Tag Archives: tsunami

Are You on Your Game, or Is Your Game Over?

Weeks ago, Jim and I met for coffee to solve all the world’s problems. We didn’t, but he did hand me an article about Sudoku and said, “There may be a story in here.” He was right. I just didn’t realize how quickly it would appear on my computer screen.

Later that day, when I was driving down Main Street in New Iberia, La., I saw mobs of “geeks” (the politically correct term is “millennials”) playing Pokémon Go. My wife works Sudoku puzzles. I had read about Pokémon Go, but I have never even seen it played before.

See also: Pokémon Go Highlights Disruptive Technology  

I was impressed with the marketplace’s embrace of Pokémon Go. One hundred million devotees in less than a year is a game-changer.

If, like Sudoku, your business is manual, local- and pencil- and paper-dependent, your universe is limited to yesterday. If you are global and virtual like Pokémon Go, there are no boundaries — only opportunities. Your future depends on the choices you make, local or global, manual or virtual.

Now let’s quit playing around and get serious about the insurance industry and your place, if any, in tomorrow’s world.

Whether you prefer the metaphor of revolution or evolution, our world is changing. The change is going to be structural, revolutionary and transformational. The reason is that when one thing is different it’s change; when everything is different it’s chaos.

In terms of natural disasters, think 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, the Japanese tsunami, etc. For economic crises, consider the 2008 economic collapse, the stock market crash, the GM bailout, the demise of AIG, Lehman Brothers, etc. — and then remember the past and current reshuffling of the retail and distribution systems in our world (Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Expedia, WebMD, Netflix, etc.) I could go on, but I won’t. I can’t remember all the changes, nor can I outrun the pace of change.

These changes from yesterday were triggered by systems, big data, technology, global competition and corruption, the internet and a marketplace that has evolved over time — from the corner store, to Main Street, to strip shopping centers, to malls, to box stores and even to a virtual presence in cyberspace. The big change now and tomorrow is not place but rather people and pace.

See also: Look Up, Look Out, Think New!

Our industry was built for a “father knows best” world. The youngest of the Greatest Generation are now 70 years old. Their progeny are the Boomers, who are 52 and older. Those in Gen X are age 32 and above, and the Gen Y and millennials are somewhere between 12 and 34.

In tomorrow’s market, age doesn’t matter — wiring does. Every preceding generation was born to analog; these Gen Yers/millennials are digital natives. What we “old” folks see as aberrations, they see as the norm — and they and the market ain’t going back ever again. By 2025 (which is nine years away) millennials will be 75% of the working people. The next nine years may bring more technological advances than we’ve seen in our collective lifetimes.

Our options are simple: We can go enjoy a smoke and a Sudoku on the bank of the nearest tar pit and wait for a meteor to end our pain and frustration, or we can shift into high gear and catch up with the roaming hordes of Pokémon Go folks and play in — and with — the world as it’s going to be!

THE MARKET IS CHANGING BECAUSE BUYERS CHANGE!

Change or die! Carpe mañana!

Rental Car Waiver: To Buy or Not to Buy?

When I Googled “should I buy the rental car damage waiver, I got 40.6 million hits. Needless to say, much has been written about this issue. But much of what has been written is BAD (aka horrible and dangerous) advice.

If you have auto insurance, is that good enough? What about credit card coverage? This article explores the issues and suggests some answers, at least one of which you might not like. (Note: This article builds on an article I first published in 1998, titled “Top 10 Reasons to Purchase the Rental Car Damage Waiver.”]

The vast majority of consumer articles suggest that the purchase of the loss damage waiver (LDW) is not necessary if you have auto insurance or credit card coverage. For example, in a 2014 article in U.S. News & World Reports titled “7 Costly Car Rental Mistakes to Avoid,” the very first “mistake” involves buying insurance you don’t need. The article says your auto insurance policy “may” cover collision and quotes someone who says, “The credit card coverage will kick in for anything your personal policy doesn’t cover.” Needless to say, “may” and “will” are two different things.

While many auto policies and some credit cards may provide coverage for damage to a rental car, it is almost certainly not complete, and four- to five-figure uncovered losses are not at all uncommon. The purchase of the LDW (with caveats), along with auto insurance, provides a belt and suspenders approach to risk managing the rental car exposure.

