All posts by Maria Sassian

My floodiversary

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Today marks one year when my car got flooded, I got stranded, and I learned a huge lesson: I call it my floodiversary.

We keep a small saltwater tank, and to keep the tank healthy, it needs regular water changes. Before the Fourth of July weekend I decided to swing by the local fish store and pick up 5 gallons of water to replenish the tank. That way I could get the chores out of the way in order to relax and enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend.

I got to the store in time and picked up a five-gallon industrial container. I put it in the back, put the hatch down and started the 30-minute trip home. About halfway there, I made a turn. That’s when the trouble started. The car began to lose power. Fortunately I was able to pull over. I tried to start the car. Nothing. A new car…why? Then it occurred to me: the %$@*& water. I went to the back, opened the hatch and sure enough, my trunk had about an inch of water gently sloshing back and forth. I started to try and scoop the water out with the bucket, but it was impossible.

I went back to the car, got in and left the door open and started to assess my options. It was sweltering–about 90 degrees; I was in the middle of nowhere and had spotty cell service. I let my family know where I was and tried to connect to my car’s emergency system. After many tries and fails, and even speaking to an engineer, it was clear the car was not going to start up again. So I waited for the tow truck and my husband, as I swatted mosquitoes and thought about cold drinks and air-conditioning.

The tow truck arrived from the dealership, but the guy was in a hurry. He refused to let me ride back with him, but it was a war of wills. I was determined not to be left on the side of the road, so I stalled by asking him questions until my husband pulled up. We both watched as the car was raised on the flatbed, with water streaming out the back. It was a holiday weekend, so the car would have to sit on the lot in the heat all weekend. My husband had brought a stack of towels, so we did what we could. We looked at each other. No more water in the car.

On the ride back home I called my insurer. They couldn’t do much over the weekend but would be back in touch after the holiday. The next week I got the call. After the deductible was met, the damage was all covered—about $4,500 all in. My insurance also covered the cost of a rental car. The adjuster assured me the car would be fine; it turns out the water had shorted out a panel located in the trunk of the car that connected to its “brain.” But after the ordeal, it was a relief to know the car would be ok and ready to drive after a few days. The adjustor had been pleasant and helpful. “I got to tell you,” he said, “I’ve seen flooding before. But I’ve never seen a car flooded from the inside.”

Don’t Get Burned by Mishandled Fireworks

As towns cancel fireworks celebrations because of the coronavirus pandemic, many more backyard and neighborhood fireworks displays will likely take place on July Fourth.

In New York City, more than 12,500 calls were made to 911 for illegal fireworks in June alone – roughly  12 times the number of comparable calls received  in the first six months of 2019.

Though fireworks are legal in some form in most states, they can be very dangerous when not handled by professionals. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks caused 19,500 fires in 2018. A recent wildfire in Utah that prompted the evacuation of 100 homes was attributed to fireworks.

And nearly 4,900 Americans go to the emergency room with fireworks-related injuries during the first eight days of July, according to the Pew Research Center.  

The video above explains the insurance coverage available for fireworks-related damage or injury. For example, if a neighbor’s fireworks damage your home, their homeowners policy should cover you. But if you are setting off illegal fireworks, remember: homeowners insurance  doesn’t usually cover accidents caused by illegal actions.

For Fourth of July  safety tips, click here.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday!

Understanding FEMA and other flood maps

On June 29 the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research firm, released an analysis of flood risk which shows that nearly 6 million of the nation’s properties are at more substantial risk of flooding than indicated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) maps.

FEMA replied with a statement that its maps are intended for floodplain management and decisions about emergency responses and that its flood insurance risk maps do not conflict with First Street’s maps since the two complement one another by showing different types of risk.

To help explain how flood maps work, Dr. Michel Léonard, Vice President & Senior Economist, Triple-I, wrote the following post.

Flood maps are used to identify and communicate a property’s exposure to flood. 

