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Triple-I/Milliman Report: 2020 Turmoil Takes Toll on P/C Insurer Finances

The global pandemic and costly natural catastrophes will contribute to a projected 101.7 combined ratio for the U.S.’s property/casualty (P/C) insurers in 2020, higher than the 98.8 the industry posted last year, according to the latest Underwriting Projections: 2020-2022 report from Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and Milliman.

The combined ratio is the percentage of each premium dollar a P/C insurer spends on claims and expenses. An increase in the combined ratio means financial results are deteriorating, while a decrease means they are improving.

For 2020, insurers are projected to pay nearly $1.02 (101.7) in claims and expenses for every premium dollar they collected. In 2019, they paid about 99 cents (98.8) on every premium dollar in claims and expenses.

The latest report is somewhat rosier than prior projections. For 2020, P/C insurer annual premium growth is projected to be 1.5%, an improvement from the decline of 0.5% projected three months ago, the report noted.

“Our estimates of premium growth are tied pretty tightly to economic indicators. Estimates of 2020 nominal GDP, while still showing shrinkage, have improved. That, plus a more nuanced understanding of how insurers booked the personal auto givebacks, helped us revise our premium estimates,” said Jason B. Kurtz, FCAS, MAAA, Principal & Consulting Actuary, Milliman. 

In addition, the latest report incorporates more information as to how the industry is performing financially year-to-date. Filed first-half results provide a good idea of how premium and insured loss trends are impacting results.

“We can compare loss ratios for this year against last year and prior years and, after a couple of quarters, we can fine-tune our projection,” Kurtz said. “And we know a lot more about catastrophe losses, which are usually the biggest wildcard, and the third quarter is when the hardest catastrophes generally hit.”

For most lines of business, the forecast changed little from three months ago. Premium forecasts for lines like general liability and commercial auto insurance were affected because of the economic forecast.

“In commercial auto, for example, we thought the increase in online shopping would affect exposures more than it appears to have done. But as to the underwriting result, we didn’t change things much. Rates are higher, as we expected, and those lines are still fighting social inflation,” said James Lynch, FCAS, MAAA, Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary, Triple-I.

The report forecasts U.S. P/C insurance industry premium growth of 5 to 6 percent for 2021-22, slightly lower than the prior forecast released by Triple-I and Milliman.

What to Watch for

There’s still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the pandemic. “The industry continues to grapple with how big the impact will be,” said Lynch. “There’s more certainty than three months ago, but that still leaves a whole lot of uncertainty,” he said. “Our stance remains where it was – the net loss impact will be the equivalent of a major hurricane – but as industry veterans know, some major hurricanes hit harder than others.”   

Also, the path the economy takes as a result of the pandemic matters, added Kurtz. “Gross domestic product (GDP) rose the fastest in U.S. history last quarter, but the resurgence of COVID cases could mean another lockdown – perhaps softer than what we saw in the spring, but any lockdown triggers a slowdown. So, we might see a double-dip recession, and that suppresses premium growth.” He noted that a K-shaped recovery would be good for some segments of the U.S. economy while not being good for others.

Another wild card: government and regulatory responses. Another Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that puts money in the hands of individuals and businesses is likely to buoy the economy as it did in the spring, the report states. Liability protections for reopening businesses would be favorable for the industry. “Congress may deal with that in the lame duck session or next year, but we will see,” said Kurtz.

The quarterly report was presented on November 17 at an exclusive members only virtual webinar moderated by Sean Kevelighan, Chief Executive Officer, Triple-I.

“This webinar series is another example of how the Insurance Information Institute is modernizing and innovating,” Kevelighan said.  “Under the leadership of our chief actuary, James Lynch, the Triple-I is now giving its members timely, data-driven, and unique insights on insurance industry underwriting projections.”

Top Insurance Markets
to See 4.5 Percent GDP Decrease In 2020

The world’s 10 largest insurance markets are cumulatively expected to see their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decrease by 4.5 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 because of COVID-19, according to Triple-I’s Global Macro and Insurance Outlook: Q4 2020 report.

“All things being equal, higher economic activity drives premium growth higher while lower economic activity drags premium growth down. Going into Q4, economic activity, expressed as year-over-year change in GDP for the world’s 10 largest insurance markets, is expected to decrease by -4.5% in 2020,” writes the report’s author, Dr. Michel Léonard, CBE, Vice President & Senior Economist, Triple-I.

The world’s 10 largest insurance markets, in order, as defined by total premium written in 2018-2019, are: the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Korea, Italy, Canada, and Taiwan. The Triple-I’s projection of a 4.5 percent GDP decrease in the world’s 10 largest insurance markets in 2020 as compared to 2019 was weighted based on the total premium written in each one.

