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When Disaster Strikes, Parametrics Speed Recovery

Parametric insurance is a critical tool to have in the event of a natural catastrophe.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 6 min read

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When natural catastrophes bring communities to a standstill, they need to start rebuilding and recovering fast to return life to normal. But only 30 percent of the total costs of natural disasters around the globe are insured. Who pays for the other 70 percent?

Overwhelmingly, the burden is borne by governments, who pass along the expense to their citizens by raising taxes, reallocating other budgetary items to repair and recovery efforts, or posting debt post-event.

“We argue that these are really inefficient ways to pay for things that we know are going to happen,” said Alex Kaplan, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships at Swiss Re.

Alex Kaplan

Alex Kaplan, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships, Swiss Re

Even when insurance does kick in after a catastrophe, it takes time to assess the damage, value the loss, process the claim and deliver payments. That’s time that communities don’t have when they’re rebuilding.

Coverage gaps present another obstacle. There will inevitably be losses not covered by traditional insurance, and not reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Overtime pay for emergency personnel, for example, is not an insured loss. Nor is the intangible loss of tax revenue that can plague a city for years after natural disaster forces residents out.

“Look at New Orleans. Eleven years after Katrina, they’re still at 85 percent of their pre-Katrina population. That’s not just a loss of individuals and culture; it’s a loss of the tax base. It translates into lesser sales tax, lesser property tax, and lesser lodging taxes. All of a sudden, all of the things the city was attempting to do in its long-term planning can’t happen the way they were designed to,” Kaplan said.

The public sector is also challenged by a lack of liquidity. Governments don’t have cash on hand to spare to fill in these gaps. To rebuild quickly and efficiently, they need payments fast.

“If we can create a mechanism that not only compensates governments for economic loss, but does it exceptionally fast – very differently from how insurance typically operates —it can be incredibly valuable for recovery,” Kaplan said.

Enter parametric insurance.

The Power of Parametric

“Parametric or index-based insurance means that the policy is built around and triggered by characteristics of an event, rather than characteristics of a loss,” said Megan Linkin, Ph.D., CCM, Natural Hazards Expert and Vice President, Global Partnerships, Swiss Re.

Data from third party sources, like the National Hurricane Center or U.S. Geological Survey, would determine what those characteristics are. If a hurricane or an earthquake meets those thresholds for severity, payout from the policy begins automatically.

“One major benefit is that, because you’re relying on third party data and event criteria, the whole claims settlement process can be avoided. No one has to evaluate your losses to initiate payment,” Linkin said.

“That’s the novelty of it — to have this massive event and not have to send in an army of claims adjusters. If the trigger is met, the money flows,” Kaplan said.

Because parametric coverage is event-dependent, its structure is flexible. In order to fit parametric insurance into their budget, insureds can adjust the triggering criteria in the policy, deciding for themselves the level of intensity that will trigger a payout.

Insureds must still provide a proof of loss as a result of a triggering loss. Designating an event as the policy trigger allows payments to begin immediately, but a threshold loss, as determined on a contract-by-contract basis, remains a criterion of the policy.

Parametric coverage can be a lifesaver for communities vulnerable to severe storms and earthquakes that perhaps lack the resources to purchase high limits of traditional insurance.

The CCRIF SPC— an insurance pool comprising several Caribbean countries (formerly the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk and Insurance Facility) — is one mechanism through which those governments can purchase parametric earthquake and hurricane policies collectively. CCRIF has been critical in helping those nations recover from devastating hurricanes and earthquakes.

After an earthquake rocked Haiti in January, 2010, payments from a parametric earthquake policy purchased through CCRIF made up 50 percent of every dollar the government received within the first 10 weeks. Hurricane Matthew provides another recent example.

“Matthew triggered parametric coverage placed through CCRIF, and the facility is in the process of making a $20 million payment to the government of Haiti as a result,” Kaplan said. “Haiti will receive assistance from every corner of the globe to help them recover, and that might come in the form of tents, blankets, water and housing units. But sometimes what you really need is the flexibility of cash, because you don’t always know what you’ll need.”

Coverage for Corporations

SwissRe_SponsoredContentParametric insurance also holds benefits for private corporations as a backstop against gaps in traditional insurance or unforeseen losses.

As the economy becomes more globalized, supply chains become more far-flung and complex. If an earthquake knocks out a supplier in Japan, for example, a quake-centered parametric policy could act as a form of contingent business interruption when traditional insurance limits are maxed.