Flood maps rank exposure from lowest to highest by categorizing an area into a set of standardized flood zones, with each zone assigned its own flood exposure level. Flood exposure is normally expressed as a percentage representing flood frequency and/or severity over a specific number of years. This approach is similar to maps for other natural perils. 

The most commonly used flood map is FEMA’s nationwide flood map. There are also several high-quality flood maps from academia, non-profits and businesses, each providing added perspectives. These maps aren’t meant to be better than one another but rather, together, to provide a fuller understanding of the risks caused by floods to homeowners, businesses, and communities.

First Street’s flood map is an example of such maps: scientific, credible, and insightful in its contribution to the discussion about current and changing flood exposure. Its main insight, that flood risk and exposure may be higher than currently implied by FEMA’s or other maps, is not a controversial statement but rather adds to the growing consensus across flood experts that flood risk is increasing in frequency and severity nationwide as a result of extreme weather events. FEMA recommends reviewing its own flood map every year due to exposure changing over time. 

The main takeaway from flood maps for consumers and businesses is learning about their own relative exposure vis-à-vis other locations. Homeowners and businesses should use flood maps to better understand their current exposure and determine, for example, whether their property insurance is adequate or considering preemptive risk mitigation. 

Homeowners and businesses thinking about moving should look at these maps before deciding about where to go. Will they be more or less exposed to flood?  How will the new location’s flood exposure impact their mortgage, their insurance costs?

That said, while all flood maps provide insight into flood exposure, FEMA’s flood map remains different from others. As a government provided flood map, it is a countrywide benchmark for flood risk identification and quantification. It is used by different levels of government, regulators, first responders and insurance companies. For example, homeowners and businesses should know that a property’s location within a specific FEMA flood map zone is the sole benchmark for mortgage lenders requiring flood insurance in order to get a mortgage. 

For more about FEMA’s flood map see: www.floodsmart.gov/flood-map-zone/about

California Reports $1.2 Billion in Premium Refunds in Response to COVID-19

Insurers refunded $1.2 billion to California policyholders as of June 26, according to actuarial firm Perr & Knight.

The California Department of Insurance (CDI) ordered the refunds to drivers and businesses in the state affected by the COVID-19 emergency. The companies were required to file reports outlining the details of their response to COVID-19.

CDI recently made these reports public, and Perr & Knight,  which specializes in rate filings, published an analysis. Here are some key takeaways:

  • California’s reports have information on the number and percentage of policyholders affected. If the state is a guide, EVERY person with a personal auto insurance policy got a break on premiums, as well as millions of other policyholders, according to James Lynch, Triple-I’s chief actuary.
  • Private auto insurance customers received the largest share of the refunds – a little over $1 billion. Commercial auto customers received about $33 million in refunds, and workers compensation customers received $82.7 million.
  • Commercial multi-peril clients received $11.2 million, commercial liability $7.2 million and medical malpractice $10.3 million.

The reports also have data on payment deferrals (grace periods), which is something that has been underrecognized, in part because it was so hard to quantify.

Insurance Careers Corner: Q&A with Mary Jo Hudson, Squire Patton Boggs

Triple-I’s “Insurance Careers Corner” series was created to highlight trailblazers in the insurance industry and to spread awareness on the career opportunities within the industry.

This month Kris Maccini, director, social media, Triple-I, interviewed Mary Jo Hudson, Partner, Squire Patton Boggs who provided insights about her career trajectory, LGBTQ+ support in the workplace, and implications for LGBTQ+ professionals following the recent Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender Americans from workplace discrimination.

Name: Mary Jo Hudson

Current Role: Partner, Squire Patton Boggs

Years at Firm: 3 years

Tell me about your current role and work at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs

I’ve been at Squire just over three years, and I lead the U.S. Regulatory practice as part of our Global Financial Services Practice Group. Our group includes several former senior insurance regulators [including myself] and several former insurance company general counsel and experienced litigators. We represent insurance companies in transactional market product issues, provide strategic advice on regulatory matters, and work with trade associations and professional associations on top regulatory issues. I particularly enjoy our thought leadership efforts – writing content as litigation experts on insurance regulations.

