Financing Pandemic Risk
Could capital markets offer an alternative to transfer the risk of financial losses caused by pandemics? The fast spread of the Zika virus in the past few months has made this question a valuable one for companies around the world.
The answer might well be yes. There are already instances of insurance and reinsurance firms selling pandemic risks to capital markets. And investors appear to be keen on buying them.
“We like to buy this kind of risk. It can be a good diversifier to a global portfolio,” said Christophe Fritsch, co-head, securitized and structured assets, at AXA Investment Managers.
The challenge of a pandemic risk bond is to define triggers and conditions for the coverage.
Past market transactions involve insurance-linked securities that transfer pandemic risks, often along with other excess mortality events such as terrorism. They are used by insurers and reinsurers as an extra tool to manage their regulatory capital reserves.
But an initiative by the World Bank to issue pandemic bonds could lead the way for other kinds of issuers to employ similar capital markets instruments. The World Bank’s bond employs a parametric trigger that helps speed up payments when companies may need some urgent cash flow.
Bill Dubinsky, a managing director at Willis Capital Markets & Advisory, said a likely candidate could be an airport that sees dramatically reduced traffic if there is a pandemic in the country.
If the risk had been transferred to the capital markets, he said, the airport could have a considerable degree of cash flow through the duration of the outbreak.
The challenge is to define triggers and conditions for the coverage.
The trigger of the World Bank’s bond, which should be placed with investors in the Fall, is linked to the level of confirmed deaths caused during a pandemic event. It might not be the best option in the case of pandemics such as Zika, where the number of deaths is fairly low, and companies face other effects such as the interruption of business or loss of revenues indirectly associated to the disease.
But other indicators, such as number of people infected in a limited period of time, could be employed, as is already the case with some parametric insurance coverage purchased by the tourism and airline industry.
The World Bank bond will test the market to assess whether there is appetite from investors for pandemic risks issued by players outside the insurance and reinsurance industries.
Priya Basu, a manager at the development finance department at the World Bank, said she expects the bond will pay a coupon of about 8.5 percent a year, which would be lower than the opening price for other CAT bond initiatives previously launched by the organization, such as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility.
The World Bank’s pandemic bond is part of a broader project called Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, or PEF, which includes both a bond and insurance element, and aims to make $500 million available for pandemic emergencies at 77 poor countries.
The bond is expected to raise $300 million, while $200 million will be placed in the reinsurance market. Munich Re and Swiss Re are the insurance partners of the project.
The costs related to the bonds and insurance premiums are subsidized by donor countries, but the idea is that the facility will become a purely market-based one in the future.
“We are working both on a bond issuance and with the reinsurance market because we want to target a range of different investors with different risk appetites,” Basu said. “We expect that, over time, countries will be able to pay their own premiums and coupons.”
“One of the goals of the World Bank is to promote the utilization of market-based catastrophe schemes by governments that would otherwise struggle to provide urgent assistance to its citizens.” — Priya Basu, manager, development finance department, World Bank
The coverage would be activated when the aggregate number of deaths caused by a pandemic, as confirmed by the World Health Organization, reaches a certain limit. The formula also includes data about the rate of growth of the disease and the acceleration in the number of fatal cases. The index is calculated globally, but the payout is only released to the 77 countries covered by the program.
The facility is complemented by a cash component, worth between $60 million to $100 million, which can be employed in case of a severe pandemic that does not cause enough deaths to trigger either the bond or the insurance coverage.
According to Basu, that is the money that could be used for Zika outbreaks, where the number of expected deaths is relatively low.
“There is a financing gap from the moment it is clear that there is an outbreak with pandemic potential, but it has not become pandemic yet. That is when the PEF comes in,” she said. “The parametric trigger enables us to respond in a much quicker and more timely manner.”
One of the goals of the World Bank is to promote the utilization of market-based catastrophe schemes by governments that would otherwise struggle to provide urgent assistance to its citizens, Busa said.
