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5 FAQs on Private Flood Insurance

With headlines about catastrophic and historic storms driving increased interest in flood insurance, the emerging private flood insurance market – an alternative to coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) – is increasingly attractive to homeowners. As realtors guide their clients through the home buying process, here is some basic information that clients need to know about this new option:

Q: What is private flood insurance, and what does it cover?

A: Private flood insurance is a risk management tool backed by global capital markets that provides financial protection for buildings and personal property damaged by floods, helping families, communities and businesses to recover from these devastating events.

Q: What are the differences between an NFIP and private policy?

A: There are two primary differences between an NFIP and private policy: regulatory authority and source of capital.

The biggest misconception with private flood insurance is that the NFIP is regulated and that private isn’t. Private flood insurance is heavily regulated and falls under the jurisdiction of state insurance regulators – just like homeowners, hurricane and auto insurance. While these state-based insurance regulations are separate from the federal regime that regulates the NFIP, the level of consumer protection and oversight is comparable.

The second difference is who’s bearing the risk of loss. With an NFIP policy, FEMA holds all program risk, with U.S. taxpayers serving as the ultimate backstop. With private flood insurance, independent insurance companies bear the risk of loss. As a result, these companies cannot accept any risk in any location and must be more discerning with respect to underwriting, coverage and price. While private insurers cannot be all things to all people, this disciplined and thoughtful approach means these insurers can deliver a sustainable and valuable product to homeowners.

See also: Here Is How to Make Flood Insurance Work  

Q: How can a private policy work in tandem with an NFIP policy?

A: A private policy can act as either an alternative or a complement to an NFIP policy. Private policies equip agents with customizable options that can cater to individual homeowners’ needs, allowing insurance agents to craft solutions that ultimately protect more people from floods.

Private policies can also complement an NFIP policy. If you have a policy through the NFIP, you can purchase private insurance to increase the limits of your coverage. Private insurance is also available to expand coverage, such as adding protection for contents in a basement or the expense to clean out a swimming pool.

Q: Who qualifies for private flood insurance, and how does it work?

A: The NFIP is essentially a one-size-fits-all policy available to almost every person in all geographies. However, homeowners aren’t all the same. That’s the beauty of private insurance programs – they’re different programs offering different value propositions to different people, like high-net-worth homeowners or renters.

Q: What is/isn’t covered by a homeowner’s policy when it comes to a flood?

A: Generally speaking, most homeowners’ policies exclude flood losses completely. A homeowners’ policy may cover water damage from broken pipes or sump pumps, but most exclude loss from inundation, whether resulting from swollen rivers, storm surge or intense rainfall.

The flood insurance industry is rapidly changing, and there are new opportunities coming online every day. Every realtor should take time to understand these new options. In most situations, the home is the family’s most valuable investment. Wherever it rains, it can flood, so take time to consider solutions that can protect these treasured investments from catastrophe.

See also: Emerging Market for Flood Insurance  

This article is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide individualized business, insurance or legal advice. You should discuss your individual circumstances thoroughly with your legal and other advisers before taking any action with regard to the subject matter of this article. Only the relevant insurance policy provides actual terms, coverages, amounts, conditions and exclusions for an insured.

Here Is How to Make Flood Insurance Work

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) needs to change. It was $30 billion in debt last year (though Congress forgave $16 billion of that), its flood maps are woefully outdated and its incentives are out of whack – while the riskiest homes it insures make up just 2% of premiums, they account for 25% of claims.

In recent months, Congress has extended the program (and occasionally let it lapse) without making any meaningful reforms – a strategy that has proven woefully inadequate to the problems the NFIP faces. This month presents yet another deadline: Unless Congress renews the NFIP by tomorrow, it will lapse. This is a golden opportunity to modernize a program that is not adequate for the new realities of severe weather.

We’ve faced this opportunity before, and various stakeholders have offered solutions. One common chorus is to encourage private insurers to get in the game to fix the NFIP. I’d like to modify that proposal slightly: Privatize flood insurance, and make everyone get it.

