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Marine Underwriting

Hurricanes Sweep Away Soft Marine Market

After a year of heavy losses, marine underwriters are imposing rate hikes despite plentiful market capacity.
By: | February 13, 2018 • 4 min read
Topics: Marine | Underwriting

The marine insurance market might still suffer from overcapacity, but underwriters are adamant that the soft market of recent years has come to an end.

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At February’s winter meeting of The International Union of Marine Insurance, held at the Lloyd’s of London building, IUMI’s president Dieter Berg described 2017 as “an extreme year.” Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria cost the insurance industry an estimated $75 billion to $100 billion and the California wildfires between $10 billion and $13 billion. The latter figure included last October’s losses in the Napa Valley vineyard region, which are part-insured in the marine market.

“These losses have put an end to soft market conditions, although it remains to be seen by just how much rates will now harden,” said Berg.

“We’re seeing moderate increases for even non-loss affected business with more significant rises for Gulf of Mexico windstorm risk, although there is still massive overcapacity in the market.”

More positive news is that the offshore energy market enjoys an improved market environment, with oil prices averaging $70 per barrel last year against $50 in 2016, coupled with the most encouraging global economic outlook for more than a decade. IUMI expects “synchronised growth across all regions this year” and for the marine market to benefit from increased activity.

The potential downside is greater geopolitical risk; particularly the threat of protectionist measures by the U.S. and retaliation from China. “So, overall we’re moderately positive while also recognizing there are massive challenges,” Berg confirmed.

Dieter Berg
President
IUMI

Foremost among the challenges is the growing exposure aggregation on vessels and in ports, with the biggest car carriers proving capacity for up to 8,000 vehicles and the growing evidence that climate change is transforming what were once extreme weather events into “the new normal.”

Asia and Africa

Berg identified three clear near-term strategies for IUMI. First is a greater focus on education.

“We must attract young talent to the industry and invest in new skill sets in response to a rapidly changing environment,” he added.

Second is building IUMI’s presence in the Asian market, following the opening of its Hong Kong office in October 2016. As part of this initiative, IUMI’s inaugural Asia Forum will be held in Singapore on April 24-25 to coincide with the city state’s Maritime Week.

Third is a strategy for Africa. “IUMI wants to be much more active in Africa’s emerging markets,” Berg confirmed. “We’ll deliver more on this on September 16-19, when our annual conference is held in Cape Town for the first time.”

This year’s theme: ‘Managing emerging risk and exposure – think the unthinkable’.

As he noted, South Africa’s second-biggest city faces its own ‘unthinkable’ as water supplies dwindle and the event will consider underwriters’ need to address risks they often haven’t considered before.

James McDonald, chairman of IUMI’s offshore energy committee noted that climate change is an issue demanding attention.

“It’s impacting on our balance sheets as the frequency and severity of hurricanes increases, causing more yacht and cargo losses as well as physical damage and business interruption in oil and gas production.”

The maritime industry is also being looked to in addressing environmental issues, with the BBC’s recent TV series Blue Planet 2 dramatically highlighting the extent of ocean pollution, particularly from plastics.

“Insurance isn’t marketing itself very effectively as it can help mitigate pollution and environmental damage,” he suggested. Innovation was lacking and underwriters could do more to devise new products for meeting new challenges.

Shipping companies had made a start in reducing their carbon footprint and reducing emissions through practices such as ‘cold-ironing’ – enabling berthed vessels to shut down engines and switch to a shore-based electrical supply – and new coatings for propellers and hulls that reduce friction to improve efficiency.

Slow Response

IUMI admits that cyber risk is one area where ship operators and their insurers have been slow to respond.

“It has certainly produced a response, but this has been from the non-marine market,” commented Frédéric Denèfle, IUMI’s legal and liability committee chair. “For a long time the marine community didn’t appreciate how its members might be affected.”

“Insurance isn’t marketing itself very effectively as it can help mitigate pollution and environmental damage.”– James McDonald, chairman of IUMI’s offshore energy committee

Last June’s NotPetya malware attack highlighted the threat. Danish shipping giant Maersk had to reinstall thousands of PCs and servers to restore service at its terminals.

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Berg and colleagues were also asked about the impact of the recent sinking of the Sanchi. On January 6 the Iranian oil tanker, carrying 136,000 tonnes of crude oil, collided with a freighter off the coast of China and sank eight days later after catching fire.

Secretary general Lars Lange offered condolences to the families of the Sanchi’s 32 crew members.

“The collision also created a massive environmental threat from discharged tanker fuel,” he added. “We’re in the early stages of responding to the loss and establishing the insurance position.”

The incident also raises the issue of industry sanctions against Iran, which IUMI supports and the ability of vessels serving embargoed countries to secure insurance cover.

Graham Buck is a UK-based writer and has contributed to Risk & Insurance® since 1998. He can be reached at riskletters.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Focus: Workers' Comp

Do You Have Employees or Gig Workers?

The number of gig economy workers is growing in the U.S. But their classification as contractors leaves many without workers’ comp, unemployment protection or other benefits.
By: and | July 30, 2018 • 5 min read

A growing number of Americans earn their living in the gig economy without employer-provided benefits and protections such as workers’ compensation.

