Category Archives: Business Risk

JIF 2021: Risk & the “New Normal”

Insurance industry decision makers and thought leaders gathered yesterday for the Triple-I Joint Industry Forum (JIF) in New York City to share insights on managing risk in the post-pandemic world.

The in-person, daylong program was conducted in accordance with New York City’s COVID-19 protocols. Topics ranged from climate and cyber risk and the impact of “runaway litigation” on insurer losses and policyholder premiums to the challenges and opportunities presented by “the Great Resignation” for acquiring and nurturing talent in the industry.

The panels featured speakers from across the insurance world, academia, and media. Watch this space next week for panel wrap-ups.

Deepfake: A Real Hazard

By Maria Sassian, Triple-I consultant

Videos and voice recordings manipulated with previously unheard-of sophistication – known as “deepfakes“ – have proliferated and pose a growing threat to individuals, businesses, and national security, as Triple-I warned back in 2018.

Deepfake creators use machine-learning technology to manipulate existing images or recordings to make people appear to do and say things they never did. Deepfakes have the potential to disrupt elections and threaten foreign relations. Already, a suspected deepfake may have influenced an attempted coup in Gabon and a failed effort to discredit Malaysia’s economic affairs minister, according to Brookings Institution

Most deepfakes today are used to degrade, harass, and intimidate women. A recent study determined that up to 95 percent of the thousands of deepfakes on the internet were pornographic and up to 90 percent of those involved nonconsensual use of women’s images.

Businesses also can be harmed by deepfakes. In 2019, an executive at a U.K. energy company was tricked into transferring $243,000 to a secret account by what sounded like his boss’s voice on the phone but was later suspected to be thieves armed with deepfake software.

“The software was able to imitate the voice, and not only the voice: the tonality, the punctuation, the German accent,” said a spokesperson for Euler Hermes SA, the unnamed energy company’s insurer. Security firm Symantec said it is aware of several similar cases of CEO voice spoofing, which cost the victims millions of dollars.

A plausible – but still hypothetical – scenario involves manipulating video of executives to embarrass them or misrepresent market-moving news.

Insurance coverage still a question

Cyber insurance or crime insurance might provide some coverage for damage due to deepfakes, but it depends on whether and how those policies are triggered, according to Insurance Business.  While cyber insurance policies might include coverage for financial loss from reputational harm due to a breach, most policies require network penetration or a cyberattack before it will pay a claim. Such a breach isn’t typically present in a deepfake.

The theft of funds by using deepfakes to impersonate a company executive (what happened to the U.K. energy company) would likely be covered by a crime insurance policy.

Little legal recourse

Victims of deepfakes currently have little legal recourse. Kevin Carroll, security expert and Partner in Wiggin and Dana, a Washington D.C. law firm, said in an email: “The key to quickly proving that an image or especially an audio or video clip is a deepfake is having access to supercomputer time. So, you could try to legally prohibit deepfakes, but it would be very hard for an ordinary private litigant (as opposed to the U.S. government) to promptly pursue a successful court action against the maker of a deepfake, unless they could afford to rent that kind of computer horsepower and obtain expert witness testimony.”

An exception might be wealthy celebrities, Carroll said, but they could use existing defamation and intellectual property laws to combat, for example, deepfake pornography that uses their images commercially without the subject’s authorization.

A law banning deepfakes outright would run into First Amendment issues, Carroll said, because not all of them are created for nefarious purposes. Political parodies created by using deepfakes, for example, are First Amendment-protected speech.

It will be hard for private companies to protect themselves from the most sophisticated deepfakes, Carroll said, because “the really good ones will likely be generated by adversary state actors, who are difficult (although not impossible) to sue and recover from.”

Existing defamation and intellectual property laws are probably the best remedies, Carroll said.

Potential for insurance fraud

Insurers need to become better prepared to prevent and mitigate fraud that deepfakes are capable of aiding, as the industry relies heavily on customers submitting photos and video in self-service claims. Only 39 percent of insurers said they are either taking or planning steps to mitigate the risk of deepfakes, according to a survey by Attestiv.

Business owners and risk managers are advised to read and understand their policies and meet with their insurer, agent or broker to review the terms of their coverage.