“The extent of new lockdowns, the success of vaccine trials and the efficacy of vaccine distribution will determine the pace of economic recovery in 2021, with consensus pointing to Q3 or Q4 2020 as rounding the corner out of the pandemic part of the recession. However, economic activity will not heal and recover until well into 2021 and early 2022,” Dr. Léonard states, adding, “Under best scenarios, economic growth will not start to fully recover until Q2 and Q3 2021 in advanced economies and Q3 and Q4 in developing economies.”

Global GDP is expected to contract between -5.5% and -6.5% in 2020, the report said, citing benchmark forecasts such as the ones issued recently by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

GDP represents the value of the total goods and services an economy produces in a single year whereas premium is the price paid for an insurance policy. Beyond premiums, insurers also generate revenue through investment income.

Triple-I and The Institutes Finalize Affiliation

The Institutes, the leading provider of risk management and insurance education and research, today announced plans to finalize its affiliation with the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) on November 16, 2020. Triple-I is a long-standing, trusted source of unique, data-driven research and insights on insurance. Both organizations are not-for-profit entities committed to benefiting society at large.
 
“Together, the Triple-I and The Institutes will be better equipped and empowered to serve both the information and education needs of those interested in risk management and insurance,” said Peter L. Miller, CPCU, president and chief executive officer of The Institutes. “We see this as a great opportunity to provide a more synergized information platform for insurance knowledge and to bring further efficiencies to our organizations.”
 
“This affiliation is the culmination of several years of strategic dialogue at the Triple-I and with The Institutes,” said Sean Kevelighan, chief executive officer of the Triple-I. “It will further unify our collective efforts, grant both the Triple-I and The Institutes greater access to a deeper bench of resources and expertise, and improve value for the Triple-I’s member companies across the country.”
 
For the Triple-I, this affiliation finalizes its pursuit of a modern, transparent, and team-oriented structure that reflects the diversity and breadth of its more than 60 insurance company members—which include regional, super-regional, national, and global carriers. The Triple-I is the largest online source of insurance information dedicated to empowering consumers with objective, fact-based research they can use to make educated decisions, manage risk, and understand the value of insurance.
 
The Institutes, in turn, will gain additional insights and resources based on data-driven primary research. It will leverage these to support its wide range of offerings in professional education, research, publications, events, and career development.  
 
Triple-I will retain its offices in New York City and Arlington, Virginia, and also maintain staff throughout the country, and its employees will now become employees of The Institutes. 
 

Triple-I’s Chief Actuary: Insurers Are Navigating COVID-19’s Economic Fallout

The pandemic affected almost every link in the property/casualty value chain, but the industry weathered the stress well, according to Triple-I’s chief actuary, James Lynch.

“The U.S.’s property/casualty (P/C) insurers provided premium relief, retained employees, and weathered a capital market downturn while navigating this year’s COVID-19 pandemic,” he said at the Casualty Actuarial Society’s (CAS) virtual annual meeting on November 10.

“Private-passenger auto insurers returned around $14 billion in premiums this year to the nation’s drivers as miles driven dropped dramatically in the pandemic’s early months. This resulted in a five percent reduction in the cost of auto insurance for the typical driver in 2020 as compared to 2019. At the same time, the U.S.’s auto, home, and business insurers continued to employ two million-plus Americans as the industry responded to numerous natural disasters as well as the aftermath of civil unrest.”

This year’s record-setting hurricanes and wildfires, coupled with civil disorders in multiple states, have caused insured loss payouts totaling tens of billions of dollars. The policyholders’ surplus—the amount of money remaining after the industry’s cumulative liabilities are subtracted from its assets—stood at $826 billion as of June 30, 2020, down from a record-high $848 billion as of Dec. 31, 2019.

The economic uncertainty in the U.S.’s capital markets in 2020’s first-quarter caused unrealized capital losses (stock declines) in insurer investment portfolios, Lynch said. Insurers who have faced lawsuits related to pandemic-caused losses also have faced the financial challenges of defending themselves, he added.

“Business income (BI) insurance coverage disputes captured media attention. Yet lawmakers nationwide have to date resisted calls to rewrite these policies retroactively as insurers faced a steady stream of lawsuits over their unwillingness to pay these claims,” Lynch said, explaining how BI coverage, also known as business interruption insurance, is generally triggered only when a business incurs direct physical damage to the business’ property.

Click here to download the presentation slides.