Prior to your time at Squire Patton Boggs, you served at the Ohio Dept of Insurance. What was your role there and what attracted you to the regulatory side of the industry?

I did two ‘tours of duty’ at the Ohio Department of Insurance. During my first ‘tour of duty,’ I was a staff attorney and then a general counsel of the Ohio Liquidation Office. We had several liquidation estates, and I was the only attorney in that office. Eventually, I went back to private practice and got involved in local politics – returning for my second “tour” as the Director and a member of the Governor’s cabinet. I’ve been out of the Department of Insurance for about 10 years now.

When I was Insurance Director – it was just prior to the Affordable Care Act – my governor had all his administration’s health reform efforts based at the Insurance Department. I was an officer of the Insurance Compact all four years of my service, and I also worked actively on numerous National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) committees and task forces, including serving on the Executive Committee and EX-1.

It was a great learning experience. Insurance regulation brings together a mix of legal and public policy together with complex financial services issues. I find the multi-jurisdictional structure to be unique and fascinating.

We’re in a time where it’s still challenging for women to make ‘Partner’ at leading firms. What has led to your success and what advice can you give to other women looking to achieve similar goals?

I love what I do. I work with great clients and try to deliver the best services that I can. Law practice – especially at a larger firm – is always a challenge, and I try to learn and grow. When I talk to younger lawyers, I tell them that when doors seem to close there are a lot of windows that open. Don’t try to force things that aren’t meant for you – continue to work hard and watch for those opportunities to come as a result of that work.

It’s still a challenging profession and industry to be a woman – particularly the higher up that you go. I’ve been an open member of the LGBTQ+ community for 30 years.  I’ve found that it’s sometimes easier to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community than it is being a woman. The gender issues are somehow larger.

I remember as a young lawyer a partner once told me ‘Don’t go into regulatory work. That’s women’s work and it’s not valued.’ Regulatory is where I excel – but that work is not always valued – unless you remind colleagues about its foundational value with respect to transactions and litigation. You learn to pick your battles wisely and push where it’s needed.

Your firm has a commitment to diversity & inclusion – recognized in 2019 as one of the ‘Best law Firms for Women’ and in 2017 as a ‘Top Firm in Diversity’. Can you talk about some of the programs Squire Patton Boggs has in place to create opportunities and foster inclusion for LGBTQ+, women, and minorities?

There is a dedication at the top on diversity & inclusion, and it permeates throughout the office. The firm has worked hard to elevate women into leadership roles. Squire continues to do the work to be self-reflective and improve on our efforts.

Efforts are also focused on connections and relationships. These relationships generate business development. Our LGBTQ+ programs allow for connections with colleagues at other offices, which has led to new work for us all.

Squire has a 100% rating for the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. It’s important and a good leadership statement – involving employment policies, benefits, and a concerted effort on hiring a diverse mix of candidates. I’ve been involved in the hiring process to ensure that our next generation of lawyers is even more diverse.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, what challenges have you faced throughout your career?

I’ve always found that I had to work hard to get to advance, but I’ve always tried to be my authentic self. I was never good at being closeted. I’ve been out since the early 90s. I did find job mobility difficult, and it was tough to move from state to private practice. I had to be patient. I took a winding route professionally, instead of a direct route, combining public service, social justice service and private practice. During that time, I was very active nationally in the LGBTQ+ movement. I served on a several boards and in leadership for the Human Rights Campaign national board. This work helped me develop personally and professionally, including some great board experience.

In public service and local board service, I had a lot of what I called ‘Lady Godiva moments’ where I was often the only openly LGBTQ+ person in the room. I remember going to community events as an elected official and people [in the room] had never met anyone who was gay. I spent time listening and learning about what was going on in their neighborhoods and lives. I developed a reputation for being hard-working, and it was all about being a good public official and a good human being – less about sexual orientation.

