Tag Archives: pandemic insurance

Parametric Insurance: 12 Firms to Know

If you’ve read Part One of this series, you’ll have got your crash course in parametric insurance and can now call yourself an expert (relatively speaking). In the article, I promised to give a short overview of the 12 companies I think worth looking at that are examples of how parametric insurance works, and what the future might look like. But first a quick summary of Part One:

  • Parametric insurance is emerging as a way to provide financial protection against losses that are often hard, or even impossible, to get insured for.
  • Parametric insurance has been around for over 20 years. Today, it makes up around 15% of issued catastrophe bonds in a $100 billion market.
  • Access to more data and more reliable sources of how that data is transferred is opening up an opportunity to take parametric insurance to companies small, medium and large. The access is also offering new ways to address the global insurance gap.

Now, here’s my list, ordered approximately by theme, rather than any specific ranking. Leaderboards have their place, but outside the established market for catastrophe bonds the area of parametric insurance is still too diverse, and broadly unproven, to attempt to rank companies. At least not yet.

AIR Worldwide (Owned by Verisk)

AIR’s U.S. hurricane catastrophe model was used for the first major catastrophe bond, issued by USAA, in 1997, providing $400 million of protection. AIR continues to provide one of the two most commonly used suites of catastrophe models. Reinsurers, brokers and insurers run cat models to price and manage natural catastrophe risk in most major countries. AIR has probably been the most frequently used modeling agent for U.S. hurricane catastrophe bonds in the last decade, and the company provided the analysis for the WHO pandemic catastrophe bond.

RMS

RMS and AIR have been jostling for position as the leader in providing insurance linked securities (ILS) catastrophe bonds to the global insurance industry. The RMS capital markets team has been behind some of the most complex and innovative catastrophe bonds, and RMS has been particularly strong in creating well-designed parametric triggers. Examples of bonds that RMS has worked on include Golden Goal, which provided $262 million of terrorism cover for FIFA for the 2006 World Cup. RMS was also behind the New York Mass Transit Authority (MTA) $200 million storm surge bond in 2013, issued following MTA’s unexpected and largely uninsured losses of $4.7 billion from Hurricane Sandy.

As I mentioned in Part One, Artemis has the most comprehensive directory of catastrophe bond issued, if you want to learn more about what RMS, AIR and EQECAT (since acquired by Corelogic) have worked on. 

See also: Growing Case for Parametric Coverage  

New Paradigm Underwriters

This is one version of what the future may look like as parametric insurance moves upstream to the company market. Founded in 2013, New Paradigm pre-dates the term “insurtech,” but as an MGA using new technology in a smart way it is one of the pioneers in this space. The company offers supplemental U.S. hurricane insurance for businesses that want added coverage for exclusions from the conventional policies on offer from insurers. The company’s first product used an index derived from recorded wind speed as the payout trigger, and the company is now diversifying into terrorism cover.

A quick side note here. It was discovered in the early history of parametric hurricane bonds that conventional windspeed recorders that were relied on to measure windspeed (and hence define if the bond had triggered) had a tendency to blow away when conditions got unusually gusty. New Paradigm, and others structuring windstorm parametric triggers, now use data from the WeatherFlow network. It has installed over 100 windspeed recorders designed to survive winds of 140 mph and requiring no external power.

FloodFlash

Adam Rimmer and Ian Bartholomew, the founders of FloodFlash, started their careers at RMS and got their passion for parametric insurance when working on the New York MTA bond. The company’s seed funding came from U.K. investor and incubator Insurtech Gateway three years ago. Still relatively modestly funded (£2 million, according to Crunchbase), FloodFlash is one of the best examples of parametric insurance being used today to provide a solution where traditional insurers have declined cover.

In the U.K., most homeowners get flood protection thanks to the government’s Flood Re initiative, but commercial businesses are excluded. FloodFlash models the flood risk at a high resolution and sells building-specific parametric insurance. The company operates as an MGA and sells via brokers. A FloodFlash sensor is attached to a building and triggers a payment almost instantly when the water rises to a pre-agreed depth. With hundreds of clients already signed up in the U.K., FloodFlash proved its worth after Hurricane Caura hit the country earlier this year — “the fastest payout by a parametric insurance product that I’ve ever seen,” according to Steve Evans of Artemis.

