This year’s hurricanes have served as a wakeup call about the importance of flood insurance and the fact that not enough people have it. Only 1 in 6 homes in the United States is insured against flood, yet 90 percent of natural catastrophes in the country involve flooding.
More of the population is moving into flood-prone areas. Not only does this increased residential and commercial development put more people in harm’s way, it reduces the amount of land available to absorb excess water. This means more homes and businesses inundated, more contents damaged or destroyed, and more vehicles immersed.
Nowadays, flooding tends to cause more costly damage than wind. An average storm year will generate uninsured losses of $10 billion due to flooding, compared to insured losses of $5 billion.
“One of the most frustrating things for our industry related to flood is that this is actually an insurable peril and it’s broadly uninsured,” said Keith Wolfe, president of U.S. property & casualty insurance at Swiss Re. Wolf recently spoke with Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan, in the latest edition of Triple-I’s Executive Exchange, about closing the flood-protection gap.
That’s changing, however, as the public and private sectors work together to improve consumer behavior and harden communities. The private market is slowly but surely closing the flood protection gap as it emerges as a viable complement to the National Flood Insurance Program.
Improvements in modeling are making this peril more insurable, and private companies are recognizing the flood-insurance opportunity and entering the market. According to Swiss Re, flood represents a $1.1 billion growth opportunity for insurers.
In high-risk areas like the West Coast with its wildfires and Florida with its hurricanes and floods, insurance non-renewals are on the rise as insurers attempt to limit their exposure to future losses. Homeowners insurance protects your most valuable possession, so the prospect of getting a notice that your policy will not be renewed can be nerve-racking.
But don’t panic if that happens – you have options.
Know the difference between cancellation and non-renewal
There is a big difference between an insurance company canceling a policy and choosing not to renew it. Insurance companies can’t cancel a policy that has been in force for more than 60 days except when:
Nonrenewal is a different matter. Either you or your insurance company can decide not to renew the policy when it expires. Depending on the state you live in, your insurance company must give you a certain number of days’ notice and explain the reason for not renewing before it drops your policy.
Question the non-renewal
If you think the reason the insurance company provided for non-renewing is unfair or want a further explanation, call the company. You may get an opportunity to keep your coverage by verifying that you’ve taken risk mitigation measures such as replacing the roof or removing flammable materials near your house.
If your policy isn’t renewed because of a failed inspection, making the proper updates could help you maintain coverage.
Check the financial health of prospective insurance companies by using ratings from independent rating agencies and consulting consumer magazines for reviews.
For price quotes, call companies directly or access information online. Your state insurance department may also provide comparisons of prices charged by major insurers.
Get quotes from at least three companies.
Don’t shop based on price alone. Remember, you’ll be dealing with this company in the event of an accident or other emergency. When you need to file a claim you’ll want an insurer that provides good customer service, so test that while you’re shopping, and choose a company whose representatives take the time to address your questions and concerns.
Explore your state’s shared market option
If you’ve shopped around and can’t find coverage, you may need to turn to the state-run shared market. Many states offer Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) policies for high-risk homes, or beach and windstorm plans for coastal properties. These policies offer limited coverage and are often more expensive than a standard home policy from a private insurer.
For more comprehensive coverage, homeowners in California may purchase a “difference in conditions” policy that complements FAIR Plan coverage.
Look into surplus lines
The surplus lines market, which is comprised of highly specialized insurers, exists to provide coverage that is not available through licensed insurers in the standard market. Each state has surplus lines regulations and each surplus lines company is overseen for solvency by its home state.
Available surplus lines companies vary by state. Speak with an insurance agent or broker about surplus lines if you’ve been rejected by at least three other insurers.
Non-renewals in disaster-prone areas
State regulators are pushing back against the non-renewal trend by placing moratoriums on non-renewals for certain zip codes, as happened in California recently, or for certain companies, as is the case in Louisiana.
Whether the decision not to renew is yours or your insurer’s, don’t put off shopping for a new policy. You don’t want coverage on your home to lapse.
Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies include additional living expenses (ALE) coverage. ALE pays the costs of living away from home—above and beyond your customary expenses— if you cannot live at home due to damage caused by an insured event that makes the home temporarily uninhabitable.
What expenses are typically covered by ALE?
