Category Archives: Thunderstorms

Policyholder Surplus Matters: Here’s Why

Perhaps the most emotionally compelling data point invoked by those who would compel insurers – through litigation and legislation – to pay business-interruption claims explicitly excluded from the policies they wrote is the property/casualty insurance industry’s nearly $800 billion policyholder surplus.

 Many Americans hear “surplus” and think of a bit of cash they have stashed away for emergencies. And when you consider that nearly 40 percent of Americans surveyed by the Federal Reserve said they would either have to borrow or sell something to cover an unexpected $400 expense – or couldn’t pay it at all – that number may sound like overkill. 

Not as much as you think

But policyholder surplus isn’t a “rainy day fund.” It’s an essential part of the industry’s ability to keep the promises it makes to policyholders. And although a number like $800 billion may raise eyebrows, when we look more closely at its components, the amount available to cover claims turns out to be considerably less.

Insurers are regulated on a state-by-state basis. Regulators require them to hold a certain amount in reserve to pay claims based on each insurer’s own risk profile. The aggregation of these reserves – required by every state for every insurer doing business in those states – accounts for about half the oft-cited industry surplus.

Call it $400 billion, for simplicity’s sake.

Each company’s regulator-required surplus can be thought of as that company’s “running on empty” mark – the point at which alarms go off and regulators start talking about requiring it to set even more aside to make sure no policyholders are left in a lurch.

By extension, $400 billion is where alarms begin going off for the entire industry.

It gets worse – or better, depending on your perspective.

In addition to state regulators’ requirements, the private rating agencies that gauge insurers’ financial strength and claims-paying ability don’t want to see reserves get anywhere near “Empty.” To get a strong rating from A.M. Best, Fitch, S&P, or Moody’s, insurers have to keep even more in reserve. 

Why do private agency ratings matter? Consumers and businesses use them to determine what insurer they’ll buy coverage from. Also, stronger ratings can contribute to lower borrowing expenses, which can help keep insurers’ operating costs – and, in turn, policyholders’ premiums – at reasonable levels. 

So, let’s say these additional reserves amount to about $200 billion for the industry. The nearly $800 billion surplus we started with now falls to about $200 billion.

To cover claims by all personal and commercial policyholders in a given year without prompting regulatory and rating agency actions that could drive up insurers’ costs and policyholders’ premiums.

Which brings us to today.

Losses ordinary and extraordinary

In the first quarter of 2020, the industry experienced its largest-ever quarterly decline in surplus, to $771.9 billion. This decline was due, in large part, to declines in stock value related to the economic recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, the industry remains financially strong, in large part because the bulk of insurers’ investments are in investment-grade corporate and governmental bonds. And it’s a good thing, too, because the conditions underlying that surplus decline preceded an extremely active hurricane season, atypical wildfire activity, and damages related to civil unrest approaching levels not seen since 1992 – involving losses that are not yet reflected in the surplus.

Insured losses from this year’s Hurricane Isaias are estimated in the vicinity of $5 billion. Hurricane Laura’s losses could, by some estimates, be as “small” as $4 billion or as large as $13 billion.

And the Atlantic hurricane season has not yet peaked.

The 2020 wildfire season is off to a horrific start. From January 1 to September 8, 2020, there were 41,051 wildfires, compared with 35,386 in the same period in 2019, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 4.7 million acres were burned in the 2020 period, compared with 4.2 million acres in 2019.

In California alone, wildfires have already burned 2.2 million acres in 2020 — more than any year on record. For context, insured losses for California’s November 2018 fires were estimated at more than $11 billion.

And the 2020 wildfire season still has a way to go.

All this is on top of routine claims for property and casualty losses.

Four billion here, 11 billion there – pretty soon we’re talking about “real money,” against available reserves that are far smaller than they at first appear.

No end in sight

Oh, yeah – and the pandemic-fueled recession isn’t expected to reverse any time soon. Economic growth worldwide remains depressed, with nearly every country experiencing declines in gross domestic product (GDP) – the total value of goods and services produced. GDP growth for the world’s 10 largest insurance markets is expected to decrease by 6.99 percent in 2020, compared to Triple-I’s previous estimate of a 4.9 percent decrease. 

If insurers were required to pay business-interruption claims they never agreed to cover – and, therefore, didn’t reserve for – the cost to the industry related to small businesses alone could be as high as $383 billion per month.

