Category Archives: Catastrophes

I.I.I. Joint Industry Forum: Two-Term New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and I.I.I. CEO Sean Kevelighan Discuss Current Issues

By Brent Carris, Research Assistant, Insurance Information Institute

Left to Right: Sean Kevelighan and Mitch Landrieu

The 2019 Joint Industry Forum concluded its speaker sessions with an informative discussion between Sean Kevelighan, CEO of the Insurance Information Institute and Mitch Landrieu, former Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana and two-term New Orleans Mayor.

Leading the city of New Orleans, post Hurricane Katrina, Landrieu learned the importance of building “social resilience” in addition to infrastructure for disaster preparedness, “it is very important to be able to talk to someone quickly after a disaster,” he noted.

Resilience and leadership came up as the discussion moved to national politics. “The country works well in partnership and collegiality”, something Landrieu believed was lacking amidst the government shutdown.  The collaborative rebuilding effort from neighborhoods to local governments was one of the most important aspects to the lengthy rebuilding period from Hurricane Katrina.

When asked about what he would focus on if he were president, Landrieu quickly responded that he, along with most mayors, would likely focus on infrastructure. While witnessing the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina, he saw firsthand the devastating affect that poor infrastructure can have. Such failures show the need to build resilience, so that when disaster strikes all parties are better prepared to respond.

 

I.I.I. Joint Industry Forum Panel: The P/C Industry has been doing well, but threats loom on the horizon

Left to right: Bill Donnell, David Wessel, Jay Gelb, John Huff

By Lucian McMahon

The 2018 financial results for the property/casualty (P/C) industry were strong. According to Verisk Analytics, private P/C insurers in the U.S. reported a nine-month net underwriting gain of $4.7 billion. The industry combined ratio was 97.3 percent – down from 104.1 percent in 2017.

“It’s unusual to have an industry-wide underwriting profit,” said Jay Gelb, managing director at Barclay’s, speaking at a geopolitical risks panel at the 2019 I.I.I. Joint Industry Forum. “But 4Q 2018 is going to be worse.” The insured losses from Hurricane Michael and the disastrous California wildfires will make a dent on industry underwriting results. And in the last two years the total global industry catastrophe losses were about $230 billion, the highest level for any two-year period, Gelb noted.

While the industry did well in addressing these catastrophe losses, greater threats may be looming on the horizon for the P/C industry and the economy generally.

Panelist David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, listed a few.

In the short term, he expressed concern about the ongoing government shutdown. He also pointed out that, while incoming economic data are strong, the markets are expressing continuing pessimism, assuming higher weight on downside risk for 2019. In the long term, Wessel listed the continuing productivity growth slowdown and climate change as serious threats.

John Huff, president and CEO, Association of Bermuda Insurers & Reinsurers (ABIR), added the continuing challenges facing global insurance regulations, particularly in light of recent political events that seem to suggest a souring attitude towards global interconnectivity. Huff did express some optimism, however: “people want to stay at the table for international regulatory standards because business is global. They don’t want conflicting regulatory standards.”

Political uncertainty in the U.S. are also reasons for insurers to be concerned, per Huff. There has long been a push to “de-risk” government liabilities and move some of them into the private market, including the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), crop insurance, the Terrorism Risk and Insurance Act (TRIA), and earthquake insurance. How this will play out in the current political climate remains to be seen.

Gelb included flood and wildfire risks to the equation – both of which may increase in frequency and severity due to climate change.

Despite these possible threats, the panelists are keeping a mildly positive outlook for the future. “I think nothing is permanent, fortunately,” Wessel said regarding the current political and economic tensions.

If anything, this could be a time of opportunity for insurance leadership. Insurance has always led the way forward for economic growth. Said Wessel: “We’re in a moment when business leaders can be a more prominent voice to deal with tension […] The world is yearning for leadership.”

Roundup: How the federal government shutdown is affecting its agencies

By Jennifer Ha,  Head of Editorial and Publications, Insurance Information Institute

According to the New York Times, the current shutdown is one of the longest ever. While there have been 21 gaps in government funding since 1976, the level of shutdown has varied. Before 1981 most agencies could continue operations by cutting non-essential functions. In the media, various reports have emerged how different agencies have been affected.

While some agencies also receive funding from elsewhere, and have limited operations, others have mandated employee furloughs. On January 9 Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, announced that the agency had ceased routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables and many other foods at high risk of contamination, such as clams, mussels, oysters and other bivalves. The seafood inspection program is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose inspectors are working without pay, as are meat and poultry inspectors. 

