Homeowners insurance premium rates are rising faster than inflation, S&P Global Market Intelligence data shows, and Triple-I’s chief insurance officer says they’re likely to keep climbing.
From 2017 through 2020, premium rates are up 11.4 percent on average countrywide, according to S&P. Recent factors include rising material costs and supply-chain disruptions that are driving up home-replacement costs — and insurers are adjusting premiums accordingly. The countrywide average annual premium has increased to $1,398 in 2021.
“From everything I know about homeowners’ risk, I expected those numbers to be higher,” Triple-I’s Dale Porfilio told the Washington Post. “Honestly, I would say they still should go up further.”
Most mortgage lenders require borrowers to carry homeowners insurance. According to a recent Bankrate.com analysis, the average homeowner spends about 1.91 percent of household income on home insurance. Location often drives costs up, particularly if the house is in an area prone to natural disasters. Some areas have higher rates because it costs more to rebuild a house there.
Porfilio said insured damage from tornados, hurricanes, severe storms, wildfires and other natural disasters has reached $82 billion in 2021, bringing the total from 2017 through 2021 to more than $400 billion. As the chart below shows, average insured natural catastrophe losses have increased nearly 700 percent since the 1980s.
“Climate risk is continuing to put pressure on all things weather-related,” Porfilio said. “We are seeing more severe hurricanes, more severe wildfires, and the science isn’t as clear on tornado events in terms of whether they’re changing in frequency or not. But what we definitely do know is that severity is going up.”
When a natural disaster affects a wide area, the demand for materials and labor puts pressure on prices.
On top of the extreme-weather and population shifts that have been driving up insurers’ costs and, in turn, policyholders’ premiums, add the impacts of the pandemic-driven supply-chain disruptions.
“When the pandemic hit, lumber producers feared a repeat of the Great Recession,” the Washington Post reported. “They cut production and unloaded inventory. But demand soared, catching them by surprise. The price of lumber spiked to $1,500 per thousand feet of board in March, a 400 percent year-over-year increase.”
Insurance industry decision makers and thought leaders gathered yesterday for the Triple-I Joint Industry Forum (JIF) in New York City to share insights on managing risk in the post-pandemic world.
The in-person, daylong program was conducted in accordance with New York City’s COVID-19 protocols. Topics ranged from climate and cyber risk and the impact of “runaway litigation” on insurer losses and policyholder premiums to the challenges and opportunities presented by “the Great Resignation” for acquiring and nurturing talent in the industry.
The panels featured speakers from across the insurance world, academia, and media. Watch this space next week for panel wrap-ups.
By Loretta Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I
The property/casualty insurance industry will run at an estimated 101 combined ratio for 2021, slightly worse than what was projected three months ago, putting pressure on rates and profitability, according to the latest underwriting projections by Triple-I and Milliman actuaries.
The industry is projected to experience 7.7 percent net written premium growth in 2021, followed by 5.2 percent in 2022 and 5.5 percent in 2023, due to the economic recovery and hard market.
The quarterly report, Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) / Milliman P/C Underwriting Projections: 2021-2023, was presented at an exclusive members only virtual webinar moderated by Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan.
Triple-I Chief Insurance Officer Dale Porfilio explained that the 2021 estimated combined ratio – a measure of insurance company underwriting profitability — worsened from prior quarterly analysis “primarily because actual third-quarter catastrophe losses were worse than expected, with Hurricane Ida being the most destructive event.“
The 2021 year-to-date catastrophes are now the worst since 2017, when Harvey, Irma, and Maria all struck the U.S., Porfilio said.
He added that “healthy premium growth is projected for 2021-2023, as a result of economic recovery and a hard market” – an extended period of increasing premiums and decreasing capacity. Porfilio noted, however, that “insureds will continue to face rate pressure from the uncertainty of the pandemic.”
On the personal auto side, Porfilio said personal auto experienced improving combined ratios from 2016 through 2020, with 2020 heavily influenced by the lower miles driven during the pandemic.
“With miles driven in 2021 back to 2019 levels, we expect combined ratios to also return to pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “The greater concern for the entire industry is the observed riskier driving behaviors, such as impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear seatbelts, leading to more severe accidents and increased fatalities.”