“Silent” Echoes of 9/11
in Today’s Management
of Cyber-Related Risks

“The cyber landscape to me looks a lot like the counterterrorism landscape did before 9/11.”
Garrett Graff , historian and journalist

Before Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism coverage was included in most commercial property policies as a “silent” peril – not specifically excluded, therefore covered. Afterward, insurers began excluding terrorist acts from policies, and the U.S. government established the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) to stabilize the market.

TRIA requires insurers to make terrorism coverage available to commercial policyholders but doesn’t require policyholders to buy it. Originally created as three-year program allowing the federal government to share losses due to terrorist attacks with insurers, it has been renewed four times: in 200520072015, and 2019.  

An evolving risk

Terrorism risk has evolved in complexity and scope, and some in the national security world have compared U.S. cybersecurity preparedness today to its readiness for terrorist acts two decades ago.

“The cyber landscape to me looks a lot like the counterterrorism landscape did before 9/11,” historian and journalist Garrett Graff said during a recent Homeland Security Committee event at which scholars and former 9/11 Commission members urged lawmakers to increase funding for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and other federal agencies focused on preventing attacks.

Cyber is more complicated, said Amy Zegart, co-director of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, due to the private sector’s role “as both a victim and a threat vector. There are more people in the U.S. protecting our national parks than there are in CISA protecting our critical infrastructure.”  Cyberattacks like the one on the Colonial Pipeline underscore this reality.

When TRIA was reauthorized in 2019, a crucial component was the mandate for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to make recommendations to Congress on amending the act to address cyberthreats. The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill now being considered in Congress proposes $1.9 billion for cybersecurity, with more than half set aside for state, local, and tribal governments. It would establish a Cyber Response and Recovery Fund for use by CISA.

“Silent cyber”

Like terrorism before 9/11, much cyber risk remains silent. Silent cyber – also called “non-affirmative cyber” – refers to potential losses stemming from policies not designed to cover cyber-related hazards. If silent cyber isn’t addressed, insurer solvency could be affected, ultimately hurting policyholders. 

The United Kingdom’s Prudential Regulation Authority in 2019 sent a letter to all U.K. insurers saying they must have “action plans to reduce the unintended exposure” to non-affirmative cyber. Later that year, Lloyd’s issued a bulletin mandating clarity on all policies as to whether cyber risk is covered. This led many insurers to exclude cyber or include it and price the risk accordingly. 

“Other regulators and the rating agencies have been less vocal about the issue” writes Willis Towers Watson,  “and, until recently, efforts to address silent cyber have been limited.” Some insurers – most notably in the specialty mutual sector – updated their policies in the mid-2010s to provide clarity on cyber. But, until recently, movement elsewhere has been sporadic, Willis writes.

Event-driven action

The recent proliferation of ransomware attacks leading to business interruption has led to cyber insurance – which began as a diversifying, secondary line – becoming a primary insurance-purchasing consideration. Unfortunately, while policies are available, many policyholders still incorrectly expect to be covered under their property and liability policies. Confusion around cyber coverage can lead to unexpected gaps.

“In a best-case scenario, a cyber incident may trigger coverage under multiple 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 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.”

Cyber risk will only grow in significance, complexity, and cost as the world becomes more wired and interdependent. The costs of cyberattacks are potentially massive and need to be mitigated in advance.

From the Triple-I blog

Emerging Cyber Terrorism Threats and the Federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Act

A World Without TRIA:  Formation of a Federal Terrorism Insurance Backstop

Brokers, Policyholders Need Greater Clarity on Cyber Coverage

Cyber Risk Gets Real, Demands New Approaches

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

Victimized Twice? Firms Paying Cyber Ransom Could Face U.S. Penalties

From Risk & Insurance (an affiliate of The Institutes and sister organization to Triple-I)

Silent Cyber Will Sabotage Your Insurance Policy if You Don’t Watch Out. Here’s What Risk Managers Should Keep Top of Mind

Mitigating Shipping Risk Benefits Everybody

(Photo by Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images)

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.

Pandemic impact

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.