This would bankrupt the industry, leaving many policyholders uninsured and insurance itself an untenable business proposition.

Fortunately, Americans seem to be beginning to get this.  A recent poll by Future of American Insurance and Reinsurance (FAIR) found the majority of Americans believe the federal government should bear the financial responsibility for helping businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Only 16 percent of respondents said insurers should bear the responsibility, and only 8 percent said they believe lawsuits against insurers are the best path for businesses to secure financial relief.

Further Reading:

POLL: GOVERNMENT SHOULD PROVIDE BUSINESS INTERRUPTION SUPPORT

TRIPLE-I GLOBAL OUTLOOK: CONTINUED PRESSURE ON INVESTMENTS & PREMIUMS

BATTLING FIRES, CALIFORNIA ALSO STRUGGLES TO KEEP HOMEOWNERS INSURED

LAURA LOSS ESTIMATES: $4 BILLION TO $13 BILLION

ATYPICAL WILDFIRE ACTIVITY? OF COURSE — IT’S 2020

SWISS RE: A KATRINA-LIKE HURRICANE COULD CAUSE UP TO $200 BILLION IN DAMAGE TODAY

U.K. BUSINESS INTERRUPTION LITIGATION SEEMS UNLIKELY TO AFFECT U.S. INSURERS

RECESSION, PANDEMIC TO IMPACT P/C UNDERWRITING RESULTS, NEW REPORT SHOWS

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION VS. EVENT CANCELLATION: WHAT’S THE BIG DIFFERENCE?

CHUBB CEO SAYS BUSINESS INTERRUPTION POLICIES ARE A GOOD VALUE AND WORK AS THEY SHOULD

TRIPLE-I CHIEF ECONOMIST: P/C INDUSTRY STRONG, DESPITE SURPLUS DROP

INSURED LOSSES DUE TO CIVIL UNREST SEEN NEARING 1992 LEVELS

COVID-19 AND SHIPPING RISK

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION COVERAGE: POLICY LANGUAGE RULES

Triple-I Paper Looks at Convective Storms, Mitigation, and Resilience

Severe convective storms—tornadoes, hail, drenching thunderstorms with lightning, and damaging straight-line winds—are among the biggest threats to life and property in the United States. They were the costliest natural catastrophes for insurers in 2019, and this year’s tornado season is already shaping up to be the worst in nearly a decade.

A new Triple-I paper describes how population growth, economic development, and possible changes in the geography, frequency, and intensity of these storms contribute to significant insurance payouts. It also examines how insurers, risk managers, individuals, and communities are responding to mitigate the risks and improve resilience through:

  • Improved forecasting,
  • Better building standards,
  • Early damage detection and remediation, and
  • Increased risk sharing through wind and hail deductibles and parametric insurance offerings.

The 2020 tornado season coincided with most of the U.S. economy shutting down over the coronavirus pandemic. This could affect emergency response and resilience now and going into the 2020 hurricane season, which already is being forecast as “above normal” in terms of the number of anticipated named storms.

May storms to generate $2.5 billion in claims

On May 11-16 a series of wind, hail and rain storms struck most states east of the Rocky Mountains. Karen Clark & Co. a catastrophe modeling firm, estimates that the storms will cost insurers $2.5 billion.

Most of the damage occurred in the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Karen Clark predicts that insured losses higher than $100 million will be seen in: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The weather system (referred to as a ‘ring of fire’) led to over 600,000 power outages in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.  Wind gusts over 58 miles per hour were reported as well as hundreds of hail storms and 28 tornadoes.

Although tornadoes can happen at any time during the year, on average, May is the expected peak of tornado activity.

 

 

Property losses from severe convective storms spark focus on resilience

More than $14 billion. That’s the expected insured loss from severe convective storms, thunderstorms, tornadoes, large hail and associated damaging winds in the United States in the first six months of this year.

From the Artemis blog, via Impact Forecasting, the catastrophe risk modeling center at Aon Benfield:

“The insurance and reinsurance industry faces more than $14 billion of losses after the first-half severe storm activity in the U.S., while the economic loss is set for $22 billion or higher, putting 2017 as the fourth most costly year for both economic and insured losses due to convective weather activity.”

Check out the U.S. tornado count, 2017 from NOAA:

An important message on building resilience from Munich Re, as reported by Business Insurance:

“Munich Reinsurance America Inc. has released a tornado virtual reality experience tool to highlight the risks posed by tornadoes and the importance of embracing resiliency in building construction to help reduce future property losses.”

