Business interruption- cover that’s too big to cover- but needs to be next time

Business interruption insurance

On February 27  Daily Fintech published this article, “Dominoes fall- business disruption and risk management in the COVID 19 environment,” wherein there was a discussion of the indirect effects of the then China-based COVID-19 outbreak, and the estimation of economic damage due to the outbreak being $1 trillion.  We now know the effects of the pandemic will be in the many trillions of dollars, and business enterprises around the globe are realizing that business interruption (BI) financial losses due to the outbreak are generally not covered by their commercial insurance policies.  This is not a surprising finding since BI cover has the policy need of direct physical loss, which a viral pandemic does not produce.  Many implications here regarding coverage gaps and systemic risk, and global application of moral hazard.

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’.

In one month’s time the anticipated BI losses due to COVID-19 increased manifold, became global, and have become difficult to quantify accurately, an apt expression of the unexpected outcome a systemic risk like a pandemic can cause- an uninsurable risk due to those exact criteria.

Business interruption cover is described by Marsh & McClennan as follows:

  1. We will pay for the actual loss of business income you sustain due to the necessary suspension of your “operations” during the period of “restoration.” 
  2. The suspension must be caused by the direct physical loss, damage, or destruction to property.
  3. The loss or damage must be caused by or result from a covered cause of loss.”

The problems with the BI cover regarding COVID-19 effects are…all three points.  Items 2 and 3 are not applicable due to the outbreak being the cause, and a viral and item 1 sets such wide expectations for the insureds as to be impossible to summarize.  Loss of business income? Is that cash flow, ongoing bills, net income reduction (based on what?)

Even in the most direct loss cases, say a fire experienced by a business owner, BI losses are seen differently by the business as compared with the carrier.  Again, what constitutes loss of income, and how is the loss indemnification supported and adjusted?  BI cases are difficult to wrangle and often are simply negotiated.

If that handling were to occur say, in the U.S. for all the COVID-19’s affected insured businesses, the twenty-five million or so claims would need to be adjusted throughout the decade, would result in indemnity amounting to  two to three trillion dollar total severity, would make all commercial carriers insolvent, and result in a consequential insurance catastrophe of loss of the industry.

There is no retrofit that would have the expected effect the insureds would need.  Take for example the intention the New Jersey Assembly has in Assembly Bill 3844.  The NJ Assembly proposes the insurance industry provide BI coverage to NJ businesses with full knowledge that BI cover does not apply and is excluded from cover.  NJ would like carriers to pay the cover through legislated changes to the insurance policies’ contractual intentions, with NJ then reimbursing the carriers in the future for all or part of the payments.  Just that one state’s businesses may have BI claims that exceed $100 billion!  That is not a reasonable nor a legal option (would surely be challenged if enacted) and would challenge the solvency of the state’s carriers.    Ex post legislation is not an answer.

Firms have already initiated legislation in the U.S. for breach of contract, and while most in the industry agree that BI cover is a long shot, the irony is that the claims being made trigger the need for loss and expense reserves, and the initiation of litigation will- absent cases being considered unworthy by courts- require that the respective carriers recognize worst case scenario reserves being placed on their balance sheets- a profitability hit that could be significant due to the volume of potential claims (think asbestos.)

Truly there is not a practical answer to the enormity of the question, so the industry and businesses must be forward looking in anticipation of another like occurrence, whether it’s a viral outbreak, cyber outbreak, or regional natural disaster.  Systemic risk effects will occur again, and mitigative actions need to be considered now.

 

I considered one of many scenarios of systemic risk in the recent article published in InsurTech360, “Rethinking excluded pandemic (and other) risks.  The article discusses just one of many loss occurrences- events and conferences, and considers the many aspects of planning, response, potential cover, admin of the response and potential payments for what is for an indemnity product an excluded peril.  Future cover cannot be full reimbursement as we have discussed- the indemnity factors are troublesome to adjust.  Parametric approaches to shared risk are discussed in the article as is planning and segmentation of the loss layers.

Insurance veteran Mark Geoghegan recently recorded a ‘solo podcast’ on the Voice of Insurance that addressed the topic in depth, and touched on the many issues of BI claims and COVID-19.  The ‘selfie’ podcast, unfair-punishment-and-pandemic-re editorialized on the two-edged sword that BI handling by carriers will produce- 1) carriers cannot reimburse insureds for BI claims in that there is no policy cover, and there are not sufficient resources within the industry to do so, and 2) the carriers will still be left as the parties with record levels of capital that will not be applied to the situation, not a good view for the insured public to consider.  Mr. Geoghegan walked through some efforts that could be put into place going forward, and some collective global actions that would distribute future systemic risk that would have similar effects as COVID-19.  He clearly agrees with the writer that BI indemnity cover remains unreachable, but parametric hybrid products might be a compromise, if there is sufficient global participation by carriers, insureds, and governments.  The industry knows that government subsidized products such as the U.S. NFIP flood program are not the answer.  In fact there are some influential insurance persons who suggest private parametric plans supported by alternate risk sources are the most effective and stable answer, and not government backing as is found in the U.S. Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (see Dr. Marcus Schmalbach’s article, implement-pandemic-perils-into-tria-no-a-free-market-solution-is-needed ).  Dr. Marcus is a knowledgeable proponent of capital markets being a primary force in financing these unique risks.

Mr. Geoghegan suggests that cooperative programs such as might be gained through premium contributions to a global pool of insurance backing for systemic risk response built over years is an option to consider.  The pool would also help fund an important initiative going forward- research into causes of pandemic outbreaks, anticipating new viruses, be prepared to respond with strategic supplies, and with several years of global contributions, a substantial response fund that is not indemnity-based and available to all.  However, what does that mean?  Participation by all countries, carriers, and governments, a daunting task for the best of motivations.  And as Mark reminded the listener- memories are short, and large sums of money are attractive targets for raids by cash-short governments.  The concepts are provocative and if actionable in small part a sure improvement.

The author had a related thought-provoking discussion this week with  Thomas Verduzco-Weisel, Director Central Europe at Symbility – Mobile Claims,  a colleague in Germany who has seen the effects of disappointed customers; the chat focused on any actions that might be taken to respond to customer concerns- now.

We settled nothing categorically but did consider some options carriers can take to mitigate the effects of the constant drum beat in the press coming from businesses that have experienced or anticipate substantial BI losses:

  • Reduce or suspend premiums based on companies’ reduced operations.
  • Coordinate with other carriers in establishing a response fund that can provide direct cash benefits to business customers.
  • Extend coverage for risks that are solely associated with COVID-19 actions, e.g., forward-looking coverage for credit risk, health risk.
  • Partner with government regarding establishing captives- immediately- for mutual sharing of risk within affinity groups
  • Establish help centers for staff to assist in navigating insurance and finance issues
  • Look for coverage within policies that were in force at the inception of the pandemic, e.g., cover for civil authority actions in temp closures.  Don’t wait for a claim to be initiated, create the claim and contact the insureds proactively
  • Know how your product lines will evolve going forward- parametric options, review and retest exclusions, etc. The efforts must be uniform for all like insureds, and reproducible for similar perils.  Not taking any action is going backwards.

Plenty of discussion of a problem that has grown into a multi trillion dollar beast, and a challenge for the industry and its customers, and not to forget, governments. Systemic risk from pandemics can no longer simply be a line in the exclusion section of insurance policies, but by the same token cannot be relegated to macro government response.  For COVID-19 all players have been guilty of the oldest of risk management dodges- moral hazard.  Why bother insuring the outcome if someone else will cover the effects?  Well, that time is now gone.