Global Parametrics

Global Parametrics was launched in 2016, the brainchild of Professor Jerry Skees, and run today by Hector Ibarra, formerly of the World Bank and Partner Re. With funding that includes support from the U.K. government’s DIFD and Germany’s KfW, the company is building parametric products to support organizations and people in the developing world who lack insurance coverage or can’t afford it. Global Parametrics has commissioned its own models for climate-related losses around the world and is building out partnerships with other leading providers. Its customers include microfinance lending organizations and NGOs such as VisionFund. The company provides payments through disaster recovery payments, which can be used to help get vulnerable communities back on their feet after a flood, drought or other natural disaster. The team is well connected and has strong technical chops, definitely one to watch. Catch Hector live or listen to the recording of our chat on our BrightTALK channel.

Descartes Underwriting

It’s one thing to build the technology for parametric insurance, but someone needs to have the confidence to underwrite it. Descartes is a Paris-based underwriting specialty insurer and is open-minded in what it covers as long as it gets “proper data.” Coverage so far has included property damage, business interruption from natural catastrophes, losses from droughts and losses from excessively high or low temperatures. Descartes has covered industries in areas such as agriculture, mining, construction, renewable energy and supports banks in protecting their loans and assets. Sebastien Piguet, co-founder and head of underwriting at Descartes, spoke to us on stage in April last year, and you can hear him on Episode 23 of the InsTech London podcast

Jumpstart Recovery

Getting claims paid from traditional insurance cover can take weeks, or even longer after a major catastrophe, but the costs kick in immediately. California earthquake insurance is expensive,and there are few affordable options to the rather limited state-backed California Earthquake Authority. Kate Stillwell, an engineer and earthquake modeler, started Jumpstart in 2015 with the aim of providing much-needed funds to increase the financial resilience of communities and provide economic stimulus immediately after an earthquake. Jumpstart accesses the peak ground velocity of the earthquake recorded by the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) and aims to pay claims after 24 hours. The cover is currently limited to $10,000 per person, for residents of California only, and users need to certify, by text, that there has been damage and loss. Jumpstart has been supported SCOR’s Channel Syndicate.

Exante

One of the best ways to reduce loss from natural disasters is to provide funds to help people act before an event even happens. There is a lot of work going on to improve resilience from natural disasters through improvements in construction, often at a city or state level, but actions taken by individuals before disasters hit can also make a big difference. No one’s yet figured out how to forecast earthquakes, but Chris Lee, Dublin-based founder of Exante, launched his company in 2019 with backing from Shipyard Technology Ventures. Its aim is to help increase hurricane resilience for companies and their staff with a new approach to using parametric cover. Exante has designed a payout approach that is developed and calibrated using near-time forecasts of U.S. hurricane severity and landfall. If a hurricane looks likely to make landfall, funds will be released in the hours before a hurricane strikes. Payments will be made directly to Exante’s clients’ employees to help cover the costs of protecting their homes or evacuation expenses. It’s early days yet for the company, but contingency finance for risk prevention is a smart way to reduce losses.

African Risk Capacity

The African Risk Capacity (ARC) is a specialized agency of the African Union established to help governments improve their abilities to plan for, prepare for and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters. ARC is using parametric triggers to provide contingency funding, and ARC Insurance creates pools of risk across Africa, which are then insured in the global markets. One of ARC’s parametric covers had a wobble in 2016, when a major drought in Malawi caused a large loss for farmers, but due to a problem in how the modeled index was set up didn’t trigger a payment as was intended. ARC ended up agreeing to pay a contribution toward the costs, but the wobble is a reminder that parametric insurance is sensitive to modeling assumptions and data, and that payouts may not always match the financial losses suffered (a problem termed “basis risk).

See also: Travel Insurance: An Exemplary Experience  

Blink

Paul Prendergast set up Blink in 2016 to provide flight cancellation insurance and earlier this year announced the launch of “Blink Parametric.” Back in the normal world we knew a few weeks ago, Blink Travel offered a cash payout or vouchers for hotel stays to customers who missed a flight, all fully automated. A recent development is Blink Energy & IoT, aimed at domestic appliance insurance and industrial IoT, offering protection for problems such as unexpected increase or decrease in energy usage. Blink’s partners include Generali, Munich Re and Manulife. Paul reckons he’ll have three million customers by the end of this year.