In her view, the use of facilities such as the PEF could result in significant savings of public resources and, especially, in reducing losses of life. If PEF was up and running back in 2014, she said, international money to fight off the the Ebola pandemic could have started to flow to the affected countries more quickly.
Instead, it took extra months to gain any steam, resulting in the cost of billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
The disease covered by the $500 million bond and insurance facility includes some kinds of influenza, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Marburg and other zoonotic diseases like the Lassa Fever.
Take Control of Your Costs
Ever asked why would you self-insure your workers’ comp risks? I can think of two reasons.
First, if done right, it will provide better care for your employees and save money. Self-Insurance is a great way to accomplish the twin goals of the grand bargain, taking care of people and taking care of business.
Many employers also self-insure to align their workers’ compensation programs with their corporate values. They know that no vendor will have the same feel for their employees, their workplace or their business as they do. For the employer with the will to make the investment in time, the ROI is substantial.
Self-insurance is not an opt out plan. Rather, it is an alternative way for the employer to work within the workers’ compensation law, have some control over how their employees are handled in the system, and still retain exclusive remedy and common law defenses.
A self-insured employer is the carrier for workers’ compensation claims and can specify how, within the law, claims are handled. While most self-insureds use a TPA to administer claims, they can ensure their employees are treated with dignity and respect and can do away with many of the administrative frictions that irritate injured workers and employers alike.
Self-insurance is a great way to accomplish the twin goals of the grand bargain, taking care of people and taking care of business.
This is for the hands-on employers, the ones who want to manage their business and reap the rewards. Like the rest of workers’ compensation there are several moving parts to self-insurance.
The employer’s investment is primarily the time it takes to manage their workers’ compensation program. Depending on the size of their organization, this can be an additional duty or a full-time position, but must be at a decision-making level to be fully effective.
Self-insured employers have a great deal of flexibility in structuring their programs. They can choose the level of exposure, who administers their claims, and vendors such as utilization review, bill review and case management.
Companies with a moderate to large number of employees will always pay their workers’ compensation losses over time. Premiums and experience modifications exist to make sure that happens.
The self-insurance option can sound a little scary, and many employers don’t really understand how it works. After all, premiums are a known cost and losses are a risk.
There is help available on the nuts and bolts through self-insurance associations in most jurisdictions. Information on who to contact about qualification and referrals to other companies currently self-insuring will be available for employers who want to explore this alternative.
Desire is the first step. Information is the second. If it sounds like a good idea for your company, do a little research and talk to other self-insureds. If you decide its right for you, your broker or an outside consultant can help you set up a program.
Many employers are just dissatisfied with the value proposition of how their injured employees are treated vs. the cost of insurance and lack of control.
Self-insurance can address all of those issues and put the success of the program squarely in the hands of the employer.
Buyers Beware: General Liability Outlook May be Shifting
The soothing drumbeat of “excess capital” and “soft market” to describe the general liability (GL) market is a familiar sound for brokers and buyers. Emerging GL trends, however, suggest the calm may not last.
Increasing severity of GL claims may hit some sectors like a light rain at first, if they have not already, but they could quickly feel like a pelting thunderstorm in others. A number of factors could contribute to the potential jump in GL prices for certain industry segments or exposures, possibly creating “micro” or niche hard markets in the short-term, and maybe even turning the broader market over the longer-term.
“There are trends we’re seeing that will play out slowly. Industries that carry more general liability exposure will and have been hit first and hardest, but it won’t apply across the board initially,” said David Perez, Senior Vice President and Chief Underwriting Officer, for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s National Insurance Specialty operation. “There is ample capital in the market today, which allows a poor performing account to move its policy frequently from carrier to carrier. Poorer performing classes, however, will likely face increased pricing for GL policies and a reduction in capacity.”
The good news for buyers is that they can take action today to lessen the impact these trends and the evolving market may have on their GL programs.