Piracy Is Still a Risk; Pandemic Hasn’t Helped

August is International Pirate Month – mainly, I suppose, because it’s fun to say “Arrrg-ust” like a Caribbean swashbuckler from the movies.  But many people outside the maritime and insurance industries don’t realize that piracy remains a costly peril in the 21st century – and, like so many other risks, it may have gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global insurer Zurich estimates the annual cost of piracy to the global economy at $12 billion a year and, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC), global piracy and armed robbery numbers increased 20 percent in 2020. IMB PRC’s latest annual report lists 195 actual and attempted attacks in 2020, up from 162 in 2019. It attributes the rise to increasing incidents within the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, as well as increased armed robbery activity in the Singapore Strait.

In its Safety and Shipping Review 2021, global insurer Allianz says, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for over 95 percent of crew members kidnapped worldwide in 2020.

“Last year, 130 crew were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents in the region – the highest ever – and the problem has continued in 2021,” the report says. “Vessels are being targeted further away from the shore – over 200 nautical miles from land in some cases.”

The COVID-19 pandemic may have played a role in this rise in pirate activity, as it is tied to underlying social, political, and economic problems.

The economic effects of the pandemic have been especially devastating in parts of the world where piracy tends to be a problem: job losses, negative growth rates, and increased poverty. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China is the only major economy projected to have a positive growth rate in 2020. The economies of most other countries have shrunk, some by more than 9 percent. Overall, the global economy likely shrank by at least 4 percent in 2020, and the World Bank expects an additional 150 million people have been pushed into poverty.

The economic costs of the pandemic have been particularly challenging for piracy-prone countries, and pre-COVID economic conditions in many of these places almost certainly means slower recoveries. 

“Pirates, criminals, and terrorists exploit poverty and desperation to seek recruits, gain support, and find shelter. To counter these threats, we need to raise awareness and educate people, especially youth, while providing alternative livelihoods and support for local businesses,” said Ghada Waly, Executive Director at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Pandemic’s impact on crews

Crew relief is essential to ensuring the safety and health of seafarers. Fatigued crew members make mistakes, and there are serious concerns for the next generation of seafarers. COVID-19 is affecting training, and the sector may struggle to attract new talent due to working conditions.

Reduced availability of well-trained crews could leave vessels more vulnerable as the global economy and international trade rebounds.

In March, the International Chamber of Shipping warned that lack of access to vaccinations for seafarers is placing shipping in a “legal minefield” and could cause disruption to supply chains from cancelled sailings and port delays.

“Vaccinations could soon become a compulsory requirement for work at sea because of reports that some states are insisting all crew be vaccinated as a precondition of entering their ports,” Allianz writes. “However, over half the global maritime workforce is currently sourced from developing nations, which could take many years to vaccinate. In addition, the vaccination of seafarers by shipping companies could also raise liability and insurance issues, including around mandatory vaccination and privacy issues.”

COVID-19’s confounding implications for international piracy were illustrated last month, when more than 80 percent of a South Korean anti-piracy unit serving a mission off the coast of Somalia were found to have tested positive and were airlifted out. South Korea’s defense ministry has said the unit left the country in February unvaccinated. The government has defended the decision, citing lack of vaccine availability at the time.

Learn More:

Insuring marine businesses and cargo

From the Triple-I Blog:

COVID-19 and shipping risk

Litigation Funding
and Social Inflation: What’s the Connection?

Second post in a series on social inflation and litigation funding

Litigation funding – in which third parties assume all or part of the cost of a lawsuit exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the settlement – is often cited as contributing to social inflation. But, like so much else associated with social inflation, it’s unclear how widespread the practice is.

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With historical roots in Australia and the United Kingdom, funding of lawsuits by investors has taken hold in the United States in recent years. On the positive side, it can let plaintiffs employ experts to develop effective strategies – options once only available to large corporate defendants.

But it also can contribute to cases making it to court based more on investor expectations than on plaintiffs’ best interests.

Erosion of common-law prohibitions

Litigation finance was once widely prohibited. The relevant legal doctrine – called “champerty” or “maintenance” – originated in France and arrived in the United States by way of British common law. The original purpose of champerty prohibitions – according to an analysis by Steptoe, an international law firm – was to prevent financial speculation in lawsuits, and it was rooted in a general mistrust of litigation and money lending.

