Tag Archives: jeff pettegrew

The Next Jolt That Will Hit California

Losses from Sunday’s 6.0-magnitude earthquake near Napa, the largest in California in 25 years, seriously damaged more than 170 structures and injured more than 200 people. Overall earthquake-related losses are expected to exceed $1 billion.

Many unreinforced masonry buildings risk being declared a total loss. But even retrofitting doesn’t always ensure earthquake immunity. The charming 1901 stone Goodman Library in downtown Napa was seismically retrofitted at a cost of $1.7 million a few years ago, yet the top of the building toppled over in the earthquake. A nearby historic brick building was retrofitted for $1.2 million after a 2000 Napa earthquake, and it was red-tagged Monday with serious damage, as well.

Unfortunately, the repair and rebuilding costs will be the next jolt that rocks the budgets of businesses and homeowners. It’s estimated that less than 12% of homeowners in California have earthquake coverage – a figure that was as high as 22% last year, according to the California Earthquake Authority. CEA underwrites more than 800,000 policies representing 70% of the homeowner earthquake insurance in the state.

California has two-thirds of the nation’s earthquake risk, with 2,000 known faults producing 37,000 measurable earthquakes a year. Besides California, the U.S. Geological Survey maps show major earthquake risks in nearly half the U.S.

In 1994, after a 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit the Northridge area of Southern California, 93% of homeowner insurance companies restricted or refused to write earthquake insurance policies. In response, the California legislature established the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) in 1995 to provide a reduced-coverage (“no-frills”) earthquake policy for homeowners in the state — things like swimming pools, decks and detached structures are not included. Insurance carriers in California can offer their own earthquake coverage or be a participating member of the CEA, which made the CEA one of the largest providers of residential earthquake coverage in the world.

Currently, 21 major insurance carriers participate in CEA, and its assets total nearly $10 billion. Its A.M. Best rating is A- (excellent). CEA policies are available to homeowners and renters, including for mobile homes and condominiums, if their primary homeowners’ coverage is with one of the CEA insurers. Keep in mind that many condominium communities have common ownership, which means that the condo owners could have joint and several liability for repairs after an earthquake. CEA reports that it uses 83% of the premiums it collects for claims or reinsurance, 14% for broker commissions and 3% for operations/overhead.

The likelihood that state or federal disaster relief may be available is a risky proposition for home or business owners. The president needs to declare a disaster before the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can grant any limited assistance. States surplus funds for relief, on the other hand, are simply non-existent.

So why are people buying less earthquake coverage when the hazards of a potential devastating earthquake are growing? Unlike other natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires that are usually covered under homeowners’ insurance policies, earthquake coverage is a separate insurance policy with a deductible of 10% or 15% of the structure’s estimated replacement cost.

The average earthquake policy in California in 2013 cost $676 a year, according to the California Department of Insurance. The current average cost of a home in California, according to Zillow, is $429,000. Even with a minimum 10% deductible, a homeowner would be out of pocket $42,900 before earthquake insurance coverage kicks in.

Business properties suffer a much larger risk factor considering the additional exposure of damaged inventory, a red-tagged (unusable) building risk and loss of use and income.

In contrast, flood insurance is available in most of the country with a $1,000 building and $1,000 contents deductible as part of the property coverage. The Insurance Information Institute reports that the average flood damage claim in 2013 was $26,165 for the 13% of U.S. homeowners who buy the additional flood coverage – sometimes as a condition to their mortgage, if they are located in a flood zone.

Low-frequency, high-severity risks like earthquakes represent a bet that few home or business owners can afford to lose. Unfortunately, Californians, who own the nation’s highest-valued properties, also have the most money on the table when the next big shake comes.

Splitting California Into 6 States? Crazy

If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

Anatole France

Maybe that quote should be, “If 1.3 million people. . . . “ That’s because Tim Draper, having spent $5 million, secured 1.3 million signatures and put a measure on the 2016 California ballot that would split the Golden State into six states.

Calling himself the “risk master,” the 56-year-old, billionaire tech investor expresses his quirky desire to “reboot and refresh our state government” by creating separate areas that would be more governable – think “Hunger Games.”

California is the largest state by population, with 38 million people (12% of the U.S.’s total of 316 million), and third largest by area behind Alaska and Texas. It is the world’s 8th-largest economy. If Draper’s measure were approved, the new state of Silicon Valley would be the wealthiest in the country. Central California would be the poorest.