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COVID-19 supplants InsurTech – moving lower on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Business Needs

Maslow biz

Staff working from home.

Premium growth or reduction?

Staff being repurposed or subject to RIF.

Claims- virtual handling or on-site assessment?

Innovation efforts underway- suspend or continue?

Customers with reduced access to the firm or agents.

Supplies- how much to stock, if the supplies can be found?

Start ups- traction had been tough, now there is no friction.

VC’s and funding orgs- how can we support any investment?

Coverage determination for pandemic or microbial infestation.

Vendor partners- how to maintain relationships or leverage their skills?

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’.

InsurTech funding efforts produced $6.6 billion globally in 2019, and plans for 2020 suggested a similar level of interest for this year.  That was until a few weeks ago, when coronavirus caused insurance companies to radically shift focus from growth, innovation, partnerships, and lowering performance ratios to a focus on cash conservation, staff support, changes in customer contact protocols, and concerns about pandemic coverage, maintaining policies in force, and stability.

The outbreak is a seismic strategic change event.  Not just issues, but fundamental concerns that suggest fundamental responses by the insurance industry, although I’ll admit there are too many ramifications to fully organize and upon which to comment.

Without question insurance incumbents and startups will feel the effects of Covid-19 on how business has been conducted in the industry during the past several years.  The relationships and collaborations between incumbent/InsurTech will be tested in significant ways, including:

  • Will financial support for innovation contract substantially as carriers move to protect liquid assets?
  • Will personnel investment in carriers’ efforts in effecting change be altered to better focus on customer needs and staffing challenges brought by the simple acts of existing in an uncertain world?
  • Startups that have not yet come close to revenue generation- will they be left to wither on the development vine as VCs reconsider asset allocations and reduced confidence in profitable scale up.
  • Will incumbents temporarily abandon new projects/innovations in order to concentrate on core functions?

It’s clear that in the current economy organizations will be moving down the business version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from the optional to the basics, from discretionary spending to conservation of customer base.

These and other strategy thoughts found their way across my feed during the past week (with the author’s observations added):

  • Coverage for effects of pandemics have in general been excluded from cover for personal lines and commercial policies, physical, business interruption and liability covers. Simply too broad of a risk (akin to flood) for carriers to underwrite, and typically not direct physical damage.    Put the effects into a global context that affects almost every business and there will be push back.  Arbitrary actions on the part of carriers to afford coverage where there isn’t any has ramifications in uniform claim handling and fair practices- shouldn’t do for one that you can’t for all.  Unfortunately the insurance industry will be seen as the ‘bad guys’  for avoiding cover.  There will be efforts that are ‘fashionable’ to force coverage, for example the US state of New Jersey is considering suggested legislation that will require carriers in the state to provide coverage for the effects of the crisis.  Not the insurance commissioner, the legislature.  Not amending a condition like California’s commissioner did requiring full replacement payment for contents instead of actual cash value, but altering terms of the insurance contract after the fact, and outside the privity of contract.  No one wants customers to have unexpected costs of risk, but the legislators’ suggestion is fraught with many cascading consequences.  Those broad brush benefits reside within the legislature’s grasp, but not using insurance carriers as the delivery pool.

 

  • John Neal’s Lloyd’s of London office put out a request to its member firms for estimates of potential current and final losses from coronavirus. Certainly, that is good information to know, but it’s due time for Lloyd’s to be able to access those data with a few clicks of a mouse or database query.  Surely the firm’s exposure to probable maximum loss for a peril is a strategic data point to have at arm’s reach, and the unique nature of pandemic cover would suggest PML for any policies in force.  It seems the integration of Blueprint One cannot come soon enough for Lime Street.

 

  • Worldbank’s Pandemic bonds are on the verge of being triggered to benefit the poorest countries in the world. The primary criteria for triggering have been met, with proof of economic growth among the beneficiary countries remaining to be confirmed.  These bonds provide quick response finds for the countries, and have proven to be a successful alternate risk funding vehicle for capital markets.  This bond type and other cat bonds/ILS are a significant future source of risk financing, with reinsurers and bonding companies working in concert.

 

  • How insurers work has been shaken with the almost universal shift to remote work (work from home, WFH). Insurance consultant Alan Walker composed a fine list of questions within an article posted this week, “Covid-19: Implications for Insurers.” :
    • How will we plug the service gaps that will arise if a large proportion of staff falls ill at the same time?
    • How long will remote working be required?
    • Do any of our product wordings need to be changed to deal with the return of Covid-19 in future years, or possible future pandemics? (author’s note- perhaps it’s time for parametric cover to take a leading role in dealing with effects of broad effect perils/covers)
    • Do we need to reduce our reliance on people being co-located… and the degree of “remote working as standard?
  • Rosenblatt Securities published a short analysis of the Implications of COVID-19 and Market Disruption on Private Fintech, and while the report included many important concepts, there was a historic treatment in graphical form of the Correlation of S&P performance and private capital investment in the U.S. that caught the author’s eye:

S&P

This chart from the 2008-10 market recovery period indicates a six-month lag between market recovery and investment level recovery; the current outbreak is of such broad spectrum and probable duration that investment recovery will take longer than that.  Consider the outbreak disruption to last several months and investment confidence to take an even longer period to come back, and strategy decisions made now are even more important than in 2008.

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Parametrics, alternate risk for outbreaks, and a Heartbeat in the Fog

It’s not often that a nexus of insurance/finance, and tech factors rises in prominence and promise, but seems the time is now.  Blockchain- parametric- captives- business interruption – AI/ML- coverage gaps- ILS- front and center!  Supply chain disruption due to collapse of integral parts of the pre-existing arrangements has rippled strongly through the global economy, and clever, innovative risk management and financing programs are now available for application, however from a previously under-utilized area of insurance.  
Patrick Kelahan is a CX, engineering & insurance consultant, working with Insurers, Attorneys & Owners in his …

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COVID 19 – indirect effect coverage gap on steroids

COVID-19-Economic-Impact-Public-Domain

Unlike a typhoon or hurricane, the current catastrophe cannot be seen, just its effects.  The novel coronavirus (COVID 19) is now and will be causing personal, business, and government disruption and economic loss.  You can’t see the virus, has relatively small direct effects (120,000 persons contracting the virus of some hundreds of millions exposed), but it’s secondary impact ripples widely.  It’s economic impact will eclipse that of natural disasters of the past several years.  Analogous to the concept of velocity of money there is a ‘velocity of consumption’ that has economic loss effects that are not subject to indemnification. 

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’.

