By Loretta Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I
More than $1 billion in lightning-caused U.S. homeowners insurance claims were paid out in 2021 to 60,000-plus policyholders, with 40 percent of that figure ($522 million) attributable to California alone, according to Triple-I.
Based on national insurance claims data, the Triple-I found:
The total value of claims in 2021 were down more than 36 percent from 2020 but increased more than 43 percent since 2017, from $916.6 million to more than $1.3 billion;
The average number of lightning-caused U.S. homeowners insurance claims fell more than 15 percent between 2020 and 2021, continuing a downward trend since 2017 of more than 28 percent; and
The average cost per claim was also down 25 percent from 2020 (28,885 to 21,578), but the five-year trend shows the average cost per claim has doubled, to $21,578 from $10,781.
The average cost per claim is volatile from year to year, but it has been particularly high in the past two years because of lightning fires throughout the country, the Triple-I noted.
Not only does lightning result in deadly fires it can cause severe damage to appliances, electronics, computers and equipment, phone systems, electrical fixtures, and the electrical foundation of a home. The resulting damage may be far more significant than a homeowner realizes. Supply-chain delays are also sending appliances and electronics prices higher.
Florida—the state with the most thunderstorms—remained the top state for number of lightning claims in 2021, with 5,339, followed by Texas, Georgia, and California, respectively. California, which had 3,381 lightning claims, had the highest average cost per claim at $154,574, the second year to have an impact on the Golden State.
By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I (06/08/2022)
Nearly three-quarters of property and casualty policyholders consider climate change a “primary concern,” and more than 80 percent of individual and small-commercial clients say they’ve taken at least one key sustainability action in the past year, according to a report by Capgemini, a technology services and consulting company, and EFMA, a global nonprofit established by banks and insurers.
Still, the report found not enough action is being taken to combat these issues, with a mere 8 percent of insurers surveyed considered “resilience champions,” which the report defined as possessing “strong governance, advanced data analysis capabilities, a strong focus on risk prevention, and promote resilience through their underwriting and investment strategies.”
The report emphasizes the economic losses associated with climate, which it says have grown by 250 percent in the last 30 years. With this in mind, 73 percent of policyholders said they consider climate change one of their primary concerns, compared with 40 percent of insurers.
The report recommended three policies that could assist in creating climate resiliency among insurers:
Making climate resilience part of corporate sustainability, with C-suite executives assigned clear roles for accountability;
Closing the gap between long-term and short-term goals across a company’s value chain; and
Redesigning technology strategies with product innovation, customer experience, and corporate citizenship, utilizing advancements like machine learning and quantum computing
“The impact of climate change is forcing insurers to step up and play a greater role in mitigating risks,” said Seth Rachlin, global insurance industry leader for Capgemini. “Insurers who prioritize focus on sustainability will be making smart long-term business decisions that will positively impact their future relevance and growth. The key is to match innovative risk transfers with risk prevention and assign accountability within an executive team to ensure goals are top of mind.”
A global problem
Recent floods in South Africa, scorching heat in India and Pakistan, and increasingly dangerous hurricanes in the United States all exemplify the dangers of changing climate patterns. As Efma CEO John Berry said, “While most insurers acknowledge climate change’s impact, there is more to be done in terms of demonstrative actions to develop climate resiliency strategies. As customers continue to pay closer attention to the impact of climate change on their lives, insurers need to highlight their own commitment by evolving their offerings to both recognize the fundamental role sustainability plays in our industry and to stay competitive in an ever-changing market.”
Data is key
The report says embedding climate strategies into their operating and business models is essential for “future-focused insurers,” but it adds that that requires “fundamental changes, such as revising data strategy, focusing on risk prevention, and moving beyond exclusions in underwriting and investments.”
The report finds that only 35 percent of insurers have adopted advanced data analysis tools, such as machine-learning-based pricing and risk models, which it called “critical to unlocking new data potential and enabling more accurate risk assessments.”
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.”
“Neither the United States Geological Survey (USGS) nor any other scientists have accurately predicted a major earthquake,” according to a recent post in the California Residential Mitigation Program (CRMP) blog. “And scientists do not expect to be able to predict earthquakes in the future. However, USGS scientists can calculate the probability that a significant earthquake will occur in a specific area within a certain number of years.”
Forecasting earthquakes directly before they occur is not possible – and the risk of a large earthquake remains high. With more than 15,000 known faults in California – more than 500 categorized as “active” – and most Californians living within 30 miles of an active fault, no one in the Golden State is immune to earthquake risk.
With this in mind, the United States government has been working toward greater quake preparedness. The USGS recently released a report, UCERF3: A New Earthquake Forecast for California’s Complex System,projecting a 93 percent probability of one or more magnitude 6.7 quake or greater hitting Southern California over the 30-year period that began in 2014. Additionally, the USGS predicts that, over the same period, there is more than a 99 percent chance of at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquakes occurring in all of California.
What can you do to prepare?
ShakeAlert is a tool that helps Californians provide an initial alert concerning an imminent tremor. This early warning system delivers information that on earthquakes moments after it is begun, such as the expected intensity of ground shaking, and warning people who may be affected.
Additionally, retrofitting older homes – particularly those built before 1980, which predate modern seismic building codes – can help create more quake-resistant and resilient residences. Indeed, U.S. Census data found that than 53 percent of the housing units in San Diego County fall into that category.
As wildfires and other climate-related events continue to capture headlines, it’s important that homeowners and businesses in quake-prone areas do not neglect earthquake preparation. Most standard homeowners and renters insurance don’t cover most earthquake damage. However, with the right tools and information, people can better prepare for tremors, keeping themselves and their homes safe.
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.
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.