Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

Insurance Industry

P&C Outlook for 2015

Experts point to competitive pricing, favorable financial results for insurers, and a negative outlook on reinsurance.
By: | January 12, 2015 • 4 min read
PC Outlook

Rate increases that will slow or outright decline for the property and casualty insurance industry is just one of the major trends as we enter 2015.

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Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analysts expect insurers’ operating earnings to improve modestly in 2015, mostly from the “earn-in” of 2014 rate increases versus still-benign loss cost inflation, partly offset by fading reserve releases and normal catastrophe losses.

KBW’s Managing Director Meyer Shields said workers’ comp and some other casualty lines, general liability and commercial auto liability will see rate increases, albeit at a slower pace, while property lines will continue to decline.

“There are a lot of insurance carriers and so it remains a very competitive marketplace,” — Meyer Shields, managing director, KBW

“There are a lot of insurance carriers and so it remains a very competitive marketplace,” Shields said. “Companies believe they can earn an adequate return and still price competitively, which should drag down prices” but he noted that pricing was “on a line-specific basis.”

KBW also expects loss cost inflation to pick up somewhat, “but not materially so,” as insurance loss cost trends has been very suppressed lately, he said. Moreover, given the decline in interest rates, there will be a continuation of lower investment income and overall returns will also come under pressure.

Potential Pricing Challenges

In a report released in December, KBW analysts wrote that two scenarios could disrupt the trend of decelerating or declining prices.

“First, a resurgence of claim cost inflation could quickly erode prior and current accident-year profitability, which would produce a year or so of weak earnings, but would also probably jump-start rate increases,” the analysts wrote.

“On the other hand, persistently low investment yields could drive the providers of third-party capital to expand their participation into other reinsurance lines beyond property catastrophe and similar short-tailed lines.

“We don’t think an expansion is imminent, both because it would tie up capital for longer, and because expected returns for most lines are much lower than was the case for property catastrophe almost two years ago,” they wrote.

“But we believe that the traditional industry players are rational and disciplined enough to avoid obviously destructive pricing, so it would probably take external forces to really disrupt pricing.”

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The P&C industry’s underwriting performance continues to lag behind 2013, but remains favorable, according to A.M. Best’s Nine Month Financial Review of the U.S. P&C industry published Dec. 16.

The pure loss ratio increased by 2 points to 58.2 for the nine months through Sept. 30, 2014, primarily as a result of higher catastrophe losses and reduced benefit from favorable development of prior accident years’ loss reserves.

Favorable Commercial Lines Outlook

While net premiums written (NPW) grew, the pace of that growth has slowed. However, increased NPW has benefitted the underwriting expense ratio, as those expenses climbed at a slower pace than NPW, according to the rating organization.

The commercial lines segment posted another set of favorable results for the nine months ended Sept. 30, although some underwriting performance deteriorated somewhat year over year, according to A.M Best’s report.

Through the first nine months of 2014, the segment’s combined ratio was 97.6, compared with 95.6 posted the same period in 2013. Net income totaled $19.2 billion, down $9 billion from a year earlier.

A.M. Best’s analysts are seeing a continuation of the trends exhibited earlier in 2014, said Jennifer Marshall, an assistant vice president in the property casualty ratings department.

“We also now have a negative outlook on the reinsurance sector, but we have seen some solid results, so we expect the industry will post an underwriting profit for 2014.” — Jennifer Marshall, assistant vice president, property casualty ratings, A.M. Best

“Moderation in catastrophic losses continues, as it was yet another year without a major hurricane hitting the U.S. East Coast, which typically is a substantial driver of losses for third quarters,” Marshall said.

A.M. Best’s analysts are also seeing a slowing in premium increases, she said. They also believe the industry in general is well-capitalized, though they have concerns in the commercial line segment, specifically related to questions about reserves in recent years for companies that write a significant amount of long-tail business.

“We also now have a negative outlook on the reinsurance sector, but we have seen some solid results, so we expect the industry will post an underwriting profit for 2014,” Marshall said. Overall, “the industry seems to be performing in line with what we expected for this year.”

Alternative Capital

Morgan Stanley researchers believe that alternative capital such as catastrophe bonds is driving “secular changes” in the global (re)insurance ecosystem, according to a report released in December.

“We estimate that alternative capital currently accounts for 15 to 20 percent of global reinsurance capacity,” the analysts wrote. “We see it as a secular shift that disrupts balance sheet-based reinsurance models with a goal of directly matching risks with the most efficient capital.”

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However, the trend also offers opportunities for primary insurers to re-enter markets and lines of business, to lower operating costs through lower-priced reinsurance, and to open up new revenue streams by managing third party capital.

“Those that adapt can not only survive but thrive, in our view,” the analysts wrote. “Longer term, we believe thriving reinsurers that adapt to this secular change should (1) maintain strategic relevance (size and breadth), (2) manage third party capital, (3) become closer to the end customers, or (4) focus more on investments (asset-manager-backed reinsurers).”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Brokers

ACA Forcing Changes for Brokers

Clients look to brokers for interpretations of the Affordable Care Act
By: | November 3, 2014 • 2 min read
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Brokers are increasingly being asked to act as consultants in addition to negotiating price and insurance policy packages.
The Affordable Care Act has increased that trend.

Kelly Hagan, director of operations, employee benefits, at Assured Neace Lukens in Louisville, Ky., said her firm’s clients are increasingly asking for more consultative services, especially after the passage of health care reform.

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Before the ACA passed, employers cared more about price negotiations, she said, but now the brokerage hears more requests related to guidance and advice about ACA compliance, as well as compliance with other regulatory acts such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Hagan said that clients shouldn’t have to ask for certain services; consultation should be a part of a broker’s service package.
To meet demand, Assured Neace Lukens has two wellness managers on staff to help clients develop customized wellness programs, and has hired a corporate compliance officer to provide guidance to clients.