COVID 19 is on the front risk burner of pretty much everyone on the globe, and as discussed in a prior blog the effects of the outbreak are wide and deep in the business world.  It is becoming clearer how those effects are impacting the global economies, and if the risk exposure has potential insurance recovery:

  • As reported in the Asia Insurance Review, the Russell Group estimates China trade is exposed to an estimated US $122 billion trade risk due to business interruptions and imbalance in supply chains.  This projected risk is not limited to Chinese exports, but to imports as well, e.g., crude oil and circuit boards.  What is not calculated into the $122 billion is the ‘start up lag’, or the materials and labor costs to get production and services to pre-outbreak levels.  And a great unknown- the volume of businesses that simply will not survive the break in business the outbreak has caused.  Probability of insurance recovery- low.
  • Pandemic catastrophe bonds issued by the World Bank have experienced a crash in price in the secondary markets due to expectations that a full draw-down of these higher risk bonds as triggering conditions continue to be met. The bonds serve as a backstop to the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility.  The details and ramifications of the outbreak on these bonds is well covered by Steve Evans of Artemis, “Pandemic cat bond price plummets on growing coronavirus threat”. Probability of bond holders recovering price- low.
  • Call center operations (often sited in countries other than primary consumption markets) have been affected and the potential for more to be closed is high. In addition as discussed by Mike Daly of 360Globalnet in this advisory, disruption in one facility may be compounded if a firm’s continuity plan includes a back up facility that is also subject to closure.  Absent a plan to work virtually there may be business disruptions that cannot be recovered. Amazon is planning a full organization test of VPN work wherein all employees are being directed to connect to the firm’s operations via remote connection during 3/05/2020- a bench test of organizational resilience.  Probability of recapture of business due to disruption- low.  Probability that business interruption cover applies for a viral outbreak- low.
  • Gig workers in all markets are losing business as outside consumption and movement lessens due the encouragement to the public of limiting exposure outside of one’s dwelling. And, as regions wrestle with the concept of contractor or employee, persons who contract the virus due to exposure during an ordered ‘gig’ may have a case for workers compensation cover (US).  A compounding insurance (or lack of) issue for gig workers is the relative low percentage of gig workers who have health insurance provided to them, a reality that will be costly to the sector.  Inroads are being made to provide gig workers low cost, comprehensive personal insurance by firms like Collective Benefits (UK), and for on demand cover for fares such as what is offered in Singapore by Grab Insure (Grab also has announced COVID 19 cover for drivers.)  Probability of gig workers having health insurance recovery- low.
  • A first line industry that has been significantly impacted by the outbreak is the travel industry. Business interruption cover is generally excluded for health outbreaks, whether it’s inability for staff to man the facilities or reduction in visitors.  Certainly parametric options have become more available and in place, e.g., loss of business for tourist attractions.  Individuals’ travel insurance may not have cover for missed travel due to fears of exposure (some CAFR- Cancel For Any Reason are purchased exceptions to that), but illness while traveling and repatriation may be.  An excellent overview of travel insurance issues is found here in CoveragerProbability of cover for cancelling a trip solely due to concerns about COVID 19- low.
  • Companies that have been on life-support may suffer the fatal blow due to business downturn, e.g., airline Flybe, who have announced a probable collapse of its business due to COVID 19 . The BBC.com article notes that the firm has been on shaky ground, thus supporting the contention that COVID 19 is most apt to affect those who are already compromised, even businesses. Probability of indemnification for lost business- very low.  Passengers- probably on their own.  (Maybe @EUFlightRefund can assist)

There sure are other unexpected influences on business that may benefit firms due to reactions to an economic downturn., e.g., the US Fed’s action to drop US interest rates 50 basis points, the erosion of market capitalization from stock price drops (leverage, pension values), or spot shortages of commodities due to reaction purchases.  A real issue is the non-recoverable gross domestic product that results from drop in production and ensuing drops in consumption.  A double pronged effect- supply and demand effects- will take an absolute half percent off of 2020 global GDP increase, or an almost one half trillion US dollar impact.  The reader surely realizes this impact intuitively or by other sources, but a good overview of COVID 19 global GDP impact can be found here.  One must remember- lost production is seldom fully recovered.

As for now and during the outbreak’s spread, consider the far-reaching economic impacts of COVID 19, have contingency plans as one best can, wash your hands regularly, try to not touch your face, stay home if you feel unwell, and have plans for recovery once the outbreak ebbs.  Oh, and realize there will be another similar occurrence in the future, and have insurance plans to reduce your coverage gap.

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Dominoes fall- business disruption and risk management in the COVID 19 environment

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It’s clear there is much of which to be concerned regarding novel Coronavirus 2019 (aka COVID 19), including  the direct impact of illness and death among those who have contracted the disease, and the indirect effect of closure of travel, quarantine, closures of schools, businesses, and frontiers. 

Who is considering the effect of the virus on local, regional, and global business?  Whether you believe in the extent of virility of the virus or not, one thing is certain- businesses across the globe are showing symptoms from COVID 19.  Is this an insurance disaster or unexpected new market?

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’.

Much of the production and retail business world lives with the two-edged sword of global interaction; on one edge a manufacturer in Barcelona can economically design and digitally source machine parts from a ten person shop located in Hubei Province in China, on the other edge is the disruption that may occur to the Spanish manufacturer if the machine shop is inactive or unable to produce a custom part.  Potential tech problems certainly predated the current viral outbreak, e.g., connectivity, ISP issues, in-house tech issues, etc., but having 59 million inhabitants of this province alone in question being exposed to and managed for contagion is a disruptive analog force that may affect business activity for weeks if not months, with figurative ripples being felt around the globe.

If one considers COVID 19’s global reach as of this writing ( WHO situation rep, 2/26/20220 ):

COVID

And the exposed population, cases and deaths in China alone:

COVID population

The magnitude and effect of the outbreak on just that 1.4 billion population becomes graphically clear.

Unless your business was affected by the SARS outbreak in 2004, affected by the more localized (but terrifying) Ebola virus, or mosquito borne diseases like Dengue or Zika, the business effects of outbreaks are typically small- unless you are immersed in the outbreak.  Businesses in Hubei Province in China certainly understand the effects, as millions of SMEs are shuttered due to the quarantine actions currently in place.  But, were you aware that Brazil reported 2.2 million cases of dengue in 2019 alone, with more than 700 deaths due to the outbreak?  Dengue does not have the quarantine requirement of COVID 19 so life goes on, but life is still disrupted as are businesses.  (full disclosure- the author contracted dengue while posted in a tropical environment- not a fun experience, but also not a disease where death is commonplace.)  The point- by degrees disease outbreaks can have far-reaching effects, and businesses must be aware and have risk management plans.  And you who have service industries and consider yourself immune to these issues- it’s a complex business ecosystem where all are affected.

For this article a deep dive into what’s covered by insurance and what’s not will not be taken- that would be too lengthy an effort for a Daily Fintech reader who needs an overview.  I can say that Business Insurance and Marsh and McLennan have a good summary document here, “Liability policies may respond to coronavirus” .  Travel insurers typically do not afford coverage if a traveler simply decides not to travel due to perceived risk (some policies have the ‘cancel for any reason’ option but it’s an exception placement.)  Suffice it to say that effects of outbreaks do no not fit well into insurance cover.

So what’s the point for this article?

Awareness and consideration of how outbreak ‘dominoes’ can affect your business, and are there insurance options that might provide financial protection?

Consider these quotations from the 2/25/2020 Economist:

“IF China is the world’s factory, Yiwu International Trade City is the factory’s showroom. It is the world’s biggest wholesale market, spacious enough to fit 770 football pitches, with stalls selling everything from leather purses to motorcycle mufflers.  Its reopening was delayed by two weeks because of the COVID-19 virus, the crowd was sparse and the dragon dancers, like everyone else, donned white face-masks for protection. “

And,

“The muted restart of the Yiwu market resembles that of the broader Chinese economy. The government has decided that the epidemic is under control to the point that much of the country can go back to work. That is far from simple. More than 100m migrant workers, the people who make the economy tick, are still in their hometowns, and officials are trying hard to transport them to the factories and shops that need them.”