There’s an irony here, in that a major societal force driving social inflation today – distrust of corporations and litigation – once motivated the prohibition of a practice now widely associated with the phenomenon.

These bans have been eroded in recent decades, leading to increases in litigation funding.

“If you are trying to understand how we got here, I would say start in the 1990s,” says Victoria Shannon Sahani, a professor of law at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “The United States isn’t really a big player on the scene yet, but you’ve got Australia and the United Kingdom independently making moves in their legislatures that paved the way for litigation funding to become more prevalent.” 

Between 1992 and 2006, Sahani says, “It was sort of the Wild West of Australian law in the sense that if you engaged in litigation funding, you always ran the risk that your agreement might be challenged.”

In 2006, the High Court of Australia provided clarity, saying litigation funding was permitted in jurisdictions that had abolished maintenance and champerty as crimes and torts. It was even acceptable for a funder to influence key case decisions.

The practice took time to gain traction in the United States because champerty prohibitions are left to states.  Some have abandoned their anti-champerty laws over the past two decades. Some, like New York, have adopted “safe harbors” that exempt transactions above a certain dollar amount from the reach of the champerty laws.

“Given the stakes involve in many cases, it will be interesting to see whether litigation funders refrain from direct involvement.”

– David Corum, vice president, Insurance Research Council

Uncertainty as to market size

There is no consensus as to how much investors spend on U.S. lawsuits each year, according to Bloomberg law, “but it is not $85 billion, a number recently put forward as the ‘addressable market’ for litigation finance by a publicly traded litigation financier.”

That’s because the industry spent only about 2.7% of $85 billion during a 12-month span that started in mid-2018, according to a Westfleet Advisors survey.

“Does that low penetration rate portend explosive growth ahead?” Bloomberg Law asks. “Or is it an indication that litigation finance is a niche product most plaintiffs and lawyers find unnecessary?”

A key determinant of growth may be the willingness of funders to remain uninvolved in managing cases, said  David Corum, vice president with the Insurance Research Council: “Given the stakes involve in many cases, it will be interesting to see whether litigation funders refrain from direct involvement.”

Benefit, bane, or both?

While funders tout the “David versus Goliath” aspect of helping small plaintiffs against corporations, opponents worry about introducing profit into a process that is supposed to aim at a just outcome. A settlement may be rejected because of pressure exerted by profit-seeking funders, and a plaintiff may walk away with nothing if the trial goes against them, opponents say. 

Laura Lazarczyk, executive vice president and chief legal officer for Zurich North America, called litigation funding “abusive” and said harm “will be largely borne by insurers in defense costs and indemnity payments and by policyholders in uncovered losses and higher premiums.”

Critics also decry a lack of transparency. While the U.S. District Court for New Jersey held that third-party funding must be disclosed, attempts to pass federal disclosure legislation have been unsuccessful.

“It’s a multibillion industry with no regulation and no requirements for transparency,” said Page C. Faulk, senior vice president of legal reform initiatives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “It is essentially turning our U.S. courtrooms into casinos, which is why the chamber is calling for disclosure.” 

Such concerns led the American Bar Association last year to approve best practices for firms engaging in litigation funding. The resolution is silent on disclosure, but it urges lawyers to be prepared for scrutiny. It also cautions them against giving funders advice about a case’s merits, warning that this could raise concerns about the waiver of attorney-client privilege and expose lawyers to claims that they have an obligation to update this guidance as the litigation develops. 

Previous in the series

Social inflation: Eating the elephant in the room

More from the Triple-I Blog

What is social inflation? What can insurers do about it? 

Litigation funding rises as common-law bans are eroded by courts 

Lawyers’ group approves best practices to guide litigation funding 

Social inflation and COVID-19 

IRC study: Social inflation is real, and it hurts consumers, businesses

Florida dropped from 2020 “Judicial Hellholes” list

Florida’s AOB crisis: A social-inflation microcosm 

Social Inflation:
Eating the Elephant
In the Room

“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.

For more on this, see: Social Inflation: Evidence and Impact on Property-Casualty Insurance by the Insurance Research Council (IRC).]

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).

Litigation Funding

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.