COVID-19: Impact on Auto Insurance

Triple-I’s chief actuary, James Lynch, gave this talk on the changes that COVID-19 is bringing to the automobile insurance business, at the American Academy of Actuaries Annual Meeting last week.

“Thanks for inviting me to be part of such an august panel. I wanted to spend a few moments talking about what Insurance Information Institute research indicates are significant changes happening in the sector right now and what may lie ahead.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic has had an enormous influence. Triple-I estimates that insurers will return $14 billion to customers because of the dramatic decrease in driving. Even with that, most insurers have shown improved results.

A good rule of thumb is that insurers returned about 15 percent of second quarter premiums. Fast Track data show that loss costs in the second quarter were between 7 and 40 percent lower than a year earlier, depending on coverage.

A closer look at the numbers show what might be a disturbing long-term trend. Frequency was way down in every coverage, but some coverages showed disturbing spikes in claim severity. Property damage frequency was down more than 30 percent from a year earlier, but severity was up almost 20 percent. This was likely caused by faster driving.  

Since the spring lockdowns have eased, customers are driving more again, but they still haven’t returned to the levels of a year ago. Right now people are driving about 12 percent fewer miles than they did a year ago.

However, there is ample evidence that drivers are still going faster than they did, particularly at rush hours. That’s why mileage driven this year is down 12 percent, but traffic fatalities are up 4 percent. The concern is that frequency patterns will return to the norm, but fast driving will keep claim severity high, putting upward pressure on rates.

There’s good news for insurers though. Telematic information was an important reason insurers could return money quickly to their customers, and that fact seems to have brought positive attention to usage-based insurance. Research by Arity shows that 58 percent of drivers surveyed this year are comfortable with insurers monitoring distracted driving to price insurance, up from 39 percent a year ago. There were similar increases for monitoring miles driven, speed and where a person drives.

There are lots of other questions about where the industry is going, and I guess I’ll step back and let us talk about those as a group.”

Trials and Errors: Plaintiffs’ Attorneys Could Complicate Efforts to Help Businesses Hurt by COVID-19

By James Ballot, Senior Advisor, Strategic Communications, Triple-I

It’s been more than eight months since COVID-19 first struck the U.S., and millions of small business owners are still hurting. All the while, a few plaintiffs’ attorneys are treating the pandemic as another opportunity to profit from costly insurance litigation.

At a time when businessowners are looking for leadership to bring much needed financial support, these same attorneys are hoping legislators and judges will help them retroactively rewrite business income (interruption) (BI) insurance contracts. One key figure in this effort is John Houghtaling, a New Orleans-based plaintiffs’ lawyer who was featured in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek profile.

Yet, despite the efforts of Houghtaling and others, courts across the country have to date overwhelmingly affirmed BI insurance policies do not cover losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. And the facts supporting these decisions offer clear and unambiguous evidence indicating BI insurance policies are not designed to cover pandemic-caused business interruptions.

Adds Michael Barry, Head of Media and Public Affairs, at the Insurance Information Institute, “Not one business interruption insurance policy in the U.S. was written on the assumption nearly every business would be interrupted at the same time.” Barry adds, “This is why regulators and judges are consistently siding with insurers who argue direct physical damage to property is needed to trigger a business interruption policy.”

Irrespective of insurers’ and trial attorneys’ competing points of view, the authors of the Bloomberg Businessweek article cite the need for timely and decisive action: “A yearslong legal battle might not be much help to struggling businesses,” the article states. As the end of 2020 approaches, litigation seeking to compel insurers to cover pandemic-related income losses appears likelier to further the lawyers’ interests as opposed to those of businessowners seeking financial support.

Other potential solutions are on the table, most of which are taking shape around the idea that the federal government is the only entity with the reach and financial resources to help businesses recover from an event the magnitude of a global pandemic. On this point, a growing consensus of legal scholars and insurance industry experts concur, with Stefan Holzberger, AM Best chief rating officer, concluding in commentary to a recent report, that “pandemic risk does not afford insurance companies any geographic diversification due to its global nature … Only a governmental program, or perhaps a public-private partnership, could provide the backstop sufficient to compensate for lost revenue to businesses.”

Watch: Can Businesses Win the Fight Over COVID-19 Insurance Claims

As a counterpoint to statements made by Houghtaling and other plaintiffs’ attorneys, Sherman Joyce, President of the American Tort Reform Association presents a competing vision for how American businesses can unite to recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic: “Americans’ elected representatives — not the trial bar — should have the authority to regulate business within the U.S.” Joyce continues, “The courts must restore that balance of power by rejecting the dreaded return of regulation through litigation.”