Let’s explore the value and deficiencies of auto insurance, credit card coverage and loss damage waivers.

Personal Auto Policies

In the article I wrote in 1998 and have since updated, I enumerate many reasons why buying the loss damage waiver is a good idea. I won’t repeat those reasons in their entirety, but I’ll highlight the more important issues that have resulted in uncovered claims that I’m personally aware of, based on more than 20 years of managing such issues. We’ll start with the current 2005 ISO Personal Auto Policy (PAP) as the basis of our discussion, with some references to non-ISO auto policies.

The ISO PAP extends physical damage coverage to private passenger autos, pickups, vans and trailers you don’t own if at least one declared auto on your policy has such physical damage coverage. But physical damage coverage does not extend to a motor home, moving truck, motorcycle, etc. that you are renting.

Damage valuation is on an actual cash value (ACV) basis, while most rental agreements require coverage for “full value” (translation: whatever the rental car company says is the value), and most PAPs exclude any “betterment” in value.

Many non-ISO PAPs have an exclusion or dollar limitation on non-owned autos or specific types of rental vehicles such that rental, for example, of an upscale SUV or sports car may have limited or even no coverage.

Many PAPs limit or do not cover the rental company’s loss of rental income on a damaged auto. There is often an option to provide increased limits for this coverage, but many price-focused consumers may decline such coverage. Even where this coverage is provided, many insurers may only be willing to pay for the usage indicated by fleet logs while the rental agency wants the full daily rental value. In one claim, the renter was charged $2,000 more than his insurer was willing to pay. In another claim involving a luxury car that was stolen from his hotel parking lot, the renter was hit with the maximum daily rental rate of $300, for a total loss of use charge of $9,000 (that he negotiated down to $4,500). In still another claim, following the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, replacement parts for a rental car were unavailable for several months, and the renter incurred a $6,000 loss-of-use charge by the rental car company.

Probably the most significant deficiency in the PAP is the lack of coverage for diminished value claims. That’s the #1 reason I always buy the LDW. I’m personally aware of uncovered diminished value charges of $3,000, $5,000, $7,000 and $8,000 and read about one from a reliable source that totaled $15,000 on an upscale SUV rental.

In one case, a Florida insured traveled to Colorado for a rock-climbing vacation. He passed on purchasing the LDW for his four-day rental because “I’m an excellent driver, and I’ve got car insurance and credit card coverage.” Apparently, the driver of the vehicle that sideswiped his rental car while it was parked was not an excellent driver. The damage totaled $4,400 for repairs, $370 for administrative fees, $620 for loss of use and $3,100 in diminished value. Of the $8,490 total, $3,990 was uninsured and not covered by his credit card, the biggest component being the $3,100 diminished value charge. In addition, the driver ended up having to hire a Colorado attorney to assist in resolving the claim. The cost of the LDW for the entire trip would have been less than $100, a small fraction of the total cost of his vacation trip.

When insureds travel on business or vacation, a rental car is often valet-parked at a hotel or restaurant. The ISO PAP extends physical damage coverage for non-owned autos “while in the custody of or being operated by you or any ‘family member’.” So, the question is whether the vehicle is still in the custody of the insured while it’s being valet-parked or otherwise in the custody of the valet service. If you don’t know and you’re relying on your PAP for coverage, the best advice is probably to not valet-park a rental car.

There are many other deficiencies in the ISO PAP that apply, and you can read about them in the previously mentioned “Top 10” article on our website. The last point I’ll make is a reminder that the majority of auto policies in the marketplace are not “ISO-standard” forms. (To learn more about that, Google “independent agent magazine price check.”) Despite what you may be led to believe by auto insurance advertisements or articles that imply that all auto policies and insurers are the same, there are potentially catastrophic differences, including coverage deficiencies with regard to rental cars. There are unendorsed non-ISO policies that don’t cover non-owned autos, period; others that exclude business use of such autos or non-private passenger vehicles (this one shows up in policies of major national carriers, not just “nonstandard” auto insurers); others that exclude vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds; and so on.

Conclusion? An auto policy simply is not adequate to cover the rental car physical damage exposure.

