Insurers, regulators, and members of Congress have expressed concern about proposed changes in how Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings defines “available capital” in its rating criteria. Specifically, S&P would no longer consider certain debt to be counted as available for purposes of rating insurers’ financial strength and ability to pay claims.
“Disruptive” and an “overuse of market power” is how the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR) described the measure in an 18-page letter to S&P, which has requested comments by April 29 on its proposed methodology and assumptions for analyzing the risk-based capital adequacy of insurers and reinsurers.
S&P’s proposed changes, in ABIR’s view, would lead to the sudden removal of billions of dollars overnight that otherwise would be available to underwrite catastrophe risk – a sector in which average insured losses have risen nearly 700 percent since the 1980s.
“This debt is viewed as capital by the regulators,” ABIR CEO John Huff says in a news release. “If carriers are forced to restructure debt, they’ll get less favorable terms today. Any replacement debt will increase financial leverage, which is counter to the stability people seek from a rating agency.”
ABIR points out ambiguity in the timing of the rollout of the planned changes, saying, “Insurers and reinsurers will have no time to respond to the new debt treatment before S&P has indicated the changes will go into effect.”
“There is no glide path or grandfathering,” Huff says. “It’s just a cliff. “
Bermuda’s insurers urge the rating agency to provide a transition period for any such changes, as well as grandfathering debt that already is in place.
“If there’s a transition plan, we can work within that,” Huff says. “But having this so abrupt is quite disruptive. Standard & Poor’s should be adding stability, not causing disruption.”
The coronavirus pandemic and the financial challenges it presents have fueled growth in captive insurance – a form of self-insurance in which one or more entities establish their own insurance company. They also may insure the risks of organizations other than their major owners.
“Wholly owned” captives are set up by large corporations to finance or administer their risk financing needs. If such a captive insures only the risks of its parent or subsidiaries, it is called a “pure” captive. Multiple companies may also form a “group captive.”
In January 2022, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) board of governors unanimously approved a $175 million fund to create a captive for event cancellation. With insurers unable to cover risks related to the coronavirus pandemic – which falls under the umbrella of communicable diseases policies – because of the potential for unsustainable costs, the captive structure has become a more popular method to protect from losses.
The NCAA formed its captive after the 2020 NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19, resulting in a $270 million payout – or about 40 percent of what the 1,200 participating schools would have earned for the tournament. In 2021, the NCAA limited the number of fans at the tournament, with the organization’s coverage allowing it to pay the total $613 million to members last year. However, their coverage for 2022 had expired, and communicable disease coverage was now difficult to find.
“When the NCAA looked to renew coverage for the 2022 tournament, a lot of it was going to look similar,” said John Beam, a broker for Willis Towers Watson, “but there is not coverage for communicable disease right now.”
The sports and entertainment industry experienced losses between $6 billion and $10 billion as the coronavirus pandemic raged on, with premiums in event insurance increasing between 25 percent and 50 percent. For many organizations, captive insurance provides a viable alternative for these risks.
Workers’ comp and captives
The coronavirus pandemic has also affected captive owners in the workers’ compensation field. Indeed, the pandemic, alongside the ensuing “Great Resignation,” during which employers have struggled to retain staff, has made many captive owners potentially more willing to pay workers’ comp claims, according to a panel at the recently held Captive Insurance Companies Association international conference.
Amy O’Brien, vice president of third-party administer sales at Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., a claims service provider, said the initial phases of the pandemic saw many insurers denying COVID-19-related claims. Claims asserting exposure at work were difficult to prove, and many captives questioned if the claims were associated with claimants’ work. Additionally, there were possible regulatory changes that these captives were concerned about.
“With medical costs continuing to rise, the most significant dynamic in terms of any company controlling their workers’ compensation costs and claims is ensuring that there are adequate tools in place to help mitigate medical costs for claimants under their workers’ compensation,” said Dustin Partlow, senior vice president at Caitlin Morgan Insurance Services and an expert in captive insurance solutions.
