P&C Outlook for 2015
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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).”
Insurers Using More CAT Bonds
Insurers of the last resort are increasingly using catastrophe bonds and other similar products to transfer some of their peak exposures to the capital markets, according to a rating agency A.M. Best.
Insurers of the last resort are those that include Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plans, quasi-state-run insurance companies and beach/windstorm plans.
According to a report by A.M. Best, these entities have welcomed the growing availability of insurance-linked instruments such as catastrophe (CAT) bonds, insurance-linked funds and industry loss warranties (ILWs).
“Given an increase in exposure to loss for insurers of the last resort, CAT bonds have provided another alternative for these entities to cede part of their peak exposures as a complement to the traditional reinsurance market,” said Asha Attoh-Okine, author of the report.
“Catastrophe bonds also provide multi-year coverage as opposed to most traditional reinsurance programs,” he said.
Approximately $5.6 billion in CAT bonds have been issued by seven of these entities from 2009 through Sept. 30, 2014, according to the A.M. Best report.
The two main perils that were covered were hurricanes and earthquakes occurring in the respective regions that the bonds were placed.
Hurricanes accounted for approximately $4.53 billion, or 81 percent, with earthquakes taking the other $1.05 billion, or 19 percent, for these entities during the period reviewed by the ratings agency.
“The increased use of these insurance-linked instruments is due to growth in investor demand,” said Attoh-Okine.
“We have specialized insurance-linked securities funds, whose mandate is to invest in insurance exposure, hedge funds, and pension funds all participating in this market. Investors have been attracted to these products given the low-interest environment for fixed income securities of similar quality and the perceived minimal correlation to the general financial market.
“Sponsors have also continued to increase the use of CAT bonds and other insurance-linked instruments to cede their peak exposures.
“Lately,” he said, “we have seen a decrease in spread [price] for the same level of risk for CAT bonds, providing sponsors cost relief when compared to the traditional property catastrophe reinsurance market.”
Advantages and Drawbacks
Among the advantages such products offered insurers are multi-year coverage and minimal credit risk versus the traditional reinsurance market, he said. They also provide another dimension to diversify and manage catastrophe risk.
“The main drawback for some of these instruments, for example, CAT bonds and ILWs, is the lack of reinstate features when compared to the traditional reinsurance program. (Reinstate implies the restoration of the reinsurance limit of an excess property treaty to its full amount after payment by the reinsurer of a loss as a result of an occurrence).
“Another criticism for the use of these instruments,” he said, “is whether investors’ participation will continue in case of property catastrophe insurance market disruption as result of a huge catastrophe event or if we start seeing a continuous increase in returns for other fixed income instruments.”
According to Attoh-Okine, if a major hurricane or other natural disaster triggers one of the CAT bonds, the sponsor of the bond will be reimbursed for the loss amount up to the amount of the CAT bond. In such a case, investors will lose part or all of the principal amount and the corresponding interest proceeds.
The A.M. Best report concluded that the increasing usage of CAT bonds and similar instruments add to recent improvements in the modeling of peak risk exposures, but also “adds another dimension to diversifying and managing catastrophe risk.”
In addition, the report said, other areas that might benefit from the use of various capital market instruments to transfer insurance risk include terrorism risk exposure; assigned risk non-property plans facing inadequate pricing/capacity issues, (e.g., workers’ compensation, auto, accident/health, etc.; and the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides flood insurance to approximately 5.5 million U.S. properties with total insured values exceeding $1 trillion, and growing.
2015 General Liability Renewal Outlook
There was a time, not too long ago, when prices for general liability (GL) insurance would fluctuate significantly.
Prices would decrease as new markets offered additional capacity and wanted to gain a foothold by winning business with attractive rates. Conversely, prices could be driven higher by decreases in capacity — caused by either significant losses or departing markets.
This “insurance cycle” was driven mostly by market forces of supply and demand instead of the underlying cost of the risk. The result was unstable markets — challenging buyers, brokers and carriers.
However, as risk managers and their brokers work on 2015 renewals, they’ll undoubtedly recognize that prices are relatively stable. In fact, prices have been stable for the last several years in spite of many events and developments that might have caused fluctuations in the past.
Mark Moitoso discusses general liability pricing and the flattening of the insurance cycle.
Flattening the GL insurance cycle
Any discussion of today’s stable GL market has to start with data and analytics.
These powerful new capabilities offer deeper insight into trends and uncover new information about risks. As a result, buyers, brokers and insurers are increasingly mining data, monitoring trends and building in-house analytical staff.
“The increased focus on analytics is what’s kept pricing fairly stable in the casualty world,” said Mark Moitoso, executive vice president and general manager, National Accounts Casualty at Liberty Mutual Insurance.
