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Insurers see big losses from Ian, but scope still unclear


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Two weeks after Hurricane Ian struck, insurers are assessing how the storm will affect their own books of business and the wider market but expect property rates and possibly rates in other lines to increase more sharply at upcoming renewals.

Property insurance costs, which were already expected to rise before the category 4 hurricane hit Florida’s gulf coast on Sept. 28, will be driven up by rising reinsurance costs among other things, but it remains unclear which areas of the market will be most affected by the deadly storm, said insurers and brokers meeting at the Insurance Leadership Forum in Colorado Springs this week.

The conference, organized annually by the Washington-based Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, is a key market meeting and draws top executives from insurers, brokers, reinsurers and other industry companies.

While executives said Hurricane Ian losses — which several modelers peg at more than $50 billion and as high as $74 billion — will disrupt the market, the business lines that would be affected most were debated in private meetings at the conference at the Broadmoor Resort.

Ian, which included substantial levels of flooding due to significant storm surge, is expected to be a major loss for auto insurers and for marine insurers. Property insurers are also expecting big losses, but windstorm deductibles in Florida are high, often running into tens of thousands of dollars, which may limit insured losses for newer structures that were damaged by the storm but are not total losses, insurers and brokers say.

In addition, while there are expected to be significant commercial property claims, Ian’s path hit residential areas more strongly. And while, unlike many homeowners policies in Florida, commercial policies often include flood coverage, it is often sublimited, as are windstorm exposures.

“Speaking on behalf of our commercial book, we think it’s actually going to be a pretty manageable event,” said Jonathon Drummond, Chicago-based head of broking North America for Willis Towers Watson PLC.

But insurers that don’t face huge losses from the storm may see their reinsurance costs rise, he said.

“Every carrier is concerned about the downstream effect of this, meaning all the reinsurers and retrocessional reinsurers will be impacted,” Mr. Drummond said. 

Commercial properties were hit by the storm, but many of the losses from Ian will be covered by the National Flood Insurance Program or uninsured or not covered in the standard property/casualty market, said Paul Smith, Parsipanny, New Jersey-based senior vice president, carrier relations, at H.W. Kaufman Financial Group Inc.

“There's going to be an awful lot of auto physical damage losses, and there’s going to be an awful lot of marine losses associated with it as well,” Mr. Smith said.

Kevin Smith, Chicago-based president of global risk solutions, North America, at Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., said the storm will have a broad impact on the market.

“It was clearly a homeowners’ event, clearly an auto event, but I think there was enough widespread destruction that you're going to have some implications on the commercial side as well,” he said.

While insurers are still assessing their exposure to Ian, “it makes an already difficult Jan. 1 even more difficult,” said Mike Kerner, CEO of Munich Re Specialty Insurance, a Princeton, New Jersey-based unit of Munich Reinsurance Co.

Ian will clearly affect the insurance market in the Southeast, but whether it will have a severe effect on renewals elsewhere will depend on whether the storm just reduces insurers’ profits or whether they also take a hit to their capital, he said.

“If it's a capital event, you can expect there will be a knock-on impact to other lines of business. If it's just an earnings event, the industry has demonstrated over the last 10 years or so its ability to target pricing in terms and conditions changes where it's needed and not target areas where it's not needed,” Mr. Kerner said.

Reinsurers usually have broad coverage agreements with insurers, so higher reinsurance prices will likely affect insurance pricing beyond Florida, said Paul Lavelle, New York-based head of U.S. national accounts at Zurich North America.

“Even without Ian rates in property were probably going to go up, and this is just an event that can't be ignored,” he said.