2017 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Coastal Mortgage Value Collapse

As seas rise, so does the risk that buyers will become leery of taking on mortgages along our coasts. 
By: | April 7, 2017 • 7 min read

Rising seas encroach on our cities and towns at rates exponentially greater than before.

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So-called King Tides, urged on by climate change and brought about by the close alignment of the sun, the moon and the earth are already producing flooding in Miami 10 days a year.

Debate the cause if you want to expend more hot air denying science. But it’s a fact that resale values of coastal homes in Miami, Atlantic City and Norfolk, Va. are already starting to erode.

These bellwether locations signify a growing and alarming threat; that continually rising seas will damage coastal residential and commercial property values to the point that property owners will flee those markets in droves, thus precipitating a mortgage value collapse that could equal or exceed the mortgage crisis that rocked the global economy in 2008.

“Insurance deals with extreme weather and billions of dollars of losses, but what we are talking about is uninsured loss of fair market value that is trillions of dollars in losses and I am not talking about in 2100, I’m talking about the next mortgage cycle,” said Albert Slap, president of Coastal Risk Consulting, a Florida firm that provides lot by lot modeling of flood risk.

Models created by Coastal Risk Consulting show flooding rates of Miami properties are going to rise substantially between now and 2050, within that 30–year mortgage cycle he refers to.

Albert Slap, president, Coastal Risk Consulting

“The results of our modeling and that of NOAA and many others shows that the increase in flooding on people’s properties, due to astronomy and physics, not weather, is alarming and significant and in all likelihood is not backstopped by insurance,” Slap said.

Adding to the threat is that real estate agents and homeowners aren’t incentivized or required to reveal how frequently properties flood, or how exposed they are to flooding.

“Forty percent of Americans live on the coast, which means you have trillions of dollars at risk for climate change that hasn’t been modeled for default increases,” Slap said.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, as part of its testimony to Congress as the National Flood Insurance Program undergoes review, is asking that all homeowners be required to report on that risk.

Many coastal homes are backstopped by the NFIP, which is still billions in debt from its losses in the Katrina-Wilma-Rita hurricane cycle of 2005.

Private sector insurers are eyeing ways to write more flood business. But if the NFIP suffers further losses, and private sector insurers retreat, what then?

“If you look at it systematically, if a broad number of insurance companies decide that they need to triple homeowners insurance rates, or they need to pull out of a local market, that would create a lot of problems in terms of the value of the properties that are in that locale,” said Cynthia McHale, president of insurance for Ceres, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainable business practices.

In November, Sean Becketti, the chief economist for the economic and housing research group at Freddie Mac, the federally backed housing lender, co-authored a paper that documented this very risk.

The paper referenced the fact that daily high-water levels in Miami are increasing at a rate of an inch per year, much faster than the rate of global sea-level rise. Other cities along the Eastern seaboard are experiencing a 10-fold increase in the frequency of flooding, according to Freddie Mac.

“A large share of homeowners’ wealth is locked up in the equity in their homes,” Becketti wrote.

“If those homes become uninsurable and unmarketable, the values of the homes will plummet, perhaps to zero.”

“Forty percent of Americans live on the coast, which means you have trillions of dollars at risk for climate change that hasn’t been modeled for default increases.” —Albert Slap, president, Coastal Risk Consulting

In the housing crisis of 2008, according to Becketti, a significant percentage of borrowers continued to make their mortgage payments even though the value of their homes was less than their mortgages.

Cynthia McHale, president of insurance, Ceres

“It is less likely that borrowers will continue to make mortgage payments if their homes are literally underwater,” Becketti said.

“As a result, lenders, servicers and mortgage insurers are likely to suffer large losses,” he said.

Insurers would suffer, according to Ceres’ McHale, and not just as backers of insurance policies.

“Insurance companies themselves are major commercial and residential mortgage holders,” she said.

“They assume that the property is going to hold its value and act as collateral if needed. If it doesn’t hold its value, where is the collateral?”

“Not only will their mortgages be metaphorically underwater, they are going to be literally underwater,” said Slap.

“And there is no coming back from it.”

“The New York Times” published a piece in November that detailed the case of Roy and Carol Baker of Sarasota, Fla. The Bakers tried for months to sell their home in Siesta Key, according to the story, but buyers kept backing out when they discovered the annual flood insurance premium was about $7,000.

“This experience will become more common, economists say, as the federal government shifts away from subsidizing flood insurance rates to get premiums closer to reflecting the true market cost of the risk,” reporter Ian Urbina wrote in his piece.

The Climate Race

What Becketti, Slap and others say is true, said Helen Thompson, a director, commercial marketing at Esri, the mapping and analytics company that works with insurers and property owners.

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But she said there is a solution, the public and private sector working together to address the problem: That and about $4 trillion.