The 2011 Thailand floods affected a number of suppliers for Japanese car companies and U.S.-based technology companies like Apple. These corporations may not be able to take out insurance policies on the manufacturing facilities they rely on overseas, but a parametric policy that responds to natural disasters that disrupt those facilities could protect them from business interruption exposure.

“You may have a lot of holes in traditional policies, a lot of exclusions or sub-limits, and some losses that you just can’t foresee,” Kaplan said. “The parametric structure effectively acts as a safety net to catch those losses that fall through.”

Parametric policies can be built around a variety of natural events, from earthquake and hurricane to heavy rainfall and flooding. Swiss Re’s Index-Based Named Windstorm Insurance (STORM), as its name suggests, centers on locations exposed to high wind speeds.

Each STORM contract is customized to the needs of the buyer. Rather than offering an “off the shelf” product based on a wind measurement from a single point, Swiss Re’s experts assess the client’s exposure at the geographical expanse of the hurricane’s wind field. This allows a more granular view of their exposure. Clients can then carve out their highest risk element and move them to a parametric policy with coverage tailored to that exposure.

“We have the ability at a very granular level to determine the wind speed at a given location, whether it’s one location or a thousand. We can then assess what kind of damage can be anticipated on the ground. The index, based on aggregated exposed asset values in target zip codes, can be calculated in less than 10 days, and the payout met in about the same amount of time,” Kaplan said.

Parametric products can complement traditional insurance policies to provide additional limits when they’re needed most. After a natural catastrophe, both public and private entities need funds fast, and they may not be able to rely on their property and business interruption policies — or government assistance — to cover all the losses.

Parametrics at a Glance

  1. Parametric insurance is triggered by an event that meets certain conditions — not by a loss.
  2. After a natural disaster, parametric policies fill the gap between insured losses and FEMA reimbursement.
  3. Corporations can also purchase parametric policies as a backstop to fill coverage gaps.
  4. After a triggering event, payouts are automatic and insureds can use the funds however best suits their needs.

To learn more about Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, visit http://www.swissre.com/corporate_solutions/solutions/parametric_products/.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Swiss Re Corporate Solutions offers innovative, high-quality insurance capacity to mid-sized and large multinational corporations and public entities across the globe.

More from Risk & Insurance

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Catastrophe Risk

Material Resiliency

New materials, methods and ideas are empowering property owners to rein in their catastrophe risks.
By: | October 12, 2017 • 11 min read

The 2017 hurricane season is one for the record books. Rebuilding efforts are underway, with builders working to make insureds whole again as soon as possible … at least until the next storm comes along.

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And therein lies the problem with recovery in disaster-prone regions. It evokes the oft-quoted definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

So what if we did it differently? What if instead of rebuilding to make structures “like new,” we rebuilt to make them better, more resilient, less prone to damage?

The reality is, we don’t really have a choice. Climate change is ushering in weather systems that are increasingly volatile. Wildfires are raging like never before. Sea-level rise is threatening our coasts, and there’s no way to dial any of it back.

Nevertheless, people will continue to build homes and businesses along the coast. Real estate developers will continue to nestle luxury homes into wooded foothills.

That means communities need to come to terms with the risk and plan for it intelligently.

Michael Brown, vice president and property manager, Golden Bear Insurance

“Natural disasters are going to happen,” said Michael Brown, vice president and property manager with Golden Bear Insurance. “But if we plan and build communities around the idea that something bad may happen someday, then that community can bounce back faster afterward.”

In any natural disaster, he added, “the property damage is extreme. But the biggest portion of the losses, both insured and uninsured, are the time element pieces. How long was the business closed? How long were homeowners unable to occupy their homes? Those are the pieces that drag on for months — years in some cases — and really drive the economic loss.”

That’s the motivation behind new materials, designs and strategies being implemented in the construction and repair of at-risk residential and commercial properties.

Powerful Flood Solutions

Newer building products move the needle significantly in terms of efficacy.

For new or restored structures in flood-prone regions, Georgia Pacific produces gypsum panels that incorporate fiberglass mats instead of paper facings and comply with the latest FEMA requirements for flood damage resistance and mold resistance. Wall boards made from magnesium oxide (MgO) don’t absorb water at all and have the added benefits of being environmentally friendly and non-flammable.

