Most actuaries know about projections that go awry, so we have quite a bit of sympathy for the weather forecasters who missed the mark early this week, says I.I.I.’s Jim Lynch:

Weather forecasts have improved dramatically in the past generation, but this storm was odd. Usually a blizzard is huge. On a weather map, it looks like a big bear lurching toward a city.

This storm was relatively small but intense where it struck. On a map, it looked like a balloon, and the forecasters’ job was to figure out where the balloon would pop. They were 75 miles off. It turned out they over-relied on a model – the European model, which had served them well forecasting superstorm Sandy, according to this NorthJersey.com post mortem.

There are lessons for the insurance industry from the errant forecast and the (as it turns out) needless shutdown of New York City in the face of the blizzard that wasn’t:

  • • Models aren’t perfect. Actuaries, like weather forecasters, have multiple forecasting models. Like forecasters, actuaries have to know the pros and cons of each model and how much to rely on each one given the circumstances. Actuaries and forecasters both bake their own experience into their final predictions.
    Property catastrophe models are considerably cruder than the typical weather forecasting model. By crude I mean less accurate. Cat models project extreme events, where data are sparse and everything that happens has an oversize influence on everything else that is happening. Woe to the insurer that over-relies on cat models, something cat modelers themselves say regularly.
  • • It’s hard to pick up the flag once you have planted it. Forecasters suspected late Monday that New York City would be spared the brunt of the storm, but acknowledge now they were reluctant to make too big a change because it could hurt their credibility, particularly if the new forecast had proved too mild. This is a human failing both by the forecaster and its recipient, both of whom worry about crying wolf.
    The tendency also helps explain why it is hard to project market turns, whether they are from growth to recession or from rising insurance rates to falling.
  • • Policymakers have egg on their faces today, but they appear to have been following sound risk management principles. It’s not unusual to prepare for disasters that don’t happen, something to think about next time you unbuckle a seatbelt or unlock a door. The scale this week was much larger, but the principle was the same. Needlessly closing a subway is better than stranding hundreds on it, and the occasional forecaster’s error is certainly better than the crude prognostication that gave us the Galveston hurricane or the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard.

I.I.I. has Facts and Statistics about U.S. catastrophes in general and winter storms in particular.

Check out this timelapse video of the blizzard hitting Boston:

I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch previews the Workers Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Annual Issues & Research conference:

This time last year, property/casualty insurers worried how the Affordable Care Act’s rollout would affect workers compensation insurance. The debate seemed to disappear as the law took hold, but research to be unveiled at a March workers compensation conference in Boston might return the issue to the limelight.

The big fear a year ago was cost-shifting, and both health insurers and comp insurers felt costs would be shifted onto them. The issue was the borderline claim, one that could arguably be a health claim or a comp claim.

Consider a person with a lingering back injury. The injury could have been caused by heavy lifting at work or at home, and the injured person might be able to make a claim on either health insurance or workers comp.

Comp insurers worried that the ACA was tightening health insurance cost controls better than comp insurers were allowed to. As the cost containment took hold, cases that straddled the border might drift into the workers comp world.

Health insurers, meanwhile, worried that they would take on claims of the previously uninsured, some of whom used to find a way to make that borderline case into a workers comp claim.

Research swung both ways. As the law has rolled out, the issue dissipated, at least among the mainstream media. If there was an impact, it appeared to be too small to measure.

Now the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), a Cambridge, MA, not-for-profit organization has looked at the ACA/comp issue again, specifically the potential effect of accountable care organizations on the workers comp system.

Accountable care organizations add to health care’s alphabet soup by being known as ACOs. They are groups of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers that combine to form networks that coordinate patient care. If they can save money while keeping quality high, they share in the savings. Kaiser Health News has a Q&A with details on how ACOs work.

The health care law offers incentives to create ACOs, but WCRI’s research indicates that “as ACOs become the norm, the number of workers compensation claims is very likely to increase,” said Richard A. Victor, WCRI executive director. The dreaded cost-shifting may be on its way.

Details of WCRI’s analysis will be released at the organization’s annual Issues and Research Conference March 5 and 6 in Boston. Other sessions at the conference will cover physician-dispensing of drugs, low fee schedules, a look at workers comp reform over the past two decades and look at challenges the line of business faces in the years ahead.

The I.I.I. has an Issues Update on workers compensation, one of the oldest casualty lines of business and one of the most complex.

As the blizzard of 2015 starts to hit hard across the Northeast, with several feet of snow, intense cold and high winds expected, utility companies are warning of widespread and potentially lengthy power outages across the region.

In New Jersey, utility companies say it’s the high winds, with gusts of up to 65 mph, rather than the accumulation of snow, that are likely to bring down trees or tree limbs and cause outages.