No state has been created from an existing one since West Virginia split from Virginia in 1863. But California has had at least 30 serious proposals to divide it into multiple states since its statehood in 1850, including a proposal passed by the state senate in 1965 to divide California into two states with the boundary at the Tehachapi Mountains, near Bakersfield. In 1992, the state assembly passed a bill to allow a referendum to partition California into three states: North, Central and South. Pundits referred to these proposed states as Log Land, Fog Land and Smog Land.

It is said that the area of the state adjacent to Oregon, long known by the fiercely independent locals as Jefferson State, produces 60% of the U.S. marijuana crop. Three years ago, ex-Google engineer-turned-political-economist Patri Friedman came up with a goofy proposal to build his own floating libertarian nation 12 miles off the coast of California – Googleland?

Assuming the current state legislature and Congress both approve of Draper’s nonsensical measure, the area we currently call California would have 12 senators in Congress, not two. As much as Texans like their beer, I’m not sure they’d like to see California get a six-pack of senators.

Among the serious repercussions that Draper fails to address are vital state infrastructure issues. These include water distribution, transportation systems, state prisons, the University of California system of 10 campuses and two national laboratories – and the largest and most progressive workers’ compensation system in the country.

Workers’ compensation laws in the U.S. are promulgated on a state-by-state basis. Besides a myriad of workers’ compensation laws, each state’s bureaucracy must produce and enforce a plethora of complex regulations, licensing procedures, collateralization requirements and other rules. States have choices to make about self-insurance, including about workers’ comp pools of smaller employers.

Perhaps one or more of the new six California states would be monopolistic – where workers’ compensation coverage is purchased through the state (as in North Dakota, Ohio, Washington and Ohio). Another possibility is an “opt-out” program (as in Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee) that allows employers to litigate injuries in the civil system, as an alternative to the “exclusive remedy” system.

As if this weren’t enough to be concerned about, the legacy of the current active California workers’ compensation claims would be an issue.

Three key institutions were created by the state legislature and are operated like private companies: the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF); the California Insurance Guaranty Fund (CIGA); and the Self-Insurers’ Security Fund (SISF). SCIF is the state’s largest workers’ comp insurer and provides an insurance alternative to those companies doing business in California that are unable or unwilling to: (1) purchase workers’ compensation coverage from private competitive insurance carriers, or (2) self-insure. CIGA provides insolvency insurance for property casualty insurers admitted to doing business in the state. SISF provides protection to the state and taxpayers for non-public, self-insured entities by taking over workers’ compensation obligations from entities that have defaulted (79 since its formation in 1984).

These three entities combined cover billions of dollars of known and incurred but not reported (IBNR) workers’ compensation with open claims going back as far as World War II. Their combined assets total in the billions.

How would those three entities be broken up into six pieces and reestablished?

Self-Insured Retention vs. Collateral – What is the True Cost of Risk?

Each year, the corporate risk manager scrutinizes workers’ compensation excess insurance proposals from one or more insurers, trying to figure out the cost-benefit of the company’s self-insured retention (SIR), such as $250,000, $500,000, or even much higher. The “SIR” terminology applies whether the company is utilizing an insured high deductible, captive or legally self-insured workers compensation program. As we all know, claims below the chosen level of retention are “retained” (paid for) by the entity, not the excess insurer. And despite what level of self-funding is chosen, the risk manager gambles that the company’s injury/illness prevention program and competitively safe working environment is going to beat industry statistical odds. Why buy insurance on something that has little likelihood of occurring anyway? Your hope is that the premium money you save choosing a higher deductible will more than offset the claim costs associated between a lower and a higher deductible / self-insured retention.

With that decision made, the risk manager then dutifully works on an annual operating budget to project the direct and allocated costs of the entity’s “expected” workers’ comp claims, including excess insurance. With that task done, the workers comp risk factors have pretty much been addressed, right? Not really. The unaddressed factor in this self-insured/high deductible scenario — which goes up most corporate ladders to the CFO or Treasurer — is the issue of collateralization. Collateral, by definition is that which serves as protection for a lender against a borrower’s default (failure to pay an obligation).

For example, when you take a mortgage out on your house, the amount you owe the lender is supposed to be adequately collateralized — at least since the ’08 housing bubble burst — by the sales value of your home. In fact, in today’s post-recession real estate market, banks are requiring excellent lender credit ratings as well as a real estate loan that is typically no greater than 80% of the appraised value of your home. After all, your home is the bank’s only secured collateral in the event you default on your mortgage.