In the UK, advanced flood-resilient structures built with water-resilient concrete-block partitions are being fitted with not only MgO wallboards, but also wood-look porcelain or ceramic flooring that’s non-permeable and fire-resistant — without sacrificing aesthetics. Drains are installed in the flooring, along with sub-flooring gullies and submersible pumps that push the water back outside. Outlets and appliance motors are all situated above expected flood levels. Doors are equipped with sliding flood panels.

In the event of flooding that exceeds a depth of two feet, automatic opening window panels (flood inlets) are triggered by sensors to allow flood water to enter the property slowly, to reduce external pressure that could damage the structure.

Carl Solly, vice president and chief engineer, FM Global

Controlled inflow buys time for a homeowner to raise furniture up on blocks, or for a business owner to raise pallets of goods up to higher shelves or move equipment to a higher elevation.

Water intrusion is reduced dramatically, and even when it happens, there is little to no damage. Water is pushed into the floor drains, surfaces are allowed to dry, and then it’s back to business as usual in days rather than months — likely with no insurance claim filed.

Dramatic improvements are happening on this side of the pond as well. For entities that need permanent on-site flood solutions, barriers like flood gates and retractable flood walls are the most sophisticated they’ve ever been.

After suffering $4 billion in damage during Superstorm Sandy, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority invested heavily in flexible fabric flood panels that are made with Kevlar® and can be unrolled quickly and easily. Additional flood gates hinged to air grates are passively activated by the weight of incoming water entering the grates.

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The transit authority is also testing a prototype “resilient tunnel plug” — essentially a giant air bag that can be deployed quickly to seal off sections of subway tunnel. The plug is designed to withstand not only flood but also biochemical attack.

Even temporary solutions are leaps and bounds beyond the days when sandbagging was typically the best option. New as-needed barrier methods include inflatable bladders that can be placed around a building’s perimeter and filled with water to keep floodwater and flood debris at bay.

“People have always said, ‘Well, I’m in a flood plain, it’s inevitable. It’s an act of God,’ ” said Carl Solly, vice president and chief engineer, FM Global. “In the last several years, we’ve really been trying to deliver the message that you can do something about your flood risk.”

Shake, Pummel and Burn

Flood is far from the only problem benefiting from smart engineering. FM Global is working with manufacturers to develop and certify roofing material designed to better withstand the localized hailstorms that often plague southeastern and midwestern states.

Current materials rated for severe hail can withstand hailstones up to 1 ¾ inches in diameter. The new product, rated for “very severe” hail can tolerate hailstones up to 2 ½ inches. The difference sounds small, but it’s far from it.

“It’s about three times the amount of impact energy when it hits the roof [compared to a 1 ¾ hailstone],” explained Solly. “That’s a big difference.”

As for “bouncing back” after a catastrophic fire, Solly said that’s a fairly tall order. But even there, technology is helping to reduce the severity of fires so that disruption is minimal.

FM Global researchers recently pioneered the concept of SMART sprinklers — shorthand for Simultaneous Monitoring and Assessment Response Technology — which can sense a fire earlier than traditional systems and activate targeted sprinkler heads when needed and shut off once the fire is out.

“You’ll catch it with less water, so from a water usage perspective, a water damage perspective and a smoke damage perspective, we think that has an opportunity to be a big difference-maker in the fire protection industry, particular with high-challenge fires,” said Solly.

“You’ve got a better chance of stopping what normally would be a really tough fire to catch.”

In addition, added Brown, smarter sprinkler systems, much like burglar alarms, could be programmed to notify the fire department instantly, even when a structure is unoccupied.

For earthquake risk, said Brown, resilient building efforts are less about new materials than they are about more strategic ways of using traditional materials.

“Here in California we wrap homes in stucco around the wood frame to help the whole building move as a unit. Stucco is concrete so it does crack. I end up with a building that’s got some cosmetic damage … but you don’t have to rebuild the building. It does its job in terms of absorbing a lot of the ground motion before it pushes the building beyond its design tolerances.”

Using stronger, larger steel brackets where the walls meet the roof or the floor or each other, said Brown, “keeps the north wall from moving in one direction while the west wall moves a different direction.”

Those kinds of stress points can push modest earthquake damage to catastrophic levels, he said.

One earthquake innovation still in the beta phase is a project out of the U.C. Berkeley Seismological lab, using the accelerometers in smartphones as virtual seismometers. Participating phones have an app that detects certain types of ground motion. As phones pick up earthquake wave patterns, they ping the server which checks nearby smartphones to see if they sensed the same pattern, all in microseconds. If an earthquake pattern can be confirmed, an alarm will be sent to every cellphone within a logical radius.