“But with omicron and the Great Resignation, we’re seeing a change where employers are saying, ‘What can I do to get this person back to work sooner?’” Gallagher’s O’Brien said.
Approximately 90,000 claims were processed by Gallagher Bassett that covered a COVID-19 issue, with over 60 percent of cases closed without payment, frequently due to the fact that there were no related medical expenses, O’Brien said. But the 40 percent that did result in a payment averaged $4,000 per case.
“The employee is more valuable now – so they are being treated right. The employer is saying: ‘What can I do to keep this person?’,” O’Brien added.
As with so many other goods and services, insurance for commercial trucks has become more costly since the pandemic – but a closer look at the numbers shows that this trend pre-dates COVID-19’s economic and supply-chain disruption.
“Despite reductions in insurance coverage, rising deductibles, and improved safety, almost all motor carriers experienced substantial increases in insurance costs from 2018 to 2020,” according to a recent report by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). And, while frequency and severity have been on the rise from 2009 to 2018, the report shows the rate of insurance cost increases during the period far exceeding the crash rate increase.
ATRI’s observations are consistent with findings in a recent study by Triple-I and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) that the phenomenon known as “social inflation” accounted for $20 billion in commercial auto liability claims between 2010 and 2019.
“External factors that go well beyond carrier safety force commercial trucking insurance costs to increase,” says Triple-I Chief Insurance Officer Dale Porfilio. “The higher premiums ultimately tend to be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for goods and services.”
ATRI recognizes three key areas of influence on premiums beyond crash history and policy components:
Economic impacts on the insurance industry,
Carrier-specific factors, and
External economic conditions, including general inflation and rising health-care costs, contribute to increased insurance premium rates.
“Medical advances help save lives, but these treatments directly contribute to higher medical costs,” ATRI points out. “Similarly, technological advances in motor vehicles contribute to increasing costs associated with repairing them; electronics now make up 40 percent of the cost of a new vehicle.”
These higher costs affect premiums through larger claims and losses that have to be incorporated into pricing.
Premium rates also are affected by carrier-specific considerations like operational sectors, cargo values, states or regions of operation, company growth, and commitment to safety culture and technologies.
“Carriers demonstrating consistent year-over-year improvements in safety technology adoption, safe driver hiring and training practices, and crash history can potentially lower their premium costs, despite the current adverse environment,” ATRI said.
“Social inflation” refers to the impact of litigation and government policy trends on insurance claims and, ultimately, costs to policyholders. Social attitudes and behaviors affect insurance payouts through changes in laws and propensity to litigate, and jury awards don’t necessarily reflect logical conclusions or precedents. Jury decisions can be influenced by emotions, state and local laws or procedures, and plaintiff bar tactics. In recent years, practices like third-party litigation funding – investment by hedge funds and other third parties in lawsuits in return for a share in the awards – have played an increasing role in social inflation.
Cyber incidents are the top threat to businesses, according to the latest Allianz Risk Barometer survey, up from third place in 2021. This result follows several significant data breaches and hacks last year, including the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, which caused a six-day shutdown and cost the company $4.4 million to regain access to its systems.
Business interruption fell to the second most important concern in a year marked by the continued presence of the coronavirus pandemic, cyberattacks, and natural catastrophes. Still, the report notes that the pandemic “has exposed the fragility and complexity of modern supply chains and how multiple events can come together to cause problems, raising awareness of the need for greater resilience and transparency.”
Natural catastrophe risk ranks third on the list – a jump from sixth in 2021. Global insured catastrophe losses increased to $112 billion in 2021, the fourth highest on record, according to Swiss Re.
While cyber is ranked as a more immediate threat to business than climate change, the report says these two perils are “linked by the fact that two of the most significant impacts expected from changes in legislation and regulation (the fifth top risk) in 2022 will be around big tech and sustainability.”
Pandemic outbreak fell to fourth place for 2022, with many companies comfortable that they are now better prepared for the consequences of these occurrences. According to the report, 80 percent of respondents believe they are “adequately” or “well” prepared.