Arbol

Arbol was set up in 2018 by former banker and commodities trader Siddhartha Jha to provide weather-related crop cover for farmers and others. The team is using highly localized data sets accessed from IoT sensors and satellites to create bespoke cover down to individual field level and is selling these through an established insurer broker network. The market in the U.S. for agriculture insurance is limited due to government subsidies, but demand globally is significant, and a lack of crop insurance, particularly in developing countries, is one of the biggest contributors to the global insurance protection gap. I’ll be recording an interview with Siddhartha later this year.

Qomplx

Formerly known as Fractal, Qomplx has the experience, beefy technology and access to data for rapidly analyzing risk across many industries. The insurance business is headed by President Alastair Speare-Cole, previously chief underwriting officer of Qatar RE, CEO of broker JLT Re and chairman of Aon Benfield Securities. Qomplx has a number of initiatives in the pipeline. It recently launched its first parametric product, WonderCover, backed by Chaucer and offering cyber and terrorism cover for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Alastair and his team supported our live chat event on April 30 on our BrightTALK channel.

In conclusion..

It’s not possible to get every company offering parametric insurance onto a list of 10, and this is certainly not intended to be the definitive top 10. (Although unlike some lists of “top insurtech companies” I’ve come across, at least all these companies are all still in business at the time of writing.) None of the main brokers are mentioned, but the big three (or should that be two?) are key in working with insurers and insureds to help communicate and structure all but the smallest risks. As a supporter of InsTech London, Aon gets a shout out here as one of the longest-standing experts in this field.

There are other companies we’re watching closely and have had on stage at InsTech London. Please let me know of other (decent) companies you are aware of with parametric solutions.

And look out for more live events on this topic soon. I’ll also be hosting chats on post-pandemic coverages. Registration on BrightTALK.

Finally, if you are a company that would like to be considered for a future article, being a member of InsTech London or having a great photo of your equipment or your tech….

If you enjoyed this, found it useful or maybe both, then you may find something of interest in my other articles. You can also hear me talking to the industry’s leaders and innovators each week on the InsTech London podcast channel (available on Apple, iTunes, Spotify etc). And for a weekly check-in on what’s going on and what we think about it, you can get our two-minute, handcrafted newsletter delivered to you each Wednesday morning – sign up here.

3 Challenges for Pandemic Coverage

The nation’s immediate strategy to support businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has now formed around a portfolio of emergency federal loan and grant programs authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. As these programs become operational, policymakers are turning their attention to the risk of future pandemics.

When confronting the “new” risk of terrorism nearly two decades ago, policymakers forged the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) as a public-private partnership with shared financial responsibility for terrorism losses but heavily relying on the commercial property and casualty insurance industry’s product design, operational and claims administration capabilities.

Naturally, TRIA has emerged as a leading model for a future pandemic program – generally referred to as the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act (PRIA). While a reasonable starting point, TRIA is far from an off-the-shelf catastrophe risk program.

Congress designed TRIA to progressively recede from the terrorism insurance marketplace until expiring three years later. This temporary program is now in its fourth extension, guaranteeing a total program life of at least 25 years. Not a single dollar has been paid out from the federal backstop — owing more to the success of the U.S. law enforcement, defense and intelligence communities than to any beneficial feature of the program itself. While TRIA may offer the reassurance of longevity, this model remains (thankfully) wholly untested, such that any underlying design flaws only become visible on careful inspection.

We can test the efficacy of PRIA by answering three questions related to our current experience with the loan and grant programs authorized by the CARES Act:

  • Which businesses should be entitled to claim benefits under the program?
  • What benefits should be available?
  • Who has the infrastructural capabilities to deliver the necessary benefits?

Eligible Businesses

CARES Act loan or grant programs are available to nearly all businesses that meet the size requirements. An otherwise eligible business must certify merely a general need for financial relief as a result of the pandemic such as that “[c]urrent economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the applicant.”

PRIA would reach far fewer businesses. Under that program, insurers must first offer a policy of commercial property insurance without a virus or pandemic exclusion. No business is required by law to purchase it. In fact, under TRIA, only half of all businesses pay a premium for the removal of the terrorism exclusion. According to data released by the U.S. Treasury, 29% are informed that there is no additional charge for removal of the terrorism exclusion and the rest simply opt not to pay the average 2.5% additional premium.

