Insurance- the great water balloon- squeeze here, bulges there

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Insurance is not a new business, but its functionality and appearance to the public may be in the post COVID-19 world. Plenty of thought is being given to the future of many types of insurance cover, its underwriting, distribution, and claims, etc.  But what about the ‘right now’ for insurance lines during COVID-19 operations?  Insurance is a global $5 trillion business, and while there are sectors that will be depressed, business marches on and so does insurance cover. So what factors may be affecting lines of cover, and what is the outlook going forward in 2020?

Patrick Kelahan is a CX, engineering & insurance consultant, working with Insurers, Attorneys & Owners in his day job. He also serves the insurance and Fintech world as the ‘Insurance Elephant’.

Without question 2020 will be a down year for global GDP, with one estimate supporting an overall decline of 2.4% (Economic Research: COVID-19 Deals A Larger, Longer Hit To Global GDP .)  Will insurance premiums decline by that amount, more less, increase?  It’s certain that the global economies will continue to require risk management. Having mandated shut downs does not allow for shut down of insurance cover for a business; liability remains something for which protection must be maintained. Motor cover has been shown to be less important by the mile, but still mandated in most jurisdictions.  The thought process carries on, and the process seems a good exercise for us this week, perhaps will generate some thoughts and discussion.  I’ll lead off, give my 2p and you can chime in.

Business Interruption

We’ll get the obvious cover out of the way.

COVID-19 has exposed business interruption cover as the factor no one knew that everyone needed.  There will be two main efforts for BI- litigation for those who insist their policy included it, and looking for purchase for those who know they will need it for the next pandemic. Government pressure for mandated cover (if successful) for BI would make all arguments moot- the BI response would cripple the industry for all covers.  As for availability of BI cover that addresses pandemics? A sea change for BI cover would be needed to exempt the cover from needing a covered physical loss, and removal of exclusions (or establishment of endorsements) related to pandemics. Oh, and the pesky needs for capacity, underwriting understanding, planning for claims, etc. Nothing available soon, at least in an indemnity product.

Two interesting related facts- Marsh and Munich Re had offered pandemic cover- Pathogen Rx as recently as Fall, 2019, but had little demand for the cover. And Amsterdam’s DGTL Festival ‘accidentally ‘ had event cancellation cover for pandemics due to an admin error by the organizer’s staffer who checked off a box for pandemic in error .  A $2.3 million error to the good.

Workers’ Compensation or Employers’ Liability

The cover that is a looming monster due to potential latent effects of COVID-19 being contracted after businesses begin to reopen. The WC cover in the U.S. while slightly differing state to state in large part will afford cover for employees who claim contracting the virus on the job. There’s not a heavy burden of proof so medical costs and loss of wages will accrue to the WC policies- all new peril costs for the systems.  India has similar potential for excess costs, the UK’s Employer Liability cover that mirrors WC a little will be limited for severity but will have frequency effects. For all jurisdictions there will be an expense increase as WC claims are cumbersome and heavily involved in unstructured data.

Business Owners/General Liability

If fewer feet are through the door there is less exposure to claims, so this cover will be a function of the length of shutdowns. What will affect the liability portion will be allegations of customers claiming COVID exposure and those businesses that are not careful and organized in their operations regarding safe methods and clear notices to customers may be higher frequency targets for lawsuits. And in similar fashion to WC and BI claims, handling the claims will consume adjuster production time. Carriers will be less able to simply deny/repudiate claims as regulatory oversight will be heightened. The UK’s FCA has opined that while it’s not the regulators place to determine cover, the carriers had better be thorough and prompt in determining cover and making payment where warranted.  The post-COVID environment would be an unfortunate place for a carrier to engage in coverage shenanigans.

Motor/auto

This cover has been the poster-child response cover for carriers in recognition of less service frequency needed, fewer claims, and the need to rebate premiums due to the reduction in exposure. Many carriers have taken those steps in handing premiums back or establishing forward looking credits (summarized well here by Nigel Walsh. )

An aspect of significant reductions in claim costs will be reduced loss ratios (surely a 1/1 rebate will not occur), but absent significant reductions in cost structure one might expect increased expense ratios due to earned premiums be reduced by rebate amounts.  It’s a big water balloon, isn’t it?

Property/Homeowners

Might just be a push- higher occupancy periods to detect issues sooner, but also higher occupancy rates to task mechanical systems and prompt sudden failures with ensuing damage.  No rebates offered quite yet, but one is never surprised.

Life

There are not enough data available to confirm if those persons who have succumbed to COVID-19 would have had significant higher latent potential for death absent COVID-19, but it is clear that there will be some effect on life policy disbursements based on the current reported trends. As is quoted within Think Advisor, former RGA CEO Greig Woodring reminds the reader that “you can’t die twice”so even if there is a spike in life settlements in 2020 there should be a lessening of the trend in 2021/2022.  So whether the firm is a reinsurer like RGA or primary, at this time there doesn’t appear to be a long-lasting effect from the outbreak.

Credit Risk

The ability to pay invoices will be hamstrung across many business sectors and severity concerns are already transmitting through to reinsurance products focused on same, and hedge vehicles have had the elevated risk priced into their trading prices already. Another form of credit risk- supply chain activity- will experience fits and starts as suppliers have reservations about purchasers’ ability to pay, and associated insurance costs will increase.  More water balloon action.

Mortgage default risk

Seems intuitive- higher unemployment, gradual recovery, delayed benefits flowing from the government, and those who live month-to-month will have less ability to pay mortgages, both individuals and businesses. Artemis.bm indicates approximately $9 billion in ILS/bonds related to mortgage default risk; combine that volume with the significant drop in the EurekaHedge ILS index during the month of March and while the data are not directly correlated they are related and suggests one’s pause for thought.

Health insurance will be left out of the discussion- that is the wild west in terms of severities prompted by COVID-19 treatments. The corollary however is that elective surgery has been curtailed as has regular health oversight, both high costs for insurers.  Combine the assistance governments have been providing and health insurer positions may not be as bad as one would expect. May not.

Reinsurance has little exposure to COVID-19 and so far pricing has been favorable for renewals and new placements based on market factors for those lines, see an example reported by SCOR here .

BIG water balloon, insurance.

The industry also must keep a weather eye on the next occurrence of systemic risk, including a pandemic, and the response would not serve well if it’s a fully government funded program. Too slow, inefficient, needlessly expensive and would overlook strengths the insurance industry and capital markets would bring. All the players affected by and influencing risk management need to work to collaboration- would make all the lines of cover more stable. #TenCsProject

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