Property Damage

Hailstorms Grow Less Predictable and More Expensive

Hailstorms are happening more often and striking more severely. The insurance industry is trying to find ways to mitigate the damage.
By: | July 18, 2016 • 4 min read

Hailstorms increased in frequency and severity over the last 20 years, largely a result of climate change and more extreme weather conditions. Insurance costs are spiking as a result, too.

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Hail causes about $1 billion in damage to crops and property in the United States every year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In 2015, NOAA’s Severe Storms database recorded 5,411 major hailstorms. The worst affected area was Texas, with 783 hailstorms.

“The hardest part for some customers has been that there have been successive hailstorms.” — Jill Dalton, managing director, Aon Global Risk Consulting

This year, hailstorms in late March and April are expected to result in total losses to vehicles, homes and businesses in north San Antonio and Bexar County of more than $2 billion, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.

San Antonio’s first hailstorm on April 12 became the costliest hailstorm in Texas history, the council said.

Between 2000 and 2013, U.S. insurers paid out almost $54 billion in claims from hail losses, and 70 percent of the losses occurred in just the last six years, said a report by Verisk Insurance Solutions.

The average claim severity was also 65 percent higher during that period, than from 2000 to 2007, the report said. Most losses were from broken windows and roof damage.

Added to that, hailstorms are increasingly harder to forecast and are occurring in unlikely places, with reports of hail this year in warmer climates such as South Florida.

Trying to Better Understand How Hail is Produced

Jill Dalton, managing director, Aon Global Risk Consulting

Jill Dalton, managing director, Aon Global Risk Consulting

Now, insurers and scientists are trying to better understand how hail is produced and take steps to mitigate damage.

“The hardest part for some customers has been that there have been successive hailstorms,” Jill Dalton, managing director at Aon Global Risk Consulting.

“When it happens over such a short period of time, as in the case of the recent Texas hailstorms, it’s hard to deduce what was damage from the first storm versus the third or fourth storm.”

Steve Bowen, director at Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting team, said that the location and intensity of the hailstorm were the most important factors in determining the magnitude of hail damage.

For example, if a hailstorm hits a more densely populated area it is likely to cause more damage.

“It is really important to emphasize that the total number of hail reports does not necessarily correlate to either higher or lower level of losses,” he said.

He said that, overall, insurable damage resulting from severe convective storms in the United States increased by 6.5 percent above the rate of inflation annually since 1980, most of which was attributed to hailstorms.

“The research done will also enable us to characterize the event in order to forecast future storms more effectively.” — Ian Giammanco, lead research meteorologist, IBHS Research Center

The Insurance Institute of Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a consortium of insurers, has been working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., to find ways to strengthen homes and businesses against hail damage.

Ian Giammanco, lead research meteorologist, IBHS Research Center

Ian Giammanco, lead research meteorologist, IBHS Research Center

“Overall hail losses are going up and a lot of it is to do with that fact that we are simply putting a lot more stuff in the path of storms nowadays,” said Ian Giammanco, lead research meteorologist at the IBHS Research Center.

“So, moving forward now, risk mitigation strategies are going to become much more important and that can be achieved with improved product and testing to ensure that they are properly hail resistant.

“The research done will also enable us to characterize the event in order to forecast future storms more effectively.”

Take Steps to Reduce Losses

Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute, said that given the difference in quality of roofing materials in terms of impact resistance, it was paramount to invest in the proper type of covering.

Others steps include making sure that the roof is fully secured.

The insurance industry has an Underwriters Laboratory standard for roofing material with four classes of impact level. Class 4 is the most resistant. In some cases, insurers will provide a discount for roofs made with hail resistant materials.

After the event, it is important to assess any damage and protect property against further damage by covering broken windows and plugging holes in the roof.

Most property insurance policies will cover against hail damage, as will comprehensive auto coverage.

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“A hailstorm is a typically covered loss included as a named peril,” said Dalton.

She added that usually there are no policy limits on hail and most coverage is subject to a deductible.

In hail prone areas, such as Texas and South Carolina, the deductible is higher than for other perils. However, both states have a fund to provide hail coverage in areas where it is not available in the private market.

After the event, it is important to assess any damage and protect property against further damage by covering broken windows and plugging holes in the roof.

It is also key to file claims as soon as possible and to keep any receipts for purchases made for immediate repairs and to then submit them to your insurer.

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]