future a fully-approved vaccine will need to be shipped in unprecedented volumes.

Experts predict it will take anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 fully loaded flights to transport 20 billion doses around the world. While air is often the preferred method for shipping pharmaceuticals because of time sensitivity, it’s likely that large ocean transport companies will take on some of the load.

Once a COVID-19 vaccine is approved and manufactured, cargo insurance will be imperative to ensure speedy and safe distribution. Insurance coverage for pharma products, which encompass vaccines, is widely available and written by a number of AIMU’s member companies.

When one considers the infrastructure required to ship billions of doses from manufacturing facilities to hospitals and clinics around the world, this could be one of the biggest logistical challenges in modern history. Pharma shipments such as vaccines present a number of unique underwriting challenges, including:

  • High valuations: According to one industry analyst, the market for COVID vaccines is estimated at $100 billion, with $40 billion in profits. Shipping companies will handle a lot of valuable inventory and pharmaceutical companies have a lot at stake. A single shipment could be valued into the millions of dollars.
  • Time and temperature sensitivities: Vaccines currently under development require precise handling. Some need to be stored at temperatures as low as -80C (-112F), which will require special refrigerated containers, along with rigorous temperature monitoring and quality control.
  • Careful packaging and handling requirements: The vaccine will require special packaging such as cold-resistant vials and boxes to hold multiple vials. Dry ice may be required, along with syringes and protective equipment for healthcare workers administering the vaccine. Besides pharmas, the vendors who supply these products will also have skin in the game.
  • High theft exposure: Pharma companies plan to use everything from GPS to track their product to fake shipments to confuse criminals. One glassmaker plans to use black-light verification to prevent counterfeiting. Since the start of the pandemic, tests, masks and other gear have gone missing, so it’s not a stretch to think professional thieves and cargo theft gangs will want to get their hands on a precious and valuable vaccine.

The involvement of experienced loss prevention experts is vital to provide advice on proper packaging, proper handling and storage, setting standards and procedures for transportation providers, and recommending security measures to ensure safe delivery. AIMU member companies believe in the old saying that the best loss scenario is preventing one from ever occurring.

Latest “Lightning Round” Highlights Resilience Hack-a-Thon Winners

Last week’s Lightning Round III: Products and Services for Disaster and Risk Mitigation featured presentations by four teams of entrepreneurs who have developed products to boost societal resilience and mitigate natural disaster risks. This was the third time this year that Triple-I and its Resilience Accelerator, ResilientH20 Partners and The Cannon, have connected entrepreneurs with leading insurance innovation specialists and investors.

The first two presentations were by prize-winning teams from 2020’s Hack-for-Resilience competition, which was hosted by Wharton Risk Center and Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator. The teams presented:  

  • Air.ly:  An app that identifies locales near wildfire zones where individuals afflicted with respiratory issues, or other health complications, can find fresh-air recreation opportunities. It won the prize this year for the Best Overall Hack-for-Resilience.
  • Insura: An app that uses a home’s location and historical loss data to recommend mitigation and maintenance activities that could reduce a homeowner’s insurance premiums.  It won this year’s prize for the Best Application of Insurtech.

Ami Nachiappan, a Junior at New York University, presented on behalf of the four-member Air.ly team.

“For many with sensitive respiratory systems, the wildfires’ smoke has created difficulty breathing and dizziness,” she said, pointing out that this can be the case hundreds of miles from fire locations and long after the blazes have been extinguished.

Air.ly provides “a comprehensive visualization of real-time air-quality data across the U.S.,” as well as well as recommending locations for safe outdoor recreation activities. Existing weather apps that display air-quality information lack “call to action options and cautionary warnings,” and recreation apps like Yelp lack real-time weather and air-quality information.

This fragmentation, Nachiappan said, is what sets Air.ly apart.

Savan Patel, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke for the four-member Insura team. Insura is a third-party “gamification platform” for home improvement products modeled after applications that seek to reduce automobile accidents and claims by influencing driver behavior.