The National Transportation Safety Board has been unable to investigate 10 new crashes in which 22 people died, and the circumstances of seven plane crashes in which 13 people were killed, two fatal railroad crashes, a highway crash in which seven people died and an incident in which a school bus collided with a tractor-trailer, injuring 15. According to the Transportation Security Administration, there has been “no degradation in security effectiveness” and staffing is adequate, amid warnings from U.S. airport security workers and air traffic controllers that security and safety could be compromised and employee call-outs.

On Dec. 28 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reversed its decision to halt the issuing and renewal of federal flood insurance plans, which could have disrupted up to 40,000 new home sales each month, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). However, rural and suburban homebuyers who depend on mortgage loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through private lenders have been stymied by the shutdown. The post-Hurricane Maria recovery will be unaffected, according to a FEMA spokesperson.

The newly created Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will be unable to protect against cyber and physical threats to infrastructure, according to a report. Another report from NBC News provides an overview of how other agencies are being affected.

 

Why insured loss numbers for the “HIM” hurricanes are delayed

Port Arthur, Texas after Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August 2017. Just weeks later, Irma made landfall in Florida, followed by Maria in Puerto Rico. The so-called “HIM” storms struck the U.S. 16 months ago, but final insured loss numbers have yet to be finalized.  Why?

There are at least two reasons: the storms happened in rapid succession, wreaking havoc on the claims settlement process; and the storms caused significant business interruption losses, which can take time to settle.

The storms happened in rapid succession. Three major hurricanes hit the U.S. within a month of each other. This put a serious strain on insurers’ ability to adjust losses – basically, investigating and settling claims. There weren’t enough local adjusters, so others had to be brought in from other states. But despite the reinforcements, there weren’t always enough adjusters to go around as storm followed storm. Claim reports were therefore delayed and the expenses for adjusting losses increased. (Similar issues cropped up during the 2005 season, when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana only three weeks apart.)

This problem was especially acute in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. As the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO noted, loss adjusters and contractors had to be flown in from the mainland – but not nearly enough of them were available, since many were still working on damage from Harvey and Irma. Fewer adjusters and contractors meant that, in many cases, only emergency repairs could be completed. As these temporary repairs deteriorated, buildings were further damaged, and more repair payments had to be made. Additionally, PCS noted that mainland adjusters may have been unfamiliar with the insurance policies typical in Puerto Rico, leading to insurers having to reopen some claims.

Claims were also reopened in Florida after Hurricane Irma, but for different reasons. In April 2018 Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Corp. announced that it had reopened about 37 percent of its Irma-related claims since the storm. Citizens stated that many claims required additional payments or needed more information.

A high volume of reopened claims could be due to insurers paying out losses too quickly. Some have argued that insurers in Florida had acted so quickly in an attempt to avoid dealing with assignment of benefits (AOB) claims. (Check out the I.I.I.’s recent report on Florida’s AOB crisis for more information.) Several insurers have noted that insured losses for Irma continue to rise because of AOB claims, reopened claims, and higher adjustment expenses.

Business interruption issues continue. “Business interruption” usually includes losses that result from a business’s lost revenue and increased expenses caused by property damage following a hurricane. Sometimes these policies will also cover losses from utility outages. Depending on how severe the damage is, business interruption claims can be quite large – and they can take a long time to settle.

Consider Puerto Rico: Unfortunately, Hurricane Maria slammed the island’s fragile infrastructure and energy grid. The pharmaceutical industry, which has a large manufacturing footprint on the island, was particularly affected. The commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted at the time that damaged factories weren’t nearly as big a problem as an unstable electric grid. There were shortages of some drugs and medical devices for months after Maria struck.

Because of these issues, we can’t expect the final insured losses for the HIM storms until maybe mid-2019, almost two years after the fact.

The 2018 Hurricane Season: A Retrospective

Hurricane Michael

The 2018 hurricane season officially ended on November 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) storm counts for the season were: 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes. Two of these were “major” hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5).

To put that into perspective, the average hurricane season has 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, of which three are major. That makes 2018 a little worse than a “normal” year, and well within NOAA’s predictions before the start of the season on June 1.

Fortunately, these numbers are down from the especially destructive 2017 season, which included the so-called “HIM” storms (Harvey, Irma, and Maria). In 2017 there were 17 named storms, including 10 hurricanes, of which six were major.

But that is little comfort to the people affected by the two major hurricanes, Florence and Michael.

Hurricane Florence: Florence reached Category 4 status on September 10, making landfall on September 14 in North Carolina as a Category 1. Because the storm moved very slowly, Florence dumped at least 30 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina, setting a record in the state for rain from a hurricane.

Catastrophe modelers have estimated that insured losses from Hurricane Florence could range from $2.5 billion to $5.0 billion, excluding National Flood Insurance Program losses. Worryingly, it’s been estimated that somewhere between 70 percent and 85 percent of flood losses are uninsured (get flood insurance, everybody).

