A new Insurance Information Institute white paper examines the impact of alternative capital on reinsurance, says I.I.I. chief actuary and paper co-author Jim Lynch.

What sounds like a dry topic actually may in the long run significantly affect the entire insurance industry, right down to the humble buyer of a homeowners policy.

It’s a dry phrase, so let’s parse the phrase alternative capital on reinsurance by starting at its back end. Reinsurance is the insurance that insurance companies buy. Insurance companies accept risk with every policy. They work hard to ensure they don’t have too much risk in one area, like too many homes along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

When they do, they protect themselves by buying reinsurance. Instead of buying a policy that covers one risk, the insurance company enters into a treaty that can cover thousands in case of a catastrophe like a hurricane.

Catastrophes are a big deal for lines of business like homeowners. More than 30 percent of homeowners claim payments over a 17-year stretch came from catastrophes, according to a recent Insurance Research Council study, and many of those claims were paid by money that ultimately came from reinsurers.

Legally, the insurance company is obligated to pay all claims, regardless of any reinsurance it has. After Hurricane Awful, a homeowner files a claim with his or her insurer, and that insurer is responsible for payment, regardless of any reinsurance it may have purchased.

While reinsurance doesn’t affect the insurer’s obligations, the financial health of the insurer depends on the quality of its reinsurance arrangements. Insurance companies are careful to spread risk across many reinsurance companies, so the plight of one will not devastate their own affairs.

To the average person, a traditional reinsurance company looks a lot like an insurance company, run by professionals who underwrite risk and administer claims. The pool of money to cover extraordinary losses – capital – had been built from contributions by an original set of investors and augmented by earnings retained over decades.

Here’s where the word alternative comes in. The new arrangements feature two twists on traditional reinsurance.

First, the capital to protect against big losses doesn’t come from within the reinsurance company. It comes from outside investors like hedge funds, pensions and sovereign wealth funds.

Second, the reinsurance doesn’t sit within the confines of the traditional reinsurance company. Companies called collateralized reinsurers and sidecars let investors pop in and out of the reinsurance world relatively quickly. Some reinsurance is placed in the financial markets through structures known as catastrophe bonds.

The new investors don’t use the traditional structure, but they do use traditional tools. Most ally with traditional reinsurers to tap those companies’ underwriting acumen, and they use sophisticated models to price risks, just as reinsurers do. Deals are structured so to be as safe as placing a treaty with a traditional reinsurer.

Such deals have grown; their share of global reinsurance capital has doubled since the end of 2010, according to Aon Benfield Analytics.

The amount of capital in the reinsurance market drives prices in classic supply-demand fashion. As capital grows, reinsurance prices fall, and alternative capital has driven reinsurance rates lower, particularly for catastrophe reinsurance.

If insurers pay less for reinsurance, they pass along the savings to customers. Citizens Property Insurance, Florida’s largest homeowners writer, reduced rates 3.7 percent last year, in part because of lower reinsurance costs.

If, as some experts argue, alternative capital is the new normal, consumers will continue to benefit from lower rates. If, as others contend, it is akin to an investment fad, rates could creep higher as the fad recedes.

The I.I.I. white paper looks at the types of alternative capital, its growth and its future.

A new report from across the pond points to a large gap in awareness when it comes to cyber risk and the use of insurance among business leaders of some of the UK’s largest firms.

Half of the leaders of these organizations do not realize that cyber risks can be insured despite the escalating threat, the report found.

Business leaders who are aware of insurance solutions for cyber tend to overestimate the extent to which they are covered. In a recent survey, some 52 percent of CEOs of large organizations believe that they have cover, whereas in fact less than 10 percent does.

Actual penetration of standalone cyber insurance among UK large firms is only 2 percent and this drops to nearly zero for smaller companies, according to the report.

While this picture is likely a result of the complexity of insurance policies with respect to cyber, with cyber sometimes included, sometimes excluded and sometimes covered as part of an add-on policy, the report says:

This evidence suggests a failure by insurers to communicate their value to business leaders in coping with cyber risk. This may, in part, reflect the new and therefore uncertain nature of this risk, with boards more focused on security improvement and recovery planning than on risk transfer. It nevertheless risks leaving insurance marginalized from one of the key risks facing firms.”

Senior managers in some of the UK’s largest firms were interviewed for the report published jointly by the British government and Marsh, with expert input from 13 London market insurers.

As a first step to raising awareness, Lloyd’s, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the UK government have agreed to develop a guide to cyber insurance that will be hosted on their websites.

Reuters has more on the report here.

I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch looks into the future of self-driving cars:

I wrote about autonomous vehicles and insurance for the March/April edition of Contingencies magazine.

