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Underwriting changes could help restore commercial lines profitability

Fitch Ratings

NEW YORK — Changes in the way risks are perceived and underwritten could help restore commercial insurance lines like commercial auto to profitability for insurers, according to a panel discussion Tuesday at Fitch Ratings Inc.’s North American Insurance Conference.

Ever-rising jury awards, however, continue to vex it and other lines of business, panelists said.

The commercial auto sector has suffered eight years of underwriting losses as well as reserve deficiencies, noted James B. Auden, managing director, Fitch Ratings Inc., North American head of non-life insurance ratings based in Chicago.

“Broadly, it clearly has to do with tort inflation, which is impacting a lot of lines,” said Paul Newsome, managing director, equity research for Sandler O’Neill + Partners LP. 

Insurers’ rate increases in commercial auto “will continue chasing losses until they put in changes in the terms and conditions and figure out how to re-write” the segment, Mr. O’Neill said.

This may require a change in the way insurers view the risks in the segment, said Charles Sebaski, senior vice president, head of North American business intelligence for Guy Carpenter & Co. LLC in New York.

“Risk perception, the change in the perception of risk, does adjust the capital level,” he said. “The change in perception of risk changes the appetite for deployment of capital. A perception risk change changes the supply-demand dynamic of capital.”

The broader economy could also be responsible for some of the pressure on the segment, which could change along with any economic shifts.

“Some of the pressure that’s been on commercial auto over the past three to four years is probably economic driven,” including more miles driven and pressure to “keep truck rolling” in a robust economy, said Jeffrey A. Mohrenweiser, senior director of insurance-linked securities and insurance model officer for Fitch Ratings Inc. in Chicago.

“As we have economic pullback, coupled with technology and fleet management,” some of that pressure will abate, he said.

He added, however, “The social inflation has not worn itself out and award sizes continue to increase,” Mr. Mohrenweiser said.





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