With the increased use of analytics, all parties have a better understanding of trends and cost drivers. It’s made buyers, brokers and carriers much more sophisticated and helped pricing reflect actual risk and costs, rather than market cycle.
The stability of the GL market also reflects many new sources of capital that have entered the market over the past few years. In fact, today, there are roughly three times as many insurers competing for a GL risk than three years ago.
Unlike past fluctuations in capacity, this appears to be a fundamental shift in the competitive landscape.
“The current risk environment underscores the value of the insurer, broker and buyer getting together to figure out the exposures they have, and the best ways to manage them, through risk control, claims management and a strategic risk management program.”
— David Perez, executive vice president and general manager, Commercial Insurance Specialty, Liberty Mutual
Dynamic risks lurking
The proliferation of new insurance companies has not been matched by an influx of new underwriting talent.
The result is the potential dilution of existing talent, creating an opportunity for insurers and brokers with talent and expertise to add even greater value to buyers by helping them understand the new and continuing risks impacting GL.
And today’s business environment presents many of these risks:
- Mass torts and class-action lawsuits: Understanding complex cases, exhausting subrogation opportunities, and wrangling with multiple plaintiffs to settle a case requires significant expertise and skill.
- Medical cost inflation: A 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers report predicts a medical cost inflation rate of 6.8 percent. That’s had an immediate impact in increasing loss costs per commercial auto claim and it will eventually extend to longer-tail casualty businesses like GL.
- Legal costs: Hourly rates as well as award and settlement costs are all increasing.
- Industry and geographic factors: A few examples include the energy sector struggling with growing auto losses and construction companies working in New York state contending with the antiquated New York Labor Law
David Perez outlines the risks general liability buyers and brokers currently face.
Managing GL costs in a flat market
While the flattening of the GL insurance cycle removes a key source of expense volatility for risk managers, emerging risks present many challenges.
With the stable market creating general price parity among insurers, it’s more important than ever to select underwriting partners based on their expertise, experience and claims handling record – in short, their ability to help better manage the total cost of GL.
And the key word is indeed “partners.”
“The current risk environment underscores the value of the insurer, broker and buyer getting together to figure out the exposures they have, and the best ways to manage them — through risk control, claims management and a strategic risk management program,” said David Perez, executive vice president and general manager, Commercial Insurance Specialty at Liberty Mutual.
While analytics and data are key drivers to the underwriting process, the complete picture of a company’s risk profile is never fully painted by numbers alone. This perspective is not universally understood and is a key differentiator between an experienced underwriter and a simple analyst.
“We have the ability to influence underwriting decisions based on experience with the customer, knowledge of that customer, and knowledge of how they handle their own risks — things that aren’t necessarily captured in the analytical environment,” said Moitoso.
Mark Moitoso suggests looking at GL spend like one would look at total cost of risk.
Several other factors are critical in choosing an insurance partner that can help manage the total cost of your GL program:
Clear, concise contracts: The policy contract language often determines the outcome of a GL case. Investing time up-front to strategically address risk transfer through contractual language can control GL claim costs.
“A lot of the efficacy we find in claims is driven by the clear intent that’s delivered by the policy,” said Perez.
Legal cost management: Two other key drivers of GL claim outcomes are settlement and trial. The best GL programs include sophisticated legal management approaches that aggressively contain legal costs while also maximizing success factors.
“Buyers and brokers must understand the value an insurer can provide in managing legal outcomes and spending,” noted Perez. “Explore if and how the insurer evaluates potential providers in light of the specific jurisdiction and injury; reviews legal bills; and offers data-driven tools that help negotiations by tracking the range of settlements for similar cases.”
David Perez on managing legal costs.
Specialized claims approach: Resolving claims quickly and fairly is best accomplished by knowledgeable professionals. Working with an insurer whose claims organization is comprised of professionals with deep expertise in specific industries or risk categories is vital.
“We have the ability to influence underwriting decisions based on experience with the customer, knowledge of that customer, and knowledge of how they handle their own risks, things that aren’t necessarily captured in the analytical environment.”
— Mark Moitoso, executive vice president and general manager, National Accounts Casualty, Liberty Mutual
“When a claim comes in the door, we assess the situation and determine whether it can be handled as a general claim, or whether it’s a complex case,” said Moitoso. “If it’s a complex case, we make sure it goes to the right professional who understands the industry segment and territory. Having that depth and ability to access so many points of expertise and institutional knowledge is a big differentiator for us.”
While the GL insurance market cycle appears to be flattening, basic risk management continues to be essential in managing total GL costs. Close partnership between buyer, broker and insurer is critical to identifying all the GL risks faced by a company and developing a strategic risk management program to effectively mitigate and manage them.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.