Credit Card Coverages

Read a few of the many articles on the Internet about using credit card programs to fund damage to rental cars, and you would think that little more is needed to adequately address the exposure. Unfortunately, credit card programs have as many, or more, deficiencies as does the PAP alone. Anyone relying on auto insurance and credit cards would be well-advised to study the credit card programs. In his article, “Rental Car Agreements, LDWs, PAPs, and Credit Cards,” David Thompson, CPCU writes:

“Many major credit cards provide some limited, free coverage for rental cars. Most post the provisions related to rental cars on the card issuer’s web site. While these can run several pages, three specific conditions [that] limit, restrict or invalidate the free coverage are show-stoppers. For example:

“The following conditions limit, restrict, void or invalidate the auto rental damage waiver (DW) coverage provided by your credit card:

“(1) This auto rental DW supplements, and applies as excess of, any valid and collectible insurance. For coverage to apply, you must decline the DW offered by the rental company.

“(2) The following losses are not covered by this auto rental DW coverage: (a) Any loss [that] violated the rental agreement of the rental company; (b) Any claim for diminished value of the rental car.

“(3) Any loss or damage to certain types of vehicles—see list.”

In other words, (1) credit card coverage is excess over ANY collectible insurance, (2) you must decline the rental company’s LDW, (3) violation of the rental agreement precludes coverage, (4) like the PAP, there is no coverage for diminished value, which we’ve seen can total thousands of dollars and (5) certain types of vehicles are excluded. Excluded vehicles may include pick-up trucks, full- sized vans and certain luxury cars.

And these are only part of the full list of limitations often found in these programs. Another common limitation is that loss of use is only paid to the extent that the assessment is based on fleet utilization logs. One major credit card only covers collision and theft even though the rental agreement typically makes the user almost absolutely liable for all damage, including fire, flood and vandalism. Some credit cards offer broader optional protection plans, but typically they also exclude coverage if there is a violation of the rental agreement and don’t cover diminished value.

Another issue with reliance on credit cards is that the rental company may charge uncovered fees that max out the credit limit on the card. If you’re 1,000 miles from home on vacation with a maxed-out credit card, that can present problems.

Loss Damage Waivers

Many people don’t buy the rental car company’s LDW because they think they have “full coverage” between their auto policy and credit cards. Many see what can be a significant charge and choose not to buy the LDW on the premise, “This’ll never happen to me.”

I rarely rent cars on business trips or vacation, but I experienced a major claim with a hit-and-run in a restaurant parking lot the night before a 6 a.m. flight. I had bought the $12.95 LDW for my four-day trip, so I simply turned in the vehicle at the airport with little more than a shrug.

Thompson, who rents cars fairly often, says he has walked away from damaged cars three times. Returning a rental at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, Thompson asked the attendant how many cars a month are returned with damage. She responded that, in her typical 12-hour shift, 15 cars are returned with damage and, in most cases, the damage was allegedly caused by someone else, not the renter. She estimated that only about 15% of renters buy the LDW.

The cost of the LDW admittedly can be significant, especially if you extrapolate what the effective physical damage insurance cost would be at that daily rate. But that’s only one way to view the investment in peace of mind, not to mention the avoidance of what can be significant claims.

On an eight-day vacation last year, the LDW cost me more than the actual rental and, in fact, more than my airline ticket. But I considered the LDW part of the cost of the vacation.

Is the LDW all you need? Is it foolproof? Well, kind of, as long as you follow the rental agreement. If you violate the rental agreement, you are likely to void the LDW. Many rental agreements consider the following to be violations:

  • Driving on an unpaved road or off-road (often the case in state or national parks or states like Alaska and Hawaii).
  • Operation while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  • Any illegal use (parking violations?), reckless driving, racing or pushing or towing another vehicle.
  • Use outside a designated territorial limit.
  • Operation by an unauthorized driver.

This illustrates the advantage of using the belt and suspenders approach of the PAP plus the LDW. The ISO PAP does not exclude the first three rental agreement violations, and the territorial limit is usually broader than any restrictive rental agreement territory outside of Mexico.

