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2017 Outlook for Homeowners ROE

The estimated prospective ROE for homeowners this year is 4.5%, down from 6.7% in 2016. There are three key themes to note regarding homeowners insurance in 2017:


The homeowners’ line of business continues to grow; premiums increased to $91 billion in 2016 from $89 billion in 2015. The rate of growth has slowed from prior years, and slower growth is expected in the near future with less aggressive but positive rate change in the pipeline. Further, catastrophe losses are rising faster than inflation, and coverage gaps continue in perils (like floods), suggesting opportunities exist for carriers to find premium through coverage innovations.

Divergent Markets

From the macroscopic perspective of this study, there are at least three different homeowners markets:

1. Florida, a market unto itself.

Eight of Florida’s 10 largest carriers have limited name recognition outside the Florida market, though several are expanding to other coastal states. Remove Florida and US ROE increases to 9.1%, suggesting the assumptions of this study (nationwide carrier with A.M. Best “A” rating) differ from market reality in the sunshine state.

2. The hurricane-exposed coast, excluding Florida.

Hurricane coast states posted an ROE of 6.7% in this year’s study. At present, these states are characterized by heavy regulation; strong competition between established brands vs. younger carriers; and sophisticated risk differentiation based on granular catastrophe-savvy rating plans.

3. Everybody else.

The remainder of the U.S. owns a respectable 12.2% ROE with market share largely dominated by big-name national and super-regional brands. Regulatory considerations are easier to navigate than in coastal states. Catastrophe risk has unique challenges associated with less robust models for thunderstorm, wildfire and flash flood risks as compared to hurricane risks. California and Washington are unique because of their strict regulatory environment, but they otherwise resemble the other states in the cohort in terms of perils and players of note in part because earthquake endorsements are not required for home loans, show limited take-up and are ultimately excluded from this analysis because they roll up to the earthquake annual statement line.


This year’s study examines “one dollar of homeowners premium,” which highlights 8 cents of loss adjustment and 21 cents of policy acquisition costs (12 cents for commissions and brokerage plus 9 cents for other acquisition costs). These areas of the value chain are coming under attack from insurtech startups eager to test established carriers’ ability to adapt rapidly evolving technology. Aon’s Digital Monitor currently tracks over 40 startups, backed by nearly $2 billion in venture capital, that are attacking these areas of the property and casualty value chain (not all in homeowners, specifically). Mobile and software-as-a-service platforms, drone and satellite imagery and proprietary catastrophe-detection internet-of-things-enabled hardware promise to continue to apply pressure to traditional homeowners carriers’ approach to the business of insurance.

ROE study methodology

The basis of the prospective ROE estimate is industry, state and aggregate statutory filing data including reported direct losses, expenses, payout pattern and investment yields. We replace actual historical catastrophe losses as measured by property claims services with a multi-model view of expected catastrophe loss. On-leveling of direct premiums to current rates uses rate filings of the top 20 insurance company groups by state. Finally, estimated capital requirements and reinsurance costs consider a nationwide-personal-lines-company writing both home and auto business at a capitalization level consistent with an A.M. Best “A” rating. The ROE estimates exclude earthquake shake losses; the premium and losses for that coverage are recorded on a separate statutory line of business.

See also: 10 Trends on Big Data, Advanced Analytics  

The diversification available to a nationwide personal lines insurer impacts the ROE calculation. For instance, homeowners business in California diversifies Gulf and East Coast hurricane exposure for a nationwide insurer. A California standalone would incur higher capital and reinsurance costs than the California portion of a nationwide insurer with similar premium volume in the state. Similar results are to be expected for any other regional or single state insurer.

The normalization of catastrophe by this study replaces the local impacts from large events — like Harvey, Irma or the first and second quarter hail and wind losses experienced in 2017 — with the modeled catastrophe average annual loss. The prospective impact to the line from these events remains to be seen, and future versions of this study may attempt to measure impacts to rate level and reinsurance pricing.

