Extreme Weather’s Seasonal Severity Impacts Rates, Regardless of Inflation, Price Gouging

Losses from the winter storm that swept through the southern United States earlier this year continue to loom large among the concerns of property and casualty insurers, even as the nation contends with wildfires and anticipates yet another above-average hurricane season.

“On its own, Uri would not necessarily impact premium rates,” says Dr. Michel Léonard, CBE, Triple-I vice president and senior economist. “What matters is the overall severity of extreme weather events during a calendar year or a specific peril season.”

Dr. Léonard reports that current expectations among weather experts of higher-than-average hurricane and wildfire seasons – in addition to Uri – will likely contribute to increases in property insurance rates in 2021, “before and regardless of inflation.”

“Traditionally, actuarial models keep natural catastrophe losses and inflation separate and combine them in the last stage of rate estimates,” Léonard says. 

Three 2021 trends, he says, add up to put upward significant pressure on insurance rates for 2022:

  • Combined 2021 natural catastrophe losses from winter storms, hurricanes, and wildfires expected to be above annual averages;
  • Overall inflation in the U.S. currently forecast to be between 4% and 6% for 2021, the highest in a decade; and
  • Industry-specific inflation above the national average for construction materials and labor due to COVID-19 supply-chain disruptions.

“There are a few situations in which extreme weather events directly contribute to replacement cost increases, which, in turn, impact rates,” Léonard says. “But ‘price gouging’ – such as happened after Uri – shouldn’t be confused with inflation. It’s temporary, while inflation almost always endures.”

Dear California:
As You Prep for Wildfire, Don’t Neglect Quake Risk

It’s important for people living in earthquake-prone areas to remember that standard homeowners and renters insurance don’t cover most earthquake damage.

For this reason, Janet Ruiz, Triple-I’s California-based director of strategic communication, advises people in the state to consider buying a policy that, at a minimum, covers the structure, building code upgrades, and emergency repairs.

“You can also get coverage for additional living expenses and personal property, and some companies even cover damaged swimming pools or masonry veneer,” Ruiz writes in a recent Op-Ed in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

As the South Napa and Ridgecrest earthquakes – in 2014 and 2019, respectively – recede from memory and wildfire readiness and resilience seem the more immediate need, Ruiz reminds Californians that even relatively mild tremors can inflict costly damage. She therefore encourages residents to reduce their risk through education, mitigation, and insurance.

There are a number of earthquake insurance providers in California. Many participate in the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), but some non-CEA insurers also provide options to help protect Californians from financial loss.

“CEA offers premium discounts to policyholders who have retrofitted, or strengthened, their older homes to help them better withstand shaking,” Ruiz writes.

In a separate Op-Ed, CEA CEO Glenn Pomeroy advises on retro-fitting older homes to be more quake resistant and resilient. Older homes – especially those built before 1980 – are more susceptible to earthquake damage because they predate modern seismic building codes. According to U.S. Census data, more than 53 percent of the housing units in San Diego County fall into that category of being built before 1980 and could be in need of retrofitting.

Seismic retrofitting can be straightforward and often not as expensive as homeowners might think. Depending on the type of retrofit needed, the work can usually be done in a couple of days, with costs ranging from $3,000 to $7,000.

“Compared to the potential cost of repairing an earthquake-damaged home,” Pomeroy writes, “spending a smaller amount of money to help prevent damage can help avoid a much bigger repair bill after an earthquake. Whatever the cost, it is a relatively small price to pay to protect the value of your home and, more importantly, make it safer for your family.”

Particularly important as the need for pandemic social distancing continues, Pomeroy points out, “Homeowners can remain inside their dwelling as workers do the job without entering the residence.”

Insurance Careers Corner: Q&A with Sunil Rawat, Co-Founder and CEO of Omniscience

By Marielle Rodriguez, Social Media and Brand Design Coordinator, Triple-I

Sunil Rawat

Triple-I’s “Insurance Careers Corner” series was created to highlight trailblazers in insurance and to spread awareness of the career opportunities within the industry.

This month we interviewed Sunil Rawat, Co-Founder and CEO of Omniscience, a Silicon Valley-based AI startup that specializes in Computational Insurance. Omniscience uses five “mega-services” that comprise of underwriting automation, customer intelligence, claims optimization, risk optimization, and actuarial guidance to help insurance companies improve their decision-making and achieve greater success.

We spoke with Rawat to discuss his technical background, the role of Omniscience technology in measuring and assessing risk, and the potential flaws in underwriting automation.

Tell me about your interest in building your business. What led you to your current position and what inspired you to found your company?

I’m from the technology industry. I worked for Hewlett Packard for about 11 years, and hp.com grew about 100,000% during my tenure there. Then I helped Nokia build out what is now known as Here Maps, which in turn powers, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, Garmin, Mercedes, Land Rover, Amazon, and other mapping systems.