ALE covers living expenses incurred by you so your household can maintain its normal standard of living. These expenses could include:
Grocery or restaurant bills
Transportation (e.g., if your temporary home requires a longer commute)
Your homeowners policy’s ALE coverage is usually equal to 20 percent of your home’s insured value—a home insured for $200,000, for instance, may have ALE coverage of up to $40,000—or limited to a certain timeframe (e.g., no more than 12 months).
What about Damage from Hurricane Ida?
Standard ALE coverage should be triggered if damage from a covered peril (e.g., wind and rain) caused the home to be uninhabitable. In addition, some companies provide ALE coverage when policyholders leave their home or apartment due to mandatory evacuation orders. Policyholders should speak with their insurance professional to confirm whether their policy provides ALE coverage for their situation.
As a reminder, standard homeowners insurance policies typically do not provide coverage for flood damage. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) covers physical damage from flood but does not include ALE. Some privately sold flood policies offer ALE following flood losses.
What Other Help Is Available?
Federal assistance has been made available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). On September 2, FEMA announced they will cover hotel expenses for survivors of Hurricane Ida with damaged homes or dwellings in 25 parishes in southeast Louisiana.
The program, known as Transitional Sheltering Assistance, will provide survivors with short-term housing free-of-charge as they recover from the Category 4 storm. Survivors must first register with FEMA at disasterassistance.gov or by calling the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362. Those wishing to take advantage of the program must find and book their own hotel rooms. Participating hotels are listed at www.femaevachotels.com.
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 2005, 2007, 2015, and 2019.
“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.
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.
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.
Hurricane Ida is forecast to hit the Northern Gulf Coast this weekend as a major hurricane. Residents from the Upper Texas Coast to the Florida Panhandle are warned to prepare for impact. In this video, Triple-I’s Mark Friedlander provides detailed guidance for preparation.
The formation of nine large wildfires this week—three in Washington, two in California and Oregon, and one each in Idaho and Montana—highlight the importance of having an evacuation plan and the right coverage.
“Insurers are fulfilling their traditional role as the nation’s financial first responders as thousands of Americans evacuate in the West,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “Wildfires are actively burning millions of acres, and as we are seeing these regions becoming more populated, it will be critical to focus on rebuilding communities in a more resilient manner, as well as make changes to public policies that are hindering the ability to clean and remove tinder which are fueling the devastation.”
Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator demonstrates the power of insurance as a force for resilience. It does so by telling the story of how insurance coverage helps governments, businesses, and individuals recover faster and more completely after catastrophes. The Resilience Accelerator also links to HazardHub, an organization that assesses the wildfire risks individual properties face nationwide.
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported yesterday that 1.95 million acres have burned in the U.S. during 2021. California’s Antelope, Dixie, McFarland, and Monument Fires grew by thousands of acres over the past few days, the NIFC added.
Oregon’s Bootleg fire, which has been burning along the Oregon and California border since July 6, continues to challenge firefighters while new blazes emerge.
“We are running firefighting operations through the day and all through the night,” said Joe Hessel, incident commander. “We are looking at sustained battle for the foreseeable future.”
A standard homeowners insurance policy covers wildfire-caused property damage to a home’s structure and its outbuildings (e.g., garage), as well as the personal belongings housed on the premises. A renter’s insurance policy covers the renter’s personal belongings. If a residence has been rendered temporarily uninhabitable by a wildfire, standard homeowners and renters insurance policies provide additional living expenses (ALE).
Triple-I offers the following tips to those who live in a wildfire-prone community.
Have an evacuation plan
Check with your insurer to see if you’re eligible to collect ALE. Some states allow ALE claims to be filed in the event of mandatory evacuations. Be sure to save hotel and restaurant receipts
File a claim with your insurer as soon as you are aware of damages to your property
Take photos of damage prior to making repairs
When making either temporary or permanent repairs, save receipts to give to your insurance claim adjuster
Only use licensed contractors to make repairs and beware of contractor fraud
Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane researchers have slightly reduced their forecast for 2021 Atlantic hurricane activity in an August 5 update.
The CSU Tropical Meteorology Project team, led by Triple-I non-resident scholar Dr. Phil Klotzbach, predicts 18 named storms this year (down from 20 in the previous forecast), eight of which are expected to become hurricanes (down from nine). Four of the hurricanes are expected to be “major” (Category 3, 4, or 5).