If this sounds philosophically similar to what the Affordable Care Act tried to do for health insurance, that’s because it is. We all agree that health insurance premiums won’t come down if only sick people buy it. Encouraging everyone to buy health insurance makes sense because everyone – even the healthiest among us – faces risk. Anyone, after all, can get hit by a bus.

Today, the same is true of flooding. After last year’s hurricane season, FEMA’s official position became “anywhere it can rain, it can flood.” In other words: All of us could benefit from flood insurance.

See also: Emerging Market for Flood Insurance  

Of course, there are several major differences between the health and flood insurance landscapes.

First, while nutrition and medical research are improving our tools for staying healthy, our collective flood exposure is growing. There are three major culprits:

  1. Human nature. We like living near water, which means living in high-risk areas. As long as people will buy or rent homes near the water, developers will build them.
  2. The current regulatory environment provides incentives for development without providing incentives for management of flood risks – we saw the results of this all too clearly when Harvey hit Houston last year, and we saw it again this hurricane season with Florence and Michael.
  3. Extreme weather is the new normal. Four of the five most damaging (and expensive) hurricanes of all time have happened since 2012. The most expensive was in 2005. This is not a fluke.

The second important difference between flood insurance and health insurance is that the American people are already paying for flood insurance. The NFIP is a taxpayer-subsidized program, but only taxpayers with an active policy enjoy protection in the event of a flood. Privatized universal coverage would not greatly affect the number of people currently paying for flood insurance, but it would significantly increase the number of people who enjoy the benefits of coverage because payments would be tied to actual policies.

The third difference is that our current system for flood insurance encourages behavior by homeowners, developers and local leaders that works against everyone’s long-term interest. For example, the NFIP currently has updated flood maps for some communities that show an increased number of homes at risk for floods. But residents have, in some cases, successfully lobbied for delays in the effective date of those maps because, as soon as they become effective, home values will drop and residents will have to start buying flood insurance.

In other words, skewed incentives are pushing people to act against their best financial interest and against the interests of other taxpayers. Privately run flood insurers would mean no reelection pressures to falsify flood maps (which local politicians currently face), and homeowners for whom flood insurance is mandatory would have no incentive to avoid it.

See also: Future of Flood Insurance  

Beyond all this, though, privatization makes sense for other reasons. Private insurers would find ways to provide incentives for relocation rather than rebuilding in areas that flood repeatedly. They would prioritize the data analysis necessary to make flood maps that are both accurate and predictive. And they would likely lend their lobbying weight to reforming development and environmental regulations that contribute to our growing flood exposure.

This amounts to a significant change in how we think about flood insurance in the U.S., but our risk of flooding has changed significantly in recent years. Anything short of a drastic overhaul will mean the NFIP just ends up further underwater.

A Contrarian Looks ‘Back to the Future’

A recent week started with reading a page by Paul Carroll from his Innovator’s Edge platform. The title question was: “Will Apple enter insurance? Google? Microsoft? Amazon?” His opening statement was, “Apple’s market value crested $1 trillion last week, and its big tech brethren Google, Microsoft and Amazon aren’t far behind, all are valued north of $800 billion…”

I wasn’t shocked until he said, “All have extensive data about customers. And all have the size to tackle mind-bending problems that insurance faces – by contrast you’d have to combine AIG, Prudential and Allstate just to surpass $100 billion in market value…”

A day later, someone sent me Reagan Consulting’s “The Golden Age of Insurance Brokerage.” As I read through this short update, I could almost hear, “Happy days are here again” playing in the background for the brokers. The following captures the essence of this document: “We are living in the Golden Age of insurance brokerage. There are so many good things happening, it is hard to keep track of them all.” This was followed by six bullet points providing evidence of why the brokers are so happy. (No mention was made of insurance buyers, who may not be as HAPPY!)

A friend then sent me a link to “The Death of the Old School Agency,” by Michael Jans. This is a more in-depth view (30-plus pages) of the world as it may or will be.

From the executive summary, we learn that today’s agent faces a new world of:

  • Rapid changes in consumer behavior and expectations
  • Emerging, existing and well-funded competitive channels
  • A rising millennial generation with different expectations, both as consumers and workers
  • A pace of change unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

Depending upon who, what and where you are, this report will bring good news or bad news, but nonetheless – it is news that (I believe) every agent needs to hear, consider, ponder and then decide on.