I argue that while the safety improvements will reduce the number of automobile accidents, any predictions of the end of automobile insurance look overblown today.

The first cars to drive themselves will only do so for a few minutes at a time – far from the curbside-to-curbside Dream Vehicle that gets most of the media attention. Any new auto technology takes two or three decades to cascade from a pricey option on luxury vehicles to standard equipment found on every used Chevy.

The slow rollout means claim frequency – the number of claims per hundred vehicles – is likely to decline over the next few decades at about the same rate as it has over the past five decades, giving insurers plenty of time to adapt, just as they have since the first policy was issued in Dayton, Ohio, in the 1890s.

Here is an excerpt:

The property/casualty industry will react as it has for decades, as regulation and innovation have made auto, products and the workplace safer. The impact will be carefully measured by actuaries, who will adjust rates as the innovations prove out. Insurers will find new coverages that customers will want.

The Dream Vehicle will change auto insurance, sure, but it won’t destroy it.”

The I.I.I. has an Issues Update on Self-Driving Cars and Insurance.

While certain parts of the country hold tornado drills and others test tornado preparedness systems, weather experts are pondering the slow start to tornado season.

Capital Weather Gang cites a weather.com report that not a single tornado has been reported to the National Weather Service in March, typically the first month of severe weather season in the Plains and Southeast.

The only other year since 1950 that there have been zero tornado reports in the first half of March was 1969, according to the Weather Channel’s severe weather expert Dr. Greg Forbes.

Per Dr. Forbes’ report from January 1 to March 12, only 27 tornadoes had been documented across the nation – the slowest start to the year since the 21 tornadoes recorded through March 12, 2003.

Sure enough a glance at the latest U.S. tornado statistics recorded by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center shows 28 preliminary tornado reports so far in 2015 – 26 in January and 2 in February and 0 in March (to March 13).

Here they are:

2015_annual_map_torn

As insurers know, a slow start to any catastrophe season is not something to hang your hat on.

In an average year, about 1,000 tornadoes are reported nationwide and tornadoes are among the largest causes of insured losses in any given year, accounting for 37.2 percent of insured catastrophe losses from 1994 to 2013, according to I.I.I. facts and statistics on tornadoes and thunderstorms.

Meanwhile, Climate Central reports that an experimental forecast team has put together the first seasonal outlook for tornadoes in the U.S. That forecast suggests the highest chances are for an average tornado season.

The researchers from Columbia University looked into how cyclical climate patterns known as El Niño and La Niña influence the larger atmospheric environment that sets the stage for tornado activity.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience they show that while El Niño tends to dampen tornado activity, La Niña can give it a boost.

Because the El Niño declared by forecasters earlier this month is a very weak one, the Columbia team is limited in what they can say about this year’s season, Climate Central says.

But based on their findings, the team gives a 60 percent chance that the 2015 tornado season will see normal levels of activity, a 30 percent chance that it will be below normal and a 10 percent chance it will be above normal.

Tomorrow is Pi Day, and a very special one writes I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch.

For one second the date and time will represent pi’s first 10 digits (3/14/15 9:26:53), a moment both trivial and mnemonic.

Pi is an important number in insurance, as any actuary who has reflected on the matter will tell you.

Actuaries grapple with the mathematical discipline known as statistics, the heart of which is the normal distribution. The normal distribution is famous for its bell-curve shape, but relevant on March 14 is that the number pi appears in the formula for the normal distribution:

NormalDistribution

If I may be a bit hyperbolic, the mathematical foundation of insurance balances upon the number pi.

Pi is famously irrational, its digital expression neither ending nor repeating, but it is not the only irrational number in the normal equation. There’s the square root of 2 (1.414213562 . . .). There’s also the number e (2.71828 . . .), which you might remember if you studied logarithms in precalculus, but probably not.

So irrational numbers play an important role in insurance as elsewhere. Some, like pi, help us understand the world better. Others, like the irrationally small percentage of homeowners who purchase flood insurance, are less honorable, and the I.I.I. notes them in this infographic.

Cyber attacks against businesses may dominate the news headlines, but recent events point to the growing number and range of cyber threats facing public entities and government agencies.

City officials yesterday confirmed that city and county computer systems in Madison, Wisconsin were being targeted by cyber attackers in retaliation for the shooting death of Tony Robinson, an unarmed biracial man, by a Madison police officer last Friday. A Reuters report says the cyber attack is thought to have been initiated by hacker group Anonymous.

Then on Sunday the website of Colonial Williamsburg was hit in a cyber attack attributed to ISIS. The attack targeted the history.org website and comes just a week after the living history museum offered to house artifacts at risk of destruction in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Florida’s top law enforcement agency is reported to be investigating testing delays in public school districts caused by cyber attacks on the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) testing system.

