The insurance industry is well known for its cyclical nature of “soft” and “hard” markets. Anyone in the industry, including brokers and insurers are very familiar with the “soft” and “hard” market terminology and the very different business environments they create. They experience “firsthand” the daily impact of these market cycles on all their lines of business and service offerings. In contrast, few people outside the industry are familiar with these terms, although most individuals as well as commercial and public entities are long-time consumers of many insurance services and are financially impacted by these insurance market cycles. It is therefore important to have a clear understanding of these concepts and how it impacts individuals or business entities, so they can better navigate through the challenging times of a “hard market”, minimizing its financial impact.
Soft Market versus Hard Market
Insurance markets are impacted by national and international financial conditions, and other global events. These include the general state of the economy, interest rates, stock market performance, natural catastrophic events, conflicts between countries, terrorists’ events, evolving cyber risks, and claim activity resulting from these events.
More precisely, a “soft market” is usually a result of:
- Stable, positive economic conditions;
- High interest rates;
- Less property claims activity;
- Insurers having the adequate capital to insure.
Stable economic conditions, translates into more potential clients for insurers, since most businesses, and individuals are doing well and have the financial ability to pay for appropriate insurance coverages. When interest rates are high, the insurers’ investments are also doing well. Lastly, if claim activity is as expected or lower, and the average claim costs are lower, this also has a positive impact on their financial position. Simply put, the culmination of these factors, results in insurers being well capitalized, giving them the capacity to underwrite a larger amount of insurance throughout most of their business lines. This also means there is greater competition among insurers for business, translating into lower premiums rates and more favourable terms for the insureds.
In contrast, a “hard market” is typically a result of:
- Unstable economic conditions;
- Low interest rates;
- Catastrophic events and high property claims;
- Negative global events (i.e., climate change, pandemics, trade wars, civil unrest, etc.).
During poor economic times, businesses and individuals are not doing as well, diminishing their ability to pay for various insurance coverages. Lower interest rates also mean insurers are making less money on investments. This unfavourable financial performance is compounded if they are experiencing high property claims, especially if the average claim amounts are larger than expected. These negative factors result in the insurers having a lower capacity to underwrite insurance in most of their business lines. Since they do not want to take on any high-risk coverages during these times, they become very selective on what risks they insure, charge higher rates, and impose much stricter terms and reduced coverages. They are also much less inclined to negotiate the terms of the policy.
The Current Hard Market and How We Got Here
The state of the insurance market had been “soft” for 15 years, until Q3 of 2020. We then had a convergence of events and factors that rapidly changed the landscape of the insurance market. There has been an increase in the severity of losses, further evidence of accelerated climate change and the impact of Covid on the global economy. Because of these events and the resulting costly claims, we are now well entrenched in a “hard insurance” market, with insurers having little appetite to take on risky policies. North American commercial insurance prices are experiencing significant premium increases for most lines of business.
What Can Businesses do to Mitigate the Impact of a Hard Insurance Market
There are several things that businesses can do to lessen the financial impact of placing insurance, in a hard market:
- Review your Policy
Consult with your broker(s) to review and understand coverages. Property inclusions and exclusions should be carefully considered, along with the premises of the insured values. Redundancies should be eliminated, and any inadvertent property omissions added to the policy.
- Implement Best Risk Management Practices
Implementation of a comprehensive risk management policy is a prudent step in decreasing the chance of a loss. This will also put a business or public entity in a much better position to be viewed as a “better risk” by insurers, making it easier to place a policy at better premium rates and more flexible terms. Two components of a sound risk management strategy include having your property appraised by a qualified appraiser and developing and implementing a loss control program that can include risk inspections with recommendations and follow-up (to ensure recommendations are being executed).
- Assist your Broker(s) in Making a Better Submission
Currently, insurers are being inundated with submissions from potential clients having a difficult time placing a policy. Naturally, underwriters will select submissions that have the most complete information and tell a positive story about the client seeking coverages. It is important these submissions from the brokers highlight the risk-mitigating practices that have been adopted by their client and the positive loss history that has ensued. A current insurance appraisal and loss control report will significantly augment the submission and assist in differentiating the client from others in their industry.