Looking at the commercial side, Jason B. Kurtz, a principal and consulting actuary at Milliman – an independent risk-management, benefits, and technology firm – said the hard market persisted in the third quarter, particularly in commercial product lines.
For commercial multiple-peril insurers, Kurtz said, “We are currently estimating a 2021 combined ratio of 109 percent. This line got off to a difficult start in the first quarter due in part to the Texas freeze event, resulting in a historically high first quarter incurred loss ratio on a direct of reinsurance basis.”
Turning to workers compensation, Kurtz noted that underwriting profits will continue, although margins are shrinking. “The pandemic recession significantly impacted premium volumes, but we are finally seeing premium growth again with the economic recovery,” he said.
In commercial auto, underwriting losses are forecast to continue through 2023, said Dave Moore president of Moore Actuarial Consulting. “We believe social inflation is playing a role in these combined ratios remaining above 100 percent despite many successive years of steady rate increases,” he said. “We continue to observe a significant rebound in premium growth due to the economic recovery and the hard market driving rate increases.”
Moore added that Triple-I will be publishing research later in the month on social inflation, funded by a research grant from the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). “We estimate social inflation increased commercial auto liability claims expense by roughly $20 billion for accident years 2010 – 2019.”
Michel Léonard, vice president, senior economist, and head of Triple-I’s Economics and Analytics Department, discussed the economic drivers of insurance performance for 2021 and going into 2022. He noted that the insurance industry is expected to grow by 3.4 percent in 2021, 2.4 percent below U.S. real GDP growth of 5.8 percent.
“This aligns with historical trends whereby the insurance industry declines less than the overall economy going into downturns but lags national averages during recoveries,” he said, adding, “Going into Q4, as more 2021 data becomes available, the more cool-headed forecasts for overall U.S. growth and inflation have prevailed. While both remain higher than usual on a year-over-year basis, overall U.S. growth is still falling short of making up for the growth lost to the pandemic over the last two years.”
With the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season nearly over, it is on track to be an above-average season with a total of 21 named storms (trailing only 2020 and 2005 for the most named storms in a single season), according to Dr. Philip Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.
Klotzbach, who is also a Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar, gave his updated projections for the 2021 hurricane season, which officially ends on November 30. He noted that the season had seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes. “The most significant hurricane of the 2021 season was Hurricane Ida, which resulted in nearly 100 fatalities and $65 billion in total damage for the United States,” Klotzbach said. “In addition to devastating storm surge and strong winds near where the storm made landfall along the central Louisiana coast, Ida brought catastrophic flooding to the mid-Atlantic states, highlighting the significant impacts that hurricanes can generate well inland.”
So, what better time than now (before it’s too late!) to bust the cliché that insurance is a boring industry.
The cliché might be rooted in the idea that insurance is all about remaining cozily in some imaginary “safety zone”. Or maybe in the fact that the industry’s visual surface tends to be one of dull-looking paperwork full of fine print.
But think about it: the entire industry is rooted in risk!
Automobile accidents and other forms of property damage are only the start of it. There’s liability risk – the risk of being sued: product liability, professional liability, employment practices, directors and officers, errors and omissions, medical malpractice – the list goes on, and insurance professionals have to understand these areas of risk intimately to price policies, set aside appropriate reserves, and pay claims in a timely fashion.
Is climate-related risk keeping you up at night? You’re not alone. Insurers have been working on that one for decades, empowered by sophisticated modeling and analytics capabilities. They aren’t just worrying about extreme weather and climate – they’re partnering with other industries, communities, and governments to do something about it.
And, speaking of sophisticated technology – what about cyber risk? The average cost of a data breach rose year over year in 2021 from $3.86 million to $4.24 million, according to a recent report by IBM and the Ponemon Institute — the highest in the 17 years that this report has been published. These kinds of numbers add up quickly. Unlike flood and fire – perils for which insurers have decades of data to help them accurately measure and price policies – cyber threats are comparatively new and constantly evolving. The presence of malicious intent results in their having more in common with terrorism than with natural catastrophes.