Has recent support [for LGBTQ+] in the financial services, legal, and insurance industries eased any challenges for the community?

I do see a lot more support. Some businesses struggle with how to translate support that into the workplace. It’s an interesting perspective to work with different companies. Some do a good job at ‘getting’ diversity and inclusion. We’re still in a very conservative industry. Some companies don’t have any diversity at all. I see it growing, but there’s a gap between large companies and companies based in metropolitan areas and some companies that are smaller or mid-range. It may be a resource limitation or location. These companies need to make a concerted effort to build diversity.

The insurance industry needs to take the lead on making a multi-year commitment to getting diversity right, or they won’t be in touch with the next generation of customers.

What are your thoughts on the landmark Supreme Court decision protecting LGBTQ+ professionals from job discrimination? What do you think are the broader implications for this ruling and how it will impact the workplace?

I did not think I would see a ruling like Bostock in my lifetime. Over the years, I would read court decisions and employment discrimination cases on LGBTQ+ and the logic was so twisted against the plaintiffs. I didn’t know how we would get past that intolerance. The Bostock decision is a signal that the social justice and education work of the last 30+ years has made a difference – but we’re not done. It is a turning point to make changes for workplace and public policies on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s a groundbreaking decision around gender identity discrimination, which has not been discussed nearly as much as discrimination based on sexual orientation. The issues of the trans community [historically] have been treated separately. It took education and a couple of generations to help define and integrate the movements. I think it’s terrific that of the cases in Bostock, the claims of discrimination based on gender identity and the claims based on the sexual orientation discrimination were so both addressed rather than split.

Where we will still have challenges – the next generation is more gender fluid. The decision  breaks down some barriers, but now we’ll need to address those issues around gender fluidity as well. Ultimately, we’ll have to work on how the individuals of our next generation can be their best authentic selves to work and to the community.

The Insurance Information Institute and The Institutes Announce Plan to Affiliate

The Two Organizations to Unify Their Voices and Modernize Their Capabilities

The Insurance Information Institute’s (Triple-I) Board of Directors approved plans this month to have the Triple-I enter into an affiliation with The Institutes, and The Institutes’ Board agreed to the affiliation June 24. The terms will be finalized next month.

Peter Miller

“With 60 years of quality work serving as the trusted voice of objective insurance information, the Insurance Information Institute’s brand is invaluable to us. Combining their assets with ours will allow both organizations to turn the page on the next chapter of their operations and sets both of us up for continued long-term success,” said Peter Miller, CPCU, president and CEO of The Institutes, a global provider of risk management and insurance education and research. “Together, we will be better empowered to serve those interested in risk management and insurance.

Sean Kevelighan

“This forward-looking decision is the culmination of several years of strategic dialogue both internally at the Triple-I and with The Institutes. Taking this next step will further unify our collective efforts when it is needed most, grant both the Triple-I and The Institutes greater access to a deeper bench of resources and expertise, and improve value for Triple-I’s member companies across the country,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I, a trusted source of unique, data-driven insights on insurance.

The affiliation, which will bring the Triple-I brand into the Malvern, Pennsylvania-based The Institutes structure, reflects the changing landscape of the broader industry and the economy. Moreover, it will unify two trusted data-driven organizations and continues The Institutes’ strategy in recent years to leverage the synergies of like-minded organizations.

For Triple-I, this evolution is the next step in the organization’s pursuit of a modern, transparent, and team-oriented structure that reflects the diversity and breadth of their membership.

Additional details will be announced publicly as the deal is finalized in July.

National Insurance Awareness Day

June 28 is National Insurance Awareness Day, which means it’s a good day to evaluate your insurance coverage and assess your risk.

Triple-I has put together a video to help remind you to review your policies and consider any life changes that might necessitate updating your coverage.