As for unauthorized drivers, some rental companies may automatically include a spouse or fellow employee or authorize them to drive for a fee. More often, the renter never reads the rental agreement and presumes anyone on the trip can drive. In one claim, a father and son were on vacation, and the father rented a car. The son had a driver’s license but was too young under the rental agreement to drive the car. The rental clerk made this clear at the time of rental. Despite knowing this, the father allowed the son to drive, and he wrecked the vehicle. Not only was the LDW voided, the father’s non-ISO PAP excluded the claim because the son was not permitted to drive the car.

A special case of unauthorized drivers could be-valet parking at a hotel or restaurant. Some agreements might except valet parking, so it’s important to determine at the time of rental whether valet parking is covered.

A note on third-party LDWs: In 2011, a fellow CPCU rented a car through Orbitz or Expedia, which offered an LDW at the time of the reservation. He mistakenly assumed this was the same LDW offered by the rental car company, but it was underwritten by a separate entity. During his trip, the rental car was damaged by a deer on a rural Montana road. To make a long story short, the third-party LDW was not a true “no liability” LDW warranty of the type offered by the rental car agency, and the result was, after negotiations on the uncovered portion of the charges (including diminished value), he had to pay in excess of $1,000 out of pocket.

Conclusions

When I rent a car on a business trip or vacation, I price the rental to include the LDW and make my decision, in part, on that basis. The peace of mind alone is invaluable, and, again, I consider the cost to be comparable to my decision to stay in a decent, secure hotel.

If you rent cars frequently, consider negotiating a price including LDW with one or more rental car agencies. Otherwise, caveat emptor. If you are an insurance professional giving advice to consumers about whether to purchase the LDW, it would likely be in your and your customer’s best interest to recommend consideration of the LDW. Your E&O insurer will appreciate it.

Next Tsunami of Work Comp Payments

2009 was a milestone in workers’ comp. In that year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) formally announced that it would review future prescription drug treatment in Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside (WCMSA) proposals based on “appropriate medical treatment as defined by the treating physician.” While the U.S. culture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had already noticed the prescription drug epidemic, this new requirement more clearly highlighted high-cost drug regimens that were doing more clinical harm than good.

Yes, the monthly drug costs were already known to be expensive. Yes, reserves often had to be raised annually. But until the workers’ comp industry had to follow explicit rules to calculate the lifetime cost associated with continued inappropriate polypharmacy regimens, the problems hadn’t really registered.

The new requirement dramatically changed the ability to settle and close a claim, so addressing the overuse and misuse of prescription drugs, primarily related to non-malignant chronic pain, became a white hot priority. The financial exposure highlighted by the WCMSA was a tsunami that changed the contours of the claims shoreline.

Well, another milestone has been achieved for workers’ comp. I have been talking about it, as well, over the past three years, because I could see the riptide indicators of the next tsunami to hit. And now the surge is about to hit the shore.

This next workers’ comp tsunami? Death benefits that will be paid because of drug overdoses.

This has already been affirmed in a handful of states, among them Pennsylvania (James Heffernan), Tennessee (Charles Kilburn) and Washington (Brian Shirley). Death benefits have been denied in other states, including Connecticut (Anthony Sapko) and Ohio (John Parker). I’m sure this is not a complete list. The list shows how individual circumstances and jurisdictional rules can drive different decisions, but what is not up for debate is whether payers face an issue concerning injured workers dying from an overdose (intentional or unintentional) of prescription drugs paid for by workers’ comp.

The game-changer could be a new decision in California, South Coast Framing v. WCAB. The full Supreme Court decision can be found here, and a good article that gives additional context can be found on WorkCompCentral (requires a subscription).

To summarize, Brandon Clark died on July 20, 2009. The autopsy reported his death “is best attributed to the combined toxic effects of the four sedating drugs detected in his blood with associated early pneumonia.” Elavil, Neurontin and Vicodin were being prescribed by his workers’ comp physician, while Xanax and Ambien were prescribed by his personal doctor. Of that list, the four sedating drugs are Elavil, Vicodin, Xanax and Ambien — obviously a mixture of workers’ comp and “personal” drugs.

The qualified medical evaluator (QME) doctor ascribed the overdose to the additive effect of Xanax and Ambien and not the workers’ comp drugs. However, he allowed that Elavil and Vicodin could have contributed (the deposition quotes on pages three and four remind me of a Monty Python skit, as he tried inartfully to not provide apportionment). So … what is the strength of causality between the industrial injury and death? Tort is much more precise in its understanding — cause, in fact, and proximate cause. Workers’ comp (which is no-fault) is not tort, and neither is its definition of causality — contributing cause of the injury.

