Tag Archives: national flood insurance program

Why Fairness Matters in Federal Reforms

As Congress looks at restructuring two national insurance plans — the American Health Care Act of 2017 and the National Flood Insurance Program — legislators must address the issue of fairness. That is the view of Wharton professors Howard Kunreuther and Mark Pauly, who co-wrote the book, “Insurance and Behavioral Economics: Improving Decisions in the Most Misunderstood Industry.”

In this opinion piece, they argue that considering the issue of fairness in designing these programs is not merely an exercise to aid the old and needy. Rather, it is also to make legislators think about what policies will make premiums less onerous to people with lower risk so they will not be discouraged about getting coverage.

The U.S. is at a critical moment as Congress is attempting to determine how two insurance programs should be structured to help Americans who need protection from physical and financial risk. Both the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the American Health Care Act of 2017 raise questions as to whether affected individuals would be treated more fairly under the new legislation than they currently are.

For us, fairness in the context of new legislation means consideration of the impact that a sudden increase in premiums or unexpected changes in the terms of coverage will have on the well-being of the affected individuals.

See also: Flood Risk: Question Is Where, Not When  

When the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was enacted in 1968, there was a concern that high premiums would significantly reduce property values and that this could become an unfair economic strain. For this reason, the NFIP specified that homeowners living in high-risk areas at the time the law was enacted would be charged a subsidized premium.

The same potential conflict regarding fairness applies to health insurance. Is it fair that those with pre-existing medical conditions or those who unexpectedly acquire high-risk conditions might have to pay much higher health insurance premiums than when they were less at risk?  Yet this is what will happen if private insurers are allowed to charge risk-based premiums and politicians decide to provide limited subsidies to cushion those higher premiums.  However, is it fair to impose high premiums on individuals with low risks to finance such subsidies? And is it fair to offer no reward to those who take steps to improve their health status and thus reduce their future health spending risk?

Elected representatives on both sides of the aisle continually espouse the principle of fairness across a wide range of issues, including trade, tax reform and jobs. If they truly want to extend that allegiance to the principle of fairness, they might wish to consider offering some form of financial assistance to help working class families who become high-risk for floods or to help them buy or continue coverage for health care. The choice of the right amount of support regarded as fair is ultimately a political issue where voters’ perspectives may differ.

There are efficient ways to address the fairness problem for both insurance programs that might gain bipartisan support. With respect to health insurance premiums, it is easy to justify assisting low-income and older people who want to buy coverage. Empirical studies of Medicaid programs suggest that individuals care about other people’s health conditions. Many taxpayers are thus likely to support having the public sector cover part of the cost of health insurance for those whose health might be improved by having insurance.

In the case of flood insurance, those subject to water-related damage should receive information on the cost of insurance that reflects their flood risk. If this risk-based premium exceeds a proportion of their income or housing costs, they could be given an insurance voucher or tax credit so they could afford insurance. A new RAND study recommends that those whose total housing costs — including flood insurance premiums — exceed a certain percentage of their income be provided with financial assistance. This would ensure that taxpayers are not subsidizing high-income individuals.

It is important to encourage property owners in flood prone areas to invest in cost-effective, loss-reduction measures. Homeowners could be offered a long-term home improvement loan, tied to the property, to pay for cost-effective ways to mitigate future losses, such as elevating the house or moving utilities to a higher floor, so that the annual cost of the loan, paid all or in part by vouchers or tax credits, would be less than their savings from the reduced risk-based premium. This proposal is not only fair but also encourages property owners to reduce future losses from inevitable disasters. It also avoids using taxpayer dollars to assist uninsured and unprotected victims from hurricanes and floods who will demand and may receive federal disaster relief.

See also: How to Make Flood Insurance Affordable  

In summary, the proposed flood and health insurance programs should be designed with reasonable premiums for high-risk individuals so they will want to purchase coverage that protects them against catastrophic financial losses. At the same time, one needs to be concerned about not discouraging low-risk individuals from purchasing insurance by imposing the subsidy burden on them alone through premiums much higher than their risk rather than on the general population through a broad-based tax. By considering the issue of fairness as an important criterion in designing these programs, we will have taken a major step in enabling high-risk individuals to have coverage while at the same time maintaining the basic principles of insurance.