Consolidated Edison inc. which supplies electricity to over 3 million customers in New York City and Westchester county, told the WSJ that the light and fluffy snow expected in this blizzard should limit the number of power outages, but elevated power lines could come down if hit by trees.

In Connecticut, Governor Dannel P. Malloy said the state’s two major electric utilities are preparing for 120,000 outages statewide, the Hartford Courant reports. The governor has issued a travel ban for the entire state beginning 9pm Monday.

And in Massachusetts, where thousands of utility company workers have been mobilized, there are also concerns that high winds could delay repairs, with one utility spokesman telling the Boston Globe that this will likely be a multi-day restoration event.

In the event you lose power, you may be wondering about insurance coverage. Here are some points to keep in mind:

–If the power outage lasts for more than a day and you have perishable foods in your refrigerator or freezer, the good news is that food spoilage from the event may be covered under your standard homeowners insurance policy, up to a specified limit, usually anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars. Typically, the policy deductible does apply to this coverage, however.

–A home would need to be severely damaged by an insured disaster for additional living expenses (ALE) coverage to apply under a standard homeowners policy. In other words, if there is no physical damage to your property but you can’t live at home because of the power outage, in general policies would not pay for you to live elsewhere.

–For businesses, basic property insurance does not cover loss due to power interruption or failure of power to the insured premises if the failure occurs away from the premises. So, if heavy snow topples a power line that is not on an insured’s premises, such as a grocery store, spoilage of food due to the outage would not be covered. If the power outage resulted in a disaster such as a fire at the insured premises, that would be covered.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reviews what winter storm damages are covered by your home and car insurance here. Check out more information on business insurance from the I.I.I. here.

I.I.I.’s new California representative Janet Ruiz brings us this timely report from the insurance industry’s first philanthropic roundtable of the new year:

The first of three 2015 insurance industry philanthropic roundtables was held earlier this week in Woodland Hills, CA at Farmers Insurance to discuss the landscape of philanthropy with the theme of disaster resilience.

Speakers at the meeting presented case studies of successes such as the partnership of Farmers Insurance with the Saint Bernard Project to rebuild Joplin, Missouri. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) discussed the role of catastrophe communications in getting important information out to media and consumers before, during, and after a catastrophe. Team Rubicon talked about their mission to bridge the gap for veterans and how they engage veterans, first responders and volunteers in rebuilding communities after a disaster.

The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) leads the philanthropic roundtables attended by member insurance companies involved in philanthropy and community giving. It was born out of the passion of insurance professionals to make a positive community impact.

The IICF Early Literacy Initiative and Sesame Workshop Partnership recently launched – ‘Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day’ – working to provide every American child the opportunity to read and write. As Melissa Duncan, IICF Western Division says: “Early education makes true social progress.”

Bill Ross, CEO, IICF wrapped up the roundtable by reminding all of the impact the insurance industry has giving $1 billion annually in direct giving and sponsorships to charity.

It was a powerful session!

You can read more on the insurance industry’s contribution to community and charitable causes here.

Measures and methods widely used in the financial services industry to value and quantify risk could be used by organizations to better quantify cyber risks, according to a new framework and report unveiled at the World Economic Forum annual meeting.

The framework, called “cyber value-at-risk” requires companies to understand key cyber risks and the dependencies between them. It will also help them establish how much of their value they could protect if they were victims of a data breach and for how long they can ensure their cyber protection.

The purpose of the cyber value-at-risk approach is to help organizations make better decisions about investments in cyber security, develop comprehensive risk management strategies and help stimulate the development of global risk transfer markets.

Among the key questions addressed by the cyber value-at-risk model concept are: how vulnerable are organizations to cyberthreats? how valuable are the key assets at stake? and, who might be targeting them?

The proposed framework is part of a new report, Partnering for Cyber Resilience: Towards the Quantification of Cyber Threats, that was created in collaboration with Deloitte and the input of 50 leading organizations around the world.

As the report states:

The financial services industry has used sophisticated quantitative modeling for the past three decades and has a great deal of experience in achieving accurate and reliable risk quantification estimates. To quantify cyber resilience, stakeholders should learn from and adopt such approaches in order to increase awareness and reliability of cyber threat measurements.”

One potential option, it suggests, is to link corporate enterprise risk management models to perspectives and methods for valuing and quantifying “probability of loss” common to capital adequacy assessment exercises in the financial services industry, such as Solvency II, Basel III, albeit customized to recognize cyber resilience as a distinct phenomenon.

The report points out that the goal is not to provide a single model for quantifying risk. Indeed for cyber resilience assurance to be effective, it says participants need to make a concerted effort to develop and validate a shared, standardized cyber threat quantification framework that incorporates diverse but overlapping approaches to modeling cyber risk:

A shared approach to modeling would increase confidence regarding organizational decisions to invest (for risk reduction), distribute, offload and/or retain cyber threat risks. Implicit is the notion that standardizing and quantifying such measures is a prerequisite for the desirable development and smooth operation of cyber risk transfer markets. Such developments require ERM frameworks to merge with insurance and financial valuation perspectives on cyber resilience metrics.”