And:

Many building codes in the United States do not require a home to withstand more than a 90-mph gust of wind for three seconds, which is the equivalent of a weak EF1 tornado with wind speeds between 86 to 110 miles per hour.

Get Insurance Information Institute facts and statistics on tornadoes and thunderstorms here.

Get serious about the lightning threat from the Insuring Florida blog.

 

Lightning claims topped $800 million last year

Every year the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and State Farm recognize Lightning Safety Awareness Week (June 18-24) by estimating the toll of lightning claims in the United States, writes the I.I.I. research team. Last year insurers paid out nearly $862 million in lighting claims to more than 100,000 policyholders, a 4.5% increase from 2015.

Damage caused by lightning, such as a fire, is covered by most homeowners insurance policies.

Florida—the state with the most thunderstorms—remained the top state for lighting claims in 2016, with 10,385, followed by Texas (9,098), Georgia (8,037) and Louisiana (5,956).

Homeowners Insurance Claims and Payouts for Lightning Losses, 2007 – 2016

The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) encourages homeowners to install a lightning protection system in their homes. Per Kimberly Loehr, communications director for LPI: “Lightning protection systems that follow the guidelines of NFPA are designed to protect your home by providing a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of the lightning bolt.”

To learn more about an LPI-certified lighting protection system, click here or visit lightning.org/find-an-installer.

May severe weather: multi-billion dollar insurance payout aids recovery

Severe weather across the United States in May resulted in combined public and private insured losses of at least $3 billion.

Aon Benfield’s latest Global Catastrophe Recap report reveals that central and eastern parts of the U.S. saw extensive damage from large hail, straight-line winds, tornadoes and isolated flash flooding during last month’s storms.

The most prolific event? A May 8 major storm in the greater Denver, Colorado metro region, where damage from softball-sized hail resulted in an insured loss of more than $1.4 billion in the state alone.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on hail here. The National Weather Service has detailed information on severe storm events, including hail, tornadoes and wind. 2016 data on the number of hail events are posted online.

Total aggregated economic losses from U.S. severe weather in May were in excess of $4 billion, Aon Benfield said.

How to protect crops and property from hail

Damage to vineyards following several years of severe hailstorms in the famed wine-growing region of Burgundy, France, is prompting greater prevention efforts.

London’s Daily Telegraph reports that producers are protecting their entire grape harvest with a cloud-seeding system—a hi-tech hail shield that is designed to modify storm clouds and suppress hail formation.

The system works by releasing tiny particles of silver iodide into the clouds where they stop the formation of hail stones, thereby reducing the risk of damage.

Cloud-seeding, or weather modification, has been used for many years in parts of the United States and Canada not just to suppress hail, but to enhance rainfall and snowfall in some cases. Insurers are involved in the research.

This makes sense. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, hail causes approximately $1 billion in damage to crops and property annually.

A monster hailstorm that pounded Colorado’s Front Range on May 8 is on pace to be Colorado’s most expensive insured catastrophe, with an estimated preliminary insured loss of $1.4 billion, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

For auto, home and business owners living in hail-prone areas, taking steps to minimize hail damage to property is essential.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), is continuing a major multi-year research study into hailstorms. IBHS resources on preventing property losses are available here.

U.S. Thunderstorm Losses Add Up To Q1 Record

Topping $5.7 billion. That’s the record cost of insured losses from severe thunderstorms and convective weather in the United States in the first quarter of 2017.

The latest figures come via Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist at Impact Forecasting, the catastrophe risk modeling center at Aon Benfield.

Here’s the chart (via @SteveBowenWx):

Artemis blog offers this perspective:

“It’s the second year in succession that insurance and reinsurance markets have faced a heavy toll from severe thunderstorm related losses, which in turn means impacts to ILS [insurance-linked securities] funds and investors, as severe convective storm risk is a typical peril of many catastrophe reinsurance arrangements that ILS investments are linked to.

Beyond the first-quarter the expensive run-rate of losses from severe thunderstorms has continued, with some further outbreaks in the last fortnight.”

A recent Willis Re study found thunderstorms were just as costly to insurers as hurricanes.

Check out these resources (here and here) from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety on how to protect your home and business from thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Register here for an April 27 Swiss Re and I.I.I. webinar on natural catastrophes.

