Economic reality sharpens future vision for insurance and pandemics


I have been writing about the potential and now actual insurance effects of COVID-19 since late February, and the discussion has evolved from what might be, to what is, to what is not, and to what is now how the industry must begin taking action on what might be for a next pandemic or other systemic risk. 

It’s no longer sufficient to allow coverage gaps to exist for global-effect occurrences, even if another like outbreak may not occur for years or decades- the economic shock presented by being unprepared is simply too great.


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’.

The historic pattern is clear in how global economies react to systemic risk events- wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and governments stepping in to backstop the losses.  For the U.S. and elsewhere the needed government action is due to the outcome of businesses expecting their insurance policies to help cover economic losses due to the mandated shutdowns, and insurance companies never expecting BI losses to be part of insurance coverage.

As of this article’s writing the effect of COVID-19 is exemplified in the U.S. 2020 Q1 GDP results-   -4.8% on an annualized basis, coming on two months of growth and one COVID-19 affected March.  A similar result for Q2 would be unexpected as April and May could produce even less robust results.  Percents and projections, resulting in real-world declines of a few trillion dollars, and mirrored results in other countries.

Can a first step in planning be an understanding of the vagaries of business insurance and business interruption cover?  Not having easy access to policy forms for carriers outside the U.S. market we’ll just have to use the U.S. policies as exemplars.

Description of BI (Business Income or Business Interruption) coverage per U.S. carrier websites:

  • Carrier A– “Helps replace lost income and helps pay for extra expenses if a business is affected by a covered peril.” Lost income being described as revenues minus ongoing expenses.
  • Carrier N– “Helps you pay bills, replace lost income and cover payroll when a covered peril forces you to close temporarily.”
  • Carrier TH– “Can help replace any income your business loses if you can’t open for a time after a covered loss.” Income being total revenues less business expenses, operating costs.
  • Carrier H– “Will pay you the income your company would have made during the period it’s out of action due to a covered loss…including normal operating expenses incurred…most of employee payroll.” Income being revenue less normal operating expenses.
  • Carrier T- “Helps replace income and expenses.”
  • Or per ISO form CP 00 30 04 02
    • Business Income means the:
      • Net Income (net profit or loss before income taxes) that would have been earned or incurred; and
      • Continuing normal operating expenses incurred, including payroll.
      • Must be caused by direct physical loss of or damage to property…in the Declarations.

The carriers’ descriptions of BI cover seem similar, but each has its unique wording and intention.

To highlight varying benefits across the spectrum of the carriers noted above, consider a small business scenario as follows:

  • Monthly revenue- $25,000
  • Payroll- $15,000
  • Rent- $2500
  • Utilities/other expenses- $3500
  • Taxes- $2000
  • Net income- $2000

A one month disruption of the business due to physical damage to a covered loss, insured unable to conduct any business, payroll and expenses are continued, provides the following estimation of the BI cover outcomes:


$2000 BI cover, or $25,000?

Of course the devil is in the details of the policy coverage verbiage, but the tendency is clear- policies differ, there’s a significant variance between policies that cover loss of income alone versus policies that cover loss of revenue and ongoing expenses, or policies that cover ongoing expenses and loss of income.  What is uniform is that BI cover stems from, 1) a cause of loss a policy covers, 2) physical damage to covered property, and 3) no exclusions to coverage applying. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 the drivers of cover are not present in most BOPs and the BI costs are not covered.

That good first step in grasping the gravity of the coverage problem starts with the scenario noted above, and the economic effects extended to the U. S. business economy at large.

There are by estimation anywhere from thirty two to forty million businesses in the U.S., 99.9% being small/medium businesses, with an estimated thirty million being insured by business owner’s policies (BOP), and all being affected by COVID-19 shut down effect- some more than others but the majority affected entirely with full business interruption.

The potential BI data are stark:

  • Thirty million policies with a modest coverage limit of $50,000 would represent a probable maximum loss in a similar pandemic of $1.5 trillion.
  • Thirty million businesses claiming BI damages for one month- even if the claims average $20,000- equates to $600 billion.
  • Thirty million BI claims constitute an estimated $22.8 billion in adjusting expense.
  • Thirty million BI claims would require 600 million man hours to prepare, and
  • 300 million man hours to adjust, or ten man weeks for every claim staffer employed in the U.S. P&C insurance industry.

The U.S. is two months into a shut down, so the potential BI loss cost grows to $600 billion plus LAE (loss adjustment expense).  Want to guess what the entire amount of available cash and investable assets are for U.S. P&C carriers?  $1.75 trillion.  Considering these numbers- having business interruption cost financed by traditional indemnity insurance cover is as carriers have known- untenable.

However, insurance carriers cannot be blind to the economic effects of COVID-19 because they affect the viability of a large segment of the carriers’ business base- the SMEs. Economic pressures from legislators and litigation are presenting potential ex post facto cover, and if the outcomes pass constitutional muster the end effects are enormous in implication.  The inability of the industry to deal with the logistics of handling the claim demands are clear.

There must be plans to shift expectations from no response to some response, indemnity investigation to parametric,  avoidance of customer responsibility by all to collaborative and shared responsibility by insureds, insurers, the capital markets, reinsurers, and government.  Early efforts in the UK in devising a fund in parallel with Pool Re, France working on an insurance backstop for pandemics, and early U.S. efforts to craft a similar plan as the terrorism TRIA fund are meaningful, but absent serious consideration of parametric options not meant to solve the BI cover problem but to take a big edge off of it will carry the industry to a similar place as now.

There are additional efforts being made to build discussion; Lloyd’s Lab is sponsoring varied innovation programs focused on COVID-19 matters, and insTech London is in the midst of its sponsored podcast series on pandemics and what might come next for insurance (yours truly participating with Dr. Marcus Schmalbach , Laurie Miles and Matthew Grant in the 5/05/20 session).  These efforts as well as those of the nascent Ten C’s Project (more to come) are the counter to having no insurance response, or inconsistent, impractical indemnity programs that cannot apply as designed.

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


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.


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?


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.

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. 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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