We do not know how much insurers would charge to remove a virus or pandemic exclusion as required by PRIA. However, it is likely to be much more than the current charge to remove terrorism exclusions. As a rough benchmark, it takes the insurance industry about 10 years to charge enough terrorism premium to equal the amount of commercial property insurance losses from Sept. 11. It would take 125 years to collect enough premium just to equal the initial round of funding for the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program.

See also: Rethinking Risk Management in a COVID-19 World  

Take-up rates for policies without virus or pandemic exclusions under PRIA will certainly be somewhere far less than 100%. Even if three-quarters of policyholders pay for the removal of the exclusion, many U.S. businesses would be left with no economic support in the event of another pandemic. If the cost of coverage is more than a couple of percent of total policy premium, take-up rates would be even lower, leaving vast amounts of the U.S. economy “willingly” exposed.   

Covered Losses

CARES Act programs are largely aimed at encouraging businesses to keep employees on the payroll. For example, Payroll Protection Program loans can only be used to cover expenses for payroll, rent, mortgage interest and utilities. If at least 75% of the loan proceeds are spent on payroll (subject to caps on high earners) during the first eight weeks, the entire loan is forgiven.

Business income coverage under a standard commercial property insurance policy also covers the expense of continued payroll, rent and utilities. However, insurance also covers the profits a business would have made and the full amount of salaries, including those paid to high-earning executives. While those benefits are more generous while they last, Civil Authority Coverage typically only extends to the first four weeks of a government-ordered shutdown (half the time period of the Paycheck Protection Program).

Of course, not every policyholder purchases a typical policy. Under TRIA (and therefore our hypothetical PRIA), captive insurance companies are full-fledged participants in the program. A captive is an insurance company set up and owned by its policyholder, typically a large corporation. Hundreds of large corporations (including the New York Times, Credit Suisse and the New York Stock Exchange) have established captives, allowing access to TRIA on far more favorable terms than those available via the traditional insurance market. For example, while small businesses are effectively shut out of property insurance coverage for terrorist attacks using nuclear or radiological weapons, a large corporation can negotiate with its insurance subsidiary for hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars of such protection, with 80% of the losses picked up by the federal backstop.

Large corporations would surely deploy these same strategies to maximize the value of PRIA. While a small business may be lucky to afford the standard four weeks of Civil Authority Coverage, a big business could ask its captive to provide coverage for 40 weeks or even 400. Certainly, the captive would not impose on its corporate parent restrictions on share buybacks, dividends or executive bonuses such as those demanded by the CARES Act’s Main Street Lending Program. 

Claims Administration Capacity

TRIA contemplates that insurance companies possess the claims administration capacity to manage up to $100 billion of shared industry and federal losses. Hurricane Katrina was the largest property insurance event in U.S. industry’s history, resulting in about half that amount in paid claims.

Under the CARES Act, U.S. lenders have been called on to administer $349 billion in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program and a further $600 billion through the Main Street Loan Facilities. Just the initial funding of the Paycheck Protection Program is the equivalent of insurance companies facing down claims from Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, Irma, Andrew, Harvey, Ike and Wilma, Sept. 11 and the Northridge earthquake all at the same time, together with 10 years of National Flood Insurance Program and National Crop Insurance Program claims. The insurance industry is simply not designed to operate at that scale.

See also: 10 Moments of Truth From COVID-19  

A Path Forward

While there are other “glitches” in the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act that should give us pause before expanding the model to include pandemics, the three points explored here should be enough to warrant a thoughtful debate about the objectives of any proposed pandemic risk management program and how best to implement it.  

For example, we may find insurance companies can make available policies without virus or pandemic exclusions, but small businesses are unwilling to bear the consequent cost. A program with low take-up rates is worse than no program at all. Today, we can extend loans and grants to businesses that did not have the choice whether to buy insurance coverage. Once we have PRIA, we cannot. 

Similarly, we may find the business income loss benefits made available to small businesses are modest and difficult to trigger compared with loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program. Meanwhile, large corporations can use their captive insurance companies to engineer bailouts that make the terms of the airlines’ $25 billion Payroll Support Program look stingy.

Finally, we may conclude business income coverages in standard commercial property insurance policies are too complex to quickly administer during a pandemic. We may also come to believe insurance companies should invest more heavily into maintaining robust catastrophe claims management capabilities.

If we do not get to the bottom of these challenges before committing to a new pandemic program, we will surely struggle with them when we most desperately need the program to work.