Agencies tomorrow are not “your daddy’s Oldsmobile.” Ask someone older than 40 to explain the phrase. This was the beginning of the end of a legendary line of General Motors automobiles and probably a foreshadowing of the collapse of General Motors.

I encourage you to study all three of these documents – they are well-written by very successful folks. Their ideas should be carefully considered, and, if properly adapted to your circumstances, all can improve your results. That is – as long as the world goes as “we the people” in this industry think it should. What follows is my contrarian view – less “raining on your parade” and more clearing the air as you look to the horizon in tomorrow’s consumer-driven economy. We are not in charge. We today are wagering on our individual and industry’s future. Place your bets. The market will pick the winners.

See also: 3 Myths That Inhibit Innovation (Part 3)  

This contrarian will offer his ideas by looking “back to the future.”

There will remain great opportunities in our future, but these will require transformational change. From today’s selling in an industry that is product-defined and product-driven, to a new client-defined and client-driven marketplace where we will facilitate our client’s buying – solving their problems and meeting their needs. In the competitive nature of tomorrow’s world – we’ll have to use artificial intelligence (AI) to anticipate these needs and deliver solutions before our clients “go shopping.”

Some of the people, gifts, expertise, disciplines, skills, etc. we’ll need will be much different than the mechanical process we use today. We will need communicators (verbal and nonverbal), empathizers, artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers, storytellers, caregivers and “techies.” This is not an all-inclusive list. (Consider reading “A Whole New Mind,” by Daniel Pink.)

Warren Bennis offered the following wisdom decades ago: “The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

Consider the following – brief observations from one man’s experience:

  • In 1978, Fireman’s Fund/Famex Agents offered a GM-endorsed insurance program for dealers. I was the SW Louisiana agent. In those days, the No. 1 concern of GM and its dealers was that GM would reach 65% market share and the federal government would break GM up into separate companies, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, etc. GM’s arrogance, the dealers’ complacency, foreign competition, a poor product and a marketplace wanting change reshaped their world. GM never made it to 65% market share. I believe the insurance industry is ripe for a similar transformational experience.
  • In 1994, I was speaking to a bank in St. James Parish (Louisiana) about change. I said, “Today, GM, Sears and IBM are the kings of their respective jungles. I believe, in my lifetime, one of these companies will fail.” I was laughed off the stage. Fourteen years later, I was vindicated with the bankruptcy filing by GM. I personally believe that I’ll also prove right on Sears.
  • In June 2008, I was an instructor for attendees in a risk and insurance class at the KPMG Advisory University in Chicago. This was a continuing education week for KPMG consultants. A rookie consultant asked, “How does an insurance company fail?” I explained with the Champion Insurance story.

Then he asked for an example of a “rock solid” insurance company. I said, “AIG.” The KPMG senior partners in the room nodded in agreement. Less than 100 days later, AIG was functionally bankrupt, requiring a $182 billion bailout by the government. None of us saw that coming. (I’ll bet you were surprised, as well.)

As I wrap up this article, hoping I’ve stimulated a much more important discussion about the future, consider the following:

  1. Companies valued at $100 billion are “big” until measured against trillion-dollar operations in a world in transformation – especially if the giants have better technology and data!
  2. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon (AGMA) are kings of their respective jungles. Yet these companies are not even as old as the majority of readers of this column (with the possible exception of Microsoft and Apple, founded in the mid-1970s). Why would we think that our “old and stoic” industry is “safe” and “promising” for tomorrow? Are we celebrating our past when we should be planning our future?
  3. Do you think that any of your clients who have recently received a rate increase will be as enthusiastic about the profitability of our industry and the future of the world of brokers as stated in the article offered by Reagan? I’ve rarely (if ever) heard a client celebrate the profitability of our industry when it is an expense to theirs…
  4. Generational changes, social media and our societal rethinking of issues of race, gender, ethnicity, family, values, economic models (socialism / capitalism), etc. may result in our going in directions that we, 10 years ago, would have never considered possible.
  5. Has our industry let the government get its nose into our tent/economic system. NFIP has been in this industry as long as I have. The private sector didn’t want to address the flood risk. Now, these nearly 50 years later, the flood program is a government program and not sustainable. Unfortunately, the government may be ready to have the camel stand up in the tent? Medicare for everyone is no longer a crazy idea. It may not work, but….
  6. If the insurance industry was being designed today to do what it does, do you really believe it would be what we have? If you answered yes, please reread the question!

