DANA POINT, Calif. — The theme for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America's 2012 annual meeting, “Risk and Resilience: What Lies Ahead for the Nation and the Property Casualty Industry,” resounds on many levels, PCI President David Sampson said.
At a basic level, “insurance is an industry about identifying risk, pricing risk, helping consumers mitigate their risk,” Mr. Sampson said in an interview.
And the nation and the insurance industry face myriad risks. Those cited by Mr. Sampson include the effects of the financial regulatory overhaul, the lack of a federal deficit-reduction strategy, the threat of harmful regulation and continuing low return on investments. Behind those is a fear of future inflation, he said.
Citing the theme of this year's meeting, Donald Southwell, chairman of PCI and chairman, president and CEO of Kemper Corp. in Chicago, said “The November elections represent a turning point in American history and offer two distinct visions of our nation's future.
“Regardless of the outcome, insurers must be prepared to operate within a challenging political environment in the coming years, while also facing the continued threat from severe weather and increased layers of regulation at the state, federal, and international levels,” he said.
Mr. Sampson called risk “a dominant reality in life here in the early second decade of the 21st century.” He said political risk “unfortunately” has now become a reality in the United States. This marks a change from years past, he said. Back then, “when someone talked about political risk, they were talking about emerging third-world countries or authoritarian and totalitarian countries.”
Now, Mr. Sampson said, “Political risk is a dominant reality that business leaders have to access in terms of their business strategies and business plans right here in the United States.” As an example, he cited the impact of the “complete overhaul of the financial regulatory structure” over the past couple of years. The overhaul, stemming in part from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, has “fundamentally changed” business models for some sectors of the financial services industry, he said.
Another challenge facing the property/casualty insurance industry is government gridlock and the fact that the United States had its credit rating downgraded last year. Those challenges, combined with the inability to reach a path forward on deficit-reduction strategies and other issues all have effects on businesses, Mr. Sampson said.
He also said the way the federal government handled the bankruptcies of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Corp. has fundamentally upended 150 years of bankruptcy law in the United States.
As if those challenges were not enough, the country and the insurance industry also face the potential impact of a fiscal cliff if lawmakers can't agree on a way to avoid simultaneous massive tax hikes and spending cuts, he said.
Of course, the operational risks that insurance companies face every day in terms of making sure their underwriting criteria still exist, and those criteria are not undermined by regulation or legislation, Mr. Sampson said. That comes on top of catastrophe risk, he added.
“All of these risks are palpable today,” said Mr. Sampson.
In addition, “everyone is concerned about the investment environment” and its disappointing return on investments, he said. That concern affects business operations, and “there's a lot of concern about the inflationary environment” in the future, he said.
“CEOs are very concerned about future inflation.”