The 11th annual report was developed from a late 2021 survey of 2,650 risk management experts from 89 countries and territories, including Allianz customers, brokers, industry trade organizations, risk consultants, and underwriters, with a focus on large- and small to mid-size companies.
Construction material costs rose dramatically in 2021, altering the underwriting and pricing of commercial property insurance. A recent report by Westchester – Chubb’s excess and surplus specialty product group – details the causes of rising commercial property insurance prices and how they can be mitigated.
The report cites three main factors driving the increase:
More frequent and severe insured losses due to extreme weather;
A supply chain crisis that has generated higher costs for construction materials; and
Rising inflation, which totaled nearly 7 percent in December 2021 from the previous year’s period and is the largest one-year increase in the past 40 years.
Despite this dramatic rise in losses, the report says, catastrophe risk models “may not fully capture the potential losses attributable to unusual weather events like the December 2021 tornado outbreak, Hurricane Ida, and Winter Storm Uri.” The unpredictability of these storms, alongside a need for better hydrological, topological, and geospatial data gathering and analysis, continues to pose a threat for insurers trying to anticipate risks associated with commercial properties.
2021 also saw a fluctuation of pricing changes for many materials — particularly those used for building – courtesy of the pandemic’s disruption of the global supply chain. Although the exorbitant lumber prices fell in the second half of the year, the prices of materials like copper piping and tubing dramatically increased, according to the report. This posed a challenge for insurers to approximate future costs for underwriting and pricing purposes.
If an unexpected major storm hits a heavily populated region, thousands of homes may need to be repaired or replaced at the same time, pushing the cost of goods and labor – and, ultimately, insurance – even higher. In November 2021, the report says, it was estimated that commercial properties were undervalued for insurance underwriting purposes by more than 30 percent.
In addition to pandemic-driven cost increases, underwriters are concerned about the broader inflation picture and its potential impact on interest rates.
“High inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, for example, adversely affected the industry, resulting in weaker underwriting performance and reserve levels,” the report says. “Rising interest rates, on the other hand, deteriorated the value of fixed income assets.”
Economists recently polled by Reuters said they expect the U.S. Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy to tame persistently high inflation at a much faster pace than they believed a month earlier.
Where do we go from here?
Westchester’s report offers several strategies to help combat rising commercial property insurance costs:
Insurers, reinsurers, modeling firms, brokers, and risk managers need to develop more accurate and near-real-time data on building condition, drainage systems, real estate trends, and access to construction materials and labor;
Risk managers and property owners should consider entering agreements with contractors before weather events to ensure that materials and services are available when the need arises;
To ensure more comprehensive underwriting of a building’s replacement value, more frequent and in-depth property damage risk appraisals from qualified sources are needed; and
Insurers should consider upgrading loss prevention services provided to commercial property owners and rewarding policyholders with discounts and credits for taking certain risk-mitigation measures.
By Captain Andrew Kinsey, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at Allianz Global & Corporate Specialty
When an Amazon package arrives at our door, we scarcely give any thought to what it took to get here. It’s likely that your school supplies or article of clothing has traveled a great distance across the ocean by vessel.
International shipping accounts for 90 percent of world trade, and the old saying “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” is appropriate. Much can go wrong between the point of origin and destination — and lately Marine insurers are keeping a close eye on developments in our climate, the economy, and public health that could influence the odds of a successful delivery.
The annual Safety and Shipping Review produced by Allianz details trends and developments in shipping losses and safety and is a valuable resource for Marine insurers. Here are some of the major highlights.
Losses at sea
First, let’s look at losses of vessels at sea, where the trend is stable. There were 49 total losses of 100 gross tons or more in 2020, compared to 48 a year earlier. Credit better safety measures, regulation, improved ship design and technology, and advances in risk management. Behind the numbers, however, are a host of volatile factors, such as extreme weather, machinery breakdown, fires, and even piracy. Ship operators can improve fire detection and firefighting on large vessels and ensure that machinery has been inspected and is in good working order. Also, weather impacts can be mitigated by improving forecasting and vessel routing.