The 2017 nationwide ROE estimate of 4.5% falls below our 2016 estimate of 6.7%. Profitability challenges to the line include: (1) a slowdown of rate increases (and decreases by some major carriers) that failed to pace loss and expense inflation, and (2) premium and exposure growth that pushed up the A.M. Best capital requirements to maintain the assumed “A” rating. Declining costs of reinsurance to capitalize the volatility inherent in the homeowners line were insufficient to offset the increased capital charges. Softening reinsurance costs cumulatively added over 210 bps of ROE in our study since 2013; after the catastrophe losses of 2017, the reinsurance and capital markets will be closely watched for pricing signals.

The maps above and below show, in loss ratio points, the amount that catastrophe experience exceeds model average annual loss. Adjusting combined ratios for expected versus historical catastrophe loss is an important step to distinguish weather-related randomness from inadequately priced business. Historical catastrophes can distort measures of results at a state level, causing the noise to overwhelm the signal. While state level adjustments can be significant, the 10-year nationwide experience catastrophe loss ratio of 13 points is meaningfully lower than the modeled expected catastrophe loss ratio of 23%. 2016 ended the dearth of hurricane activity that was the boon of gulf coast carriers for nearly 10 years. The Gulf states plus Florida had 30 points of favorable results relative to expected from 2007 through 2016, and, as of the time of this publication (even with Harvey and Irma), that favorable experience is more than 24 points of performance lift.

The five year retrospective comparing catastrophe experience to modeled expectation is favorable for much of the country. States on the eastern slopes of the Rockies into the plains (including Colorado, Nebraska and Montana) experienced pain primarily from hail-driven losses in several of the last five years. Texas is an interesting case study because the lull in hurricane activity drives overall favorable experience overwhelming thunderstorm losses that contributed to a five-point drag on the loss ratio. The five-year averages reflect the period from 2012 to 2016. Across the country, the first two quarters of 2017 experienced the highest thunderstorm-loss levels since 2011, and the third quarter included multiple major landfalling hurricanes. Taken together, this should partially erode the favorable experience of the previous five years.

The percentages in the map above show the direct target combined ratios necessary to fund reinsurance costs and allocated capital for retained risk by state, including catastrophe and non-catastrophe risk. The targets are for a sample of nationwide companies only and will vary among individual companies because of state distribution of premiums, capital adequacy standards, target return on capital, allocation methodologies, reinsurance and other considerations. For a diversified insurer with a footprint similar to the industry, the target combined ratios fall into three main categories: (1) Florida, (2) other hurricane exposed states and (3) states not materially exposed to hurricanes.

The map above shows average approved rate changes filed between January 2016 and August 2017 for the top 20 homeowners groups by state that made a filing in the period. Rate activity, while still positive, continues the slowdown observed in last year’s study. Notable decreases came from at least one large industry carrier, suggesting potential divergence in pricing levels that the averages fail to reflect. Rate changes on the coast, including Florida and Texas, ticked up significantly versus observations from last year. For Florida, in particular, rate activity was likely insufficient to on-level for assignment of benefits and claims adjustment issues facing the state’s carriers.

See also: How to Drive More Quotes  

Homeowners as a growth engine continues to be the headline for the insurance industry through 2016; the line has outpaced GDP and most other underwriting segments since 2010. Direct written premiums increased from $71 billion in 2010 to $91 billion in 2016, with a projected $93 billion for 2017 given prospective rate activity.

A strong component of growth through 2015 was the emphasis on rate adequacy with indicated rate levels increasing over 30% since 2010. Policyholders changing carriers will prevent the industry from realizing the full aggregate benefit of the individual carriers’ rate actions.

The “S” shape of the rate change curve suggests the line should be watched carefully. The rate activity through 2015 is now fully earned, and rates since 2015 show more modest increases. Time will tell if rate increases around 2% will be sufficient to track loss and expense inflationary pressures.