See also: What Is Really Disrupting Insurance?  

Bookstores, travel agencies, video stores, etc. were important in our communities of yesterday – UNTIL THEY WEREN’T. Should we begin redesigning our own operations and industry and future before a competitive innovator does it for us?

Emerging Market for Flood Insurance

The federal National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) underwrites the overwhelming majority of residential flood insurance policies in the U.S. As of April 2018, more than 5 million NFIP policies were in force nationwide (4.8 million residential), representing slightly more than $1.28 trillion in coverage ($1.17 trillion residential). For decades, the NFIP has been homeowners’ only option for flood insurance, but over the past several years a small private market for residential flood insurance has emerged. Policymakers are increasingly interested in learning whether the expansion of this market could help meet the policy goals of increasing the number of homeowners with flood insurance or offering more affordable coverage.

Stakeholders—in congressional testimony, op-eds, reports and other forums—have offered diverging opinions as to the appetite of the private sector in writing more flood insurance, on the existing barriers to private coverage and on the implications for the NFIP. The present state of the market is unclear, particularly because there is no nationwide database on the companies writing residential flood insurance, coverages offered, policy terms, pricing and any differences between private and NFIP flood insurance. This makes it difficult to evaluate the market’s future evolution and relationship to the NFIP.

This report aims to fill these knowledge gaps and has two primary objectives:

  1.  to document the current state of the private, residential flood insurance market across the U.S.; and
  2. to identify the main factors influencing the number and form of flood insurance policies offered by the private market.

To meet these objectives, we conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 63 insurers, reinsurers, state brokers and other market participants. We also gathered and analyzed current private market data from a range of sources, including public documents, congressional testimony, news articles, state regulators and private firms.