An outlook from a visiting business person:

“Yiwu is testimony to some of the ways in which people far and wide will feel its economic effects. Agnes Taiwo, a businesswoman from Lagos, arrived in China just as it started to implement its strict controls to stop the outbreak. She had hoped to book a large shipment of children’s shoes and get back to Nigeria by early February. But nearly one month on, snarled by all the closures and delays, she has not yet been able to complete her order. And her return to Nigeria has been complicated because EgyptAir, the airline she took on the way over, has cancelled all flights to China. “This is serious,” she says. It is a sentiment that many others around the world are starting to share.”

The Economist states the case for China business concerns well; what of the cascading effects of supply chain disruption?

Let’s consider the potentials for risk management working backwards from end businesses:

  • Most business interruption covers are based on an occurrence of direct physical loss, either on premises or within a supply chain. Unfortunately, disease outbreaks are seldom considered direct losses, and in most cases are excluded causes of loss.

Continuing, how about:

  • Worker’s compensation?
  • Liability from infection from customers being on premises?
  • Directors and Officers cover if business results flag due to alleged poor planning?
  • Supply chain risk- all along the supply and transportation chain? Has just in time become a liability?
  • Loss of suppliers due to failures of businesses in the worst outbreak areas?
  • Actions of governments? Legal ramifications of non-compliance?
  • Employee actions due to extended periods of no work?
  • Loss of key staff due to inability to maintain salaries?
  • Loss or reduction of digital connectivity due to vendor issues caused by the outbreak?
  • Effects of civil unrest?
  • Interest rate risk from speculation?
  • Capital valuation changes due to stock market responses?
  • Inability to travel to affected areas where management oversight is critical?
  • Increase of cyber risk due to reduced attention to risk?
  • Reduced productivity due to requirements for and inefficiencies of virtual work?
  • Consider the effect that reduced business will have on governments and taxing authorities- will there be significant collateral effects for your business’ taxes, or services received from the government?
  • In the case of a significant outbreak in your area, what government services may be curtailed or cut, and how will that affect your key operations?

Attention, planning, and expectation for a worst-case scenarios are prudent courses as Mother Nature has ways to prove governments wrong.  Re-engaging 100 million workers is a huge undertaking for China, but so may be getting your staff back into routine after a week or two of preventive closures by authorities.

  • Dust off the business continuity plans prepared for natural disasters. Don’t look for the disease outbreak section, it probably doesn’t exist.
  • Contact your insurance broker, have the hard discussion and ask for a frank assessment of your business’s insurance. Ask for the specifics on supply chain, outbreaks, indirect losses, liability, D&O, etc.  What you will learn will be better than not learning at all.
  • Be upfront and inclusive with staff. They are smart, and know things you don’t.
  • Trade war activity over the past year has caused you to find alternative sources for products- contact those sources and solidify your position with them.

Going forward there are learnings for the risk management industry, and for any business that might be affected by issues related to outbreaks.  The availability of parametric insurance may become more commonplace, and the practicality of its inclusion in insurance plans will increase.

Consider the example provided by Parametrix, an Israel-based insurer recently awarded the UK Zurich Innovation Challenge (thanks to Mark Budd and Nicola Cannings who have kept me apprised of the contest’s outcome.)

While not an exact match for supply chain issue parametric cover, the company founded by Neta Rozy “creates parametric (claim-free) insurance for SaaS, PaaS and IaaS downtime such as cloud outages, network crashes, and platform failures. Their products help close a protection gap in business interruption insurance, tailored to the tech-reliant SMEs.”

Carry the parametric principle to supply chain interactions, or any business interaction where a disruptive trigger, or index can be identified, and a risk amount can be applied.  Business disruption due to a specific government command, for example, or supplier closure due to a WHO declared outbreak.  There may be many reasons why indemnity covers are unable to be written, but parametric options must be considered as an alternative.

While SMEs are the typical customer for Parametrix, there is basis for larger, more dispersed firms to consider alternate risk methods, almost as cat bonds might provide for natural disasters.  If an outbreak can affect global GDP to an amount of $1 trillion in lost growth, a globally established firm might suffer effects that are similarly material to its P&L and hedging the risk is prudent.

The key is that global outbreaks do occur,  perhaps not as potentially costly as COVID 19, but significant none the less.

Global reach, fragility of supply chain interactions, and business continuity demand different approaches, and provide the insurance industry new opportunities for risk products.

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Flood insurance- where the rising tide has NOT raised all ships

after-the-floodstl2___700x340

The problem is known, the data lakes related to the problem are deep, there are huge costs associated with it and plenty of human suffering.   Whole sectors of predictive data businesses have grown to better understand what is behind it, options abound in an attempt to mitigate its effects.  Governments around the globe spend billions in preparation for and response to the events.

So why isn’t flooding, flood damage mitigation, flood damage repair costs/financing, and flood insurance availability less of a global problem?

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’.

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The breadth of the problem

Aon indicates global economic losses due to flooding between 2011-19 exceeded $600 billion US, with only $111 billion insured, an amount that surely does not include all infrastructure and productivity losses, or loss of life.  A $500 billion cumulative coverage gap; surely things have improved during the nine-year period, yes?  No.  The latest three-year period indicates a coverage gap of 84% of flood losses, worse than the cumulative 81% during the decade.

Innovation’s Data Analysis Effects

Much has changed in flood risk prediction since the early 1970’s when public flood programs were introduced (e.g., National Flood Insurance Program in the US).  At that time and until recently efforts expended in determining flood risk for a subject area were through elevation mapping devised from physical surveys of respective areas.  These elevation determinations in conjunction with hydrologic data were the default tool.  Problem was that there were few if any insurance carriers that would write flood cover without subsidy from an area’s federal government. In fact, in some jurisdictions (like the US) flood cover could only be written within a government program.  Too much risk of a regional Probable Maximum Loss event, actuarial premiums would have been prohibitive, adverse selection would be the driver of the coverage chase, etc.  As such government programs were the default option, and even at that participation was low.  In the US an overall participation rate in flood insurance even as late as 2017 was less than 15% of properties.

There have been remarkable advances in mining and analyzing data to identify a property’s relative flood risk, and the probability of a significant flood event, some examples being:

  • FloodIQ.com, a product of tech innovator First Street Foundation allows the user to input an address within the US and obtain an idea of rising water’s effects
  • Previsico , not only has developed tech do assess probability of flooding in the UK, but includes live modeling during flood events and includes warning capabilities
  • FloodMapp , before, during, and after services- modeling, dynamic prediction and flood damage quantification for claims
  • Hazard Hub , has risk modeling data that in addition to NFIP flood maps model surge and even tsunami risk by property address
  • https://floodscores.com/ – provider of property specific flood risk info (thanks Sam Green)
  • https://www.floodinsuranceguru.com/- included this resource due to the firm’s unique approach to mastering flood tech methodology and applying that knowledge to risk assessment through flood maps.
  • Leveraging social media for warnings- Sri Lanka has had success notifying more remote villages of impending storms/flood potential. Penetration of smart devices provides a warning platform.  Other chronic flood regions like Bangladesh are beginning to see the need of tech warnings due to recent flood events.