These are just a few of the risks types insurance professionals look in the eye daily, working with a wide range of experts across industries and disciplines to meet them. From the individual and family level to businesses large and small to the global economy, insurers play a critical role as both risk-management partners and financial first responders.
Keep these things in mind next time you catch yourself stifling a yawn at the mention of insurance!
By Loretta Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I
Property/casualty insurers are projected to have less-than-stellar underwriting profits in 2021, according to a forecast released today by the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and risk-management firm Milliman.
The forecast – presented in a members-only webinar,“Triple-I /Milliman Underwriting Projections: A Forward View,” moderated by Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan – projects a 2021 combined ratio of 99.6. Combined ratio is the percentage of each premium dollar an insurer spends on claims and expenses.
The industry ended 2020 profitably, with a combined ratio of 98.7. Combined ratios for 2022 and 2023 are projected to be 98.9 and 99.3, respectively.
Losses from atypical weather events in the first quarter – particularly, the Texas freeze – got the year off to a rough start, explained Dave Moore of Moore Actuarial Consulting.
Natural catastrophe losses at a decade high
“Insured losses from natural disasters worldwide hit a 10-year high of $42 billion in the first half of 2021, with the biggest loss related to extreme cold in the United States in February,” Moore said, citing Aon statistics. “Overall, catastrophe loss estimates are in the $15 billion to $20 billion range for the Texas freeze event, and the rest of the year doesn’t look promising for CAT losses overall. Extreme weather this spring brought multi-billion-dollar thunderstorm and hail losses, and the extreme drought in the West has helped fuel another severe wildfire season.”
Jason B. Kurtz, FCAS, MAAA, a principal and consulting actuary at Milliman – an independent risk-management, benefits, and technology firm – said the current hard insurance market will persist, particularly in lines that have been hit hard by social inflation. A hard market is defined as a period of increasing premiums and decreasing insurance capacity.
Premium growth for the industry is projected to hit 7 percent in 2021. Growth is expected to slow in 2022 and 2023 but will remain above 5 percent both years.
“Lines like commercial auto, commercial multiperil, and general liability will still struggle to get their combined ratios under 100,” he said. “With ransomware attacks on the rise and tightening capacity, cyber bears watching, and homeowners insurers will have another tough year in 2021, but we predict improvement for 2022 and 2023.”
Michel Léonard, PhD, CBE, vice president, senior economist, and head of Triple-I’s Economics and Analytics Department, took a preliminary look at property/casualty industry results for 2021 and trends for the rest of the year. He noted that insurance outperformed the overall economy in 2019 and 2020 but was not likely to do as well in 2021.
“Right now, economists seem to be shifting growth from 2022 to 2021. That’s not good for insurance because of our industry’s business cycles. Shifting this growth means we are not expected to outperform the wider economy in 2021– but we are in 2022. What’s best for our industry is growth increasing, not decreasing, from 2021 to 2022.”
Regarding wildfire season, Roy Wright, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), noted that as the climate changes and the population expands into the wildland urban interface, wildfires are intersecting suburban life. Wildfire losses continue to mount year after year and make clear the need for communities to adapt, he said.
Commercial auto insurance has been hit harder by litigation trends than any other line of business, according to David Corum, vice president at the Insurance Research Council (IRC).
“We estimate broadly that social inflation increased commercial auto liability claims by more than $8 billion between 2010 and 2019,” Corum said. “We are also seeing evidence that social inflation is becoming a factor in personal auto claims.” He noted that a soon-to-be-released paper by the Triple-I, Moore Actuarial Consulting, and the Casualty Actuarial Society will address this topic more broadly.
Pat Sullivan, senior editor and conference co-chair at Risk Information Inc., explained that commercial auto insurers spent the last few years trying to price themselves into profitability with little success.
Sullivan noted that COVID-19 wasn’t great for growth: “Commercial auto direct written premiums rose about one percent in 2020, compared to 12 percent in 2019, 13 percent in 2018, and 9 percent in 2017. Commercial auto’s underlying claims issues haven’t gone away.”
COVID-19 and business interruption
The past 15 months have been extraordinary from a legal perspective on COVID-19 business interruption claims, according to Michael Menapace, partner, Wiggin and Dana LLP and Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar.