Did Clark misuse or overuse the drugs through willful misconduct? Possibly. Should one of his physicians have recognized the additive sedative effects from the combination of drugs and done something different? Probably. Was Clark trying to address continued legitimate pain that originated with his workplace injury? Likely. Is this a tragedy? Definitely.

So the decision came down to whether the workers’ comp drugs (Elavil and Vicodin) could have been part of why Clark died.

The Court of Appeal concluded that Elavil only “played a role” and was not a “significant” or “material factor.” The Supreme Court found the evidence to be substantial that Elavil and Vicodin, to some degree, contributed to his death. Therefore, they awarded death benefits to Clark’s wife and three children.

What does this mean? At least in California, it means that the bar of establishing causality (did workers’ comp drugs somehow contribute) is not as high as you might have expected. There is no further debate because this is a Supreme Court decision. Does that mean more death benefits are to come in California? In a highly litigious state where representation is commonplace. And prescription drug use for chronic pain is an overwhelming problem. Hmmm …. My “magic eight ball” is in for maintenance, but my educated guess (I am not an attorney) would be yes.

What about other states? Well, every state has different rules and case history, but because trends often start in California, and the Supreme Court was articulate in its decision-making process, it’s possible this causes a re-examination by all parties. The fact that some states already have established case law to grant death benefits could be a compounding effect. Therefore, it’s a definite maybe.

This may be an isolated case that has no repercussions in California or elsewhere. On the other hand … Consider this your RED FLAG warning for the riptide that precedes the tsunami. And you thought paying for drugs was expensive!

When Nature Calls: the Need for New Models

The Earth is a living, breathing planet, rife with hazards that often hit without warning. Tropical cyclones, extra-tropical cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados and ice storms: Severe elements are part of the planet’s progression. Fortunately, the vast majority of these events are not what we would categorize as “catastrophic.” However, when nature does call, these events can be incredibly destructive.

To help put things into perspective: Nearly 70% (and growing) of the entire world’s population currently lives within 100 miles of a coastline. When a tropical cyclone makes landfall, it’s likely to affect millions of people at one time and cause billions of dollars of damage. Though the physical impact of windstorms or earthquakes is regional, the risk associated with those types of events, including the economic aftermath, is not. Often, the economic repercussions are felt globally, both in the public and private sectors. We need only look back to Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy and the recent tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia to see what toll a single catastrophe can have on populations, economies and politics.

However, because actual catastrophes are so rare, property insurers are left incredibly under-informed when attempting to underwrite coverage and are vulnerable to catastrophic loss.

Currently, insurers’ standard actuarial practices are unhelpful and often dangerous because, with so little historical data, the likelihood of underpricing dramatically increases. If underwriting teams do not have the tools to know where large events will occur, how often they will occur or how severe they will be when they do occur, then risk management teams must blindly cap their exposure. Insurers lacking the proper tools can’t possibly fully understand the implications of thousands of claims from a single event. Risk management must place arbitrary capacity limits on geographic exposures, resulting in unavoidable misallocation of capital.

However, insurers’ perceived success from these arbitrary risk management practices, combined with a fortunate pause in catastrophes lasting multiple decades created a perfect storm of profit, which lulled insurers into a false sense of security. It allowed them to grow to a point where they felt invulnerable to any large event that may come their way. They had been “successful” for decades. They’re obviously doing something right, they thought. What could possibly go wrong?

Fast forward to late August 1992. The first of two pivotal events that forced a change in the attitude of insurers toward catastrophes was brewing in the Atlantic. Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 event, with top wind speeds of 175 mph, would slam into southern Florida and cause, by far, the largest loss to date in the insurance industry’s history, totaling $15 billion in insured losses. As a result, 11 consistently stable insurers became insolvent. Those still standing either quickly left the state or started drastically reducing their exposures.

The second influential event was the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, CA. That event occurred on a fault system that was previously unknown, and, even though it measured only a 6.7 magnitude, it generated incredibly powerful ground motion, collapsing highways and leveling buildings. Northridge, like Andrew, also created approximately $15 billion in insured losses and caused insurers that feared additional losses to flee the California market altogether.