In addition to the hack-a-thon winners, two established businesses – members of the Resilience Innovation Hub “portfolio of disaster risk-mitigation innovation” presented their products:

  • Thermal Gate™ 2.5:  An artificial intelligence-based system that screens and detects individuals who have an elevated body temperature before they enter venues that are open to the public.
  • Mesh++ : A just-in-time WiFi community network that requires no external power or wiring to generate broadband access for first-responders, citizens, and preparedness interests.

All four presentations can be viewed below:

N.C. Ruling Goes Against Prevailing Judicial Wisdom on COVID-19 Business Interruptions

A North Carolina court has ruled that Cincinnati Insurance Co. must pay 16 restaurants’ claims for business income (interruption) losses due to government-ordered COVID-19 shutdowns – a decision that runs counter to those of most judges who’ve ruled on similar cases.

As hundreds of COVID-19-related lawsuits regarding business interruption coverage make their way through U.S. courts, judge after judge has found in favor of insurer defendants. The central point has been that coverage depends – as specified in the insurance policies – on the policyholder suffering a “direct physical loss.”

“Business income (interruption) policies generally reimburse a business owner for lost profits and continuing fixed expenses when its facilities are closed due to direct physical damage from a covered loss, such as a fire, a riot, or a windstorm,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “Insurers have been prevailing nationwide in nearly all of the litigated COVID-19 BI lawsuits because, as North Carolina’s Insurance Commissioner has noted, ‘Standard business interruption policies are not designed to provide coverage for viruses, diseases, or pandemic-related losses because of the magnitude of the potential losses.’ ”

 “Policy language controls whether COVID-19 interruptions are covered,” said Michael Menapace,  a professor of insurance law at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar. “The threshold issue will be whether the insureds can prove their business losses are caused by ‘physical damage to property’.”  

Cincinnati Insurance has said it plans to appeal the ruling.

Learn More from The Triple-I Blog

THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN INSURANCE AND REINSURANCE (FAIR) RELEASES A DIGITAL BUSINESS INTERRUPTION INSURANCE EXPLAINER

POLL: GOVERNMENT SHOULD PROVIDE BUSINESS INTERRUPTION SUPPORT

U.K. BUSINESS INTERRUPTION LITIGATION SEEMS UNLIKELY TO AFFECT U.S. INSURERS

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION VS. EVENT CANCELLATION: WHAT’S THE BIG DIFFERENCE?

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION COVERAGE: POLICY LANGUAGE RULES

CHUBB CEO SAYS BUSINESS INTERRUPTION POLICIES ARE A GOOD VALUE AND WORK AS THEY SHOULD

U.S. TREASURY WEIGHS IN ON DEBATE SURROUNDING BUSINESS INTERRUPTION INSURANCE

TRIPLE-I CEO AMONG PANELISTS DISCUSSING BUSINESS INTERRUPTION INSURANCE LEGISLATION

P/C INSURANCE GROUP PUTS PRICE TAG ON CORONAVIRUS

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION CLAIMS RELATED TO COVID-19

Auto Insurance Claims Satisfaction at a Record High During Pandemic

Auto insurers used the decline in auto damage claims during the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to refine their claims processes, and customers have noticed.

According to the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Auto Claims Satisfaction Study, the customer services improvements have led to  record-high  customer satisfaction. These improvements include ensuring that representatives are always immediately available; completing work when promised; and providing multiple services at first notice of loss.

“It is extremely rewarding to see the insurance industry’s exceptional work being recognized by its most important critic: the American consumer,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I.  “During the pandemic, the nation’s auto insurers have worked non-stop to provide relief and economic security to policyholders who had to file a claim.  This is in keeping with their role as society’s financial first responders,” he said in a Triple-I news release.

Key findings of the J.D. Power study include:

  • Record-high customer satisfaction with auto claims: Overall satisfaction with the auto insurance claims process increases to a record-high 872 (on a 1,000-point scale), up four points from 2019. This is the third consecutive year of improvement in auto claims satisfaction, which has been driven by increases in performance across nearly every factor measured in the study: claim servicing; estimation process; repair process; rental experience; and settlement. The only factor that has not improved year over year is first notice of loss, which remains flat from 2019.
     
  • Cycle time improves as claims volume slows: Auto insurers have upped their game during the pandemic, taking advantage of the drop in frequency to increase the speed of processing for claimants. Overall cycle time for claimants with reparable vehicles has improved to just 10.3 days during the pandemic, down from the pre-virus average of 12.6 days.
     