“To date, 80 percent of the judicial decisions have dismissed policyholders’ claims without regard to whether the presence of SARS-CoV-2 or the government shutdown orders were the cause of their losses, Menapace said. That dismissal rate goes up to 95 percent when the policies also include a virus exclusion.”
“There have been some outlier business interruption decisions in favor of policyholders and some less favorable jurisdictions for insurers that we are watching,” he said. “Insurers must also remain vigilant by pushing back against proposals by state legislatures or executive agencies that would change the terms of insurance contracts to provide coverage where none was intended and for which no premium was paid.”
Looking forward, Menapace said the trend of dismissals in the trial courts should continue.
“There has been only one appellate court decision concerning business interruption coverage,” he said. “But, over the next 12-18 months, the focus will start shifting to state and federal appellate courts, which will have the final say on many of these issues.”
Atlantic hurricane season
Dr Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University and Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar, gave his updated projections for the 2021 hurricane season.
Klotzbach noted that 2021 is expected to have an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, with 18 named storms, eight of which will become hurricanes. Of those eight, four will likely become major hurricanes (category 3, 4, or 5 with winds of a 111 mph or greater). That compares with the long-term average of about 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Lower-risk drivers should pay less for auto insurance, and premiums have closely tracked broader U.S. economic trends for decades, Triple-I told the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office (FIO) this week.
In a letter responding to a federal Request for Information, Triple-I said U.S. auto insurers accurately price their policies by using a wide variety of rating factors. All these factors must conform to the laws and regulations of the state in which the auto insurance policies are sold.
“There is no credible evidence that insurers charge more than they should, either across the broad market or in specific subsegments, such as neighborhood, race, income, education or occupation,” the Triple-I stated. The letter also said the rating factors U.S. auto insurers use to price their policies not only serve their purpose but are constantly retested to ensure their accuracy and reliability.
“If rating factors do their job well, they make insurance relatively inexpensive for some people and quite expensive for others,” the letter said. “In both cases, the assessment is correct. Drivers who present less risk pay less for coverage.”
The response to FIO’s information request highlighted how the appropriate price for an insurance policy varies greatly from customer to customer and from state to state. Insurance is regulated by state governments.
“Insurance companies and their actuaries have focused on finding factors that make sure every customer pays the appropriate rate,” the Triple-I said. Rates are based on historical loss experience for similar risks. Premiums constitute the price customers pay for insurance coverage.
Critics of U.S. auto insurer pricing practices have expressed concerns that certain rating factors, such as credit-based insurance scores and the geographic location of the customer’s residence, discriminate against lower-income drivers and minority groups. Triple-I explained that eliminating any rating factor – for whatever reason – forces those with less risk to overpay for auto insurance and allows those with greater risk to pay less than they should for auto insurance.
Interventions can backfire
“Eliminating factors does not affect the truth that they reveal, and if factors reveal that costs need to be high for a customer, banning them does nothing to change the underlying costs that are the reason the rate is high,” the Triple-I stated.
Regulators occasionally intervene in the rating process to make insurance less expensive for certain groups, citing the need to make insurance “affordable.”
“These interventions, however well-intentioned, can backfire in a spectacular way,” the Triple-I letter says, “raising the overall costs and severely reducing availability, as well as impeding innovations that could address the issue.”
Real problems need real solutions
Real solutions exist to make insurance more affordable, Triple-I says: “These solutions come not from tinkering with how insurers set prices but by addressing the costs that insurance covers.”
Improving the transportation environment and addressing societal issues that often force minorities and low- and moderate-income individuals to live and drive in circumstances where auto insurance costs the most are among the solutions suggested.
Extensive Triple-I research shows that rising claims costs have been the primary factor generating increased auto insurance rates.
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.
“Social inflation” refers to rising litigation costs and their impact on insurers’ claim payouts, loss ratios and, ultimately, how much policyholders pay for coverage. It’s an important issue to understand because – while the tactics associated with it typically affect businesses perceived as having “deep pockets” – social inflation has implications for individuals and for businesses of all sizes.