This is also a good time to consider your catastrophe risk. Hurricane season started on June 1st – do you know the storm risk in your area? Do you need supplemental flood or wind insurance? Remember: anywhere that it can rain, it can flood.

Safeguard your business from wildfires: Allianz and Triple-I team up on mitigation

With business owners facing the ‘new normal’ of a seven-month wildfire season, compounded by rising temperatures, public safety power shutoffs, COVID-19 and civil unrest – wildfire preparation will be more critical than ever this year.

As outlined in a new Allianz report “Future Fires: Weathering the Fire Storm”, 2019 was a catastrophic year with 46,786 wildfires burning more than 4.6 million acres, leading to the evacuation of over 200,000 people, sustained blackouts, and the declaration of a state of emergency in California. And this year wildfires are already blazing across drought-ridden Western states while the risk of coronavirus has reduced the number of firefighters available in California and is likely to remain well into the fall.  

To meet the myriad of challenges, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) has teamed up with the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) to provide businesses with some of the most stringent risk mitigation practices for safeguarding their establishments.

According to Allianz and the Triple-I, business owners should take the following steps to safeguard employees and property from wildfire:

1. Create defensible space around your building or structures

2. Create a Vegetation Maintenance Plan (VMP) to reduce sources of ignition

3. Use noncombustible materials for building signage, avoiding wood, plastic, and vinyl

4. Select exterior wall cladding made of noncombustible siding materials such as concrete and brick

5. Select dual-paned windows with tempered glass, kept closed when wildfire threatens

6. Use noncombustible material when replacing roofs. Homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire

7. Inspect vents and clear debris from roofs. Roofs and gutters are particularly vulnerable surfaces, as embers can lodge here and start a fire. Regularly clearing your roof and gutters of debris, installing gutter guards or screens, and blocking off any points of entry on your roof will all help safeguard your home 

Finally, don’t forget to update your inventory, business continuity, evacuation, and safety plans.

Business owners should further discuss with their insurance professionals the risks their business’s face as it pertains to wildfire and the need for:

  • Property Insurance (including the differences between replacement vs. cash value)
  • Business Interruption (also known as business income) and extra expense insurance 
  • Mitigation solutions and fire protection services available
  • Precautionary measures that can be taken today to prevent loss tomorrow

“Preparedness is as vital to an organization as business resilience planning,” said Janet Ruiz, Director of Strategic Communications for the Insurance Information Institute. “We recommend business owners review their insurance coverage to ensure they can adequately rebuild their properties as well as protect their business against major disruptions such as wildfire.” 

“Future Fires” highlights how a number of innovative technologies are stepping up to meet the challenge of the prevalence of wildfires and the prolonged duration of the wildfire season. One application of fire protection that is currently in use is an environmentally safe biodegradable fire-fighting foam used for pretreatment and suppression around property and building perimeters. When fire is imminent, foam is applied from private fire trucks appointed with state-of-the-art equipment.

The report also cites a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence company that has developed a system that analyzes satellite images every 10 minutes to identify where new wildfires may have broken out. This technology is trained to spot the likely signs of wildfires, and then alert firefighting agencies, who can verify if indeed a fire has broken out. The company hopes to have the system in place by next year’s wildfire season.

“Allianz is committed to helping businesses mitigate extreme catastrophes like wildfires with the most advanced techniques and solutions available,” says Scott H. Steinmetz, P.E., Regional Head of MidCorp at Allianz Risk Consulting. “The 2020 fire season presents unique challenges and complexities that will inherently put our skills to their utmost test. I feel confident, however, that businesses can greatly minimize their losses with advance planning and close communication with their insurance carrier before, and in the unfortunate event that it occurs, during and after a wildfire.”

Pandemic Insurance Was Available. Why Didn’t Businesses Purchase It?

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

Business interruption policies generally exclude losses from closures due to virus or bacteria. Yet insurance against losses due to a pandemic like COVID-19 did in fact exist well before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S. A recent Wired article, We Can Protect the Economy From Pandemics. Why Didn’t We? gives an in-depth look at the origins and development of pandemic insurance–and why it was ignored by business owners and risk managers who potentially stood to gain the most (or lose the least) from having it.