Funding risk management

The extensive flood protection gap suggests that private funding of flood risk has been just a small part of overall flood insurance.  The US market has primarily had NFIP response (or ex post government/emergency funds to account for the coverage gap)- a US government flood insurance market that has continuously functioned as a deficit program due to subsidized rates, significant adverse selection/moral hazard issues, being seen more as a constituent response vehicle than an insurance scheme by congress, being administratively under-funded, and not being a mandatory participation plan so the volume of participants is too low to be self-sustaining.

Properties in flood-prone areas within the UK market of late have benefited from the Flood Re program where UK insurance carriers contribute to the flood insurance plan (as do property owners).  Without belaboring the functioning of the plan (take a look at the website) one can say it’s as much an effective hybrid industry/government/property owner plan as found anywhere.  Its plan is to function as is for a few decades then convert to a fully private plan.

In most countries the largest volume of response is in the form of government emergency finds, particularly for cleanup, infrastructure repairs, and immediate populace support.  While significant, these government responses are inefficient at best and typically delayed by legislative inaction. 

Where there is much optimism for funding is in the capital markets- catastrophe bonds and insurance linked securities (ILS).  Per the data found at artemis.bm, ILS and funds held for flood risk are a small portion of the more than $40 billion US held in the reinsurance/ILS market.  There is plenty of capital in the market, however, and the appetite for returns over those of typical financial market vehicles is building interest in ILS.  The complexity of reinsurance/ILS deals is increasing, as is the level of apportioning tranches of risk across hedging deals.  The key is that as private flood insurance becomes more available the need and interest in alternate risk financing will grow.  An 80+% coverage gap for a peril that is becoming increasingly more frequent, in combination with the trillions of dollars of property at flood risk will find ways to attract capital markets’ involvement, and as data availability and granularity increases the pricing of the vehicles will become even more sophisticated. 

Flood insurance going forward

A problem not considered often in the flood peril aftermath is that flooding affects not only individual property owners, but everyone within a flooded region.  Even the elevated property that is not flooded is affected; its residents are prevented from venturing out, cannot not shop at a flooded store, are unable to get municipal services due to closures, etc. And- the cost of government responses in the absence of insurance are borne by all within a community.  The other factor that is often overlooked?  Insurance proceeds ‘jump start’ recoveries with funds for local businesses; lack of widespread flood insurance cover leads to much less money on the street after an event.

Consider flood insurance penetration within the US- less than 15% of all property owners hold flood cover, and most who do keep it due to mortgagee requirements.  A recent article shared by RJ Lehman of the R Street Institute about the Mississippi flooding occurring as this article is written reinforces that most property owners will be left without a financial backstop for flood recovery (by the way- in the US an article like that is written after every flood or hurricane, the only copy that seems to change is the name of the city/town and the number of policies in force.)  The recovery will come without insurance- slowly, funded piecemeal until finally government funding will be made available.

Is it time for regional parametric programs funded by taxes and made available immediately after a trigger event?  Seems a really good idea since no matter what in the flood peril world the government is the funder of last resort, why not make it the quick response at no more cost than we are used to source? FloodFlash has proven event-based parametric flood cover to be effective option for property owners in the UK, and per Artemis’ reporting SJNK (Japan) is rolling out similar cover for property owners there.

Is it time to make flood insurance a requirement of all homeowners insurance holders?  Flood Re seems a reasonable model to follow, and even with disparate regulatory bodies action can be taken to have an entire region/state/country participating.  Flood perils are growing, so are costs, so is the exposure to critical economic areas.  Smarter approaches to private flood insurance that is based on knowledge of not only insurance but on the factors behind flooding and risk as is used by Chris Greene at FloodInsuranceGuru are needed.  Partnerships such as experienced with Previsico and Loughborough University need to be supported.  Subsidized premiums are OK, but much greater breadth of participation is required to make programs even remotely viable.  The underwriting, mapping, and response tech is there, the political and economic will must be also.

 

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Pulling back the curtain to shine light on ‘scary’ insurance phrases

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Reinsurance/ILS, Blockchain, and insurance financials.  Not quite lions, tigers, and bears, but for many who follow insurance the three concepts are as daunting and pose discomfort in understanding. Why then the mention?  Because in an earlier social media post I noted that the three words do not generate a lot of media content traffic, and if there is a related posting, not much response.  A wise connection dropped the key hint to that puzzle- the words need to be discussed in context that makes sense to the reader.  A cool idea, Modern Accelerator .

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’.  Image

Let’s dive into the three concepts with a full recognition that this blog will serve merely as an overview and whetter of appetites causing the readers to want to consume more. Fair warning- even keeping the topics brief- TL:DR may apply.  That’s OK.

Insurance Financials

There is plenty of government oversight for accounting that dovetails with plenty of regulation, we can’t touch on all the respective countries’ agencies and regulators but in essence they all serve the key roles of making uniform 1) how insurers account financially for their business, and 2) how insurers account for how solid they are in being able to serve their policyholders relative to the agreed scope and cost of risk.

It’s an alphabet soup of government orgs or standards: GAAP, FASB, SAP, IRDAI, NYDFS, SEC, IFRS, FCA, FSDC, SUSEP, NAICOM, ICLG, ASIC, APRA, etc. (almost) ad infinitum.

Fundamentally there are three accounting principles (of the many) with which insurers must comply, just in a slightly different manner from most business organizations :

  • Revenue Recognition Principle
  • Matching Principle
  • Historical Cost Principle

Without complicating things too much, insurance companies have financial stability burden to prove continuously- a carrier’s ability to fund the risk costs that it has agreed to.  All those policyholders have an expectation of indemnity or payment if a loss or occurrence to which their policy agrees to cover /pay comes to fruition.

The three principles noted above are part of the key differences between insurance companies and others, primarily because what insureds receive for premiums is a risk agreement that elapses over time.  Receive $1000 for an insurance contract today for twelve months’ cover.  Money in the bank for a promise over time.  So in respect to compliance with the Matching Principle, premiums are deemed  ‘written’ only until an increment of the policy’s time is expired, wherein the portion of the premium that matches the period is booked as ‘earned’.  One month’s policy duration allows 8 ½% of the written premium to become earned, six months’ earns 50%, and so on.

So you can see how a carrier with a ton of cash on hand might not be as liquid as one thinks if there are an according ton of policies on the books whose expiration extends over twelve months or more.  Written and earned- key concepts.

Here’s an example of a P&L statement showing the written and earned premiums, from German insurer, DFV_AG or Deutsche Familienversichurung:

DFV Inc

The sharp eye will note in addition to written and earned premiums there are lines showing the ‘Share of reinsurers’; that will be touched on in the Reinsurance portion of our discussion.

Traditionally the written and earned difference followed a solid calendar pattern due to typical annual expiration of polices.  But what of on demand or ‘gig’ policies?  The covered period may be a few hours or days, so there is little lag between written and earned status.  Knowing a carrier’s business model has become more important than ever since a heavily funded entrant’s cash may be more restricted if it’s a traditional style insurer in comparison with an on-demand player.

Carrying the discussion to the Matching Principle (matching costs to the period in which the costs were incurred) suggests a few important financial factors:

  • Costs of policy acquisition is matched to immediate written policy premiums, e.g., agency/brokerage commissions, marketing, admin office costs, digital format costs, etc., but
  • Costs of policy administration, e.g., adjusting expense, loss costs paid, etc., may be charged to earned premiums in a different incurred cost period.