Hurricane Michael: Michael became a strong Category 4 storm on October 10 and made landfall shortly afterward in the Florida panhandle. The storm registered wind speeds just under Category 5-level speeds, making Michael perhaps the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Florida panhandle.

Catastrophe modelers estimated that insured losses from Hurricane Michael could range from $6 billion to $10 billion.

(The loss numbers for both hurricanes are subject to change, since losses are still being adjusted and paid out.)

In comparison, the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO estimates that insured losses from Hurricane Harvey will top $14 billion. PCS estimates that insured losses from Hurricane Irma will be more than $20 billion.

At a high level, the 2018 season was bad – but compared to last year, it could also have been a whole lot worse. Not that that’s any comfort to people who lost homes or family members. Hopefully 2019 will be calmer.

For more information on the 2018 season, see the I.I.I.’s Facts + Statistics: Hurricanes page. And again, get flood insurance.

Assignment of Benefits and Hurricane Loss Creep

We’re putting the finishing touches on a major research project on the assignment of benefits problem in Florida, a phenomenon in which a quirk in that state’s laws becomes a lever with which the less-than-scrupulous can supersize a claim settlement.

Our paper looks at how the problem has spread across lines of business – from no-fault insurance to homeowners to auto physical damage claims – and across the state – what started in South Florida has metastasized into the Interstate 4 corridor. Even far west on the Panhandle,  Escambia County (Pensacola) has had 346 assignment of benefits lawsuits this year through November 9. Five years ago it had 20.

Our research focused on the growth from one line of business to another and the spread of the problem over time. Artemis.bm has an interesting take on the knock-on effect from the way the problem is rolling through Hurricane Irma claims. Artemis is a website that is expert in alternative sources of insurance capital like catastrophe bonds, collateralized reinsurance and industry loss warranties.

That marketplace is fretting, in part, because after one major event, the capital that insured (or reinsured) that event is locked up. It can’t be used to insure against a second event until it is clear that it won’t be needed for the first.

And losses from Irma, a 2017 storm,  keep rising. In August, four insurers raised their loss estimates more than $1 billion.  The total  this month passed $11 billion, according to Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation. More than 76,000 remain open.

What is causing the creep? Assignment of benefits issues are a prime suspect. Unscrupulous contractors dupe policyholders into letting the contractor settle directly with their insurance company – without letting the insurance company know. The insurer gets the news in the form of a bill to pay – never having had a chance to ensure the repairs were appropriate or done competently.

Disputes often go to court, where if the insurer loses, it must pay the plaintiff’s legal costs as well as its own.

As Irma’s loss estimates grow, reinsurers and alternative capital sources worry that the same thing will happen to Hurricane Michael claims. Michael struck six weeks ago, but the number of claims is accelerating.

Artemis cautions against overreacting to Irma’s situation, but notes that reinsurance markets may need to price for loss creep (read: charge more for reinsurance), which ultimately pushes homeowner premiums higher.

 

 

Mobile claims units are on the ground in Panama City to assist insurance customers impacted by Hurricane Michael

Earlier in the week, Lynne McChristian, our I.I.I. representative based in Tallahassee, wrote about her  life in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Today she returns with a follow-up post.

 By Lynne McChristian

Tallahassee, FL – We were six days without power; it felt longer. Two back-to-back days of record-breaking October temperatures peaking at 90 degrees. The generator was a godsend, even if it was not powering air conditioning, only the refrigerator, an oxygen concentrator for my ailing mother, and random lights. I was trying to keep only one light on at a time to minimize the number of gasoline refills required for the generator.

At dusk, however, it became too dim for mom to navigate the house, so we flipped on more lights – and that meant refilling the generator every 8-10 hours. It ran out of gas at approximately 2:30 a.m. two nights in a row. The first night, I gassed it up in the pitch darkness with a camping light resting on the hood of my car. The second night the generator sat silent, to be refilled at daylight.

I highly recommend having a portable generator ready in advance, rather than waiting (as I did) until you experience two days without power. Here are a few models that FEMA recommends.

On Monday, I drove to Panama City to connect with insurers, many of whom had been on the scene since Sunday. Fleets of insurance company mobile claims units were in multiple places in the area, including a Lowe’s parking lot where claims adjusters from Allstate, USAA and Met Life were helping people start the insurance claims process.

Insurance claim checks were being written on the spot to storm victims for preliminary damage and for additional living expenses. I tried to drive further into town to tour the most severely damaged areas, but traffic was at a crawl. Perhaps the traffic snarl was a combination of residents trying to get back to their homes, those coming to render aid – and the curious. It felt more chaotic as fire trucks and ambulances, law enforcement vehicles and Florida Highway Patrol escorts for utility trucks were splitting through traffic and edging along the shoulder of the road. It was clear the area was still in disaster response mode, not recovery.