I met my co-founder, Manu Shukla, several years ago. He’s more of the mad scientist, applied mathematician. He wrote the predictive caching engine in the Oracle database, the user profiling system for AOL, and the recommender system for Comcast. For Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, he wrote the text mining system used in the Lehman Brothers probe, the Deepwater Horizon probe and in the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal. He’s the ‘distributed algorithms guy’, and I’m the ‘distributed systems guy’. We’re both deeply technical and we’ve got this ability to do compute at a very high scale.

We see an increasing complexity in the world, whether it’s demographic, social, ecological, political, technological, or geopolitical. Decision-making has become much more complex. Where human lives are at stake, or where large amounts of money are at stake on each individual decision, each individual decision’s accuracy must be extremely high. That’s where we can leverage our compute, taken from our learnings over the last 20 years, and bring it to the insurance domain. That’s why we founded the company — to solve these complex risk management problems. We’re really focused on computational finance, and more specifically, computational insurance.

What is Omniscience’s overall mission?

It’s to become the company that leaders go to when they want to solve complex problems. It’s about empowering leaders in financial services to improve risk selection through hyperscale computation.

What are your main products and services and what role does Omniscience technology play?

One of our core products is underwriting automation. We like to solve intractable problems. When we look at underwriting, we think about facultative underwriting for life insurance where you need human underwriters. The decision-making heuristic is so complex. Consider somebody who’s a 25-year-old nonsmoker asking for a 10-year term policy of $50,000 — it’s kind of a no-brainer and you can give them that policy. On the other hand, if they were asking for $50 million, you’re certainly going to ask for a blood test, a psychological exam, a keratin hair test, and everything in between. You need humans to make these decisions. We managed to take that problem and use our technology to digitize it. If you take a few hundred data fields, and a few 100,000 cases to build an AI model, it quickly becomes completely intractable from a compute standpoint. That’s where we can use our technology to look at all the data in all its facets — we automate and use all of it.

Once you’ve got an AI underwriter’s brain in software, you think from the customer intelligence standpoint. You’ve got all this rich transaction data from your customers to pre-underwrite, qualify, and recommend them for different products. We’ve also built a great capability in the data acquisition area. For workers comp and general liability, we have the data that improves the agent experience. We can also correctly classify any NAICS codes and can help with claims avoidance and finding hidden risk. We’ve also got a great OCR capability. In terms of digitization of text, we can take complex tabular data and digitize it without any human in the loop. We’re able to do this worldwide, even in complex Asian languages. We also do a lot of work in asset and liability management and can do calculations that historically have been done in a very low-powered, inaccurate manner. We can run these calculations daily or weekly, vs annually, which makes a big difference for insurance companies.

We also work in wildfire risk. A lot of wildfire spread models look at a ZIP+4 or a zip code level, and they take about four hours to predict one hour of wildfire spread, so about 96 hours to predict one day of wildfire spread at a zip code level. In California, where I am, we had lots of wildfires last year. When you double the density of the grid, the computation goes up 8x. What we were able to do is improve and look at the grid at 30 meters square, almost at an individual property size. You can individually look at the risk of the houses. At a 30-meter level, we can do one hour of wildfire propagation in 10 seconds, basically one day in about four minutes.

Are there any potential flaws in relying too much on automation technology that omits the human element?

Absolutely. The problem with AI systems is they may generally be only as good as the data that they’re built on. The number one thing is that because we can look at all the data and all its facets, we can get to 90+ percent accuracy on each individual decision. You also need explainability. It’s not like an underwriter decides in a snap and then justifies the decision. What you need from a regulatory or an auditability standpoint is that you must document a decision as you go through the decision-making process.

If you’re building a model off historical data, how do you make sure that certain groups don’t get biased again? You need bias testing. Explainability, transparency, scalability, adjustability — these are all very important. From a change management, risk management standpoint, you have the AI make the decision, and then you’ll have a human review. After you’ve done that process for some months, you can introduce this in a very risk-managed way. Every AI should also state its confidence in its decision. It’s very easy to decide, but you also must be able to state your confidence number and humans must always pay attention to that confidence number.

What is traditional insurance lacking in terms of technology and innovation? How is your technology transforming insurance?

Insurers know their domain better than any insurtech can ever know their domain. In some ways, insurance is the original data science. Insurers are very brilliant people, but they don’t have experience with software engineering and scale computing. The first instinct is to look at open-source tools or buy some tools from vendors to build their own models. That doesn’t work because the methods are so different. It’s kind of like saying, “I’m not going to buy Microsoft Windows, I’m going to write my own Microsoft Windows”, but that’s not their core business. They should use their Microsoft Windows to run Excel to build actuarial models, but you wouldn’t try to write your own programs.