So, who is taking the risk if your company fails to make its workers compensation claim payments within the self-insured retention — which is often 90% or more of all corporate claims costs? The fact of the matter is simple. No insurer, captive, or state/governmental agency has any intention of bailing out your company if and when it goes bankrupt, or for whatever reason, fails to meet its workers compensation obligations under the law. In the event of default, therefore, the company’s excess insurance policy must drop down to pick up any unpaid claim costs on a “first dollar” basis. Does this mean the excess insurer is out of pocket for the losses paid within the self-insured retention/high deductible?Simply put, no insurer is willing to take the risk that its insured may be unable or unwilling to pay its high deductible. Similarly, no state government wants to assume to liability of a legally self-insured entity failing to pay its workers compensation obligations. The only sure way to avoid having the excess insurer, captive, or the State assuming the costs arising from a default is to require sufficient collateralization of the policy periods covered by high deductible or self-insurance.

In the case of insurers, the terms, timing, and amount of collateral is negotiated and typically requires that the insured put up: a cash deposit; an irrevocable letter-of credit; securities (i.e. certificates of deposit); or a surety bond payable to the insurer in the event of default. For insurers, the collateral target is determined by actuarial estimates, including the estimated ultimate cost (including IBNR and ULAE) of all claims within the entity’s high deductible or SIR retention level.

Obviously, the collateral requirement grows in the aggregate with each policy year of workers comp coverage. Now, you understand why the entity’s CFO is concerned. Tying up your company’s collateral or its credit revolver (the amount your bank(s) provides your company as a line-of-credit) is a huge issue. While the cost and amount of this may vary to some degree depending upon your company’s credit rating and banking relationships, the fact of the matter is that this collateral can build up to significant amounts over the years. In California alone, there are dozens of large companies with sizable self-insured retentions with aggregate workers compensation claim risks from $100 to $500 million. The amount of collateral required is almost always determined by an actuary — usually the insurer’s unless you are a true self-insured entity.

Knowing that virtually every high deductible or self-insured option you choose requires collateral, how do you decide which option is the most cost-effective? It’s important that you have a very savvy, experienced, and knowledgeable insurance broker or consultant assisting you in weighing these options. Furthermore, your broker must understand the implications of collateral demands when risk is retained. This is a much more challenging process than simply selecting an SIR based upon excess insurance quotes.

So the question arises … How much collateral do we need to post? What will it cost our entity to tie-up this amount of money each year? To the CFO, this issue may be the driving factor in your workers compensation strategy. Essentially, there are two major factors that determine collateralization: (1) the expected amount of aggregate claim exposure; and (2) the entity’s credit risk rating or factor.

In general, the only break you’ll get in posting the actuarially determined deposit is if you’re with an insurer that may consider your company a “good credit risk” and allow you to post your annual collateral (keep in mind that it’s in aggregate) on a delayed basis, such as 3 to 6 months into your new policy year. In my previous experience as a VP of Risk Management for an international company doing business in 38 states, we hired a leading actuarial firm to challenge the quarterly actuarial numbers asserted to us by our excess insurer’s in-house actuary. Usually, we were able to negotiate some minor concessions relating to the collateral posted with the carrier. The amount of collateral was revisited at a minimum of every quarter.

Most states allow a self-insured the opportunity to choose its own self-insured retention (up to a certain limit); its excess carrier (if any); and in many states, self-insured’s are allowed to self–administer their workers comp claims — as opposed to using the excess insurer or a designated Third Party Administrator.

In California, the Self-Insurers’ Security Fund (a non-profit entity that guarantees the take-over and payment of private and group self-insured entities in the event of default) pioneered an option in 2003 that no other state, except North Carolina, has been able to offer. Individual self-insured entities with equivalent credit ratings of AAA (A+) to B3 (B-) are eligible for the Alternative Security Program (ASP). Under this arrangement, qualified self-insured’s have their “deposit” (State-required collateral) covered by the Security Fund. In short, the self-insureds pay an assessment that mimics their cost of securing a Letter of Credit (LOC) from a bank. The Security Fund uses a sliding scale with 16 intervals, AAA to B3, to determine the factor (multiplier) used to determine its annual assessment. Included in the assessment calculations are the Security Fund’s operating expenses, hedging costs, as well as any funds targeted to build the Security Fund’s reserves. In 2010-11, this factor ranged from 16 basis points (AAA) to 355 basis points (B3).

The distinct advantage to this unique ASP program option is that nearly 350 California individual self-insured entities are able to free-up large sums of monies or a Letter of Credit. The Security Fund annual assessment is a fee, and the company’s credit revolver is not impacted since there is no secured debt arrangement. This frees up nearly $5.9 billion of workers’ comp collateral each year, and it allows these self-insured companies — including non-profit and religious organizations — to use their creditworthiness to pursue business and organizational goals.