Our study suggests that, at prospective 2018 rates and before income taxes, insurers keep slightly more than four cents of profit for every premium dollar they earn. The four cents of direct profit is shared between the primary carrier, reinsurance partners and the U.S. Treasury.

The full report is available here.

Moving Past ERM: New Focus Is ERRM

No, the title does not have a typo. ERRM refers to Enterprise Risk and Resiliency Management. And, no, it is not necessarily new. When ERM is practiced in a mature and robust fashion, it should add to an organization’s resiliency.

Resilience refers to both the ability to rebound after a loss has occurred due to risk that could not be fully mitigated or was unrecognized and also the ability to capitalize on the upside risk.

Let’s look at two scenarios.

Company A, an industrial manufacturer, implemented ERM several years ago. Its risk committee, recognizing changing climate conditions and weaknesses in an aging facility, got approval for a multi-year investment in flood protection. This decision was made part of the strategic plan. Not only did the company invest in flood gates for its access points to lower levels, but it also cemented over unneeded windows and redesigned storage racks at sub-levels. All drainage lines around the facility were tested and repaired, if required. Very importantly, its business continuity and disaster recovery plans were updated and had been rehearsed doing table top rehearsals. So, when a one-in-50-year flood occurred and crippled other businesses in the area for weeks, Company A was virtually unaffected. It was able to resume full business operations in two days. On top of that, it was able to capitalize on the excellent press coverage it got locally, which enhanced its ability to attract the talent it had been seeking from the area.

For this company, ERM was more than identifying risks and creating reports. It was about taking action to build true resiliency in the face of risk.

See Also: How to Measure the Value of ERM

Company B, a woman’s clothes design and manufacturing company, practiced ERM with a very strategic approach. By that is meant, the risks to the company’s strategic direction were focused on first and became a key component of the risk identification and mitigation processes. When changes in customer preferences and buying habits were identified as risks to the current strategy, the strategy was adjusted accordingly. Since women were trending toward buying fewer and more basic garments, (for example, slacks that could be worn with multiple tops), while buying more accessories at more expensive prices, the company added new product lines such as jewelry and handbags.

As margins became squeezed at less diversified companies, this company prospered. Its quick reaction to emerging risk by adding product lines was rewarded with year-over-year return on equity (ROE) increases for each year of the strategic plan period. In other words, the company found the upside of risk and enhanced its resiliency because of it.

These hypothetical companies, based loosely on actual ones, illustrate that ERM is not just about risk; ERM is about resiliency. It is about the ability to address risk in such a way as to wind up in as good or better a position as the company was before having dealt with the risk or its impact.

How do companies embed resiliency into their ERM programs?   Each of the following points enables greater resiliency, when practiced consistently:

  • ERM needs to be strategic. First, risks to the strategy must be analyzed as well as operational and other risks. Second, risk mitigation plans for all risks that require a significant commitment of organizational resources need to be documented in the strategic plan to ensure there is proper allocation of such resources. In its fifth annual risk report, PwC has a recommendation that reinforces this idea while adding the element of business continuity planning, “Ensure strong triangulation between strategy, risk management and business continuity management.”
  • ERM must be seen to offer insights not only to the downside of risk but also to the upside. How does a given risk offer an opportunity in addition to or instead of a threat? If rising raw material costs are posing a risk to profitability, how can buying consortiums, vertical integration, multi-year contracts or changing the material composition of products pose opportunities? Innovation has a role to play in seeing and responding to the upside of risk. Indeed, risk and managing risk can be catalysts for innovation.
  • ERM mitigation plans need to be as bold as necessary to meet the potential impact level posed by the risk. For example, it does little good to mitigate a reputational risk by issuing a statement of corporate values when hiring a new senior team is what is needed. A particular mitigation plan may need to be as big as entering a new market or leaving an established one, moving a manufacturing center to a new location or making a sizeable technology investment to stay competitive or safeguard property.
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery plans are not sufficient to create resiliency. Public relations plans are also necessary to support resiliency. When there is a serious, public risk event, stakeholders want to know the what, why and how it will be handled. Companies such as British Petroleum (during the BP oil spill in the Gulf) and Toyota (during the faulty power window allegations and recall) learned that statements by CEOs could make the situation worse than it already was thereby heightening the risk. PR plans need to spell out how the company will communicate in terms of transparency, tone and types of meaningful responses it is prepared to make to address the issue in question.
  • ERM must be a continuous process where risks are updated and mitigation plans are monitored and adjusted on a regular basis. Given the pace of change, the ERM process must be as dynamic as the environment within which it exists. When a risk morphs, the actions planned to address it must morph with it, when new risks emerge, tactics to deal with them must be developed. Complacency or slow reaction time will sabotage an ERM process. As such, neither must be allowed to invade the process. If they do, resiliency will surely be sacrificed.