The insurance lines most affected are commercial auto, professional liability, product liability, and directors and officers liability. There also is evidence that private-passenger car insurance is beginning to be affected. As increased litigation costs drive up premiums, those increases tend to be passed along to consumers and can stifle investment in innovation that could create jobs and otherwise benefit the economy.
Much of what is discussed and published on the topic has been more anecdotal than data based. Reliably quantifying social inflation for rating and reserving purposes is hard because it’s just one of many factors pressuring pricing. We’ve found that the most meaningful way to think about social inflation and its components is to compare their impact on claims losses over time with growth in inflation measures like the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
It’s been said that the best way to eat an elephant is “one bite at a time.” Because of the diversity and complexity of social inflation’s causes and effects, we’re launching a series of blog posts dedicated to each one in turn. The first set of posts will look closely at litigation funding: the practice of third parties financing lawsuits in exchange for a share of any funds the plaintiffs might receive.
Litigation funding was once widely prohibited, but as bans have been eroded in recent decades, the practice has grown, spread, and become a contributor to social inflation.
Litigation funding seemed a good place to begin this series because it’s a distinct legal strategy with a clear history that doesn’t involve a lot of the sociological subtleties inherent in other aspects of social inflation. We’ll look the emergence of the practice, how it came to the United States from abroad, and track its evolution with that of social inflation. We’ll also discuss the current state of litigation finance, along with ethical concerns that have been raised around it within the legal community.
This series will be led by IRC Vice President David Corum with support from our partners at The Institutes and input from our members, as well as experts beyond the insurance industry. As befits any discussion of a complex topic, we look forward to your reactions and insights.
In a recent interview with CNBC, Dr. Michel Léonard, Triple-I vice president and senior economist, explained how the return to pre-pandemic driving levels is resulting in higher auto accident rates.
More accidents mean a larger volume of more expensive claims for insurers to pay because of higher repair costs, delays in repair time due to chip shortages, supply chain disruptions and a labor crunch.
The consumer price index showed that the auto insurance index was up 16.9 percent in May from the previous year, following a 6.4 percent rise in April from the previous year.
Elyse Greenspan, a managing director at Wells Fargo, said the year-over-year increase resulted from the premium base in May 2020, reflecting pandemic-related refunds. Triple-I analysis shows that due to the sharp declines in the number of miles driven, U.S. auto insurers returned $14 billion to their customers last year.
Greenspan describes the current auto insurance market as still soft even after recent rate increases. Not all insurers are raising rates, she added. “It’s still a good environment for consumers who are purchasing auto insurance.”
Extreme weather and other climate-related hazards.
And now, zombies.
Swiss Re’s chief economist this week said failures of hundreds of “zombie companies” over the next few years are among the concerns prompting insurers to reduce risk and charge higher premiums – a trend that is likely to continue as corporate failures increase.
Zombies – companies that lack the cash flow to cover the cost of their debt – are “a ticking time bomb” whose effects will be felt as governments and central banks withdraw measures that have helped keep these companies alive during the pandemic, Jerome Haegeli told Reuters.
The sobering prediction comes as stock prices hit records and the U.S. economy appears headed for 6.5 percent growth this year. Haegeli said these strengths are illusory because they’re based on temporary fiscal and monetary support.
Insurers are being cautious: reining in underwriting risk, being more prudent about investment allocations, and even taking precautions on insuring operations and supply-chain risk.
“They are not getting fooled by the short-term picture,” Haegeli said. “If you look at the market today, everything looks great. However, it’s illusionary to think that this environment can last” as “life support” is withdrawn in coming months. And that, he said, will bring an increase in long-overdue bankruptcies.
It’s tempting to presume that, as the pandemic-driven aspects of the economic crisis are brought under control, recovery will proceed apace. After all, the economy was doing fine before the pandemic hit, right?
Before the pandemic, the BIS said, about 20 percent of listed firms in the United States and United Kingdom were zombies and 30 percent in Australia and Canada. By comparison, zombies constituted about 15 percent of listed companies in 14 advanced economies in 2017 and 4 percent before the 2008 financial crisis.
Absent any reason to believe these companies’ situations substantially improved during the pandemic or that the contagion didn’t spawn more zombies, the expectation of more corporate collapses seems reasonable.