Another big concern of insurers is shipping containers lost at sea. Last year, more than 1,000 fell overboard in the first few months due to rough weather and heavier loads. A surge in demand for consumer goods is another factor; in response, containers are being stacked aboard at unprecedented heights, leading to concerns that they aren’t being properly secured. In all, more than 3,000 containers were lost at sea in 2020, compared with a longer-term average of 1,382 per year.
Next is the global pandemic, which has had little effect on Marine insurance claims to date. It’s quite possible that claims could increase as more vessels are put back in service and we see the effects of delayed maintenance. Another big concern is crews confined to their ships in ports due to public health mandates, which delays crew changes and medical treatment. Crew fatigue leads to human error – a major cause of many losses.
These are factors that warrant immediate action by all stakeholders in the supply chain, including cargo owners. One solution is to designate merchant seaman as vital workers so they can receive vaccines and move about freely.
Bigger ships, bigger problems
Size does matter in global shipping. Remember the ship stuck in the Suez Canal for over three months? The Ever Given incident was a vivid illustration how hard it is to free large vessels. When it takes more equipment and more manpower, someone must pay. Not to mention the societal and economic cost of supply-chain disruption. There’s a real possibility we will see bare shelves and lots of “items unavailable” this holiday shopping season.
So if bigger vessels cause bigger problems, why are there so many of them? It’s all about economies of scale and fuel efficiency, and shipping companies really can’t be blamed for trying to comply with increased environmental regulations and attempting to reduce their operating costs. However, large vessels pose problems for the supply chain, often overwhelming ports when so many containers are dropped off at once.
Vessel size also has a direct correlation to the potential size of loss, and this is an issue that keeps Marine insurers up at night. Too often, cargo is misdeclared or improperly declared, which can result in fires. For example, if self-igniting charcoal, chemicals or batteries are not properly stowed, the risk of ignition escalates dramatically. And if the item is improperly declared in the first place the crew doesn’t know what it’s dealing with in an emergency.
Compounding the problem is inadequate fire detection and firefighting capabilities on large vessels; for this reason, the International Union of Marine Insurers (IUMI) is rallying stakeholders to establish more stringent standards.
At first glance, it appears the risks associated with global shipping are a moving target. But more careful scrutiny reveals patterns and trends that, when carefully analyzed, can lead to improved loss mitigation, thus reducing the “slips” that can occur in transit.
Captain Andrew Kinsey is Senior Marine Risk Consultant at Allianz Global & Corporate Specialty and chairs the technical services committee of the American Institute of Marine Underwriters, which is a Triple-I Associate Member.
By Loretta Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I
Despite the prevalence of cyber threats and the increasing number and severity of incidents, directors, officers, and C-suite executives remain too much in the dark when it comes to cyber risk and insurance, Risk & Insurance writer Alex Wright describes in this month’s cover story, Vigilance Demanded.
While specific policies are available to cover the risk, many policyholders still expect to be covered under their property and liability policies — but are not. Risk & Insurance, an affiliate of the Institutes and the Triple-I’s sister organization, notes that commercial insurance policies still suffer from a lack of clarity regarding damage from cybercrimes.
Confusion around coverage can lead policyholders to experience unexpected coverage gaps.
“In a best-case scenario, a cyber incident may trigger coverage under multiple insurance policies and increase the available total limit to respond to a covered event,” said Adam Lantrip, CAC Specialty’s cyber practice leader. “In a more common scenario, multiple insurance policies may be triggered but not coordinate with one another, and the policyholder spends more on legal fees than the cost of having purchased standalone cyber insurance in the first place.”
Of particular concern to insurers is silent – or “non-affirmative” – cyber risk, in which potential cyber-related events or losses are not expressly covered or excluded within traditional policies. In such cases, insurers can end up having to pay unexpected claims for which the policies weren’t adequately priced.