The marketplace continues to see seismic disruption and more massive shocks than ever before. Companies lacking the ability to bounce back from the effect of these will not be able to survive long-term. That is why every effort must be made to create a resilient form of risk management that deserves to be labeled ERRM.

I’m Spending a Fortune on Digital…So Where Are the Profits?

I doubt any readers of this post work with a CFO who is measuring Return on Empathy. Empathy? How can something as soft, as emotional, as seemingly non-quantifiable as identifying with people’s feelings, thoughts and emotions translate not only into hard-core financial benefit but also value to customers, patients, agents, employees or other participants in your digital experience?

The fact is, the more you demonstrate empathy for your digital-experience participants, and connect that experience to your key performance indicators (KPIs), the more value you will uncover.

I’ll share an example of how the credit card industry established a transformational industry practice by showing empathy via an innovative digital experience. It started with the simple insight that, by relieving customer stress, debt repayment rates could be improved.

Here’s the story:

We all have an image of how credit card companies collect past due balances. Late payers get a “friendly” phone call from the Collections Department, followed eventually by more persistent calling from collections agents to whom severely past due accounts are outsourced. These guys make pennies on the dollar extracting and following through on what the industry calls “promises to pay.”

From the customer’s perspective, this is a confrontational and embarrassing situation. It’s full of stress that is probably only adding to what got the customer into a financial pickle to begin with.

The reality is that most people don’t plan to find themselves at the other end of a phone call from a debt collector. But life happens. Medical emergencies, job loss, other surprises simply overwhelm cash flow and savings. In an industry where the interests of the institution and the customer may not necessarily be particularly well-aligned, the standard was historically an adversarial approach.

Using digital technology, innovators within the industry were able to prevail against the belief that collections could only happen through outbound calling. Innovators advanced the notion that collections rates could be improved by providing late payers with the means to set repayment terms online. Good for the customer. Good for the company.

Avoiding the confrontation of the phone call, and providing a private way to work through the issue, actually gave the customer a new opportunity to strike a deal. This led to meaningful increases in recovery of past due balances. So meaningful that the capability to set repayment terms online went from being an outlier, crazy idea to an industry standard that is spreading globally.

Online collections didn’t arise from spreadsheet analysis or financial engineering. It started from the simple insight that relieving stress – showing empathy by giving the customer a private way to settle up – would tap into people’s real needs. This simple insight, based totally on emotion and flying in the face of industry practices and beliefs, opened a big opportunity that leveraged digital technology to improve the customer experience and by so doing created a whole new source of value for credit card issuers.

Where is the learning transferable within the insurance and wealth management sectors?

The way I see it, we are operating in categories where emotion plays a big role. And where there is emotion, there is potential for Return on Empathy.