Society of Insurance Research Survey Reveals Impact of COVID-19 on Insurance Professionals

The Society of Insurance Research (SIR) held its annual conference virtually in October, and, as expected, the impact of COVID-19 on the industry was at the top of the agenda.

SIR conducted a survey of insurance industry professionals in May to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the business climate. The survey asked how the pandemic was impacting staffing, budgets, work-from-home arrangements, business travel and professional development.

At the time of the survey, 97 percent of carrier respondents said staffing levels have not decreased. When asked about work-from-home arrangements, only 10 percent of respondents said they plan to return to the office full-time once restrictions are lifted.

Travel restrictions will remain in place indefinitely for most respondents. Even when travel restrictions are lifted, nearly everyone will remain cautious of traveling nationally, and nearly three-quarters expect their travel budgets to be reduced.

Micheal Myers, Lead Competitive Intelligence Analyst at USAA and President of SIR, said, “This was an extremely insightful and timely survey of industry professionals. SIR put the insights into action by quickly pivoting from planning an in-person conference to meeting virtually (with record attendance). We also published COVID-related research reference library to help researchers solve business problems. As is consistent with SIR’s mission, we provided these resources to members and non-members alike to advance the industry.”

Over 180 professionals responded to the survey; 67 percent were carriers and 33 percent were suppliers/vendors. A variety of lines and businesses were represented, including commercial, personal, life and health.

No Surprises: How Insurers and Their Customers Benefit from Financial Education

By Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Insurance Information Institute

Sean Kevelighan

Insurers have responded quickly and effectively to 2020’s extraordinary volume of hurricanes, wildfires, and civil unrest. These events are resulting cumulatively in billions of dollars in insured claim payouts.  

Yet a recent Forbes article stated that the owners of one of the largest Broadway theater chains were “shocked to learn that its insurance companies would not cover most of its losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Making people more prepared and resilient is our fundamental goal at the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I). We seek every opportunity to educate customers about how their insurance works before they suffer an insured loss. Part of this mission is to explain how pandemics are uninsurable. That’s because, unlike covered events, which are limited in time and geography, pandemics simultaneously affect everybody. This is something we’ve explained in briefings to legislators, legal experts and consumer and trade media.

Large-Scale Solutions to Large-Scale Problems

As a result, a consensus is forming around the idea that the federal government is the only entity with the reach and financial resources to help businesses recover from an event the magnitude of a global pandemic. It’s in this spirit that we help inform public discussions about the need for a federal governmental role in protecting the U.S. against future pandemics.

Still, while insurers, regulators and the U.S. government work to deliver relief to business financially affected by future pandemics, we need to stay focused on the present. And to do this, we need to take a quick look into the past:

Insurance has been around for 350 years as a way for households, businesses and communities to recover and rebound after wildfires, hurricanes and other catastrophes. Time and again insurers have been there for their customers because that’s what they do. For example, in the months after 9/11, insurers paid out tens of billions of dollars to keep affected businesses afloat while New York and Washington, DC rebuilt from the rubble.

In 2020, insurers continue to perform their vital societal role, covering insured losses from record hurricane and wildfire seasons, as well as the most destructive civil demonstrations in more than a quarter-century. Insurance simplifies a rather complex risk management process and creates products that deliver simpler ways for people to be more prepared and resilient. Covering these hazards demands immense capital resources.

Questions? Your Policy Documents Have the Answers

Insurance is heavily regulated, and as the Triple-I reaffirmed at September’s annual summit of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the industry we represent relies on a strong working partnership with regulators and government agencies across America to help make insurance work better for everybody.

One of the tangible results of this partnership is something that anybody can literally hold in their hands: insurance policy documents. Reading these documents to understand what you’re purchasing is an essential part of preparedness.

Business income (interruption) or BI insurance losses caused by a pandemic are not covered because direct physical damage, such as that caused by a hurricane or a fire, is what triggers a standard BI policy. As many courts and academics around the country have stated, neither a virus nor bacteria leads to the direct physical damage of a business’s structure. This contract language is well-established; moreover, every policy is approved by individual states before they are issued to BI policy holders.

We view it as a success when nobody is shocked by what’s covered, and what’s not, under their insurance policies. This is why the Triple-I regularly urges business owners to become familiar with their insurance documents and have regular conversations with their agent or broker to discuss anything they don’t understand.

In an age when we’re all accustomed to just clicking the “terms and conditions” box, ignoring agreements, paradoxically, has become something everybody can agree with. Social scientists consider this to be a form of cognitive dissonance: We know we should read our insurance policies, and yet few of us do. This is a behavioral pattern we’re all guilty of and the Triple-I understands there are many demands on a customer’s time.