  • Quantifying the COVID-19 boost: This year’s study was fielded in four waves from November 2019 through September 2020, giving J.D. Power the ability to compare pre-virus levels of customer satisfaction with those experienced during the pandemic. Notably, the number of claimants who say they “definitely will” renew with their existing insurer is 76% during the pandemic versus 72% pre-virus. 
  • Use of direct repair program (DRP) shops improves satisfaction: The industry’s growing use of directly affiliated repair shops is paying off with a significantly higher overall satisfaction score (888) than for independent repair shops (844). This is driven by quicker cycle times among DRP shops and regular updates on progress.

“The sharp decline in claims volume during the pandemic has served as a test case for the industry in how to make improvements in service delivery that translates directly to increased satisfaction and increased intent to renew,” said Tom Super, head of property and casualty insurance intelligence at J.D. Power. “This is important because it demonstrates that efforts to improve claimant service delivery translates directly to improved business outcomes. The challenge now, of course, will be maintaining that high level of service as claims volumes start to normalize.”

Given the reduced mileage on U.S. roadways this year, U.S. auto insurers are also returning over $14 billion to their customers nationwide in response to reduced driving during the pandemic, according to a Triple-I estimate.

Businesses Large and Small Need to Be Cyber Resilient in a COVID-19 World

By Loretta Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I

Advanced Persistent Threat groups and cybercriminals are likely to continue to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic over the coming weeks and months.  Weak and stolen passwords, back doors, applications vulnerabilities, malware and insider threats have been among the most common causes of data breaches in the past.  But according to a recent Willis Towers Watson report new threats include:

  • Phishing, using the subject of coronavirus or COVID-19 as a lure;
  • Malware distribution, using coronavirus or COVID-19-themed lures;
  • Registration of new domain names containing wording related to coronavirus or COVID-19; and
  • Attacks against newly and often rapidly deployed remote access and teleworking infrastructure.

Security breaches have increased by 67% since 2014, yet businesses fail to take the proper precautions.   Ransomware has become big business for “professional” criminals, crippling large and small businesses alike.  But small businesses are especially attractive targets because they have information that cybercriminals want, and they typically lack the security infrastructure of larger businesses. 

A remote workforce due to COVID-19 has made many organizations address issues of remote access and the need for multifactor authentication and virtual private networks (VPNs). But others – less cyber savvy— have left themselves exposed to cyberattacks.

In addition, vishing (via telephone) and smishing (via text message or WhatsApp) attacks have also increased in frequency, and in a work from home environment where colleagues and clients are increasingly connecting via mobile phones, vulnerability increases, according to a new AON Report. Short message attacks will generally seek to redirect a victim to a compromised website in order to harvest user credentials.

According to a recent survey by the Small Business Administration , 88% of small business owners felt their business was vulnerable to a cyber-attack – and that was before the pandemic. Yet many businesses can’t afford professional IT solutions, have limited time to devote to cybersecurity, or don’t know where to begin.

In observance of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month,  Triple-I offers U.S. businesses these seven tips for improving their cybersecurity and averting data breaches:

  1. Understand your cyber risks. Businesses are vulnerable to cyberattacks through hacking, phishing, malware, and other methods. 
  2. Train Staff. Those engaged in cyberattacks find a point of entry into a business’ systems and network. A business’ exposure can be reduced by having and enforcing a computer password policy for its employees.
  3. Keep Software Updated. Businesses should routinely check and upgrade the major software they use.
  4. Create back-up files and store off-site. A business’ files should be backed up either as an external hard drive or on a separate cloud account. Taking these steps are vital to data recovery and the prevention of ransomware. Ransomware is when a cyberattack results in a situation where a business is asked to pay a fee to regain access to its own data.

Insurance Careers Corner: A few minutes with Kristian Ottesen, intern, CNA Brokerage Strategy team

By James Ballot, Senior Advisor, Strategic Communications, Triple-I

It’s an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our personal and professional lives. Amid widespread disruption, however, people are finding ways to overcome the distance of “social distancing” and to make remote work seem less, well, remote.