[See: Litigation Funding Rises as Common-Law Bans Are Eroded by Courts on the Triple-I Blog]                                                                                                  

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.

More from the Triple-I Blog

What is social inflation? What can insurers do about it? (January 25, 2021)

Litigation funding rises as common-law bans are eroded by courts (December 29, 2020)

Lawyers’ group approves best practices to guide litigation funding (August 19, 2020)

Social inflation and COVID-19 (July 6, 2020)

IRC study: Social inflation is real, and it hurts consumers, businesses (June 2, 2020)

Florida dropped from 2020 “Judicial Hellholes” list (January 14, 2020)

Florida’s AOB crisis: A social-inflation microcosm (November 8, 2019)

New Perils Arise
as Air Travel Resumes

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.

Cyber Risk Gets Real, Demands New Approaches

With the cyber risk environment worsening significantly, a recent A.M. Best report says, “prospects for the U.S. cyber insurance market are grim.”

The recent proliferation of ransomware attacks leading to business interruption and other related hazards has caused cyber insurance – which began as a diversifying, secondary line – to become a primary component of a corporation’s risk management and insurance purchasing decisions.

Consequently, the A.M. Best report says, insurers urgently need to reassess all aspects of cyber risk, including their appetite, risk controls, modeling, stress testing, and pricing, to remain a viable long-term partner for dealing with cyber risk.

Cyber insurance “take-up” rates (the percentage of eligible customers opting to buy the coverage) are on the rise, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report – to 47 percent in 2020 from 26 percent in 2016. This increased demand has been accompanied by higher prices for cyber insurance, as well as reduced coverage limits for some industry sectors, such as healthcare and education. In a recent survey of insurance brokers, the GAO says, more than half of respondents’ clients saw prices rise 10 to 30 percent in late 2020.

“The rate increases for cyber insurance outpaced that of the broader property/casualty industry, but the increase in cyber losses outstripped the rate hikes, which suggests more trouble for 2021 as ransom demands continue to grow,” said Sridhar Manyem, director, industry research and analytics at A.M. Best.

The A.M. Best report says the challenges the cyber insurance market faces include:

  • Rapid growth in exposure without adequate underwriting controls;
  • The growing sophistication of cyber criminals that have exploited malware and cyber vulnerabilities faster than companies that may have been late in protecting themselves; and
  • The far-reaching implications of the cascading effects of cyber risks and the lack of geographic or commercial boundaries.

In April, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said cyberattacks are the foremost risk to the global financial system, even more so than the lending and liquidity risks that led to the 2008 financial crisis.  

“The world evolves, and the risks change as well and I would say that the risk that we keep our eyes on the most now is cyber risk,” Powell said. “There are scenarios in which a large financial institution would lose the ability to track the payments that it’s making, where you would have a part of the financial system come to a halt, and so we spend so much time, energy and money guarding against these things.” 

The Fed chief’s concerns have since been borne out by attacks on the Colonial PipelineJBS SA – the world’s largest meat producer – the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and others.

More recently, FBI Director Christopher Wray compared compared the current spate of cyberattacks with the challenge posed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said the agency was investigating about 100 different types of ransomware, many tracing back to hackers in Russia.

As we’ve written elsewhere with respect to natural catastrophes, it seems the world has entered a phase in which the traditional emphasis on risk transfer through insurance products is no longer sufficient to address today’s complex, interconnected perils. A focus on resilience and pre-emptive mitigation is in order, and insurers are well positioned to serve not only as financial first responders but as partners in managing these evolving hazards.

Ms. Winnie Tsen, Assistant Director, Financial Markets and Community Investment, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), was one of the key contributors to the GAO’s May 2021 report on cyber insurance.

Swiss Re: “Zombies”
Could Kill Recovery

Global pandemic.

Supply-chain disruptions.

Increasingly costly cyber-attacks.

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?

But in September the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) pointed to a “pre-pandemic increase in the number of persistently unprofitable firms, so-called ‘zombies’, which are particularly vulnerable to economic downturns.”

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.

Add to this rising losses due to hurricanes, severe convective storms, and wildfires; the threat of sea level rise; and the growing reality business and government disruption from cybercrime, and the likelihood of increasing premiums and reduced coverage limits seems strong.