As for the Historical Cost Principle, regulators want to know concretely what amount a carrier assigns to portfolio assets.  Insurers need to be liquid in their asset portfolio so assets can easily be converted to cash if loss payment volume so demands.  For example, bonds might fluctuate in value over time due to variances in interest rates, but carriers need to maintain a historic cost to keep regulators content for solvency calculations.

Quite a rabbit hole are financials, so the conversation will conclude with THE common comparative measures for P&C carriers-  loss ratio, expense ratio, and combined ratio.  These measures will give the reader a clear idea if earned premiums (revenue) exceed or are exceeded by expenses and loss cost.

So,

loss ratio = claim payments + adjustment expense/earned premiums, expressed as a %

expense ratio = expenses other than adjustment expenses/earned premium. Expressed as a %

combined ratio is a sum of the LR and CR.

Ideally CR is < 100%, meaning earned premiums exceed costs and underwriting activity is profitable.

What must be remembered as carriers are compared- the maturity of a carrier in terms of time in business, how aggressive is growth relative to existing book, the nature of the carrier’s business and how that affects reserves (immediate draw on profits.)  Entrants may have LR that are in the hundreds of %; consider trends or peer comparisons before your lose your mind.

Reinsurance

Reinsurance is insurance for insurance companies.  There, that was easy.

Rei was once an easier financial concept to grab- carriers would sign treaties with reinsurance companies to help protect the primary insurer from loss outcomes that exceeded typical loss expectations.  Primary carriers do not plan (or price) for an entire region to be affected at the same time, but sometimes things happen that require excess over planned loss payments, e.g., wind storms, wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.  Primary carriers will purchase reinsurance that for a specific period, and in an amount that is triggered once a carrier’s loss payments for the treaty peril or perils is incurred.  Pretty direct and expected by regulators, and part of claim solvency calculations.

What has occurred over years is that reinsurers have evolved into other types of excess risk partners, covering more than just catastrophe losses, and becoming excess risk options.  If you again review DFV_AG’s income statement and consider the premium and loss cost portion of the carrier’s P&L shared with reinsurers, you’ll understand the firm has ceded premium and costs to backers to help smooth growth and provide backstop to the firm’s ability to pay claims and serve its customers.  This has become a common methodology for startups and existing carriers, allows more product variety for reinsurers and spread of risk.

Another evolution over the past years beyond reinsurance is the advent of Insurance Linked Securities (ILS), capital vehicles that are designed solely as alternative risk financing.  Insurance-linked securities (ILS) are derivative or securities instruments linked to insurance risks; ILS value is influenced by an insured loss event underlying the security.  What’s that?  ILS are capital vehicles that simply are designed to pay on an outcome of a risk, e.g., hurricane, earthquake, etc., sold to investors looking for diversified returns in the capital markets.  A hedge against a risk for insurers, an option for better than normal market returns for the holders.  Often referred to as Cat bonds, these bonds serve an important role in the risk markets, and are an opportunity for holders for income.  Often ILS are sliced and diced into tranches of varying risk bonds to smooth the outcome of a linked event.  Don’t be surprised if ILS become a more accepted means of financing more common, less severity risk within the industry, or in use in unique new risk applications, an example being pursued by Rahul Mathur and colleagues.

Blockchain

So much promise, so much confusion, overreach and failure to launch.  Or maybe Blockchain’s connection with the perceived wild west of value transfer, crypto currency, has colored the insurance world’s relative arm’s length view of the concept.

A quick search of definitions produces many references to bitcoin and other crypto currency (I’ll leave those to my knowledgeable Daily Fintech colleagues), but we simply want a definition that maybe doesn’t sound simple (Wikipedia):

“By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of the data. It is “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”. For use as a distributed ledger, a blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for inter-node communication and validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires consensus of the network majority. Although blockchain records are not unalterable, blockchains may be considered secure by design and exemplify a distributed computing system with high Byzantine fault tolerance. “

Open. Distributed. Peer-to-peer. Decentralized. Immutable. Cool for generating crypto, but not so much for the wild data sharing needs of insurance.

So why is Blockchain not taking hold for insurance?  The use case is tough for carriers- unstructured data (of which carriers have a ton) do not play well in a Blockchain (Blkcn) environment, many changing players in an insurance claim, and so on.  Blkcn holds data securely, but doesn’t guarantee cyber security outside the ledger. Blkcn can be more cumbersome for data retrieval across consortia-based ledgers.  Multiple writers to the ledger, multiple efficiency issues to overcome.

But what of uses for reading data once placed in the ledger? Can be very cool. Anthem is a US health insurance provider serving millions of subscribers nationally, the company recently initiated a Blkcn pilot wherein the company is making ledger access an option for the test participants, with patient records stored in the ledger, and individual subscribers given the option to give providers access to health records via use of a QR code that has an expiration date.  Subscribers have the power over their records and access is given for read only permission.  There are many potential benefits to health insurance Blkcn but the options must dovetail with data security.

Another positive scenario for Blkcn application- crop insurance in previously under-served markets.  OKO Insurance provides micro crop insurance policies in Africa, backing by reinsurance but administered in part by distributed ledger, each farmer’s information residing in the ledger, and access provided to underwriting and reinsurance.  And- if payment is made a partnership with digital payment systems to facilitate settlement.  An active Blockchain as a service company, BanQu, is expert at facilitating these frameworks and has a portfolio of projects around the globe where ‘first mile’ and ‘last mile’ data are administered within a ledger for the respective customer and its affiliates/suppliers.  Permissioned but not written by multiple players, QR codes to allow involved sources access to a supply chain.  And the sponsor of the ledger has a clear data record of each step in a supply or value chain.  Speaking with the firm’s business development executive, Brady Bizal, we discussed how a Blkcn ledger such as BanQu provides could serve as an ecosystem initiative for regions, including the details of insurance for a farmer, payment records, link to in country digital payment systems, risk mitigation firms, and as warranted, the transaction/finance data can be accessed by permissioned bankers at the customer’s choice- the magic of QR codes.  It’s an entrée to a trust system that may otherwise not exist.  Opportunity.  Maybe not the original thinking for Blkcn and insurance, but sit for a few minutes and you will think of many similar possibilities for blockchain use in health insurance alone.

Sorry, there is so much that could be written about the three concepts and I’m hopeful the article answered some questions about finances, blockchain and reinsurance/ILS.  It’s certain readers and experts will advise me of missing sections, and that will be the foundation for a next article on the subjects.

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How Ignatica is tackling the legacy systems innovation logjam with new technology

Ignatica

Our first post on Insurtech in March 2015 was headlined “Not That Many InsurTech Startups Yet”.

Since then one fact has jumped out from our analyses over the past 5 years: there is a logjam caused by legacy systems that has not been tackled effectively until now by insurtech innovations. I could see the logjam because of my years selling core banking back office software. I knew that innovation only delivers value when transactions execute at scale and that is really hard because of legacy system integration. 

Ignatica may have finally solved this problem using a fundamentally different approach.

Ignatica is a relatively young company,  founded in late 2018 (with some earlier ideation and technology development), that is reinventing these core legacy platforms and making some really interesting claims such as launching new insurance products in 2 – 4 weeks, cutting current admin costs by 65%, and facilitating regulatory (e.g. IFRS17) and operational compliance. The impact of these claims is simple – it is no longer prohibitively expensive to rapidly launch new and different products in the market. New business models such as Insurance on Demand or Usage-based Insurance (which we wrote about earlier) are now made accessible to a broader set of the market players. In other words, the innovation logjam is set to break.