See also: Future of Flood Insurance  

Key Findings

  • The private residential flood insurance market in the U.S. is currently small relative to the NFIP. We estimate that private flood insurance accounts for roughly 3.5% to 4.5% of all primary residential flood policies currently purchased.
  • With the exception of Puerto Rico, more policies are written by surplus lines carriers than by admitted carriers subject to state rate and form regulations. This is unsurprising, because surplus lines firms tend to cover new or catastrophic risks for which consumers may have trouble finding coverage in the admitted market.
  • Roughly 20% of private residential flood policies (and 40% of admitted carrier policies) are in Puerto Rico; another roughly 20% are in Florida. No data are available to evaluate the size of the total private market in other states or at a substate level nationwide.
  • Private market growth to date has largely been driven by the interest of global reinsurers in covering more U.S. flood risk. In the admitted market, reinsurers are assuming most of the risk for primary insurers, often in excess of 90%. In the surplus lines market, Lloyd’s of London has played a major role, backing the majority of residential flood policies.
  • Among the small number of policies written by the private sector, we identified three broad policy types. The most prevalent is what we refer to as an “NFIP+” policy within the FEMA-mapped 100-year floodplain, where flood insurance is required for federally backed mortgages. NFIP+ policies have higher limits or broader coverages than NFIP policies. Most are stand-alone policies, although some are sold as endorsements to homeowners policies. A second type is a lower-coverage-limit policy issued as an endorsement in lower-risk areas. The third type, used by only a couple of firms, mimics the NFIP policy.
  • There does not exist data to ascertain how many homeowners previously uninsured against flood are purchasing private policies versus how many are switching from NFIP policies to private coverage. Insurers in the market believe their portfolios include both newly insureds and policyholders switching from the NFIP.
  • Because the NFIP will provide a policy to anyone in a participating community, private firms can operate only where they can price lower than the NFIP or provide broader or different coverages for which there is consumer demand. In a sense, then, the NFIP is a default benchmark for comparison with private flood insurance policies.
  • Companies have identified certain types of properties or risks where they believe they can profitably operate and compete with the NFIP. Those target areas of opportunity, however, vary across firms. For example, some are restricting themselves to areas that FEMA designates as having lower flood risk, and others are focusing on areas that FEMA designates as at higher flood risk.
  • The largest U.S. homeowners insurance companies have generally been hesitant to enter the flood market, although a few have begun to enter through subsidiaries. Their caution, we learned, stems from concern about being unable to adjust rating or policy coverages as they gain experience in writing flood because of state regulatory practices; concentration of risk in their portfolio; correlation of flood with existing wind exposure; satisfaction with the current arrangement; and concern about reputational risk should they need to raise premiums or scale back coverage as they explore the potential flood market.
  • More private capital is now willing to back private flood coverage in the U.S. Interviewees agreed that, as insurers’ familiarity with flood catastrophe models grows, as underwriting experience develops and as state regulatory structures evolve, the number of private flood policies in force could continue to grow, including among admitted carriers. As of this writing, there were multiple new rate filings in many states, suggesting a continued expansion of the market.
  • Whereas the NFIP is required to take all risks, private insurers are selective in their underwriting. All interviewees agreed that the private sector will never be able to write policies for certain properties or locations (e.g., repetitive loss properties or high-tide flooding areas) at a price homeowners would be willing to pay. Substantial public investment in risk reduction, combined with aggressive land-use management, they said, was essential for limiting future exposure and encouraging the private sector to move into those areas.
  • The private market participants we interviewed differed as to how much flood risk in the U.S., and storm surge risk in particular, they thought could be underwritten by the private sector. All agreed there would likely remain a large and important role for the NFIP to play, particularly in the near term.
  • Acceptance of private flood insurance by banks and financial institutions does not appear to be a major constraint on the market at present. With very few exceptions, private insurers have told us banks ultimately accept their products, though they may have some initial questions or concerns.
  • There is a need for expanded insurance agent education about flood risk and flood insurance products, both for the NFIP and private policies. Interviewees disagreed about whether the higher-than-market commissions paid by the NFIP were creating a disincentive for the private market.
  • Most interviewees saw limited demand for flood coverage today, whether offered by the NFIP or by a private provider, and said that consumers were price sensitive.

See also: How to Make Flood Insurance Affordable  

This report was written by Carolyn Kousky, Howard Kunreuther, Brett Lingle, and Leonard Shabman. You can find the full report here.

Low-Risk Doesn’t Mean No-Risk

From “I thought homeowners insurance covered that,” to “I’m in a low risk flood zone, so I don’t need flood insurance,” flood insurance agents have heard all the myths about why homeowners don’t need flood insurance. Unfortunately, these myths often undercut the true dangers of flooding and leave home and business owners across the country woefully underprepared if a flood event does occur.

In 2017 alone, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 16 separate disasters in the U.S., each with damages exceeding $1 billion, which generated total record losses in excess of $306 billion. A large percentage of these damages were caused by flooding, including damages associated with Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, and record high water levels in Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois. While this devastation has certainly brought the conversation about flooding and flood damage back to the forefront, it also may have relayed a subtle, worrisome message to others: Flooding events only affect certain regions at certain times of the year, and 2017 was an anomaly.

The reality is quite the opposite.

When it comes to flooding, these disasters can happen any time of the year, anywhere across the country. In fact, 25% of all flood damage in the U.S. occurs in what are classified as low- to moderate-risk flood zones by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and destructive flood events have occurred in 98% of counties across the country. This is especially troubling when, as the NFIP estimates, just one inch of water intrusion can cause more than $20,000 in damages, and the average NFIP claim is around $43,000. In addition, one-third of FEMA disaster assistance goes to properties in these low- to moderate-risk zones, but it’s rarely enough to cover the damages.

The data from these costly flood events reveals a story of loss and hardship that needs to be more widely understood, and now—with the bevy of new private flood insurance options in place—is the perfect time for agents and organizations to research the facts and widely broadcast the message to the home and business owners they protect.

What Agents Need to Know

Flooding is not restricted to heavy tropical storms. It takes multiple forms that can affect other regions in the U.S., including rapid rainfall or structural failure leading to flash floods, spring snowmelt, changing weather patterns, clogged rainwater systems and new building development. Flooding can even be triggered by drought and wildfires. Why? Because wildfires and droughts alter soil conditions, leading to reduced absorption and increased runoff during any heavy rain that follows.