“Cyber risk is present in just about every insurance policy now,” said Tracie Grella, AIG’s global head of cyber insurance. “But because it hasn’t been factored into the underwriting of standard policies such as property, or properly identified, assessed, priced for and put into the aggregation model, it presents a huge systemic risk that can’t simply be ignored.”
Silent cyber first manifested in the WannaCry, Petya and NotPetya cyber-attacks of 2017, which devastated everything from shipping ports and supermarkets to advertising agencies and law firms, the article explains. The resulting losses from the encryption of master files and subsequent Bitcoin ransom demands for restoring access were the costliest on record, surpassing $3 billion.
Underwriters, brokers, and policyholders need to understand how ever-evolving risks and legal frameworks will affect their policies. They also need to keep themselves appraised of the scale of the problem and understand the most common misconceptions and coverage disputes around silent cyber.
“Social inflation” refers to rising litigation costs and their impact on insurers’ claim payouts, loss ratios and, ultimately, how much policyholders pay for coverage. It’s an important issue to understand because – while the tactics associated with it typically affect businesses perceived as having “deep pockets” – social inflation has implications for individuals and for businesses of all sizes.
The insurance lines most affected are commercial auto, professional liability, product liability, and directors and officers liability. There also is evidence that private-passenger car insurance is beginning to be affected. As increased litigation costs drive up premiums, those increases tend to be passed along to consumers and can stifle investment in innovation that could create jobs and otherwise benefit the economy.
Much of what is discussed and published on the topic has been more anecdotal than data based. Reliably quantifying social inflation for rating and reserving purposes is hard because it’s just one of many factors pressuring pricing. We’ve found that the most meaningful way to think about social inflation and its components is to compare their impact on claims losses over time with growth in inflation measures like the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
It’s been said that the best way to eat an elephant is “one bite at a time.” Because of the diversity and complexity of social inflation’s causes and effects, we’re launching a series of blog posts dedicated to each one in turn. The first set of posts will look closely at litigation funding: the practice of third parties financing lawsuits in exchange for a share of any funds the plaintiffs might receive.
Litigation funding was once widely prohibited, but as bans have been eroded in recent decades, the practice has grown, spread, and become a contributor to social inflation.
Litigation funding seemed a good place to begin this series because it’s a distinct legal strategy with a clear history that doesn’t involve a lot of the sociological subtleties inherent in other aspects of social inflation. We’ll look the emergence of the practice, how it came to the United States from abroad, and track its evolution with that of social inflation. We’ll also discuss the current state of litigation finance, along with ethical concerns that have been raised around it within the legal community.
This series will be led by IRC Vice President David Corum with support from our partners at The Institutes and input from our members, as well as experts beyond the insurance industry. As befits any discussion of a complex topic, we look forward to your reactions and insights.
Among the many things we’ve missed since the start of the pandemic, travel has been one of the most notable. Whether for business, to visit distant family members, or just get away from our now-too-familiar surroundings, many of us have been keenly anticipating a return to air travel.
Flying is among the safest activities people can engage in (see infographic). But new concerns are being raised about risks emerging in a post-COVID-19 world.
The risks highlighted in a recent report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) include “rusty” pilots, “air rage”, new aircraft, and even insect infestations.
The industry is slowly rebounding, and AGCS notes that the airline teams have stepped up to ensure that air travel remained safe, despite layoffs, financial struggles, and the pressures attending an overnight shift to remote working.
“But as more aircraft return to the skies,” the report says, “there has been much discussion about the hazards that may arise from such an unprecedented period, as well as some of the changes the sector will see.”
Earlier this year it was reported that dozens of pilots had notified the Aviation Safety Reporting System about making mistakes after climbing back into the cockpit. Operated by NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) watchdog system enables pilots and crew members to anonymously report mechanical glitches and human errors.
“Many of the pilots cited ‘rustiness’ as a reason for the incidents after returning to the skies following months of lockdown,” AGCS reports. “While there have been no reported incidents of out‑of‑practice pilots causing accidents injuring passengers, mistakes reported included: forgetting to disengage the parking brake on takeoff, taking three attempts to land the plane on a windy day, choosing the wrong runway, and forgetting to turn on the anti‑icing mechanism that prevents the altitude and airspeed sensors from freezing.”