Despite the slight drop in the number of storms, the 2021 hurricane season – which runs from June 1 to November 30 — is forecast to be above average and follows a record-breaking 2020 season. An average season has 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Wildfire is a critical risk facing California, but at least one insurance industry leader argues that the state government isn’t taking it seriously enough.
“Yes, the governor has committed some $2 billion dollars to wildfire budget items,” writes John Norwood of Norwood Associates LLC in an Insurance JournalOp-Ed piece. “These include $404.8 million to hire staff and purchase firefighting equipment; $1.128 billion for forest management, such as thinning and prescribed burns; and $616 million to community investments.”
“However,” the Op-Ed continues, “if you compare that commitment of dollars to the list of other budget allocations the governor has just signed, it appears the administration and the Legislature determined the wildfire problem was only as worthy as some of the lower-priority budget allocations, like cleaning up trash ($1.5 billion) and paying-off delinquent water and electrical bills ($2 billion).”
Norwood is one of California’s top legislative advocates and managing partner of Norwood Associates. He is considered the leader in the state’s insurance, financial services, and small business sector.
Rising insurance costs
Wildfires over the past five years have burned millions of acres in California, destroyed entire towns, wiped out well over 10,000 homes, killed scores of residents, and blanketed the state with unhealthy air.
“California homeowners and businesses are paying five- and six-figure premiums for property insurance, and that is only when they can find insurance at any price,” Norwood writes. “California’s largest industries – agriculture and wine production – are being devastated by the lack of available insurance.”
And yet, he continues, “the $2 billion dollars committed to wildfire risks doesn’t even make it into the top five issues in the state based on the budget allocation committed to the fight.”
Role of reinsurance
Reinsurers — which insure insurers — are crucial to how the world handles natural disasters. As the frequency and severity of small-scale disasters increase, they’re having to pay more attention. S&P Global observes that “around one-half of the reinsurers we rate reduced their exposure in absolute terms, with very few players taking on additional catastrophe risk.”
It adds that this “de-risking trend” among reinsurers has been particularly visible in North America in recent years.
Without reinsurance, primary insurance rates must rise as properties in some areas become uninsurable.
Norwood argues that availability and affordability of property insurance are unlikely to change until the global reinsurance market believes California is serious about addressing its wildfire risks and there are demonstrable results in reducing the number and severity of wildfires in the state.
Without the reinsurance market backing California property/casualty insurance companies, there will continue to be an availability crisis in the state for property insurance and prices for such coverage will continue to increase substantially to the detriment of California’s homeowners and businesses.
Insurance is essential for individuals, businesses, and communities to recover quickly from natural catastrophes – but perils have evolved to a point at which risk transfer, though necessary, isn’t enough to ensure resilience.
Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan said during a that better insured communities recover more quickly but “the long-term resilience of both the communities impacted by natural catastrophes and of the industry itself depend on preparedness and improved risk mitigation.” He was one of three panelists participating in the webinar.
“Something’s Got to Give”
Insured U.S. natural catastrophe losses totaled $67 billion in 2020 after an Atlantic hurricane season which included 30 named storms, record-setting wildfires in California, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest, and a severe derecho in Iowa. This year’s hurricane season looks to be more severe; the Bootleg wildfire in Oregon – so large and intense it has begun to create its own weather and is affecting air quality as far east as New York City – isn’t expected to be fully contained until late November; and these disasters are taking place on the heels of devastating winter storms in the first quarter.
As Kevelighan put it in his panel remarks, pointing to a 700 percent increase in insurer loss costs since the 1980s, “Something’s got to give.”
“As the country’s financial first responders,” he said, “insurers are not just responsible for providing relief to the communities affected by natural disasters, but also planning for potential catastrophes to come.”
One of the ways insurers do this, he said, is by building the industry’s cumulative policyholders’ surplus—the amount of money remaining after insurers’ collective liabilities are subtracted from their assets. At year-end 2020, the U.S. policyholders’ surplus stood at a record-high $914.3 billion.
Mitigate and educate
The role of the insurance industry has grown beyond merely taking on risks to educating the public, regulators, and corporate decision makers on the changing nature of risk and driving a resilience mindset characterized by a focus on pre-emptive mitigation and rapid recovery. Triple-I and a host of other insurance industry organizations have played a key role in promoting public-private partnerships and using advanced data and analytics to understand and address hazards in advance.
For example, Triple-I’s online Resilience Accelerator provides access to data and risk maps that empowers the public to assess and prepare for risks specific to their own communities.