See also: Future of Flood Insurance  

Simply put, flooding is the costliest and most common natural disaster in the U.S., especially considering that it can strike any time of year. Ultimately, a single flood event can destroy a property and wreak irreparable damage on the finances of uninsured home and business owners. Yet, despite these dangers, only 12% of homeowners have flood insurance. For those in low-risk areas or those without mortgage loans not required by their lenders to purchase NFIP policies, this is a huge problem. Consider the following:

  • A March 2017 survey by InsuranceQuotes found that 56% of respondents mistakenly believed that a standard homeowners policy covers flood damage.
  • Most business insurance policies exclude flood damage.
  • FEMA flood maps may be outdated, and flood risks are changing rapidly. Some research suggests that current maps vastly underestimate those in the high-risk, 1-in-100-year floodplain, with one study suggesting that 40 million Americans, instead of the current estimate of 13 million, are at high risk.
  • Hurricane Harvey hit low-risk flood areas, and fewer than 20% of homes damaged in Hurricane Harvey were flood-insured. In total, just 15% of all the 1.8 million homes in Harris County (Houston) had flood insurance, including only 28% of the homes in high-risk areas.
  • NFIP policies in low-risk, preferred risk areas are as low as $500 a year, while a flood claim averages $43,000.

Collectively, these statistics highlight the importance of flood insurance for all Americans, no matter where they live. As agents, it’s our job to understand the potential risks in our communities and educate clients—and potential clients—on their flood risk to advise them in the best possible way.

What Are the Solutions?

For agents and others in the insurance industry, spreading the flood risk message requires perseverance and a keen understanding of the different insurance products that are available. While it’s important that owners and tenants know their FEMA-assigned flood risk, it’s also key that they understand the shifting nature of flood risk: that the dangers are changing, and every property is at risk at any time of year. Additionally, while government-backed NFIP policies are a critical way for many Americans to secure coverage, they are not the only option. Some homes and businesses may need excess coverage to cover up to replacement cost, and still other eligible properties may benefit from the array of coverage options available with private insurance products instead of an NFIP plan.

That’s why it’s critical for agents to analyze the true needs of our clients and regularly communicate any changes or updates that may be necessary.

The NFIP provides coverage limits up to $250,000 for the structure of a home, and up to $100,000 for personal possessions. For business owners, coverage limits are up to $500,000 for a structure and $500,000 for contents. Depending on the value of their structure and belongings, some home and business owners may need excess coverage, provided by private insurers to supplement their NFIP policies and provide additional coverage options. For example, NFIP policies do not cover additional living expenses—like the rental of a hotel room if a family is displaced from their home—or coverage for basements and pools. Private flood insurance policies, however, may provide coverage for these things and more, to better serve consumers.

Homeowners and renters aren’t the only ones who can be helped by private flood insurance options. Often, much of the focus during catastrophic flood events is on homes and families, but the effect on businesses is just as devastating. Buildings and inventories have been destroyed, computer equipment wiped out and workers left with nowhere to go—and no job left to do. Often, the cost of recovery from a flood is too much for a business to manage, with 40% of small businesses never re-opening their doors after a disaster.

See also: Hurricane Harvey: A Moment of Truth  

The fact is, whether a tenant or building owner, an uninsured company can lose everything in an instant when the water rises. The message agents deliver to business owners needs to mirror the one delivered to homeowners: The risks of flooding are high, and the cost of inaction could be financially unbearable. Agents need to make a special effort to educate business owners on the topic. After all, a company that is willing to invest in anti-theft measures, IT protection and liability insurance should recognize the real financial dangers that floods can deliver.

At the end of the day, private flood insurance options will only be embraced if agents and their clients are fully educated about the risk of flood, the limits of NFIP and all the changing options available. The bottom line is: Flood insurance options are expanding, and we as agents need to understand the full array of flood coverage possibilities available to ensure that those we serve have the opportunity to choose the coverage that will best protect their homes, their families and their businesses.