Delivering on those bold claims requires some serious technology.  If you have technology experience you can look at how Ignatica mixes event based microservices with distributed ledger technology.  Or you can look at the market validation of people who have done that kind of analysis such as this white paper co-authored by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) and Ignatica.

In short, Ignatica is more about what we call Business Process Elimination, as opposed to the enterprise norm of  Business Process Optimization. By eliminating interdependence on existing processes Ignatica have aligned their technology to precisely avoid the logjam that has impacted innovation in the industry. You do not need to do legacy system integration, with all the attendant risks and processes, because all product processing and settlement can be done on the Ignatica platform.

Of course, having some serious technology that delivers on those claims will only get you through the door of major enterprise players.  If you then cannot answer the tough questions around security, regulation and accounting, and risk management (all of which are career threatening for senior executives), you will soon be shown the door. It looks like Ignatica is getting some traction with big enterprise players such as Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PWC, who do not put their name behind technology startups like Ignatica unless the vendor can back up those claims and handle the tough questions. Ignatica say they will shortly be  launching their first product for a multinational insurer into the Asian markets. 

Unlike consumer ventures, the business model in enterprise ventures is simple – the customer pays. Ignatica has got pricing right. This enables innovation in the distribution channel because Ignatica can be used to power startups as well as incumbents. Distribution is the most critical subject in the transformation of  insurance through technology.

For those who prefer to learn via podcasts, check out this interview with their CEO focusing on product personalization and dynamic definitions of risk. Personalization is key to user experience  and you cannot do personalized insurance without dynamic, event driven risk management.

Disclosure; Ignatica is a client of Daily Fintech advisory services.

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Speaking of Blockchain, what of its place in insurance?

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I’ve felt as an orphan child within the Daily Fintech family, at the end of the common table but the uncomfortable ‘outsider’ because the content I produced for publication was not Fintech or Blockchain oriented.  The Insurtech content has always been embraced as an integral part of the blog, but like the student who does not quite know how to affix the sash on the uniform I have been feeling a little insecure.

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’.

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Hard to believe that lede?  Should be, and is.  My DF colleagues are experts in what they write of- finance, crypto, and by extension, Blockchain, and collegially embrace the InsurTech discussions.  So not under any pressure to do so but having an intellectual and industry curiosity I figure it’s time to discuss insurance and Blockchain- unmixed oil and water, or tasty salad dressing?  Blind dates or maybe life partners?

I am privileged to have insurance connections/colleagues who understand Blockchain and are willing to share perspectives, so I reached out to several for background and explanation.  See, while I am no expert at Blockchain (BKCN), crypto, distributed ledgers, etc., I do understand the basics, and have yet to find a ‘tipping point’ application of the principle for insurance.  One might figure if there was, a 5 trillion USD industry would have integrated the idea already.  Instead, there are rumblings of the benefits of BCKCN but few projects at scale.

Consider some projects with traction (thanks, Walid al Saqqaf, Insureblocks founder; readers can find these ideas and many others at his podcast, https://www.insureblocks.com/):

  • Addenda, an insurance subrogation solution founded by CEO Walid Daniel Dib, and located in the U.A.E. Addenda has developed a BKCN alternative to what has always been a manual process fraught with delays and errors, subrogation of claim payments.  The decentralized, trusted nature of BKCN lifts much of the existing barriers to efficient subrogation settlement through placement of immutable records of the loss that the parties can mutually access.  With sufficient subscription by companies, is it possible the volume of liability arbitration would be reduced in other markets?
  • B3i– a Property Catastrophe Excess of Loss Reinsurance application, with John Carolin at the helm as CEO. B3i is a vanguard of what might be commonplace for the insurance BKCN future- a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) that is owned by 18 insurance market participants, with active involvement by 40 insurance companies, shareholders, etc.  As such the question of who supports the ledger financially is answered, who has participation rights, and how is the common ‘language’ or protocol of data insertion determined.  As John states, placing reinsurance has traditionally been a very analog process, with the height of innovations being email communication of terms and bids.  BKCN through B3i ‘democratizes’ the data, and access to the players, and encourages use of smart contracts with their basis being the set terms within the ledger.  Can this democratization and sharing of costs be expanded to include other types of insurance, and a far broader community of permitted companies?
  • Blockclaim, a BKCN innovator founded by Niels Thonéthat has an aim of clarifying what is now fifty shades of gray (not that one!) that are generated by the many participants involved with insurance claims, and the volume of data that claims generate. Changing a cumbersome multi-lateral, manual/digital approach of claim handling to a permissioned ledger allows concurrent access to immutable claim facts for all involved parties, leading to less cumbersome (read as more prompt) claim handling.  Can this principle also be broadened to include underwriting characteristics for insured property?  One might think so with sufficient mutual ledger support across a spectrum of companies.
  • Ryskex, a “blockchain based ecosystem for alternative risk transfers”, championed by CEO and co-founder, Dr. Marcus Schmalbach. Ryskex stands for ‘risk exchange’, focusing on new forms of identified risk, and/or previously non-insurable risk in a B2B environment.  The firm’s principle- if these unique risks are typically outside an indemnity risk prediction form, applying parametric principles to these risks, in conjunction with AI methods for determining indices and with trigger forms/indices stored within a ledger for transparency and ease of payment, BKCN can facilitate risk vehicles in less insurance traditional forms that capital markets are more apt to adopt.  Can insurance evolve into a capital risk model and less of a peril/indemnity model?  Dr. Marcus makes a case for it.  In parallel with the risk model changes Marcus is supporting a soon to be released book with John Donald, “Heartbeat in the fog – Parametric Insurance for Intangible Assets”.  While this second book of John’s has a focus on newer risks, e.g., cyber, its principles lend well to parametric and BKCN.  And who am I to question its utility, as Dr. Marcus cites John as the “master mind” and “one of the smartest guys I ever met.”   We won’t let Dr. Marcus kid us about being a smart person in the room; his upcoming journal publication that focuses on insurance of 2030 has a fascinating excerpt speaking of an insurer of the future:

if you have sufficient capital at your disposal, you can be an insurer.  Capitalism meets Anarchism- an ecosystem based on transparency and security of blockchain technology…because of a risk trading ecosystem instead of industrial insurance.”

An additional recent insurance blockchain success deserves mention- insurance startup Etherisc’s quasi-parametric project conducted with partner firms Aon and Oxfam- micro-policies for crop failures for Sri Lankan farmers.  Not a direct parametric solution but a transparent form where the policy data and payment expectations resided within a blockchain ledger, and automatically triggered.  Progress.

And are there firms working in the background to facilitate organizations’ migration to blockchain environments?  Yes, of course.  Global consulting firms are actively pursuing blockchain programs as are startups and independents.  A US-based firm, Fluree, is actively developing data platforms for what they refer to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.’  In discussion with Kevin Doubleday, Marketing Communications Lead at the firm, Fluree (as do many companies) recognizes the traditional database structure of data, middleware, and now APIs is being overwhelmed by the volume and form of data and business processes driven by same.  Many suggest that blockchain is not the ideal option for use in insurance claims processes due to the varied forms of and demands on data (thanks, Mica Cooper and Chris Frankland for that discussion), but as Kevin and I discussed perhaps considering eating the elephant one bite at a time by choosing insurance processes that would have narrow but meaningful applications, e.g., subrogation (as noted above), transparency and immutability that would facilitate anti-fraud efforts, or deed and title data repositories.  Fluree is also focused on having a universal access format that will accommodate all users.  Current users of Fluree’s services includes life insurance solution startup, Benekiva, whose co-founder and all-around smart tech person, Bobbie Shrivastav  introduced me to Fluree.  Quite a bilateral endorsement.