And a recent cyber attack at multiple New York City agencies including the office of the NYC mayor recently took down computer systems for most of a day.

There are many more examples.

Given the large amounts of confidential data held by public entities and government agencies, it’s not surprising that they are a target for cyber attacks.

Last year data breaches in the government/military sector accounted for 11.7 percent of U.S. breach incidents, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).

A GAO report here points to the cyber security risk to Federal agencies and critical infrastructure.

In a viewpoint at American City & County blog, Robin Leal, underwriting director at Travelers Public Sector Services recently warned of the growing cyber risks facing public sector organizations.

Leal cited data from a survey at the 2014 Public Risk Management Conference and 2014 National Association of Counties (NACo) conference showing that public officials’ confidence in their cyber protections is alarmingly low.

Only 13 percent of respondents to the survey were “very confident” that their public entity has adequate protection against cyber threats.

As well as written policies and procedures to handle cyber threats, Leal said public entities should consider cyber insurance.

Only 10 percent of current public sector clients add cyber protections to existing insurance policies, and for the majority of new business submissions cyber insurance is not part of their current coverage, Leal noted.

Check out the I.I.I. white paper Cyber Risks: The Growing Threat.

I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch reports from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) annual conference:

An important cost-control mechanism of the Affordable Care Act could end up annually shifting hundreds of millions of claim dollars into the workers compensation system, preliminary research by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) indicates.

The mechanism is the Accountable Care Organization (ACO), and WCRI researchers used the ACO’s similarity to Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) to estimate the nature of the cost shift as well as give a general idea of its magnitude.

An ACO is a network of doctors and hospitals that share the financial and medical responsibility for a group of patients. The ACO receives a set amount per patient for a year, regardless of the services each patient receives, a structure known as a capitated plan. HMOs are another type of capitated plan. The difference: an ACO can be paid more if it saves money while providing high quality care.

This difference gives some health experts hope that ACOs can rein in healthcare costs better than HMOs do. They believe healthcare will respond to the profit incentive ACOs offer.

The Affordable Care Act encourages ACOs and other capitated plans.

WCRI’s research indicates that capitated plans tend to push sprains, strains and other soft tissue injuries into the workers compensation system, WCRI Executive Director Richard Victor told about 300 attendees at the organization’s annual conference in Boston on March 5.

Often it is hard to tell exactly what caused a strain like a sore back, Victor said. It may have come while at work or at home. Usually the classification is the doctor’s decision.

In an ACO or any other sort of capitated plan, the doctor has a choice: call the injury work-related and bill the workers compensation insurer or decline to do so and collect no additional fee. The financial incentive is obvious.

The WCRI study looked at a nationwide sample of more than 700,000 claims from 2008 to 2010, about 17 percent of which came from HMOs. It classified states into two buckets, depending on how prevalent HMOs were.

In states with a relatively large HMO presence, HMO doctors put 26 percent of soft tissue injuries into workers comp. That was 30 percent more often than doctors in traditional fee for service arrangements.

For injuries like a broken arm, where it was easy to know what caused the injury, HMO and fee-for-service doctors put about the same percentage of claims into workers comp.

States with fewer HMOs didn’t exhibit the same shifting, the study indicated.

It is harder to estimate the financial impact, because it’s hard to say how popular ACOs will become. To develop an estimate, Victor hypothesized that ACOs could increase the percentage of workers in capitated plans by 25 percentage points. Such an increase would allow capitation plans to regain the 15 percentage points of market share they have lost since 2000 and then some.

Under that scenario, cost shifting in Illinois would push $90 million of claims into workers comp. In Pennsylvania, the shift would cost workers comp insurers $55 million.

Much hay is being made of an apparent decline in the number of identity theft victims and losses, amid an ongoing number of significant data breaches.

The headlines follow release of the 2015 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research. The study found that there were 12.7 million identity fraud victims in 2014, down 3 percent from the near record high of 13.1 million victims in 2013.

At the same time, some $16 billion was stolen from fraud victims in 2014, an 11 percent decline from $18 billion in 2013. Javelin attributes the decrease to the combined efforts of industry, consumers and monitoring and protection systems that are catching fraud more quickly.

As we know, 2014 saw a number of major data breaches, notably from retailers Home Depot, Neiman Marcus, Staples and Michael’s as well as financial institutions such as JP Morgan Chase.

But lest you think that the swift response to data breaches has nullified the identity theft threat, think again.

Javelin found that two-thirds of identity fraud victims in 2014 had previously received a data breach notification in the same year. Also, individuals whose credit or debit cards were breached in the past year were nearly three times more likely to be an identity fraud victim.

Meanwhile, identity theft just topped the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) national ranking of consumer complaints for the third consecutive year, accounting for 13 percent of all complaints.