There are numerous opportunities to translate empathy into experience design using digital capabilities that will translate into results. Here are three starting points:

  1. Look for broken “moments of truth.” Across the opportunities for improved revenue cycle management, examine the “moments of truth.” Which ones are working and not working for your constituents? What are your constituents worrying about in the larger context of their lives, not just within the insurance transaction? Tiny adjustments can have a large impact. Testing and learning is required to tease out the benefits. Consider that application submission and processing, billing, payments, account management, servicing, inbound inquiries and outbound communications are all areas to explore. Within the healthcare category, these same principles may apply more specifically to population health management efforts.
  2. Focus on the bottom three dissatisfiers with your experience. Some very successful brands build their value story around addressing areas of dissatisfaction. Capital One is one example. What are the three worst areas of dissatisfaction with your experience based on your customer satisfaction tracking studies? What is the emotional basis for the dissatisfaction? How can you fix the experience by leveraging digital, mobile and social capabilities to close gaps? Can your team develop some quick mockups and share them in a usability lab?
  3. It isn’t always about pricing. I know some readers are thinking, “well, my customers just care about price; none of this emotional stuff really matters.” My rule of thumb is that one-third of the market for insurance and financial products may be truly, truly price-driven. But for most people there is a “value for the money” calculation that will readily trade off price for perceived additional value. That value is often in intangible, emotional connection to the brand and offering. Just ask all the people who willingly pay more for Apple products: “Better feature functionality at lower price” will not come up as an answer. And even where price is a heavier factor (say, in P&C, where pricing is more transparent and where the industry emphasize low-cost offers) emotion rules more heavily inside the experience than may appear at first look. That means the potential for Return on Empathy is high.

3-Point Plan for an Innovation Portfolio

One lament I often hear when I advise large company executives on the need to “Think Big” is that their biggest innovation challenge is not thinking big—it is thinking too much. Purportedly great ideas come from the front lines where the organization interacts with products and customers. They come from technology or marketing wizards keeping a sharp eye on disruptive market trends. They come from executives and board members grappling with questions at the organization’s strategic horizon. The challenge is that organizations are overwhelmed with more ideas than they can sort out, much less pursue. Perhaps the best advice on how to deal with the challenge of too many ideas comes from Peter Drucker, who offered this general principle:

Innovation begins with the analysis of opportunities. The search has to be organized, and must be done on a regular, systematic basis.” Don’t subscribe to romantic theories of innovation that depend on “flashes of genius.”

Rather than relying on randomness or organizational influence to dictate which ideas find a receptive ear, here is a three-point plan for initiating a systematic process for uncovering, assessing and scaling the best ideas. 1. Inventory Opportunities Start by casting a wide net. For example, sponsor a series of innovation contests and workshops to educate, build alignment and uncover potentially good ideas. Hold scenario planning sessions with senior executives and board members to explore both incremental and disruptive future business scenarios. Questions to ask might include:

  • Can you augment your customer interfaces to reveal customer preferences and to customize the customer experience, as Amazon and Netflix do?
  • Are there opportunities to better utilize the big data being generated by your business processes, including customer, operational or performance data, for innovation?
  • How might you reimagine key business, customer, and competitive issues if you could start with a clean sheet of paper?
  • How do the six disruptive technologies affecting other information intensive companies apply to you?
  • What extreme competitive threats, i.e., doomsday scenarios, might new entrants wielding these disruptive technologies pose to your organization?

Opportunities should include both continuous and discontinuous innovations. Continuous innovations offer incremental or faster, better, cheaper-type optimizations, such as shedding costs, reducing cycle times and generating incremental revenue. Discontinuous innovations are those that rise to the level of game-changing potential. 2. Develop a Holistic View Using an Innovation Portfolio Next, assess each opportunity based on competitive impact and investment type using the portfolio analysis framework as shown in Figure 1. Figure 1 Figure 1: Portfolio Analysis Framework Competitive impact measures differentiation against what competitors might deploy by the time an idea is launched. Remember Wayne Gretzky (who famously said he skates to where the puck is going, not to where it is)! A key mistake is evaluating an idea against one’s current internal capabilities, as opposed to where the competition is going. This dimension forces an explicit calculation of an idea’s future potential competitive impact. Investments can be one of three types:

  • Stay in Business investments (SIB) are for basic infrastructure or non-discretionary government mandates. SIB investments should be assessed on how adequately they meet regulatory or technical requirements while minimizing risk and cost.
  • Return on Investment opportunities (ROI) are pursued for predictable, near-term financial returns. Standard measures, such as net present value (NPV), return on equity (ROE) or other well-understood metrics are applicable here.
  • Option-Creating Investments (OCI) are pursued to create business options that might yield killer-app-type opportunities in the future. OCI investments do not yield financial returns directly.  Instead, they build capabilities and learnings that can be translated into future ROI opportunities. Like financial options, OCIs should exhibit high risk and offer tremendously high returns.

After arraying opportunities in the framework, eliminate those that fall outside of acceptable boundaries. For example, companies should not pursue opportunities that, once completed, are already at a disadvantage against the competition. For the remaining opportunities, develop an initial sizing of investment levels and potential benefits according to each investment category. Filter as appropriate. For example, eliminate ROI opportunities that do not meet standard corporate hurdles rates. Eliminate OCI opportunities that do not exhibit extraordinary option value. Eliminate SIB ideas that do not adequately minimize cost and risk—be very skeptical of SIB opportunities aimed at providing ROI or OCI benefits. Such opportunities should be judged directly as those investments types.  Figure 2 illustrates how the analysis might look at the end of this stage. Figure 2 Figure 2: Portfolio Analysis Results 3. Balance the Innovation Portfolio In personal investment portfolios, it is important to not place all hopes in one or two investments. The same is true for corporate innovation portfolios. To ensure competitiveness in the near term and in the future, they should include a mix of incremental and disruptive innovations. The right balance and prioritization depends on a company’s investment capabilities and competitive circumstances. For example, as shown in Figure 3, a market leader might field a portfolio geared toward aggressive growth by enhancing its infrastructure, investing heavily in near-term profitable opportunities and developing a small number of killer app options for sustaining its competitive advantage.  (My experience is that the right number of such options is on the low end of the magic 7, plus or minus two. That is because the limiting factor is senior executive attention, which is very limited, not investment dollars. Market leaders have lots of money to waste, but no project with true killer app potential can succeed without significant senior executive attention.) Figure 3 Figure 3: A Market Leader’s Balanced Portfolio Other illustrative portfolio profiles are shown in Figure 4. Commodity businesses tend to minimize SIB and OCI investments. Companies that are retooling might emphasize infrastructure and near-term investments and make only minimal investments in future options. Underperforming companies tend to invest in programs that barely achieve competitive parity, or worse, and do little to prepare for the future in any of the three investment categories. Figure 4 Figure 4: Illustrative Portfolio Profiles

* * *

By adopting appropriate financial and competitive metrics and measures for each type of investment, companies avoid planning theatrics where guesses are disguised as rigorous forecasts. This can happen, for example, when infrastructure and other SIB investments are required to demonstrate explicit returns on investment. Or, it can happen when advocates of OCI efforts are required to calculate net present value of very uncertain long-term initiatives. Such forecasts can, of course, be made by  savvy proponents. But the analyses are better testaments to rhetorical and spreadsheet skills than certainties about the future. At the end of this three-step process, companies should have a prioritized and staged investment plan that represents a coordinated enterprise innovation strategy and follows the think big, start small and learn fast innovation road map. Achieving an adequate understanding of the entire landscape of possibilities facilitates and encourages thinking big. Continuing management of the innovation portfolio provides clear criteria for evaluating other big ideas as they come up. It also demands the discipline of starting small and learning fast in the pursuit of disruptive innovations that will shape the company’s future strategic prospects.