In a July 29 earnings call Evan Greenberg, the CEO of Chubb, addressed the lawsuits filed by many businesses over business income (interruption) coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic. He stressed that even though business interruption (BI) policies do not cover a pandemic, they are a good value and work as intended.
“Standard BI policies, which are an addendum to a fire policy, require direct physical loss or damage to the property, for example, a fire or flood damages the property and prevents the business from operating while repairs are being made. COVID-19 does not cause physical loss or damage to a property, despite the trial bar’s efforts to influence some government officials in the wording of their civil public shutdown orders,” he said.
Greenberg reiterated the uninsurable nature of pandemics and the necessity for the federal government to take the lead in mitigating pandemic risks. To properly service all policyholders, Greenberg said, the insurance industry must not be distracted by attacks from the legal community.
The comments appear in their entirety below.
Remarks from Evan Greenberg, Chubb Second Quarter Earnings Call, July 29, 2020
I am going to say a few words about the business interruption issue that I know is on the minds of many. As you know, the insurance industry is under attack by the trial bar over business interruption claims. They represent many businesses which purchased BI coverage that does not provide cover for pandemic, and these customers are understandably disappointed and upset. Plaintiff attorneys are attempting to torture or reverse engineer insurance contract language to conjure up business interruption coverage that for the most part simply doesn’t exist.
Coverage for a pandemic was never contemplated in standard business interruption policies, and therefore no premiums were ever charged for that risk. In fact, state insurance regulators, who approve the policies, have been clear that this risk is not covered and that the industry could not cover the massive open-ended tail risk of a global pandemic because it threatens the industry’s solvency. Without the federal government playing a major role to cover the tail risk, pandemics are simply uninsurable on a broad basis.
Standard BI policies, which are an addendum to a fire policy, require direct physical loss or damage to the property, for example, a fire or flood damages the property and prevents the business from operating while repairs are being made. COVID-19 does not cause physical loss or damage to a property, despite the trial bar’s efforts to influence some government officials in the wording of their civil public shutdown orders.
Though it doesn’t cover pandemic, standard BI coverage provides good value for the money. We estimate the industry pays out about 70 cents in insurance claims for every business interruption protection dollar collected, with most of the remaining amount paid in commissions, premium taxes and other expenses. For Chubb, in addition to our normal losses this year, we will pay BI claims for policies that specifically covered certain pandemic-related shutdowns such as those for the entertainment industry.
We care deeply about properly supporting and servicing all of our policyholders, and I have particular sympathy for the millions of businesses that have suffered terribly during the pandemic-forced economic shutdowns. But it would be wrong – in fact, catastrophic and irresponsible – to pay the claims of those who didn’t have coverage, and in fact didn’t pay premiums for the coverage, by using funds that have been properly reserved for the legitimate claims of the vast majority of our P&C policyholders who number over 100 million globally.
To provide some context, in 2019, Chubb paid $24 billion on approximately four million property and casualty claims. Again, to pay billions of dollars in uncovered claims by raiding the reserves or capital needed to pay claims on other kinds of policies, such as auto and home, commercial insurance exposures, or respond to natural catastrophes such as hurricanes and wildfires, would be irresponsible to the vast majority of our policyholders and to our shareholders.
Beyond the business interruption challenges of the current COVID-19 crisis, the insurance industry has an important role to play in society and in the economy, and that includes fully participating in the development of a prospective future pandemic business interruption solution should crises arise. Earlier this month, Chubb released its Pandemic Business Interruption Program designed to mitigate the economic disruption and losses in the event of a future pandemic.
Our framework is not the first plan to be introduced. But the public-private partnership framework we developed has important differences from the other leading proposals. By sharing our ideas and approach, we hope to spark and influence a productive debate on a solution that will work for businesses of all sizes, taxpayers, our industry and the economy more broadly.
First and foremost, I believe the industry can and should take pandemic risk along with the government. This is a peril that can be covered to a greater degree than we do today as long as the tail exposure is covered by the government. It’s our job to figure out how to do that. We can do more than simply play an administrative role or we belittle ourselves and we’re less relevant than we can or should be.
The framework we announced has attributes that we believe will make for a successful program. It accounts for the different needs of small, medium and, to a modest degree, large businesses. Premiums for small business will be affordable and they will be paid quickly. Larger companies would pay a fair and risk-adjusted price to both the government and insurers for pandemic cover in a program built on free-market principles. The government gets paid for the use of its balance sheet – it’s not a handout to larger companies.
Our framework has incentives for broad participation by the industry. And by committing insurance industry capital and providing opportunity for increased risk-sharing over time as direct and secondary markets develop, the pandemic burden shouldered by the government will ultimately be lessened to a degree.
This is an important issue for our nation. We look forward to contributing to the dialogue as policymakers work to refine the most effective solution.