We are good at system programming and scale computing because we’re from a tech background. I wouldn’t be so arrogant to think that we know as much about insurance as any insurance company, but it’s through that marriage of domain expertise in insurance and domain expertise in compute that leaders in the field can leapfrog their competitors.

Are there any current projects you’re currently working on and any trends you see in big data that you’re excited about?

Underwriting and digitization, cat management, and wildfire risk is exciting, and some work that we’re doing in ALM calculations. When regulators are asking you to show that you have enough assets to meet your liabilities for the next 60 years on a nested quarterly basis, that becomes very complex. That’s where our whole mega-services come in — if you can tie all together your underwriting, claims, and capital management, then you can become much better at selection, and you can decide how much risk you want to take in a very dynamic way, as opposed to a very static way.

The other things we’re excited about is asset management. We are doing some interesting work with a very large insurer. What we’ve been able to do is boost returns through various strategies. That’s another area we’re excited about — growing quite rapidly in the next year.

What your goals are for 2021 and beyond?

It’s about helping insurers develop this multi-decade compounding advantage through better selection, and we’re just going to continue to execute. We’ve got a lot of IP and technology developed, and we’ve got pilot customers in various geographies that have used our technology. We’ve got the proof points and the case studies, and now we’re just doubling down on growing our business, whether it’s with the same customers we have or going into more product lines. We are focused on serving those customers and signing on a few more customers in the three areas where we are active, which is Japan, Hong Kong, China, and North America. We are focused on methodically executing on our plan.

Studies: Car Crashes Rise as Recreational Cannabis Becomes Legal in States

Connecticut this week became the latest state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and more are expected to follow.

The increased marijuana use that accompanies legalization has raised concerns about road safety.

Researchers at Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) since 2014 have been examining how legalization has affected crash rates and insurance claims, and evidence is emerging that crash rates go up when states legalize recreational use and retail sales of marijuana.

The most recent of these studies, released on June 17 by the IIHS, shows that injury and fatal crash rates in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington jumped in the months following relaxation of marijuana laws in each state. The five states experienced a 6 percent increase in injury crash rates and a 4 percent increase in fatal crash rates, compared with other Western states where recreational marijuana use was illegal during the study period.

Only the increase in injury crash rates was statistically significant.

“Our latest research makes it clear that legalizing marijuana for recreational use does increase overall crash rates,” says IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey. “That’s obviously something policymakers and safety professionals will need to address as more states move to liberalize their laws — even if the way marijuana affects crash risk for individual drivers remains uncertain.”

Insurance records show a similar increase in claims under collision coverage, which pays for damage to an at-fault, insured driver’s own vehicle, according to HLDI’s latest analysis. The legalization of retail sales in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington was associated with a 4 percent increase in collision claim frequency compared with the other Western states from 2012 to 2019. That’s down slightly from the 6 percent increase HLDI identified in a previous study, which covered 2012  to 2018.

While the evidence that crash rates have increased in states that legalized marijuana is mounting, it appears that further study is needed to determine whether marijuana use alone is responsible. Preliminary data suggests people who use alcohol and marijuana together are accountable for most of the crashes.

Another factor may be that marijuana users in counties that do not allow retail sales are driving to counties that do. The increased travel could lead to more crashes, even if their crash risk per mile traveled is no higher than that of other drivers.

Cost of Lightning-Caused Claims Soared Due to 2020’s U.S. Wildfires

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

For the fourth consecutive year, the number of lightning-caused U.S. homeowners insurance claims decreased in 2020, even as the average value of those claims has more than doubled since 2017, according to Triple-I’s analysis of national insurance claims data. 

Lightning-related homeowners insurance claim costs nationally rose dramatically due to a series of lightning strikes across Northern California in 2020.  The average cost per lightning claim in California was $217,555 in 2020, while the national average for this type of claim was nearly $29,000.

Triple-I also found that:

  • More than $2 billion in lightning-caused U.S. homeowners insurance claims were paid out in 2020 to 71,000-plus policyholders
  • The average cost of a lightning-caused U.S. homeowners insurance claim increased 141 percent between 2019 and 2020 (from $11,971 to $28,885) and 168 percent from 2017 to 2020 (from $10,781 to $28,885)
  • The average number of lightning-caused U.S. homeowners insurance claims decreased by nearly 7 percent between 2019 and 2020 (from 76,860 to 71,551)

The wildfires in California and elsewhere damaged homes which had to be either repaired or rebuilt with more expensive construction materials. The National Association of Home Builders reported that, between mid-April and mid-September 2020, lumber prices soared more than 170 percent nationwide, adding $16,148 to the price of a typical, new single-family home.

The August Complex Fire, started by lightning strikes in August 2020, was the largest in California’s history, as defined by acres burned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). It spread across 1 million acres and impacted seven counties.