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With the proliferation of on-demand services powered by digital platforms, questions surrounding who does and does not actually work in the gig economy continue to vex stakeholders. Courts and legislators are being asked to decide what constitutes an employee and what constitutes an independent contractor, or gig worker.

The issues are how the worker is paid and who controls the work process, said Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney specializing in workers’ compensation law with a client roster in the trucking industry.

The common law test, he said, the same one the IRS uses, considers “whose tools and whose materials are used. Whether the employer is telling the worker how to do the job on a minute-to-minute basis. Whether the worker is paid by the hour or by the job. Whether he’s free to work for someone else.”

Legal challenges have occurred, starting with lawsuits against transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. Several court cases in recent years have come down on the side of allowing such companies to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors.

Those decisions are significant for TNCs, because the gig model relies on the lower labor cost of independent contractors. Classification as an employee adds at least 30 percent to labor costs.

The issues lie with how a worker is paid and who controls the work process. — Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney

However, a March 2018 California Supreme Court ruling in a case involving delivery drivers for Dynamex went the other way. The Dynamex decision places heavy emphasis on whether the worker is performing a core function of the business.

Under the Dynamex court’s standard, an electrician called to fix a wiring problem at an Uber office would be considered a general contractor. But a driver providing rides to customers would be part of the company’s central mission and therefore an employee.

Despite the California ruling, a Philadelphia court a month later declined to follow suit, ruling that Uber’s limousine drivers are independent contractors, not employees. So a definitive answer remains elusive.

A Legislative Movement

Misclassification of workers as independent contractors introduces risks to both employers and workers, said Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust.

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered.”

Misclassifying workers opens a “Pandora’s box” for employers, said Richard R. Meneghello, partner, Fisher Phillips.

Issues include tax liabilities, claims for minimum wage and overtime violations, workers’ comp benefits, civil labor law rights and wrongful termination suits.

The motive for companies seeking the contractor definition is clear: They don’t have to pay for benefits, said Meneghello. “But from a legal perspective, it’s not so easy to turn the workforce into contractors.”

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered in the eyes of the state.” — Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

It’s about to get easier, however. In 2016, Handy — which is being sued in five states for misclassification of workers — drafted a N.Y. bill to establish a program where gig-economy companies would pay 2.5 percent of workers’ income into individual health savings accounts, yet would classify them as independent contractors.

Unions and worker advocacy groups argue the program would rob workers of rights and protections. So Handy moved on to eight other states where it would be more likely to win.

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So far, the Handy bills have passed one house of the legislature in Georgia and Colorado; passed both houses in Iowa and Tennessee; and been signed into law in Kentucky, Utah and Indiana. A similar bill was also introduced in Alabama.

The bills’ language says all workers who find jobs through a website or mobile app are independent contractors, as long as the company running the digital platform does not control schedules, prohibit them from working elsewhere and meets other criteria. Two bills exclude transportation network companies such as Uber.

These laws could have far-reaching consequences. Traditional service companies will struggle to compete with start-ups paying minimal labor costs.

Opponents warn that the Handy bills are so broad that a service company need only launch an app for customers to contract services, and they’d be free to re-classify their employees as independent contractors — leaving workers without social security, health insurance or the protections of unemployment insurance or workers’ comp.

That could destabilize social safety nets as well as shrink available workers’ comp premiums.

A New Classification

Independent contractors need to buy their own insurance, including workers’ compensation. But many don’t, said Hart Brown, executive vice president, COO, Firestorm. They may not realize that in the case of an accident, their personal car and health insurance won’t engage, Brown said.

Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

Workers’ compensation for gig workers can be hard to find. Some state-sponsored funds provide self-employed contractors’ coverage.  Policies can be expensive though in some high-risk occupations, such as roofing, said Bollinger.

The gig system, where a worker does several different jobs for several different companies, breaks down without portable benefits, said Brown. Portable benefits would follow workers from one workplace engagement to another.

What a portable benefits program would look like is unclear, he said, but some combination of employers, independent contractors and intermediaries (such as a digital platform business or staffing agency) would contribute to the program based on a percentage of each transaction.

There is movement toward portable benefits legislation. The Aspen Institute proposed portable benefits where companies contribute to workers’ benefits based on how much an employee works for them. Uber and SEI together proposed a portable benefits bill to the Washington State Legislature.

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Senator Mark Warner (D. VA) introduced the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act for the study of portable benefits, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D. WA) introduced a House companion bill.

Meneghello is skeptical of portable benefits as a long-term solution. “They’re a good first step,” he said, “but they paper over the problem. We need a new category of workers.”

A portable benefits model would open opportunities for the growing Insurtech market. Brad Smith, CEO, Intuit, estimates the gig economy to be about 34 percent of the workforce in 2018, growing to 43 percent by 2020.

The insurance industry reinvented itself from a risk transfer mechanism to a risk management mechanism, Brown said, and now it’s reinventing itself again as risk educator to a new hybrid market. &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected] Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]