Republished with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

New Risks Coming From Innovation

The triggers that have induced the insurance industry to innovate have dramatically changed in this millennium. Up until the 21st century, little innovation occurred, because insurers were looking to create products for emerging risks or underinsured risks. Innovation occurred most often as a reaction to claims made by policyholders and their lawyers for losses that underwriters never intended to cover. For example, the early cyber policies, which insured against system failure/downtime or loss of data within automated systems, were created when claims were being made against business owners policies (BOPs) and property policies that had never contemplated these perils. Similarly, some exclusions and endorsements were appended to existing policies to delete or add coverage as a result of claims experience. Occasionally, customer demand led to something new. Rarely was innovation sought as a competency.

Fast forward to today, when insurers are aggressively trying to develop innovative products to increase revenue and market share and to stay relevant to customers of all types. Some examples include: supply chain, expanded cyber, transaction and even reputation coverages.

With sluggish economies, new entrants creating heightened competition, emerging socio-economic trends and technological advances, insurers must innovate more rapidly and profoundly than ever. The good news is that there is movement toward that end. Here is a sampling of the likely spheres in which creativity will show itself.

Space

Insurers have already started to respond to the drone phenomenon with endorsements and policies to cover the property and liability issues that arise with their use. But this is only the tip of iceberg in comparison with the response that will be needed as space travel becomes more commonplace. Elon Musk, entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, has announced his idea for colonization of Mars via his interplanetary transport system (ITS). “If all goes according to plan, the reusable ITS will help humanity establish a permanent, self-sustaining colony on the Red Planet within the next 50 to 100 years” according to an article this September by Mike Wall at Space.com.

See also: Innovation — or Just Innovative Thinking?  

Consider the new types of coverages that may be needed to make interplanetary space travel viable. All sorts of novel property perils and liability issues will need to be addressed.

Weather

Weather-related covers already exist, but with the likelihood of more extreme climate change there will be demand for many more weather-related products. Customers may need to protect against unprecedented levels of heat, drought, rain/flood and cold that affect the basic course of doing business.

The insurance industry has just taken new steps in involving itself in the flood arena, where until now it has only done so in terms of commercial accounts. Several reinsurers — Swiss Re, Transatlantic Re and Munich Re — have provided reinsurance for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), for example. Insurance trade associations are studying and discussing why primary insurers should do more in terms flood insurance as a result of seeing that such small percentages of homeowners have taken advantage of NFIP’s insurance protection.

Sharing Economy

As a single definition for the sharing economy begins to take shape, suffice it to say that it exists when individual people offer each other products and services without the use of a middleman, save the internet. Whether the product being offered is a used handbag, a piece of art or a room in a private house or whether the service is website design, resume writing or a ride to and from someplace, there are a host of risk issues for both the buyer and seller that are not typically contemplated by the individual and not covered in most personal insurance policies. This is fertile ground for inventive insurers. How can they invent a coverage that is part personal and part commercial? Smart ones will figure out how to package certain protections based on the likely losses that individuals in the sharing economy are facing.

Driverless Cars

So much has already been written about the future of driverless cars, but so many of the answers are still outstanding. How will insurance function during the transition; who will be liable when a driverless car has an accident; who will the customer be; what should the industry be doing to set standards and regulations about these cars and driving of them; how will subrogation be handled; how expensive will repairs be; how will rates be set? A full list of unanswered questions would be pages long. The point for this article is – how innovative will insurers be in finding answers that not only respond to these basic questions but also provide value-added service that customers will be willing to pay for?

See also: Insurance Innovation: No Longer Oxymoron  

The value added is where real innovation comes into play. Something along the lines of Metromile’s offerings for today’s cars is needed, such as helping drivers to find parking or locate their parked cars. Such added value is what might stem the tide of the dramatic premium outflows that are being predicted for insurers once driverless cars are fully phased in.

Corporate Culture and Reputation

Recent events indicate that corporations need some risk transfer when it comes to the effects of major corporate scandals that become public knowledge. The impact from the size and scope of situations such as the Wells Fargo, Chrysler, Volkswagen and other such scandals is huge. Some of the cost involves internal process changes, public relations activities, lost management time, loss of revenue, fines and settlements. Reputation insurance is in its infancy and warrants further development. And though insurance typically does not cover loss from deliberate acts, especially those that are illegal, there is enough gray area in many scandals that some type of insurance product may be practical despite the moral hazard and without condoning illegal behavior.

And the Risk

All innovation poses risk. Risk is uncertainty, and innovation leads to uncertain outcomes. Just as insurers must create solutions, they must be willing to acknowledge risk, assess risk, mitigate risk and prepare for some level of risk to materialize. So, as insurers are now actively trying to innovate, they must make sure that their enterprise risk management practices are up to addressing the risks they are taking.