Government documents/benefits fraud (39 percent) was the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by credit card fraud (17 percent), phone or utilities fraud (13 percent), and bank fraud (8 percent), the FTC said.

Whether or not identity theft is caused by a data breach (remember, stolen laptops, wallets, dumpster diving, phishing scams are some of the most common causes of identity theft), or whether an individual even knows how their information was compromised (many don’t), it’s important to stay vigilant to this threat.

A 3 percent decline in identity fraud victims in one year isn’t much. As Al Pascual, director of fraud & security at Javelin notes:

Despite the headlines, the occurrence of identity fraud hasn’t changed much over the past year, and it is still a significant problem.”

Wondering if your homeowners insurance policy includes coverage for identity theft? Check out these useful tips from the I.I.I.

Overall satisfaction among homeowners who have filed a property insurance claim increased for the third consecutive year, according to the JD Power 2015 Property Claims Satisfaction Study.

Insurers have been able to increase property claims satisfaction to 851 (on a 1,000 point scale) in 2015, up from 840 in 2014.

JD Power said the higher satisfaction among customers reflected the fact that insurers have applied the lessons learned while handling CAT claims to non-CAT claims and put renewed focus on their property insurance business.

In the words of Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the insurance practice at JD Power:

The study shows the significant gains insurers have made in customer satisfaction by applying the lessons learned while handling prior catastrophic losses to all claim processes.

The big storms masked the steady progress the industry has also been making in recent years on routine claims, but we’re really seeing that shine now.”

The study, now in its eighth year, measures satisfaction with the property claims experience among insurance customers who have filed a claim for damages by examining five factors: settlement; first notice of loss; estimation process; service interaction; and repair process.

Overall satisfaction improved in each of the five factors in 2015, with greatest year-over-year improvements seen in settlement and service interaction, JD Power noted.

The study findings are good news for insurers as they often realize a return on their investment in customer satisfaction in the form of loyalty.

Only 3 percent of customers who were delighted (satisfaction scores 900 or higher) and 7 percent of those who were pleased (scores 750-899) with their insurer during the claims process have switched carriers since their claim closed, according to JD Power.

But, 9 percent of indifferent (scores 550-749) and 11 percent of displeased (scores 549 or lower) customers have switched to a different insurer. And 23 percent of indifferent customers and 42 percent of displeased customers say they will shop for a new provider during the next 12 months.

The study is based on more than 6,100 responses from homeowners insurance customers who filed a property claim between January 2013 and December 2014.

Check out this I.I.I. video for steps for filing a homeowners claim.

As a longtime Madonna fan and as a parent of two young cape-wearing superheroes, I was concerned to read of the 56-year-old star’s fall on stage – view here – during the closing performance at the UK’s Brit Awards earlier this week.

The Queen of Pop apparently suffered whiplash in the incident as she was dragged backwards when the tightly tied Armani cape she was wearing wouldn’t come undone.

Madonna managed to go on with the show, but it’s good to know that if she hadn’t there’s insurance for that.

From providing appearance/event cancellation coverage, to insuring celebrity body parts, to writing death and disgrace policies, specialist insurers play a major role in providing protection to the stars – and the companies that promote and sponsor them.

For example, through the years the Lloyd’s insurance market has insured a long line of celebrities and celebrity body parts.

This Lloyd’s article notes that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ hands were insured for $1.6 million, while Marlene Dietrich insured her voice for $1 million and actress Bette Davis once insured her waistline against expansion to the tune of $28,000.

More recently, in 2006, soccer giant David Beckham’s legs were insured for £100 million and in 2007, Ugly Betty television star America Ferrera’s smile was insured for $10 million.

Whether a musician, sports star, TV personality, or a top chef, each celebrity risk profile comes with its own unique set of risks, according to the individual’s occupation, health, lifestyle and associated risks.

Another type of celebrity fall from grace is covered by a recently launched product from AIG’s Lexington Insurance Company. Known as Celebrity Product RecallResponse, the new product covers companies in the event of a celebrity endorser’s public fall from grace, scandal or unexpected death.

Basically, the product covers certain costs incurred by companies to recall products bearing a celebrity endorser’s name and image.

AIG says the insurance is triggered when “significant news media coverage of an endorser’s actual or alleged criminal act or other distasteful conduct that results in (or is likely to result in) public contempt for the individual and a significant adverse impact on a company’s product.”

As Jeremy Johnson, president and CEO of Lexington Insurance Company, notes:

In this age of social media and instant news, reports of indiscretions by celebrities or high profile athletes can spread worldwide instantly, with swift, adverse implications for products or brands associated with the individual.”

Just another example of how innovative insurance can be.

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