 

As we look ahead to tonight’s State of the Union address, I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch brings us a book review on the perennial issue of health insurance:

When Target wants to sell more shirts, it puts them on sale. The retailer knows that the less something costs, the more likely you are to buy it.

Health care is more complicated, in no small part because the customer is buying something he or she would rather not need. If your doctor halved the fee for open-heart surgery, for example, you wouldn’t submit to it twice.

For other procedures, the situation is murkier. Most people would submit to an extra blood stick to ensure they were disease-free, particularly if somebody else (read: the insurance company) paid the bill.

To an economist, the possibility that consumers run up a tab on health insurers is a moral hazard. Another moral hazard is the tendency of insured people to smoke and eat more, because someone else will pay for the resulting maladies. Both were an important points in Moral Hazard in Health Insurance, a book culled from lectures at Columbia University in 2012. I reviewed the book in the latest issue of Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries.

The main lecture, by respected MIT economist Amy Finkelstein, dissected a natural experiment that resulted from a funding shortage in Oregon. The state only had enough money to put 10,000 people on Medicaid, but it had far more people who qualified for the program.

The state held a lottery. Some people held the metaphorical winning tickets, and they got health insurance. The rest did not.

Though potentially tragic for the losers, the lottery created something social scientists like, a randomized sample that let them study how the behaviors of the insured and uninsured differ in the real world. They found that the insured did indeed consume more health care than the uninsured.

This finding is important because it supports ideas long held in the insurance world that higher deductibles and other forms of cost sharing reduce losses by giving all participants “skin in the game.”

My review also noted that some medical professionals participate in their own variety of moral hazard.

To find out more about health insurance, check out this Facts and Stats item at the I.I.I. website.

How to balance the risks and rewards of emerging technologies is a key underlying theme of the just-released World Economic Forum (WEF) 2015 Global Risks Report.

The rapid pace of innovation in emerging technologies, from synthetic biology to artificial intelligence has far-reaching societal, economic and ethical implications, the report says.

Developing regulatory environments that can adapt to safeguard their rapid development and allow their benefits to be reaped, while also preventing their misuse and any unforeseen negative consequences is a critical challenge for leaders.

John Drzik, president of Global Risk and Specialties at Marsh, says:

Innovation is critical to global prosperity, but also creates new risks. We must anticipate the issues that will arise from emerging technologies, and develop the safeguards and governance to prevent avoidable disasters.”

The growing complexity of new technologies, combined with a lack of scientific knowledge about their future evolution and often a lack of transparency, makes them harder for both individuals and regulatory bodies to understand.

But the current regulatory framework is insufficient, the WEF says. While regulations are comprehensive in some specific areas, they are weak or non-existent in others.

It gives the example of two kinds of self-flying aeroplane: the use of autopilot on commercial aeroplanes has long been tightly regulated, whereas no satisfactory national and international policies have yet been defined for the use of drones.

Even if the ramifications of technologies could be foreseen as they emerge, the trade-offs would still need to be considered. As the WEF says:

Would the large-scale use of fossil fuels for industrial development have proceeded had it been clear in advance that it would lift many out of poverty but introduce the legacy of climate change?”

Geopolitical and societal risks dominate the 2015 report. Interstate conflict with regional consequences is viewed as the number one global risk in terms of likelihood, with water crisis ranking highest in terms of impact.

The report also provides analysis related to global risks for which respondents feel their own region is least prepared, as highlighted in this infographic:

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The report was developed with the support of Marsh & McLennan Companies and Zurich Insurance Group and with the collaboration of its academic advises: the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford), the National University of Singapore, the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center (University of Pennsylvania), and the Advisory Board of the Global Risks 2015 report.

We’re reading that self-driving cars are no longer a thing of the future, but it’s in the subhead of this Time article: how long will it be before your car no longer needs you? where the heart of the story lies.

Jason H. Harper writes of how he earned one of the first new driverless motor licenses – technically known as an “autonomous vehicle testing” permit – from the California DMV.

He then describes his chauffeured ride by a prototype Audi from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas for last week’s Consumer Electronics Show:

The car uses an array of sensors, radars and a front-facing camera to negotiate traffic. At this point, the system works only on the freeway and cannot handle construction zones or areas with poor lane markings. When the car reaches a construction zone or the end of a highway, a voice orders you to take the wheel back.”

Before taking the 550-mile road trip, Harper had to get special instruction on how not to drive, per California regulations:

The training included basics like turning the system on and off and learning the circumstances in which it could be used. The rest was about handling emergencies, such as making lane changes to avoid crashing.”

Harper says the training was far more difficult and involved than a regular driving test. However, average buyers will not need such training.