David Perez on the state of the GL market.
Medical and Litigation Trends Drive Severity
One factor increasing claim severity is the rising cost of health care, driven both by greater demand and by medical inflation that is growing faster than the Consumer Price index.
The impact of rising medical costs on commercial auto is well-known. Businesses with heavy transportation exposures are finding it more difficult to obtain coverage, or are paying more for it.
That same trend will impact general liability, just on a slower and more fragmented basis.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk.”
— David Perez, Senior Vice President & Chief Underwriting Officer, National Insurance Specialty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
“It takes longer for medical inflation to register through the tort system in general liability than it does in auto liability (AL) because auto claims are generally resolved more quickly,” Perez said. “But the same factors affecting severity in AL also exist in GL and as a result, it’s foreseeable that we will not only see similar severity trends in GL, but they may in fact be worse than we’ve seen in commercial auto.”
Industries with greater exposure to severity in general liability claims should be the first wave of companies to notice the impact of medical inflation.
“Medical inflation will drive up costs across the board, but sectors like construction and product manufacturing have a higher relative exposure for personal injury lawsuits.”
The impact of medical inflation on the GL market.
Beyond medical inflation, two litigation trends are increasing GL damages. First, plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking to migrate the use of life care plans—traditionally employed only for truly catastrophic injuries—to more routine claims. Perez recalled one claimant with a broken thumb and torn ligaments who sought as much as $1 million in care for the injury for the rest of his life.
Second, the number of allegations of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in GL claims is growing. It can be difficult to predict TBI outcomes initially and poor outcomes can be expensive and long tailed.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk,” notes Perez.
Changing Legal Landscape
Medical inflation and litigation trends are not the only issues impacting general liability.
Unanticipated changes in court interpretations of policy language can throw unexpected pressure on GL pricing and capacity.
Courts sometimes issue rulings interpreting policy language in a manner that expands coverage well beyond the underwriter’s original intent. Such opinions may sometimes have a retroactive effect, resulting in an immediate impact on not only open, but also closed cases in some circumstances.
Shifts in the Marketplace
In addition to facing price increases, GL brokers and buyers will be challenged by slightly shrinking capacity due to consolidation and repositioning among carriers in the marketplace. “Some major carriers have scaled back their GL writing, resulting in a migration of experienced senior management. As these executives leave, they take their GL expertise and relationships with them, resulting in fewer market leaders and less innovation,” Perez said.
“Additionally, there are new carriers coming into the business that may not have the historical GL loss data to proactively identify trends or the financial strength and experience to effectively service their GL customers and brokers. Both trends make it important for brokers and buyers to work with an insurer that is committed to the GL market and has the understanding and resources to help better manage risks impacting customers.”
Last year saw a high level of mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry. Buyers should take advantage of that disruption to re-evaluate their needs and whether their insurers are meeting them. Or better yet, anticipating them.
What’s a Buyer to Do?
Buyers—and their brokers— should look to partner with insurers that can spot emerging trends and offer creative solutions to address them proactively.
What should buyers and brokers do, given the trends facing the GL market?
“Brokers and buyers should value insurers that have not only durability and a long history in the general liability business, but also a strong risk management infrastructure,” Perez said. “Your insurer should be able to help you mitigate your specific risks, and complement that with coverage that works for you.”
Beyond robust GL claims and legal management, Liberty Mutual also provides access to one of the insurance industry’s largest risk control departments to help improve safety and mitigate both claim frequency and severity.
In addition, notes Perez, “Even if a company has a less than optimal loss history in general liability, there can be options to provide adequate coverage for that company. The key is to partner with an insurer that has the best-in-class expertise, creativity, and flexibility to make it happen.”
By working closely with their insurers to understand trends and their potential impacts, brokers and buyers can better prepare for the possible GL storm on the horizon.
To learn more about Liberty Mutual’s general liability offering, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/coverages/general-liability-insurance-policy.
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.