So, Blockchain and insurance, dating but not yet in a committed relationship.  Seems we might be wise to plan a formal ceremony a few years from now when the relationship ‘learnings’ have been resolved.

And, perhaps now I can have a seat at the big blockchain table at DF.  😀

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When a traditional risk fix isn’t the fix, and sometimes a fix needs to be found for a risk

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It’s an increasingly connected world- digitally and physically- and that means occurrences there increasingly have effects on business existence here.  ‘Effects’ means risk, risk means exposure, and exposure means need for insurance.  Climate/environmental occurrences, urban congestion, or virus outbreaks have far reaching consequences.  It used to be that businesses simply dealt with consequences over which they had no control in mitigating, and who was dealing with the issues were local to the effect or involved in the business or its collaterals. Is that true in today’s insurance world?

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’.

Daily Fintech– a top financial blog per Feedspot for Financial Technology Pros for 2020.

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Few risks are more terror-inducing than an unmanageable viral outbreak with unconfirmed causation such as is the coronavirus outbreak focused on the Wuhan region of China.  What to do other than quarantine the outbreak area, and limit individuals’ movement into other areas.  Prudent.  So, what do businesses do that are reliant on the movement of and visitation by persons?  Airlines, hotels, transport, tourism, and commercial businesses will have significant direct and indirect effects of the virus due to reduced attendance from travel, tourism and just regular business.  Compounding the effects for business is as reported by Insurance Journal, “companies are set to face billions of dollars (US) in losses linked to events and travel cancellations and closures of businesses.”  Most standard commercial insurance policies have had exclusions placed for communicable diseases in the wake of the SARS, Ebola and Zika viruses, leaving the insureds to self-insure for these occurrences.

But what of parametric options?  If you are a cruise ship operator whose business is reduced by 1/3 due to customer fear of an outbreak that happened across the globe, is there not a trigger/index that can be factored for in a parametric policy?  Even more common for that business is passenger count reduction for a single cruise due to norovirus outbreak- or fear thereof.   Same principle can apply to larger firms that may be affected in other industries- beaches, theme parks, tour providers, hoteliers, airlines, etc.  The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald reports that the country’s economy may be affected to the tune of $2.3 Bn (Aus) due to the coronavirus’ effects as students and tourists remain home.

The Wall Street Journal reminds the business world of the far-reaching effects of outbreaks in densely populated areas- the need to repatriate employees from outbreak areas, and mass closures of businesses, e.g., Starbucks, McDonald’s, IMAX, and other widely distributed businesses.  China does mandate that employers reimburse employees for lost wages, but on a practical basis the effectiveness of those regulations is low.  Risk exposure with little sharing of the cost of risk.  But is there an opportunity for a micro-insurance product to protect individuals?

Are there other risks to which property owners or business operators are exposed without easy access to risk sharing?  Sure.  Regional perils, environmental perils, and/or climactic risks such as earthquake, flood, temperature extremes are a few of these.  Flood insurance has been available for some decades but is not an easy match to insurance limits needed, and most often that cover is government subsidized and regulated, and is expensive if a subject property is in a flood frequency area.  But what of those persons who own property in less sophisticated emerging markets?  Well, more and more governments are looking to collaboration with other countries in establishing risk response pools, catastrophe bonds, or leveraging insurance linked securities (ILS) in smoothing the cost of disaster response.  These are products that may not have existed as little as ten years ago, and even when present in a country’s emergency portfolio may not provide the expected benefits.

Take for example the risk vehicle Mexico placed prior to Hurricane Odile (2014), providing reinsurance for the country’s Fund for Natural Disasters (FONDEN).  The bond was established as a hedge for when a hurricane met a certain central pressure trigger within a ‘box’ regional area.  Good idea, unless the index values are not clearly defined in how the values are confirmed.  The index was not met at that time but might have, except there was only one index measure point managed by one observer.  Even if triggered the basis risk the country was exposed to would not have been met by the full release of the bond’s principal, supporting natural disasters as being global basis risk issues.

Considering the disaster ‘protection gap’ being most notable in emerging markets (on average only 5% of disaster losses having cover in poorer countries), there are organizations such as Global Parametrics(GP) that are working to improve access to cover by means of parametrics products.  GP’s CEO, Hector Ibarra reports that a recent placement of parametric product produced advance payment to Oxfam and Plan International in anticipation of Typhoon Ursula in December 2019.  The use of forecast-based indices (payments triggered on forecast of certain conditions) provided communities in the Philippines payment before the actual typhoon landfall, allowing evacuation funding for residents.  Proactive risk sharing, with immediate payment upon reaching an index value.  Not a perfect answer to all similar events, but certainly a start from which to build.

Are the principles behind parametric products adaptable to local risk factors that regions or businesses encounter but cannot find effective indemnity products for?   Weather risk parametrics have gained a foothold within emerging ag markets in the form of micro-parametric products, with index factors of ‘on the ground’ conditions being verified by new techniques (sensors, satellite, drones).  Larger scale weather-related ag parametric products are slowly getting traction and are beginning to supplant traditional crop insurance.  In discussion with Norm Trethewey of Weather Index Solutions of Australia there are now more companies willing to underwrite smaller ag weather parametric or derivative products, say a $200K cover that used to be passed on by firms like Swiss Re and Munich Re.  The presence of wider and deeper data sets there can be indexes established that in the underwriters’ estimation will be profitable and responsive.

The exhibit noted below shows some of the relative complexity of cover that is supported by available data and the sophistication of index monitoring:

Para

There is not the same concerns of basis risk for ag parametrics because the value of the crop is known (within a range) so what remains is the farming business to calculate premium cost versus potential loss of yield.  This sounds straight forward enough but changing the ag industry’s thoughts on what to do about Mother Nature becomes the nuance of the product.  One thing is certain- as available data improves even more the underwriting of these parametric options will become more commonplace, for developed and emerging markets.

And for more extreme climate like there typically is in Australia, and where ag production includes upwards of 20 million exportable bushels of broad acre crops, having a spectrum of risk management options to include parametric and derivative covers is a potential stabilizing factor during spikes in conditions.

To wrap up this column is a short discussion of risks that simply may not have indemnity or parametric solutions, e.g., the number of, confusion caused, and accidents experienced through use of okadas (motorbikes) and kekes (three-wheeled vehicles) within the city of Lagos, Nigeria.  One of the most populous urban areas on the African continent Lagos has waged a continuous battle against sprawl and traffic congestion.  Add to that the easier acquisition of motorbikes and trikes compared to autos, and the growth of informal ride sharing using the more informal vehicles and you have traffic mayhem.  The state government has banned the vehicles’ use, presenting survival mode for commercial ride sharing companies like Max.ng, Oride, and gokada.ng.  Traffic risk, government risk, and no easy solution other than tossing the figurative baby out with the bathwater, and exacerbating the very commuting challenge for the city’s residents that prompted the popularity of the bikes and trikes.  Thanks to the East African for the reporting on the ban.

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