“The challenge for a lot of people is to understand the scope and the scale of this issue, and in some ways, like the mortgage bubble before, if you are ignorant of the problem, you can’t fix it,” she said.

“I think taking action means crafting a discussion of the problem and moderated expressions of what those solutions are, based on science and analysis and not hyperbole,” she said.

It’s well documented how dire the nation’s infrastructure needs are.

Thompson compares the current dilemma posed by climate change and sea rise in the U.S. and elsewhere to the cholera epidemic that ravaged London in the mid-19th century. What’s needed now, she said, is something akin to the massive public works projects that were undertaken to provide Londoners with cleaner drinking water.

“They realized the social and political cost of this,” Thompson said.

“We need to change our thinking to say this is not just about handing debt to our children, it’s about maintaining the same level of opportunity and quality of life for our children,” she said.

Thompson points to China, which she says is investing in climate change-resistant ports and additional infrastructure internationally to remain economically competitive.

“It’s in their best interests as a global manufacturing hub to mitigate the cost and the impact of climate change because of how much collateral damage it will do to their economies,” Thompson said.

Helen Thompson, director, commercial marketing, Esri

She said the U.S. needs to go down the same path, and step on it.

“I call it the ‘climate race,’ like the space race,” she said.

“The infrastructure needs to be created to deal with this, and the United States is massively lagging.”

Slap envisions another solution, a “climate ready” mortgage program, similar to the federal government’s energy efficient mortgage program, which gives property owners federally guaranteed loans to make energy efficiency upgrades.

Such a program would provide loans for sewage backflow preventers, changing the grade on a driveway, or elevating a home on a platform

Thompson said the massive infrastructure projects she envisions could include moving the vital container operations at the Port of Miami inland and constructing a berm to defend against sea water.

Office building owners in Lower Manhattan, which was so damaged by Superstorm Sandy, are increasingly investing in flood prevention barricades and moving critical building components like HVAC and plumbing components to higher floors.

Americans just got a chilling reminder of the dangers presented by changing weather patterns and crumbling infrastructure. Fears that the Oroville Dam on California’s Feather River would buckle under heavy rainfall got everyone’s attention.

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“People are looking at that and saying, ‘We didn’t realize what this change in weather patterns means in the long term,’ ” Thompson said, and they are relating the Oroville event to infrastructure in their own towns and the risks they present.

As the NFIP undergoes its annual review in Congress, Slap said administrators would do well to exclude King Tide events.

“If you were to go to NFIP and ask them if they cover King Tide flooding, they would say, ‘If it meets our definition of flood then we must cover it.’ This is a red flag, because what you are saying is the government and the taxpayers are covering sea level rise and that is not something we can afford,” Slap said. &

________________________________________________________________

2017 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Artificial Intelligence Ties Liability in Knots

The same technologies that drive business forward are upending the nature of loss exposures and presenting new coverage challenges.

 

 

Cyber Business Interruption

Attacks on internet infrastructure begin, leaving unknown risks for insureds and insurers alike.

 

 

U.S. Economic Nationalism

Nationalistic policies aim to boost American wealth and prosperity, but they may do long-term economic damage.

 

 

Foreign Economic Nationalism

Economic nationalism is upsetting the risk management landscape by presenting challenges in once stable environments.

 

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Property

Insurers Take to the Skies

This year’s hurricane season sees the use of drones and other aerial intelligence gathering systems as insurers seek to estimate claims costs.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 6 min read

For Southern communities, current recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey will recall the painful devastation of 2005, when Katrina and Wilma struck. But those who look skyward will notice one conspicuous difference this time around: drones.

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Much has changed since Katrina and Wilma, both economically and technologically. The insurance industry evolved as well. Drones and other visual intelligence systems (VIS) are set to play an increasing role in loss assessment, claims handling and underwriting.

Farmers Insurance, which announced in August it launched a fleet of drones to enhance weather-related property damage claim assessment, confirmed it deployed its fleet in the aftermath of Harvey.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now,” said George Mathew, CEO of Kespry, Farmers’ drone and aerial intelligence platform provider partner.

“The current wind and hail damage season that we are entering is when many of the insurance carriers are switching from proof of concept work to full production rollout.”

 According to Mathew, Farmers’ fleet focused on wind damage in and around Corpus Christi, Texas, at the time of this writing. “Additional work is already underway in the greater Houston area and will expand in the coming weeks and months,” he added.

No doubt other carriers have fleets in the air. AIG, for example, occupied the forefront of VIS since winning its drone operation license in 2015. It deployed drones to inspections sites in the U.S. and abroad, including stadiums, hotels, office buildings, private homes, construction sites and energy plants.