Insurance business summer internships are a vital path for educating students about the industry, and for businesses to evaluate promising recruits. However, lockdowns and other measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus forced many companies to re-evaluate their internship programs. Several organizations have stepped in to ensure continuity of internship programs, including insurance businesses, industry trade groups, and in particular, Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS), a student society with 94 chapters serving more than 5,000 members across North America.

Through their Virtual Internships program GIS worked with dozens of companies to offer essential training and education opportunities through project-based or defined duration remote work. And what these businesses have discovered is that remote internships offer some built-in advantages over on-site work, including access to people who are ready-made to succeed amid disruption, as well as the ability to engage with recruits from a greater diversity of geographic locations, talents and backgrounds.

As part of the Triple-I Blog’s “Insurance Careers Corner” features series, we spoke with student interns about their experiences during summer 2020 and their insurance career journey so far.

Next up is Kristian Ottesen, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he’s studying underwriting in excess and surplus lines at that institution’s School of Business’s Risk and Insurance Studies Center.

Kristian spent part of the summer of 2020 as part of a three-person team consulting on the impact of COVID-19 for CNA, a major commercial lines carrier.

Triple-I Blog (III): You had an internship lined up before Summer 2020? What happened?

Kristian Ottesen (KO): I was a part-time intern with Allianz Partners in the Spring, which was cancelled after the first day. Other internship opportunities—including one with a regional broker in Richmond were cancelled or put “on hold.”

(III): You’re on track for a career in insurance. When did you decide this was what you wanted, and what are some factors that contributed to this decision?

(KO): I was majoring in Management and Entrepreneurship at VCU’s School of Business. I was urged by some GIS members and alumni to follow my interest into studying RMI (Risk Management/Insurance). I have to say that it’s been the best decision I’ve made in college so far.

(III): How long was your internship with CNA? Tell us a bit about the work you were doing there.

(KO): My internship ran from June through the first week of August. A lot of what I did involved independent research and reading, with the goal of finding data, news and reporting that fed into charting CNA’s strategy for interacting with broker clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. My team [of three interns] submitted research analysis for feedback from our project supervisor.

(III): What skills and knowledge did you pick up along the way—and what insights do you most want to share with others [who are looking into remote internships]?

(KO): Teamwork, of course. Problem-solving and flexibility [learning in the workflow]. My team and I met weekly via Skype; I encountered some unanticipated advantages to remote work, as well as a few serious drawbacks. Perhaps most important was honing my time management and organizational skills: In addition to working with CNA [via the GIS remote internship program], I was doing coursework in financial modeling at VCU and working landscaping to help pay tuition. 

(III): Any key takeaways or advice from this experience that you’d like to share? 

(KO): There’s no substitute for working directly with and learning from people in the industry rather than from textbooks or in a classroom. If you get the opportunity, take it!

Policyholder Dividends Soar as Auto Insurers Respond to Pandemic

Policyholder dividends have more than tripled so far this year, due largely to approximately $14 billion auto insurers have returned to policyholders in response to reduced driving and fewer accident claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) data from Standard & Poor’s Global Market Intelligence, insurers issued $4.8 billion through the second quarter of 2020, almost $3.4 billion more than the same period a year ago. The bulk of that, $3.3 billion, is a result of pandemic-related driving patterns.

Insurers in the first half also booked $4.7 billion in credits through lower rates, and another $1.6 billion was booked as an underwriting expense, according to a Triple-I analysis of industry results.

In the second half of the year, Triple-I projects, insurers will return to customers another $338 million in dividends. Rate decreases of $4.1 billion will make up the remainder of the $14 billion in givebacks.

State Farm, the country’s largest auto insurer by premiums written, in April announced a $2 billion dividend to its auto insurance customers, averaging a 25 percent credit on these customers’ premiums through May 31. Combined with the premium credit and an 11 percent reduction in premium rates, the company said, these initiatives will save customers $4.2 billion through the end of 2020.

USAA, through a series of three dividend announcements, has returned $1.07 billion to auto policyholders and said it also is adjusting its rates.

On top of these, the industry has provided approximately $280 million in charitable giving specifically related to the pandemic.