Why?

Because rollout of this technology is gradual. Audi’s program for example would allow the car to self-drive in stop-and-go highway traffic, but when traffic clears the driver takes the wheel again.

It’s at the very end of the article that a voice from academia reminds us that this approach may be no bad thing as both technology and driver acceptance need time to mature.

Dr. Jeffrey Miller, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, tells Time that in his opinion licenses and drivers will never be obsolete because “the driver will always have to take over in case of a failure.”

It’s an interesting point. From the insurance perspective, too, while self-driving cars are definitely on the way, the implications for insurers are evolving. In its issue update Self-Driving Cars and Insurance, the I.I.I. notes:

Except that the number of crashes will be greatly reduced, the insurance aspects of this gradual transformation are at present unclear. However, as crash avoidance technology gradually becomes standard equipment, insurers will be able to better determine the extent to which these various components reduce the frequency and cost of accidents.”

And:

They will also be able to determine whether the accidents that do occur lead to a higher percentage of product liability claims, as claimants blame the manufacturer or suppliers for what went wrong rather than their own behavior.”

More on auto insurance here.

Hot off the press, the latest edition of the Insurance Information Institute’s flagship publication Insurance Fact Book is now available. I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch reflects on this comprehensive resource:

It’s not important why, but the other day I needed to look up auto insurance written premiums for 1963.

My source: Insurance Facts 1964, an Insurance Information Institute publication that was forerunner to the Insurance Fact Book, our one-stop property/casualty almanac whose 2015 edition went on sale this week.

FactBooks

I.I.I. has been printing some version of the Fact Book for more than 50 years, and we have earned a reputation for scrupulous accuracy.

This excursion was where I saw how well-deserved that reputation is.

Auto written premiums were $6.839 billion in 1963, according to Insurance Facts. I wanted to verify the number. To do that, I was stumped for a minute – who else would have this bit of information?

First stop: the federal government. That’s the sort of minutiae that would fill up the Statistical Abstract of the United States, the Census Bureau’s collation of the nation’s vital signs. And it was there – but the government got the information from I.I.I. – that same Insurance Facts 1964. I shouldn’t have been surprised; we continue to provide information for the Statistical Abstract and similar works.

So I went back to where I.I.I. got the data all those years ago – A.M. Best’s Aggregates & Averages, another statistical compendium with a peerage. (We get much of our data now from SNL Financial.)

In those days before the PC, Excel and Big Data, Aggregates & Averages was much simpler. For the most part, it resembled a bound computer printout, with most information divided among three types of insurers: stock companies, mutuals and reciprocals. To calculate an industry total, you had to pick out numbers from each section.

That’s what I did, 50 years after the fact. Sure enough, all Best’s parts added to $6.839 billion, just like our old Insurance Facts said it would.

I was reassured, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. I got to see firsthand how much double-checking and questioning every line of the 242-page book received. Our editing is scrupulous, now, just as it was in 1964, when the first Mustang rolled onto the street and some band named the Beatles put out some records.

You can buy this year’s Fact Book at www.iii.org/store or by emailing publications@iii.org or calling (212) 346-5500.

The presence or lack of catastrophes is a defining event when it comes to the financial state of the U.S. property/casualty insurance industry.

At the 2014 Natural Catastrophe Year in Review webinar hosted by Munich Re and the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), we can see just how defining the influence of catastrophes can be.

U.S. property/casualty insurers had their second best year in 2014 since the financial crisis – 2013 was the best – according to estimates presented by I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig.

P/C industry net income after taxes (profits) are estimated at around $50 billion in 2014, after 2013 when net income rose by 82 percent to $63.8 billion on lower catastrophe losses and capital gains.

P/C profitability is subject to cyclicality and ordinary volatility, typically due to catastrophe activity, Hartwig noted.

In 2014, natural catastrophe losses in the United States totaled $15.3 billion, far below the 2000 to 2013 average annual loss of $29 billion, according to Carl Hedde, head of risk accumulation, Munich Re America.

Lower catastrophe losses helped p/c industry ROEs in 2013 and 2014, relative to 2011 and 2012, and helped the p/c industry finish 2014 in very strong financial shape, despite the impact of low interest rates on their investments, Dr. Hartwig noted.

PCROE_major_event

 

Overall industry capacity, as measured by policyholder surplus, is projected to have increased to $675 billion in 2014 – a record high.

The industry’s overall underwriting profit in 2014 is also estimated at $5.7 billion, on a combined ratio of 97.8.

Underwriting results in 2014 and 2013 were helped by generally modest catastrophe losses, a welcome respite from 2012 and 2011 when the industry felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy and record tornado losses, Dr. Hartwig noted.

Matthew Sturdevant of the Hartford Courant has a good round-up of the other webinar presentations here.

 

 

 

 

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