Which brings us back to an essential point, that insurance companies prioritize their efforts and resources into making sure that everybody knows about the coverage they have and need.

Pandemics are uninsurable because insurers don’t collect premiums to cover business losses due to viruses and other pathogens. There are products available for this purpose, but an overwhelming majority of businesses decline to purchase them. These exclusions and the availability of pandemic insurance is a fact well known by many experienced professionals—notably risk managers and trial attorneys. The Triple-I is willing to work with anybody to make the public better aware of the risks and how to prepare for them.

The next pandemic surely will come. How insurers, their customers, and the federal government respond now will ensure our resources and energies are devoted to saving lives from all the threats the U.S. faces.  

P/C Insurers Remained Profitable In 2020’s First-Half Despite Challenges

Dr. Steven Weisbart

The U.S.’s property/casualty (P/C) insurers turned in a profitable performance in 2020’s first-half even as the industry’s net income dropped 26 percent compared to 2019’s first-half, according to Dr. Steven Weisbart, Chief Economist, Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I).

“The first half of 2020 was by most measures financially successful for insurers writing P/C insurance. Two measures of the industry’s health—revenue and capital—rose in the first half of 2020,” Dr. Weisbart observed, in a commentary he wrote following the release of a report this week by Verisk and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA).  P/C insurers write auto, home, and business insurance coverage.

Net income after taxes for P/C insurers was $24.3 billion in the first half of 2020 whereas this same figure stood at $32.8 billion in the first half of 2019. Contributing to that drop was $1.4 billion in realized capital losses on insurer investments in 2020’s first half, a swing from $4.3 billion in realized capital gains a year earlier, Verisk and APCIA found.

The uncertainty within insurance and capital markets due to COVID-19 could be seen in a number of ways, Dr. Weisbart’s commentary noted, as catastrophe-related claim payouts grew in 2020’s first-half, U.S. auto insurers offered to their policyholders pandemic-related premium relief, and the policyholder’s surplus dropped to $772 billion at the end of 2020’s first quarter before rebounding to $826 billion at the end of 2020’s first half.  The policyholders’ surplus is the amount of money remaining after the insurance industry’s cumulative liabilities are subtracted from its assets.

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

By Loretta Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I

Advanced Persistent Threat groups and cybercriminals are likely to continue to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic over the coming weeks and months.  Weak and stolen passwords, back doors, applications vulnerabilities, malware and insider threats have been among the most common causes of data breaches in the past.  But according to a recent Willis Towers Watson report new threats include:

  • Phishing, using the subject of coronavirus or COVID-19 as a lure;
  • Malware distribution, using coronavirus or COVID-19-themed lures;
  • Registration of new domain names containing wording related to coronavirus or COVID-19; and
  • Attacks against newly and often rapidly deployed remote access and teleworking infrastructure.

Security breaches have increased by 67% since 2014, yet businesses fail to take the proper precautions.   Ransomware has become big business for “professional” criminals, crippling large and small businesses alike.  But small businesses are especially attractive targets because they have information that cybercriminals want, and they typically lack the security infrastructure of larger businesses. 

A remote workforce due to COVID-19 has made many organizations address issues of remote access and the need for multifactor authentication and virtual private networks (VPNs). But others – less cyber savvy— have left themselves exposed to cyberattacks.

In addition, vishing (via telephone) and smishing (via text message or WhatsApp) attacks have also increased in frequency, and in a work from home environment where colleagues and clients are increasingly connecting via mobile phones, vulnerability increases, according to a new AON Report. Short message attacks will generally seek to redirect a victim to a compromised website in order to harvest user credentials.

According to a recent survey by the Small Business Administration , 88% of small business owners felt their business was vulnerable to a cyber-attack – and that was before the pandemic. Yet many businesses can’t afford professional IT solutions, have limited time to devote to cybersecurity, or don’t know where to begin.

In observance of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month,  Triple-I offers U.S. businesses these seven tips for improving their cybersecurity and averting data breaches:

  1. Understand your cyber risks. Businesses are vulnerable to cyberattacks through hacking, phishing, malware, and other methods. 
  2. Train Staff. Those engaged in cyberattacks find a point of entry into a business’ systems and network. A business’ exposure can be reduced by having and enforcing a computer password policy for its employees.
  3. Keep Software Updated. Businesses should routinely check and upgrade the major software they use.
  4. Create back-up files and store off-site. A business’ files should be backed up either as an external hard drive or on a separate cloud account. Taking these steps are vital to data recovery and the prevention of ransomware. Ransomware is when a cyberattack results in a situation where a business is asked to pay a fee to regain access to its own data.