For each new product, some of these risk areas must be explored:

  • Is there a risk that projections for profitability will be wrong?
  • If wrong, by how much, and how will this shortfall affect strategic goals?
  • What is the risk appetite for this product initiative?
  • What is the risk the new product will not attract customers, making all development costs wasted expense?
  • What is the risk that price per exposure will be incorrectly estimated, hurting profitability?
  • What is the risk for catastrophic or shock losses relative to the product?
  • How will aggregation risk be handled?
  • What is the risk that litigation concerning the policy coverages will result in unintended exposures being covered?

Conclusion

Regardless of whether or not they have been dragged into innovation by disruptive forces, insurers are finally ready to do more than tweak products around the edges. The risk of not innovating appears to be greater than the risk associated with innovating.

A ‘Perfect Storm’ of Opportunity (Part 3)

This is the third of three parts in a series. The first part is here, and the second is here. 

Change isn’t always easy. If you’re an insurance agent or Write Your Own (WYO) dealing with the April 1, 2016, regulatory changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you know this all too well. As the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continues to phase out various rate subsidies, agents are dealing with increasing policyholder concerns around rate increases and affordability.

These regulatory changes inject new complexities into an already complex program. For agents trying to serve their customers in this space, it’s challenging to stay ahead of the NFIP changes around eligibility, pricing and flood zone determination — all while making time to absorb periodic, substantive modifications. Furthermore, increased regulatory scrutiny creates greater demands on agents because producers must invest additional time to ensure compliance. These dynamics generate new frictional costs that leave many agents feeling like there’s less return for their efforts.

Homeowners have also felt the impact of the rapidly evolving flood insurance environment by means of increased costs and added requirements. Those interested in buying flood insurance or in maintaining existing flood insurance are faced with shifting price points and new steps in the application process. Just recently, pockets of homeowners in South Carolina were newly mapped into mandatory purchase areas, forcing some mortgaged properties to purchase flood insurance for the first time. Such changes can impose significant burdens on homeowners, particularly those on fixed incomes.

See also: Why Flood Is the New Fire (Insurance)

Strategies for Managing Through Change

While regulatory changes to the NFIP may make it difficult for agents to sell flood insurance, emerging options can offer relief. Previously, if a prospective consumer rejected flood insurance because of price, agents often did not have an alternative. Today, this is not the case.

Keith Brown, the president and CEO of Aon National Flood Services, said, “The NFIP offers a widespread product, and that has significant application in today’s environment. … However, agents will find that there are some customers who may not be an appropriate fit for the NFIP. Now, agents can present options for policyholders who struggle with affordability issues if charged full-risk rate premiums. These agents are able to present coverage options more tailored to individual homeowner needs in terms of lifestyle, financial planning and risk exposure.”

There are some strategies for flood risks that agents can adopt to help manage change through an evolving regulatory environment and shifting consumer appetite. First, it is important that agents are mindful of map revisions and the fluidity of the geographic risk associated with flood. Mapping changes drive pricing and surcharges applied to individual risks. For instance, a customer who wasn’t required to have flood insurance yesterday may be required to have it today.

Innovations and opportunities in this business do not follow a set schedule, and agents seeking means of differentiation must be vigilant. With the proper education and tools, flood insurance offers a means for agents to help customers better protect themselves and their investments. Talk to your WYO; familiarize yourself with product choices your customers may find attractive if they’re struggling with the impact of regulatory changes.

When looking at the newly mapped areas as defined by the NFIP, there is a distinct line that defines the area where homeowners must have flood insurance as a condition of having a federally backed mortgage. On the other side of that line, homeowners are not required to have flood insurance to mortgage their home; however, floods do not recognize these lines. In many cases, the homes sitting on the non-insurance-required flood zone lines have just as much of a chance of falling victim to a flood catastrophe. So, as an agent, understanding flood maps and knowing how properties may move in and out of different flood zones is invaluable in educating your customers and helping them determine what insurance they may or may not need.

There’s no doubt that, in today’s ever-changing environment, a long-term strategy is difficult for agents. A basic understanding of the requirements surrounding floods will get you by. But if you want to have the opportunity to be more successful and be viewed as a valued business adviser and resource for homeowners in your community, you have to be able to look beyond the basics of flood.

By taking on a more holistic view of flood, recognizing how floods can affect communities and having the ability to articulate all flood options (including private solutions), you can set yourself apart from others adrift in a sea of change.

For an overview on the NFIP changes, check out a handy visual guide NFS has put together: “Making Sense of NFIP Regulatory Changes.”

A ‘Perfect Storm’ of Opportunity (Part 1)

This is the first part of a three-part series on the innovation needed in flood insurance.