Panama City Beach is a tourist area about 10 miles Panama City. On Monday it was a ghost town. Beach Front Road had blocks of mainly empty hotels, closed shops, shuttered amusements, and an occasional restaurant serving meals mainly on their outside patios. It was eerie. Bay County instituted a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Back in Tallahassee, 95 percent of residents had power by Tuesday. This city known for its tree-shaded canopy roads has a great deal of that canopy lying flat alongside the road, waiting for crews to haul it away. In areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, the road to normalcy will be a long one. Insurers are serving policyholders throughout the affected regions – to help people recover and rebuild.

Lynne McChristian, is I.I.I.’s Florida Representative, and Assistant Lecturer and Executive Director of the Center for Risk Management Education & Research at Florida State University’s College of Business.

Hurricane Michael: The top-10 insurers in impacted states

Hurricane Michael is nearing landfall on the Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday October 10. The storm is bringing damaging wind gusts and flooding to Florida and Alabama, where a state of emergency has been declared, and heavy rains from the storm are expected in the Carolinas and Georgia.

Preliminary estimates from CoreLogic® show that 57,002 homes in the Florida Gulf Coast are at potential risk of storm surge damage from Hurricane Michael based on its projected Category 3 status at landfall. The total reconstruction cost value of these homes is approximately $13.4 billion. This is likely to change as the storm develops.

I.I.I.’s Hurricane Fact Files for Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas include the top 10 property insurers for each state.

Hurricane Michael: Dos and Don’ts

be safe out there.

If you live in the projected path of Hurricane Michael, you should be prepping your home and finalizing your emergency and evacuation plans. The storm has grown to Category 2 – and there are concerns that it’ll be a Category 3 by landfall.  

Here are some Dos and Don’ts to consider for prepping and riding out the storm.  

Don’t: 

  • Don’t go outside during the storm. This is a no-brainer. Even a Category 1 hurricane can reach sustained winds of 74 mph. Category 5 winds are over 156 mph. Wind speeds like this can turn even small debris into deadly missiles. And don’t be fooled by the eye of the storm – there will be a period of calm before the hurricane force winds return from the opposite direction.  
  • Don’t grill indoors. If your power goes out, don’t be tempted to throw some steaks onto a grill indoors. Charcoal or gas grills can release deadly levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Don’t drink non-bottled or untreated water. Flood waters are often filled with bacteria and other contaminants – including sewage. Don’t drink tap water – and don’t drink any water exposed to flood water, including bottled water. The FDA has tips on how to make your tap water safe to drink.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. I repeat: Don’t drink alcohol during a hurricane. You never know when you will need to evacuate at a moment’s notice or deal with a life-threatening emergency. You’re going to want all your wits about you while the hurricane is raging – lives could depend on it, yours included. That’s why some jurisdictions will ban alcohol sales prior to a hurricane.  

Do: 

  • Do stock up on lots of water. The CDC recommends at least 5 gallons of water per person. You may also want to buy iodine tablets to clean drinking water.  
  • Do make sure you have more to eat than chips and salsa. Or bread, for that matter – you’re going to want to have lots of non-perishables with nutritional value, especially canned foods. A minimum 3 to 5-day supply per person is recommended. 
  • Do prepare your house properly. Clear your yard of furniture or anything else that could blow away. Cover your windows and doors using storm shutters or plywood – and stay away from windows and doors during the storm, if you can. Make sure your carbon dioxide detector has enough battery life to prevent CO poisoning. (Check out a longer list for house prep here.) 
  • Do be responsible and prepare for the worst. Make sure you have emergency and evacuation plans in place before the storm hits. Communicate these plans to everyone at your house. Find out where the nearest storm shelter is. Keep track of the storm. Have flashlights and extra batteries ready. Buy a first aid kit. Ready.gov has more advice here 

These are not exhaustive lists. Make sure to check governmental information for help on prepping for a hurricane. And be safe out there. Hurricanes are not a joke.

Is this your boat?

In New Bern, North Carolina, a coastal town hit hard by Hurricane Florence, the storm surge deposited a stray sailboat in a homeowner’s back yard. President Trump’s offhand remark that the homeowner “got a nice boat out of the deal” was the subject of some derision. However, the homeowner may in fact be the new owner of the boat since North Carolina precedent allows an owner to walk away from a vessel rendering it abandoned private property.

A recent Financial Times article, takes a deep dive into the potential implications for the homeowner of becoming the unintentional owner of the CSY 44 sailboat. The boat is likely to be heavily damaged and in need of salvage. Since the boat’s original owner is not required to carry insurance, paying for salvage or just getting the boat removed from their property would be the homeowners’ responsibility.

Homeowners insurance could cover some of the costs, but the article notes that the homeowner is likely to hand over the title over to a professional salvor as payment for having the boat removed.