Condition of aircraft
At the peak of the first wave of the crisis, airlines parked around two thirds of the total global fleet. More than a year later, many are still mothballed.
“This unprecedented situation has resulted in a host of new challenges,” AGCS writes. “Loss exposures do not just disappear when airplanes are parked.”
Rather, the risks and their costs change. AGCS cites fears of damage among grounded aircraft during thunderstorms in Texas that pelted the region with golf ball‑sized hail.
Aircraft are large and tricky to maneuver on the ground, and ground incidents can result in costly claims. When operators transferred fleets from the runways to storage facilities at the start of the pandemic there were a number of collisions. It would not be surprising, therefore, to see more such incidents as planes are moved in preparation for reuse.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has reported “an alarming trend…of unreliable speed and altitude indications” related to accumulations of foreign objects, such as insect nests in areas of aircraft that provide flight-critical air data information.
“This has led to a number of rejected take-off and in-flight turn back events,” the agency reports.
On the other hand, as many airlines have retired larger aircraft earlier than planned due to COVID-19, there will be many newer planes on the runways and in the air, which presents its own challenges from an insurance coverage perspective. As we’ve written previously, more modern planes are more expensive to repair or replace when there is an incident, leading to more expensive claims.
Air rage on the rise
In May 2021, an attendant on a Southwest Airlines flight attendant had two teeth knocked out after an altercation with a passenger over wearing a mask – the latest in a spate of highly publicized incidents that moved the FAA to issue a warning about a spike in unruly or dangerous behavior. More recently, an American Airlines flight to the Bahamas was canceled when some among a group of high school students refused to wear masks.
In a typical year in the United States, there tend to be no more than 150 reports of serious onboard disruption, the AGCS report says – but by June 2021 that number had already reached about 3,000, including about 2,300 involving passengers who refused to comply with the federal mandate to wear a mask while traveling.
Few COVID-19 claims
The aviation industry has seen few claims directly related to the pandemic to date, AGCS says, also noting a decline in slip-and-fall and lost-baggage claims at airports because of the reduced number of passengers during the pandemic. Such claims are expected to return to more typical levels as people resume traveling, and insurers will need to be mindful of new hazards that could affect claims experience.
Extreme weather and other climate-related hazards.
And now, zombies.
Swiss Re’s chief economist this week said failures of hundreds of “zombie companies” over the next few years are among the concerns prompting insurers to reduce risk and charge higher premiums – a trend that is likely to continue as corporate failures increase.
Zombies – companies that lack the cash flow to cover the cost of their debt – are “a ticking time bomb” whose effects will be felt as governments and central banks withdraw measures that have helped keep these companies alive during the pandemic, Jerome Haegeli told Reuters.
The sobering prediction comes as stock prices hit records and the U.S. economy appears headed for 6.5 percent growth this year. Haegeli said these strengths are illusory because they’re based on temporary fiscal and monetary support.
Insurers are being cautious: reining in underwriting risk, being more prudent about investment allocations, and even taking precautions on insuring operations and supply-chain risk.
“They are not getting fooled by the short-term picture,” Haegeli said. “If you look at the market today, everything looks great. However, it’s illusionary to think that this environment can last” as “life support” is withdrawn in coming months. And that, he said, will bring an increase in long-overdue bankruptcies.
It’s tempting to presume that, as the pandemic-driven aspects of the economic crisis are brought under control, recovery will proceed apace. After all, the economy was doing fine before the pandemic hit, right?
Before the pandemic, the BIS said, about 20 percent of listed firms in the United States and United Kingdom were zombies and 30 percent in Australia and Canada. By comparison, zombies constituted about 15 percent of listed companies in 14 advanced economies in 2017 and 4 percent before the 2008 financial crisis.
Absent any reason to believe these companies’ situations substantially improved during the pandemic or that the contagion didn’t spawn more zombies, the expectation of more corporate collapses seems reasonable.