“…clients shouldn’t have to ask for certain services; consultation should be a part of a broker’s service package.”

In addition to one-on-one conversations with clients on priorities, coverages and services, the firm sends out quarterly newsletters and email alerts on compliance issues and presents monthly webinars on topics, such as how to track variable hour employees to determine whether they should be offered health care coverage under the ACA.

Tom Fitzgerald, CEO of Aon Risk Solutions’ U.S. retail operations in Chicago, said that the broker “transaction” is becoming less important in terms of the way clients actually see the value provided by their agent or broker.

As such, brokers need to help clients “understand what is possible” — from benefit plan construction, to engaging communications with employees, to risk financing alternatives such as self-funding or using private exchanges for employee health care.

“We engage our clients through our account executives or account managers, but we have over 500 products and services, so it gets pretty complicated and can be difficult for them to always have a clear understanding of everything we have to offer,” Fitzgerald said.

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Denise Ashford, vice president at Sweet & Baker Insurance Brokers in San Francisco, said clients routinely ask her and others on her team to interpret the ACA’s regulations, such as the impact of changes in the probationary period for employee eligibility for health care insurance.

In cases where clients are asking for that additional counsel, many smaller brokerages are at a competitive disadvantage because they don’t have the internal resources to provide the additional services that larger firms can, she said.

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Financial Institutions

Assessing Third Party Risk

Companies must assess the risks of vendors that provide critical operations or have access to customer information.
By: | October 21, 2014 • 4 min read
RMA Survey

The financial services industry is in “high gear” to reassess third-party risk management practices in response to regulatory guidance.

Institutions are investing in technology to improve reporting and analytics, so that third-party risks are appropriately assessed and that controls are effective, according to the Third Party/Vendor Risk Management Survey, recently released by the Risk Management Association and sponsored by MetricStream.

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It’s not just about assessing the risks from vendors and their subcontractors, but also affiliates, debt buyers, agents, channel partners, and correspondent banks, to name just a few third parties that banks and credit unions work with, said Edward DeMarco, RMA’s general counsel and director of operational risk/regulatory relations/communications.

Best practices are in “an evolutionary state,” DeMarco said.

“Prudent third-party risk management requires that the third party be risk-assessed in connection with the enterprise and not simply any one individual business line.” — Edward DeMarco, general counsel, Risk Management Association

“Multiple business lines and functional units within an institution might have their own special relationship with the same third party,” he said. “Prudent third-party risk management requires that the third party be risk-assessed in connection with the enterprise and not simply any one individual business line.”

Institutions are also increasingly putting pressure on to make sure third parties assess the risks of their own contractors, DeMarco said.

“For example, a bank might hire XYZ appraisal company, and that company might sub out to appraisal companies 1, 2, 3 and 4,” he said. “While the bank won’t require a report because they are not in control of those relationships, the banking company does expect its third party to assess their risks.”

Other survey findings include:

• Nearly 50 percent of the respondents said their institution’s risk management functions were responsible for oversight of vendor risk.

• More than 50 percent said their institutions send questionnaires to vendors for risk management purposes.

• Roughly one-third said they have more than 25 “enterprise critical” suppliers that have the potential to affect their entire organization in the event of a failure.

• More than 75 percent have in place a supplier code of conduct that suppliers must acknowledge.

Negotiations with third parties and vendors can be time consuming — and cyber insurance coverage is “an integral part” of those conversations. –Michael O’Connell, managing director and financial Institutions practice leader, Aon Risk Solutions.

Peter Foster, executive vice president and one of the leaders of the cyber risk group at Willis, said that many of his financial institution clients require their vendors to complete a Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) No. 16, which is a guidance from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

“But this is the minimal of what a vendor should be doing to demonstrate how they are protecting their systems,” Foster said.

“That report really doesn’t get deep into the weeds whether or not the security around the data or around operational applications is really secure.

“Financial institutions should take a step further with a set of questions or a physical audit of a vendor, particularly if the application is more critical to operations or contains customers’ personally identifiable information.”

Institutions should also require third parties to have a technology errors and omissions policy with cyber insurance built into the one policy, he said.

An institution should require third parties to name it as an “additional insured” and provide it with certificates of insurance to cover any disruptions, including liability to cover unauthorized access or unauthorized use of data.

An institution should also have coverage for vicarious liability and direct liability under its own cyber policy, which would cover a data breach resulting from outsourcing, Foster said. That way, the institution will be covered if its third party doesn’t have a policy or its policy doesn’t provide such coverage.

Such is often the case with cloud computing firms, he said.

“We recommend [third parties provide coverage] because it should be the first line of dense — the vendor who causes the breach should be paying for the breach,” Foster said. “But we’re also cognizant of the fact that many vendors will not provide that coverage and that the bank needs to use that vendor.”

Negotiations with third parties and vendors can be time consuming — and cyber insurance coverage is “an integral part” of those conversations, said Michael O’Connell, managing director and financial Institutions practice leader at Aon Risk Solutions.

“Also, a critical part of these discussions centers around who is liable for what part and how much of the loss, especially when there is a breach of confidential data,” he said.

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From a risk management perspective, he recommended that vendor risk assessments include answers to these questions:

• Does the insurance fully cover the liability of the insured due to an incident caused by third-party providers?

• Are regulatory investigations, fines and penalties addressed?

• Are first-party business interruption and crisis management included within the cyber policies and are there full limits or sublimits?

“Additionally, the contingent business interruption component must include increased attention to the number and complexity of third-party relationships,” O’Connell said.

Firms must have a complete plan for loss mitigation, restitution, and a response to the potential reputational damage that may be caused, he said.

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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