Andrew and Northridge were game changers. Across the country, insurers’ capacity became severely reduced for both wind and earthquake perils as a result of those events. Where capacity was in particularly short supply, substantial rate increases were sought. Insurers rethought their strategies and, in all aspects, looked to reduce their catastrophic exposure. In both California and Florida, quasi-state entities were formed to replace the capacity from which the private market was withdrawing. To this day, Citizens Property Insurance in Florida and the California Earthquake Authority, so-called insurers of last resort, both control substantial market shares in their respective states. For many property owners exposed to severe winds or earthquakes, obtaining adequate coverage simply isn’t within financial reach, even 20 years removed from those two seminal events.

How was it possible that insurers could be so exposed? Didn’t they see the obvious possibility that southern Florida could have a large hurricane or that the Los Angeles area was prone to earthquakes?

What seems so obvious now was not so obvious then, because of a lack of data and understanding of the risks. Insurers were writing coverage for wind and earthquake hazards before they even understood the physics of those types of events. In hindsight, we recognize that the strategy was as imprudent as picking numbers from a hat.

What insurers need is data, data about the likelihood of where catastrophic events will occur, how often they will likely occur and what the impact will be when they do occur. The industry at that time simply didn’t have the ability to leverage data or experience that was so desperately needed to reasonably quantify their exposures and help them manage catastrophic risk.

Ironically, well before Andrew and Northridge, right under property insurers’ noses, two innovative people on opposite sides of the U.S. had come to the same conclusion and had already begun answering the following questions:

  • Could we use computers to simulate millions of scientifically plausible catastrophic events against a portfolio of properties?
  • Would the output of that kind of simulation be adequate for property insurers to manage their businesses more accurately?
  • Could this data be incorporated into all their key insurance operations – underwriting, claims, marketing, finance and actuarial – to make better decisions?

What emerged from that series of questions would come to revolutionize the insurance industry.

The Traps Hiding in Catastrophe Models

Catastrophe models from third-party vendors have established themselves as essential tools in the armory of risk managers and other practitioners wanting to understand insurance risk relating to natural catastrophes. This is a welcome trend. Catastrophe models are perhaps the best way of understanding the risks posed by natural perils—they use a huge amount of information to link extreme or systemic external  events to an economic loss and, in turn, to an insured (or reinsured) loss. But no model is perfect, and a certain kind of overreliance on the output from catastrophe models can have egregious effects.

This article provides a brief overview of the kinds of traps and pitfalls associated with catastrophe modeling. We expect that this list is already familiar to most catastrophe modelers. It is by no means intended to be exhaustive. The pitfalls could be categorized in many different ways, but this list might trigger internal lines of inquiry that lead to improved risk processes. In the brave new world of enterprise risk management, and ever-increasing scrutiny from stakeholders, that can only be a good thing.

1. Understand what the model is modeling…and what it is not modeling!

This is probably not a surprising “No. 1” issue. In recent years, the number and variety of loss-generating natural catastrophes around the world has reminded companies and their risk committees that catastrophe models do not, and probably never will, capture the entire universe of natural perils; far from it. This is no criticism of modeling companies, simply a statement of fact that needs to remain at the front of every risk-taker’s mind.

The usual suspects—such as U.S. wind, European wind and Japanese earthquake—are “bread and butter” peril/territory combinations. However, other combinations are either modeled to a far more limited extent, or not at all. European flood models, for example, remain limited in territorial scope (although certain imminent releases from third-party vendors may well rectify this). Tsunami risk, too, may not be modeled even though it tends to go hand-in-hand with earthquake risk (as evidenced by the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan).

Underwriters often refer to natural peril “hot” and “cold” spots, where a hot spot means a type of natural catastrophe that is particularly severe in terms of insurance loss and is (relatively) frequent. This focus of modeling companies on the hot spots is right and proper but means that cold spots are potentially somewhat overlooked. Indeed, the worldwide experience in 2011 and 2012 (including, among other events, a Thailand flood, an Australian flood and a New Zealand earthquake) reminded companies that so-called cold spots are very capable of aggregating up to some significant levels of insured loss. The severity of the recurrent earthquakes in Christchurch, and associated insurance losses, demonstrates the uncertainty and subjectivity associated with the cold spot/ hot spot distinction.