State-by-State Numbers

Florida – which has the most thunderstorms— remained the top state for lightning-caused homeowners insurance claims in 2020, with 6,756, followed by Georgia (4,686), Texas (4,675), and California (4,233).

Homeowners Insurance Coverage

Damage caused by lightning, which results in a fire, is covered under standard homeowners insurance policies.  Some policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of a lightning strike, which can cause severe damage to appliances, electronics, computers and equipment, phone systems, electrical fixtures and the electrical foundation of a home.

In recognition of Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 20-26, the Triple-I and the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), a national organization that establishes standards for specifying and installing lightning protection systems and promotes lightning safety, encourage homeowners to install  lightning protection systems in their homes. 

“When we think of lightning safety, we should make a distinction between personal safety and property protection,” said Tim Harger, LPI’s Executive Director.  “Personal safety is what we do during a storm and the safest place in any lightning event is within a structure protected by a properly designed, inspected and certified lightning protection system,” he said.  “Installing lightning protection systems in our homes or businesses is an action we can take before a storm that can mitigate against property damage.”  

Triple-I Ready To Mark June 19 As A Federal Holiday

By Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Insurance Information Institute

Congress passed legislation this week to establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, and the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) applauds the bipartisan action which made it happen.  President Joseph Biden is expected to sign the measure into law.

The date is a significant one in U.S. history because June 19, 1865, symbolically marked the end of slavery in the U.S.

The Triple-I represents an industry built on a foundation of trust and fairness, and there can be no tolerance for racial discrimination in any form.

Insurers take pride in keeping their promises and being there for their customers in moments of need. 

Today and every day, insurers want to foster unity and support the communities they serve while also contributing to real, positive change.  

The decision to make Junteenth a federal holiday is in keeping with that tradition.

Declarations of Pride: David Glawe, NICB President and CEO

By Scott Holeman, Media Relations Director, Triple-I

David Glawe, President and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, has been fighting crime for nearly 30 years. His extensive background in national security, law enforcement and management provided distinguished credentials to lead NICB’s efforts in combatting insurance fraud and theft. Before taking on this position, Glawe served as Under Secretary of Intelligence for Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, and was the highest ranking, openly gay official in the U.S. Government.

During our Declarations of Pride series, Glawe shares his personal life journey, which includes progress in LGBTQ+ issues and examples of why there’s ongoing need for meaningful dialogue about equality with friends, family and allies.

Glawe encourages asking questions for meaningful dialogue with LGBTQ+ friends and family.

Glawe says speaking OUT is important for LGBTQ+ people who may be struggling for acceptance.

Auto insurance rates impacted by labor crunch, supply chain disruptions

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.”

Valuable metals make catalytic converters an attractive target for thieves

Huge spikes in catalytic converter theft have been reported throughout the nation in recent months. The anti-pollution devices contain precious metals such as platinum, palladium or rhodium and can be removed from the bottom of a car or truck in as little as five minutes.

Thieves are getting anywhere from $50 to $250 per converter from recyclers, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and replacing the part can cost $900 or more.

In an effort to stem the thefts, the NICB has recently teamed up with several Virginia police departments to host catalytic converter etching events. During the events, mechanics etch and paint vehicle registration numbers onto the converters, which serves to track the parts if stolen.

Additional etching events are currently being scheduled in Virginia. The NICB encourages law enforcement across the nation to hold similar events to help combat catalytic converter theft.

Other theft prevention options include installing a steel shield that fits over the catalytic converter, requiring time and extra tools to remove the part; cages made of high-strength steel that’s difficult to cut; or stainless-steel cables welded from the catalytic converter to the car’s frame.

If your converter is stolen, the theft is covered by the optional comprehensive portion of your insurance policy in some cases. But you will be responsible for paying the deductible. If your deductible is $1,000 and the cost to repair the damage costs $1,000 or maybe a few hundred dollars more, you may not opt to file a claim.

Drivers are advised to contact their insurers to report the theft and determine the best course of action.

Declarations of Pride: Michael McRaith, Blackstone Insurance Solutions

By Scott Holeman, Media Relations Director, Triple-I

Michael McRaith is proud of the way insurance companies and Corporate America have helped advance LGBTQ+ rights. In this installment of Declarations of Pride, the Managing Director of Blackstone Insurance Solutions discusses the evolution of LGBTQ+ rights and the importance of diversity in the workplace.

McRaith’s distinguished insurance career includes being the first director of the Federal Insurance Office in the U.S. Treasury, Director of the Illinois Insurance Department, and an officer with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Prior to public service, he was a partner in the Chicago office of McGuireWoods LLP. In addition to his role at Blackstone, he also currently serves on the Board of Directors for Gryphon Mutual Insurance Company.

Among honors for public service, McRaith has received the Distinguished LGBTQ Alumnus Award from Indiana University, the Exceptional Service Award from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and recognition as a Distinguished Fellow by the International Association of Insurance Supervisors.

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