Claims Response

At present, insurers are primarily using VIS for CAT loss assessment. After a catastrophe, access is often prohibited or impossible. Drones allow access for assessing damage over potentially vast areas in a more cost-effective and time-sensitive manner than sending human inspectors with clipboards and cameras.

“Drones improve risk analysis by providing a more efficient alternative to capturing aerial photos from a sky-view. They allow insurers to rapidly assess the scope of damages and provide access that may not otherwise be available,” explained Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy at JLT Specialty USA.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now.” — George Mathew, CEO, Kespry

“In our experience, competitive advantage is gained mostly by claims departments and third-party administrators. Having the capability to provide exact measurements and details from photos taken by drones allows insurers to expedite the claim processing time,” he added.

Indeed, as tech becomes more disruptive, insurers will increasingly seek to take advantage of VIS technologies to help them provide faster, more accurate and more efficient insurance solutions.

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader, Marsh

One way Farmers is differentiating its drone program is by employing its own FAA-licensed drone operators, who are also Farmers-trained claim representatives.

Keith Daly, E.V.P. and chief claims officer for Farmers Insurance, said when launching the program that this sets Farmers apart from most carriers, who typically engage third-party drone pilots to conduct evaluations.

“In the end, it’s all about the experience for the policyholder who has their claim adjudicated in the most expeditious manner possible,” said Mathew.

“The technology should simply work and just melt away into the background. That’s why we don’t just focus on building an industrial-grade drone, but a complete aerial intelligence platform for — in this case — claims management.”

Insurance Applications

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader at Marsh, believes that, while currently employed primarily to assess catastrophic damage, VIS will increasingly be employed to inspect standard property damage claims.

However, he admitted that at this stage they are better at identifying binary factors such as the area affected by a peril rather than complex assessments, since VIS cannot look inside structures nor assess their structural integrity.

“If a chemical plant suffers an explosion, it might be difficult to say whether the plant is fully or partially out of operation, for example, which would affect a business interruption claim dramatically.

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“But for simpler assessments, such as identifying how many houses or industrial units have been destroyed by a tornado, or how many rental cars in a lot have suffered hail damage from a storm, a VIS drone could do this easily, and the insurer can calculate its estimated losses from there,” he said.

In addition,VIS possess powerful applications for pre-loss risk assessment and underwriting. The high-end drones used by insurers can capture not just visual images, but mapping heat, moisture or 3D topography, among other variables.

This has clear applications in the assessment and completion of claims, but also in potentially mitigating risk before an event happens, and pricing insurance accordingly.

“VIS and drones will play an increasing underwriting support role as they can help underwriters get a better idea of the risk — a picture tells a thousand words and is so much better than a report,” said Ellis.

VIS images allow underwriters to see risks in real time, and to visually spot risk factors that could get overlooked using traditional checks or even mature visual technologies like satellites. For example, VIS could map thermal hotspots that could signal danger or poor maintenance at a chemical plant.

Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy, JLT Specialty USA

“Risk and underwriting are very natural adjacencies, especially when high risk/high value policies are being underwritten,” said Mathew.

“We are in a transformational moment in insurance where claims processing, risk management and underwriting can be reimagined with entirely new sources of data. The drone just happens to be one of most compelling of those sources.”

Ellis added that drones also could be employed to monitor supplies in the marine, agriculture or oil sectors, for example, to ensure shipments, inventories and supply chains are running uninterrupted.

“However, we’re still mainly seeing insurers using VIS drones for loss assessment and estimates, and it’s not even clear how extensively they are using drones for that purpose at this point,” he noted.

“Insurers are experimenting with this technology, but given that some of the laws around drone use are still developing and restrictions are often placed on using drones [after] a CAT event, the extent to which VIS is being used is not made overly public.”

Drone inspections could raise liability risks of their own, particularly if undertaken in busy spaces in which they could cause human injury.

Privacy issues also are a potential stumbling block, so insurers are dipping their toes into the water carefully.

Risk Improvement

There is no doubt, however, that VIS use will increase among insurers.

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“Although our clients do not have tremendous experience utilizing drones, this technology is beneficial in many ways, from providing security monitoring of their perimeter to loss control inspections of areas that would otherwise require more costly inspections using heavy equipment or climbers,” said Luck.

In other words, drones could help insurance buyers spot weaknesses, mitigate risk and ultimately win more favorable coverage from their insurers.

“Some risks will see pricing and coverage improvements because the information and data provided by drones will put underwriters at ease and reduce uncertainty,” said Ellis.

The flip-side, he noted, is that there will be fewer places to hide for companies with poor risk management that may have been benefiting from underwriters not being able to access the full picture.

Either way, drones will increasingly help insurers differentiate good risks from bad. In time, they may also help insurance buyers differentiate between carriers, too. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]