There are all sorts of alternative ways of managing the natural focus of catastrophe models on hot spots (exclusions, named perils within policy wordings, maximum total exposure, etc.) but so-called cold spots do need to remain on insurance companies’ risk radars, and insurers also need to remain aware of the possibility, and possible impact, of other, non-modeled risks.

2. Remember that the model is only a fuzzy version of the truth.

It is human nature to take the path of least resistance; that is, to rely on model output and assume that the model is getting you pretty close to the right answer. After all, we have the best people and modelers in the business! But even were that to be true, there can be a kind of vicious circle in which model output is treated with most suspicion by the modeler, with rather less concern by the next layer of management and so on, until summarized output reaches the board and is deemed absolute truth.

We are all very aware that data is never complete, and there can be surprising variations of data completeness across territories. For example, there may not be a defined post or zip code system for identifying locations, or original insured values may not be captured within the data. The building codes assigned to a particular risk may also be quite subjective, and there can be a number of “heroic” assumptions made during the modeling process in classifying and preparing the modeling data set. At the very least, these assumptions should be articulated and challenged. There can also be a “key person” risk, where data preparation has traditionally resided with one critical data processor, or a small team.  If knowledge is not shared, then there is clear vulnerability to that person or team leaving. But there is also a risk of undue and unquestioning reliance being placed upon that individual or team, reliance that might be due more to their unique position than to any proven expertise.

What kind of model has been run? A detailed, risk-by-risk model or an aggregate model? Certain people in the decision-making chain may not even understand that this could be an issue and simply consider that “a model is a model.”

It is worth highlighting how this fuzzy version of the truth has emerged both retrospectively and prospectively. Retrospectively, actual loss levels have on occasion far exceeded modeled loss levels: the breaching of the levies protecting New Orleans, for example, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Prospectively, new releases or revisions of catastrophe models have caused modeled results to move, sometimes materially, even when there is no change to the actual underlying insurance portfolio.

3. Employ additional risk monitoring tools beyond the catastrophe model(s). 

Catastrophe models are a great tool, but it is dangerous to rely on them as the only source of risk management information, even when an insurer has access to more than one proprietary modelling package.

Other risk management tools and techniques available include:

  • Monitoring total sum insured (TSI) by peril and territory
  • Stress and scenario testing
  • Simple internal validation models
  • Experience analysis

Stress and scenario testing, in particular, can be very instructive because a scenario yields intuitive and understandable insight into how a given portfolio might respond to a specific event (or small group of events). It enjoys, therefore, a natural complementarity with the hundreds of thousands of events underlying a catastrophe model. Furthermore, it is possible to construct scenarios to investigate areas where the catastrophe model may be especially weak, such as consideration of cross-class clash risk.

Experience analysis might, at first glance, appear to be an inferior tool for assessing catastrophe loss. Indeed, at the most extreme end of the scale, it will normally provide only limited insight. But catastrophe models are themselves built and given parameters from historical data and historical events. This means that a quick assessment of how a portfolio has performed against the usual suspects, such as, for U.S. exposures, hurricanes Ivan (2004), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Wilma (2005), Ike (2008) and Sandy (2012), can provide some very interesting independent views on the shape of the modeled distribution. In this regard, it is essential to tap into the underwriting expertise and qualitative insight that the property underwriters can bring to risk assessment.

4. Communicate the modeling uncertainty.

In light of the inherent uncertainties that exist around modeled risk, it is always worth discussing how to load explicitly for model and parameter risk when reporting return-period exposures, and their movements, to senior management. Pointing out the need for model risk buffers, and highlighting that they are material, can trigger helpful discussions in the relevant decision-making forums. Indeed, finding the most effective way of communicating the weaknesses of catastrophe modeling, without losing the headline messages in the detail and complexity of the modeling steps, and without senior management dismissing the models as too flawed to be of any use, is sometimes as important for the business as the original modeling process.

The decisions that emerge from these internal debates should ultimately protect the risk carrier from surprise or outsize losses. When they happen, such surprises have a tendency to cause rapid loss of credibility from outside analysts, rating agencies or capital providers.