That might only buy people an extra two to five minutes before the event, said Brown, “but if you are the operators of Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter trains, that’s enough time to slow all the trains down to five miles an hour. If you are Google, that’s enough time to park a bunch of hard drives in your server farm so that they’re better able to resist shaking and not be damaged too badly.”

Raising Standards

Cost, of course, will impact the take-up of resilient materials and tools. If it’s three times more expensive to build a home out of the resilient materials, a lot of builders aren’t going to want to because the home will be tougher to sell.

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FM Global’s Approvals division tests and certifies a variety of products aimed at mitigating disaster peril. That can help increase property owner confidence in these materials, particularly for commercial structures.

“When you’re betting millions of dollars and the future of your business — or at least the near-term future of your business — you really need to know that it’s going to work,” said Solly.

With just-in-time manufacturing, a company may have a few days’ worth of stock on hand rather than three months’ worth.

“So you can’t afford to be out of business for weeks, because your customers are going to go somewhere else for your product,” he said.

Building standards and codes can help drive adoption of resilient measures in both commercial and residential construction. But more work needs to be done to raise standards to meet the goal of resilience.

Effecting real resilience is something leaders across the spectrum should be talking about, including brokers and carriers, government and research agencies, building products manufacturers, and corporate executives.

If lives are saved in an earthquake, but a building is still damaged to the point where it needs to be torn down, said Brown “that building owner, that community, is going to have a much longer path to full recovery. We want the building codes strengthened to an immediate occupancy [goal] — we want people to be able to move right back into that building so there’s a much shorter window of disruption.

“It’s certainly better for me as the insurer,” he said, “but it’s even better for the guy that owns the building or runs his business out of it because now his employees still have a place to come to work and they can still get paid.”

Every single business able to minimize its downtime in this way helps the entire community be more resilient, he added. It creates that snowball effect in a good way. When businesses are able to stay open or reopen quickly, he said, workers don’t lose a meaningful amount of pay. Everybody’s in a better position to continue shopping and supporting the local economy.

“If you just shorten the line of people who are looking for some sort of federal aid, or state aid because they’ve had a massive financial disaster — maybe we can turn those into moderate to small financial disasters. That’s the key, I think, to communities being more resilient.”

Driving Demand

As the likelihood increases that property owners will experience a second loss or even third loss, some insurers are looking at ways to invest in resilience — a smarter long-term business plan than paying to rebuild again and again.

One new initiative is Lex Flood Ready, the product of a partnership between Lexington Insurance and The Flood Insurance Agency (TFIA). Flood Ready is a coverage enhancement for Lexington Private Market Flood clients that will not only indemnify property owners that suffer flood damage but will also provide the funds to rebuild them to a higher standard of resiliency when replacing floors and walls.

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Resilience proponents advocate a variety of approaches to encourage take-up, including tax credits, resilience grants, insurance incentives and other partnerships, as well as encouraging lenders to engage borrowers by making the flood risk assessments part of the mortgage process.

A certification scheme similar to LEED could also help drive resilience efforts. The UK is currently beta-testing a certification program called Home Quality Mark, developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). Properties are rated on stringent criteria that considers not just disaster resilience, but energy performance and cost, durability and environmental impact.

“Getting people from diverse perspectives thinking about it and talking about it is going to be the avenue to finding the right answers.” — Michael Brown, VP and property manager, Golden Bear Insurance

That’s something builders would be able to use to add value to their properties, offsetting the cost of building in resilience and driving consumer demand for properties built to the highest standards.

With increased resilience will come questions for insurers, said Brown. “It will open up a can of worms.”

It will create something of an arms race among insurance companies, he said. “Who’s going to be the first one to figure out what’s the right way to insure that? What’s the right price? What are the right terms and conditions?” Admittedly, it’s a good problem to have.

Effecting real resilience is something leaders across the spectrum should be talking about, including brokers and carriers, government and research agencies, building products manufacturers, and corporate executives.

“Getting people from diverse perspectives thinking about it and talking about it is going to be the avenue to finding the right answers,” said Brown.

“That kind of mentality top to bottom in the industry is going to be necessary. It’s not the first time we’ve dealt with disruptive things and we will continue doing it. It’s what keeps the game interesting.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]