Onwards and upwards…?

It is now accepted as a truism that the global P&C (re)insurance industry is in a hardening market, with premium rates rising significantly across a wide range of product lines. As a result of this, there is a “Class of 2020” range of new ventures being created, as well as capital being raised by existing businesses to take advantage.

Of course, the industry as a whole badly needs rate increases to offset what appears to be a rising trend in CAT losses, the financial impact of the pandemic on segments of its client base, and the damage caused to investment income by ultra-low interest rates.

If one looks at reported changes in available/achieved premiums, the Marsh Global Insurance Index rose 20% year on year to the end of September, the largest increase since its inception in 2012. Clearly, this is a good thing in itself from the industry’s viewpoint. However, what really matters is whether the underlying momentum can be sustained, given the habitual pattern of capital the flooding in, pricing competition increasing, and the rate of increase then declining and even reversing. (Re)insurers will need to maintain their underwriting and pricing discipline in the face of rising loss trends, the consequences of so-called “social inflation” increasing costs, and uncertainty over the impact of climate change. The potential gaps in coverage highlighted by the pandemic may mean that Insureds will seek more comprehensive coverages and so generate more premiums, but it remains to be seen whether this trend continues.

However, the days of “jam tomorrow” do seem to be over for now.

Nevertheless, the Third Quarter of 2020 was a difficult one for CAT writers, and the Fourth Quarter did not start well (and is not yet over). So, the question remains as to whether increased revenues will exceed rising costs, and across how many business lines.

And, as always, the headlines mask a wide divergence. Lines such as personal auto have actually benefitted on a net basis in terms of loss experience, so rates are flat to net down. Contrast this with what Marsh terms “FinPro”, in which rates are said to be up 40% year on year- a remarkable change, and almost certainly linked to the perception that claims will rise significantly as a result of the pandemic, because materially-affected corporates will eventually exhaust the patience of their lenders and investors and run out of liquidity. Not surprisingly, there is something of a frenzy amongst those trying to obtain, say, adequate D&O cover at renewal in a world which has changed out of all recognition in 8 months. No director wants to find himself or herself exposed to risk of ruin if cover is not obtained, as there is, to state the obvious, a positive (or negative correlation depending upon one’s point of view!) between availability and pricing, and the likelihood of a claim. Perhaps pricing has finally become truly risk-based?

At Awbury, with our demonstrable track record in the careful selection of business in the credit, economic and financial risks areas, such an environment offers some very interesting opportunities, without in any way lowering our standards, or changing our underwriting approach. Yet, it remains essential to ensure that one can properly analyze and understand a risk, and so avoid situations with binary outcomes, where a supposedly “attractive” premium level tempts the unwary, or where pricing has yet to catch up with reality.

The Awbury Team


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