I.I.I. facts and statistics on tornadoes and thunderstorms here.

Thunderstorms Most Costly U.S. Nat Cat in H1 2016

Severe thunderstorms accounted for the lion’s share of U.S. natural disaster losses in the first half of 2016, according to Munich Re.

Of the $17 billion in U.S. economic losses ($11 billion insured) caused by natural catastrophes in the first half of 2016, some $12.3 billion ($8.8 billion insured) were due to a series of storms in Texas and neighboring states, including destructive hailstorms in Dallas and San Antonio, and severe flooding in the Houston metro area.

Winter storms and cold waves were the next most costly U.S. peril in the first half causing insured losses of $1.5 billion, followed by flood and flash flood events with $1 billion in insured losses.

Wildfire, heatwaves and drought resulted in minor insured losses, and there were no losses due to earthquake or tropical cyclones in the first half, according to Munich Re’s Nat Cat Update.

USNatCatLosses2016H1MunichRe

Weather extremes in Texas and other southern states are symptomatic of an El Niño phase, which intensifies the subtropical jet stream, which can cause an increase in severe storms in the region, Munich Re said.

Further north, El Niño conditions also caused warm and dry conditions in Alaska and western Canada, helping to trigger the worst wildfire in Canadian history. Direct losses from these fires totaled $3.6 billion, of which $2.7 billion were insured.

The Fort McMurray fire has been declared the costliest natural catastrophe event in Canada’s history.

One beneficial aspect of El Niño conditions is that it tends to reduce springtime tornado activity over the southern Great Plains. While the year’s thunderstorm season got off to an early start, the states of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas have all seen about 50 percent fewer tornadoes this year than in the first half of 2015, Munich Re observed.

Nationally, the number of observed tornadoes was about 700 by the end of June, significantly below the average of 1,021 for the last 10 years.

Tony Kuczinski, president and CEO of Munich Re America, Inc, noted that homes and businesses incur the brunt of thunderstorm losses.

“Property damage from this spring’s thunderstorm season remind us that a roof is a building’s first line of defense against hail and wind events. Proper roof maintenance, roofing materials and installation are all critical to helping reduce these types of losses.”

To help homeowners build safer, stronger structures in the face of increasing severe weather events, Munich Re and the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) recently launchd an app that walks homeowners, contractors and architects through the home strengthening process.

FORTIFIED HomeTM On the Go can be downloaded free from the iTunes Store.

U.S. natural catastrophes accounted for almost one quarter of worldwide economic losses in the first half of 2016, and about 58 percent of global insured losses.

Lightning Strikes, Insurance Responds

Next time you’re home when a heavy thunderstorm rolls in, take a moment to think about how damaging lightning losses can be and how insurance helps.

In fact, insurers paid out $790 million in lightning claims last year to nearly 100,000 policyholders, according to a new analysis by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and State Farm.

Damage caused by lightning, such as fire, is covered by standard homeowners policies and some policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of a lightning strike.

As James Lynch, vice president of information services and chief actuary of the I.I.I. says:

“Not only does lightning result in deadly home fires, it can cause severe damage to appliances, electronics, computers and equipment, phone systems, electrical fixtures and the electrical foundation of a home.”

It’s due partly to the enormous increase in the number and value of consumer electronics that the average cost per claim has continued to rise, Lynch explains.

There were 99,423 insurer-paid lightning claims in 2015, down 0.4 percent from 2014, but the average lightning claim paid was 7.4 percent more than a year ago: $7,497 in 2015 vs. $7,400 a year earlier.

The average cost per claim rose 64 percent from 2010 to 2015. By comparison, the Consumer Price Index (an inflationary indicator that measures the change in the cost of a fixed basket of products and services, including housing, electricity, food, and transportation) rose by 9 percent in the same period.

In recognition of Lightning Safety Awareness Week (June 19-25), the I.I.I. and the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) encourage homeowners to install a lightning protection system in their homes. These systems are designed to protect the structure of your home and provide a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of the lightning bolt.

The growing market for smart home technology makes installing a lightning protection system even more important, noted the I.I.I. It is also an opportunity for designers, builders and code officials to include lightning protection systems in their plans.

Kimberly Loehr, director of communications for the LPI adds:

“Just as smart homes provide the ultimate in safety and comfort, lightning protection systems ensure that state-of-the-art home automation systems aren’t damaged by direct or nearby lightning strikes.”