On the surface, the article’s author recounts the sort of innovation and ingenuity that most of us familiar with insurance can easily recognize. But just beneath is a fascinating glimpse at how insurers, virologists and epidemiologists, and data scientists devised ways to understand and rationalize the economics of outbreaks—and at the amazing race to quantify and price pandemic risks to bring an insurance product to market.

“Reinsurance is sometimes called the business of a hundred professions … you don’t just have mathematicians and lawyers and businessmen. You have former mining engineers. You have former captains who steered ships across the ocean. You have art experts who are specialized in art insurance. It is, if you like, always close to life.”

–from, We Can Protect the Economy From Pandemics. Why Didn’t We?

Like many significant advances, pandemic insurance started from a conventional, even humble proposition. In 2011, with the 2008 Ebola outbreak still fresh in the collective memory, Gunther Kraut, then a young quantitative analyst at Munich Re, studied ways for his firm to hedge its life insurance portfolio against a “one-in-500-year return period.”

Kraut later partnered with Nathan Wolfe, a globetrotting rock-star virologist, and Nita Madhav, an epidemiologist who’d spent 10 years modeling catastrophes for the insurance industry, to create what was essentially a new consciousness about pandemic risk—and tools to help mitigate potentially immense losses.

Without trifling, this is a gripping saga involving global NGOs, multinational corporate giants, visionary business derring-do, and catastrophic failures of the imagination. But from its pages, we get a fuller understanding of insurance as a pervasive force that, in spite of its sophistication, ubiquity and capacity for good, nevertheless sometimes bows to the principles of behavioral economics.  

Lightning-related homeowners insurance claims down, costs up

The number of lightning-caused U.S. homeowners insurance claims has decreased over the past few years, yet the average cost per claim has increased, according to Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) findings.

“It’s not surprising that lightning-related homeowners insurance claims costs have risen,” said James Lynch, chief actuary and senior vice president of Research and Education at the Triple-I. “Homes are more susceptible to lightning damage because electronic systems have become more interconnected – think Smart Homes – which have an easy gateway to much of a home’s electronic network, damaging scores of devices and appliances at once.”

Triple-I found that:

  • More than $920 million in lightning claims were paid out in 2019, up from $909 million in 2018
  • There were 76,860 lightning claims in 2019 down from 77,898 in 2018
  • The cumulative value of claims caused by lightning rose 1.2 percent between 2018 and 2019 and 0.4 percent from 2017-2019
  • The average cost that insurers paid on lightning-related claims increased by 11 percent between 2017 and 2019, and by 2.6 percent from 2018 to 2019.

Florida – the state with the most thunderstorms— was the top state for lightning claims in 2019, with 6,821, followed by Texas (5,780) and California (5,100).  Of the states with largest number of claims, Texas had the highest average cost per claim at $15,278.

Homeowners Insurance Coverage

Damage caused by lightning, such as a fire, is covered under standard homeowners insurance policies.  Some policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of a lightning strike, which can cause severe damage to appliances, electronics, computers and equipment, phone systems, electrical fixtures and the electrical foundation of a home.

In recognition of Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 21-27, the Triple-I and the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), a national organization that promotes lightning protection education, awareness and safety, encourage homeowners to install a lightning protection system in their home. 

“When it comes to lightning, safety and liability are two important factors,” said Tim Harger, executive director of LPI. “The safest place in any lightning event is within a structure protected by a properly designed, inspected and certified lightning protection system. Lightning protection systems protect the electronic infrastructure, core and knock-on functions of properties and can significantly reduce the more than $900 million of insured claims.”

To locate an LPI-certified lightning protection system installer in your area, click here.

U.S. lightning fatalities have also been declining, due partly to increased awareness of lightning danger.

To learn more about lightning safety click here.