If you are an insurance agent trying to survive in today’s competitive marketplace, you may have dipped your toes in the flood insurance waters, so to speak. If you have not, get ready to jump in, because there’s a “perfect storm” of opportunity ahead.

Flood insurance is a vastly under-penetrated market. According to a recent report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), approximately 10% of U.S. residential property is located in areas where flood insurance is required for federally backed mortgages, yet fewer than half of these homes carry the coverage. Total penetration in the U.S. is less than 7% for the roughly 95 million residential structures.

That 7% penetration is compelling when you think about the prospective flood universe. Every single state in the country has suffered flood losses. So the question becomes: How do we leverage the opportunity to expand flood insurance beyond those 7%?

When you consider the current state of the industry and of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the climate is ripe for change. The federal program is upside-down by $23 billion, resulting in additional fees and charges, and the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, followed by the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act, injected new complexities into the NFIP. These — and related — conditions have created a “perfect storm” of opportunity to grow the number of homes that buy flood insurance.

See also: Why Flood Is the New Fire (Insurance)

Taking Advantage of Emerging Private Flood Options

Legislation has paved the way for private flood insurance, which has come in response to different markets having different views and different appetites for risk, and additional measures pending in Congress further clarify the critical role of private flood insurance. Those diverse interests or private markets call for the independent development of product and service solutions to address various flood insurance needs and to differentiate their programs from others. The resulting innovation and product specificity directly benefits consumers. Accordingly, the conversation around flood has really evolved from “What is private flood?” to “Why now private flood?”

One significant challenge for agents will be helping consumers understand that flooding (unlike earthquakes or hurricanes) is the only natural disaster where people actually influence the event itself. Whether through urbanization, the clearing of land for agriculture or artificial levee systems, we influence where floods happen and the severity of floods when they happen. Areas that were not in danger yesterday are exposed today. Private industry has an opportunity to help educate Americans on how these changes drive future flood risk through modeling techniques and data analytics.

We need to help homeowners understand that yesterday’s safety does not necessarily equate to safety today. I see this playing a pivotal role in helping educate homeowners on their true risk of flood.

Getting an Edge in a Competitive Marketplace

Education remains a critical charge for insurance agents who want to obtain an advantage in this evolving market. Agents want loyal customers, and a flood insurance solution represents one more policy that agents can deliver to deepen existing relationships. From my perspective, there are fundamental strategies to employ to your advantage:

  • Understand the impact of flood in your area

Every state has been touched by flood, so the risk is widespread. By familiarizing yourself with the history of floods in the areas where your agency is operating, you will better understand the potential impact to your customers.

  • Get to know your customer

Does your customer have a man cave in the basement? Is your customer living in a high-value home? Is your customer in a home that is not elevated or that is exposed to flood more than other homes? Is your customer at risk of being displaced for weeks or months at a time if flood happens? That knowledge will help an agent determine what is appropriate for a client and then to match those specific needs with product options in the private market.

  • Leverage flood tools available

Take advantage of tools that enable independent assessment of flood risk outside of FEMA flood maps. For example, through www.floodtools.com, agents and homeowners can learn about their potential exposure to flood. By entering an address, they receive an easy-to-understand visual representation of where they are positioned with respect to floodwaters and flood plains.

  • Stay current in the evolving product environment

New, more relevant private products are becoming available every day. Staying informed in the changing product environment will help improve your ability to meet the diverse needs of customers with contemporary offerings such as:

—Additional living expenses

—Enhanced basement coverage

—Increased limits for various risk classes

  • Be clear on who is backing the product and the capital structure behind it

There is an abundance of capital looking for new business to write. Know who is backing the product and the capital structure supporting the private program. Consider the financial strength and financial rating of the insurer and inquire about flood underwriting experience.

See also: Modeling Flood — the Peril of Inches

Setting Course for the Challenges Ahead

We are seeing a lot of interest in the flood space and the emergence of a host of new products. Many employ a so-called “coupon” approach by offering a percentage discount on the NFIP premium, but they haven’t changed the experience at all. Agents still need to manage extensive applications, an elevation certificate and property photographs. The experience needs to be improved, for the agent and for the customer.

Are there opportunities for agents to sell flood insurance on a larger scale? Certainly, but more work is necessary to make that happen. When it comes to flood insurance, we need to find solutions attractive to both agents and homeowners for the purpose of increasing overall participation. We need to address the existing challenges. Constituents entering this space cannot solely focus on a price-to-coverage configuration angle. Ultimately, without product and service innovation, we can’t expand the market.