- Practice More Frequent and Better Communication with your Broker
The renewal frequency may be annual; however, property and economic changes are always ongoing. So, it is useful to have periodic communication with your broker(s), especially when circumstances have significantly changed since the renewal date. These changes need to be communicated so the broker(s) and insurers have up to date information. For clients that had insurance appraisals completed, property changes are best captured in an insurance appraisal update, that can be provided to your brokers.
Why are Insurance Appraisals and Loss Control Reporting of Property Viewed so Favourably by Underwriters?
We have discussed the importance of providing brokers and insurers current insurance appraisals and loss control reports. Why are these reports (appraisal and loss control) viewed as a very important part of the submission? As a background, post-loss analysis of recent years indicates that over 60% of commercial businesses’ property are under-insured. An accurate insurance appraisal and loss control reporting completed by qualified/experienced personnel, will eliminate this risk of under-insurance, and assist to mitigate a loss before it happens. To understand the benefits to insurers, it is helpful to look at the appraisal and loss control process and the information provided within the reports. As part of the appraisal process, the property is inspected, photos are taken, and principal assets are detailed in the appraisal report, providing underwriters granular documentation of the insured property. For loss control reporting, the property is also inspected for hazards and risks that pose potential losses. Once these are identified, recommendations are made to reduce the risks, keeping with applicable standards (ex. National Fire Protection Association. This level of detail is very helpful in quantifying not only a total loss, but also a partial loss. Combining appraisal and loss control service such as Construction, Occupancy, Property Exposure (COPE) reporting can be very useful to brokers and insurers for insurance placement, however, can also be very beneficial in the unfortunate scenario of a loss.
Finding the Right Firm for your Insurance Appraisal and Loss Control Needs
As a commercial business or a public entity in this “hard market” you should discuss with your broker(s) and jointly decide whether a current insurance appraisal and or loss control reporting for your property will be useful to assist with placement of the policy with potential underwriters. If you decide to proceed with these services, how do you go about selecting a service provider that is best for your needs? Many initial considerations must be made, including the type of property to be insured and the skill sets that will be required. Specific industries such as power generation, forestry, mining, high-tech manufacturing, metal working facilities, food, and beverages, require intimate knowledge of the assets of these industries to complete an accurate appraisal and/or perform loss control inspection and reporting.
A good place to start your service provider selection process is to consult with your broker. Since they have many clients, it is likely they are very familiar with appraisal and loss control firms that perform services similar to your requirements. Secondly, contacts in companies that are engaged in similar services to your business may be able to provide referrals to reputable appraisal and loss control firms. Once you identify the firm(s) that may be able to assist, you should make the following assessment:
- Does the firm have a good market reputation? Can they provide a list of previous clients served in your industry, including recent references?
- Does the firm carry Errors and Omissions insurance for the clients’ additional protection?
- Does the firm have appropriate credentials in cost estimating and/or loss control, providing assurance of the technical knowledge required to complete the service accurately. For example, relevant accreditations include Accredited Senior Appraiser (“ASA”) designation from the American Society of Appraisers; Accredited Appraiser Canadian institute (“AACI”) from the Appraisal Institute of Canada; Canadian Certified Playground Inspector (“CCPI”) from the Canadian Playground Safety Institute; Associate in Risk Management (“ARM”) from the Risk Management Society.
- Who would be the personnel assigned to the project? Do they have the relevant educational background and technical skill sets in appraising or completing loss control inspections for the buildings and machinery and equipment?
- Will the appraisal include a site inspection, and documentation of the insurable assets to enable a current cost estimate, versus relying on indexing of historical costs from property records?
- Will the loss control report include a site inspection, documentation of observed risks and hazards with appropriate recommendations to mitigate loss?
- What type of report(s) will be provided? (It is not unreasonable to request a sample report of the deliverables and share it with your broker to ensure it meets their requirements).
Insurance appraisals and loss control reporting are always a key component of an entity’s risk management strategy. This is especially so in this current hard market, as insurers are much more selective as to which properties they underwrite. Further, with the current higher insurance rates, reporting of overstated values will translate into even larger premium overpayments. An accurate insurance appraisal and loss control report completed by an accredited, experienced, reputable firm, is your best option to assist with placement of insurance in this hard market.