Catastrophe Claims

Technology to the Rescue

Cutting-edge technology such as drones, satellites and 3D imaging allow for quicker, safer and more efficient claims handling.
By: | April 28, 2016 • 5 min read

The growing scale and severity of natural and man-made catastrophes makes it increasingly difficult for insurance companies and claims handlers to access affected disaster sites. It can take weeks or even months for loss adjusters to see the true extent of damage caused by events on the scale of Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina.


But that’s changing with the development of technology such as drones, satellites and 3D imaging, which allow insurers to gather data and images quickly and efficiently, ultimately better protecting their clients against future risks.

There are still hurdles for insurers to overcome, starting with Federal Aviation Administration requirements for operating drones in U.S. airspace, as well as privacy issues, and the potential for property damage or civilian death in the event of a crash.

But uptake is still rising because of affordable hardware as well as increasing onboard instrumentation and offline data processing improvement.

“A lot of this new technology is great at assessing and understanding potential risks in a pre-loss scenario, as well as when an event happens,” said Sheri Wilson, national property claims director at Lockton.

“In some cases, there will always be the need for boots on the ground before the check is written, but this technology can certainly be used to get a more complete picture of what’s going on.”

Rise of the Drones

Jimmy Johnson, assistant vice president of commercial property claims at Zurich North America, said the main advantage of drones is the ability to provide access to difficult-to-reach disaster sites, allowing insurers and their customers to understand losses in greater detail.

“Being able to obtain information almost in real time, whether it’s taking pictures or communicating those losses, is a huge advantage not only to the insurer, but to their clients as well,” he said.

“The app allows them to record and send pictures and videos to the insurer to show them the extent of the damage and it is then uploaded to their server for them to assess.” — Andreas Shell, global claims executive of new technologies, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Helen Thompson, director of commercial marketing at Esri, a geographic information system provider, said that another benefit is the speed of response, as well as use in hazardous situations, such as the port of Tianjin explosion last year.

“Drones are able to quickly assess large areas and identify, with human observation, the scope and scale of the disaster,” she said.

The main sticking point remains that only a handful of insurers, including State Farm, USAA and AIG, have obtained FAA approval to test drones for commercial use.

Gary Sullivan, vice president of property and subrogation claims at Erie Insurance, which was granted a license by the FAA last year to use drones for claims and in catastrophe situations, said that the biggest advantage is safety, as well as the time and cost efficiencies gained.

Andreas Shell, global claims executive of new technologies, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Andreas Shell, global claims executive of new technologies, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

“It means the difference between keeping our employees on the ground versus the time and risk associated with having them climb a ladder to get onto a roof, and, ultimately, the imagery we obtain from a drone is just as good, if not better than we would otherwise be able to take,” he said.

Among the disadvantages, he said, were the need for a pilot’s license and having to get clearance to fly in no-go zones, for example, near airports and military bases.

Andreas Shell, global claims executive of new technologies at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, said one problem is that drones can only be used if the operator is in close proximity and maintains visual contact.

On top of that, he said, there are a host of legal and regulatory requirements.

“Right now, government agencies are tightening up these requirements more than ever due to the number of private operators currently out there,” he said.

Varying Image Formats

Video technology such as Skype and FaceTime has allowed insurers to develop smartphone apps that can be used to record property damage.

R5-16p38-39_5Damage3.indd“In effect, they allow the customer to become a part of the claims process,” said Shell of Allianz.

“[They can] send pictures and videos to the insurer to show them the extent of the damage.”

Such technology could be used in low value cases where sending out a loss adjuster may be more costly than paying the claim.

David Passman, national director of property claims for North America at Willis Towers Watson, said that when it comes to assessing wide areas of damage, satellites are often the best technology because they can capture a lot of data quickly.

The downside, he said, is that the picture quality may not be as good as a drone or 3D imaging.

“It enables you to take pictures before and after the event, and compare them side by side to determine not only what has happened to the property concerned, but also to the terrain around it,” he said.

“This can also help clients to put into action their business interruption or continuity plan, for example, by knowing what transport routes are open and putting in place an appropriate logistics strategy.”

Future of Technology

Thomas Haun, vice president of strategy for PrecisionHawk, an aerial data provider, said that as with all of these technologies, being able to quickly quantify the extent of damage and understand how safe something is, is critical in the response effort.

“Drones give you that ability to respond quickly and effectively to these types of disaster, but also to prevent or mitigate against future events,” he said.


However, Bud Trice, vice president of catastrophe services at Crawford, warned that despite the many advantages, the biggest challenge with this type of technology is fragmentation, with the possibility of each insurer deciding to go its own way with a different solution, many of which may be incompatible with one another.

Randall Ishikawa, vice president of property risk solutions at EagleView, a 3D imaging company, said that in the long run, technology could help expedite claims handling and reduce operational and claims costs for insurers.

“At the end of the day it can save money for the insurance carriers, and from an underwriting perspective it can determine the viability of the risk concerned as to what action needs to be taken at renewal,” he said.

Erie’s Sullivan added that the potential benefits are huge.

“From an industry standpoint there’s enormous potential because in the future you might be able to fly the drones much more often and to assess the risks on your books in order to identify potential hazards before they happen,” he said. &

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

Risk Focus: Cyber

Expanding Cyber BI

Cyber business interruption insurance is a thriving market, but growth carries the threat of a mega-loss. 
By: | March 5, 2018 • 7 min read

Lingering hopes that large-scale cyber attack might be a once-in-a-lifetime event were dashed last year. The four-day WannaCry ransomware strike in May across 150 countries targeted more than 300,000 computers running Microsoft Windows. A month later, NotPetya hit multinationals ranging from Danish shipping firm Maersk to pharmaceutical giant Merck.


Maersk’s chairman, Jim Hagemann Snabe, revealed at this year’s Davos summit that NotPetya shut down most of the group’s network. While it was replacing 45,000 PCs and 4,000 servers, freight transactions had to be completed manually. The combined cost of business interruption and rebuilding the system was up to $300 million.

Merck’s CFO Robert Davis told investors that its NotPetya bill included $135 million in lost sales plus $175 million in additional costs. Fellow victims FedEx and French construction group Saint Gobain reported similar financial hits from lost business and clean-up costs.

The fast-expanding world of cryptocurrencies is also increasingly targeted. Echoes of the 2014 hack that triggered the collapse of Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox emerged this January when Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck pledged to repay customers $500 million stolen by hackers in a cyber heist.

The size and scope of last summer’s attacks accelerated discussions on both sides of the Atlantic, between risk managers and brokers seeking more comprehensive cyber business interruption insurance products.

It also recently persuaded Pool Re, the UK’s terrorism reinsurance pool set up 25 years ago after bomb attacks in London’s financial quarter, to announce that from April its cover will extend to include material damage and direct BI resulting from acts of terrorism using a cyber trigger.

“The threat from a cyber attack is evident, and businesses have become increasingly concerned about the extensive repercussions these types of attacks could have on them,” said Pool Re’s chief, Julian Enoizi. “This was a clear gap in our coverage which left businesses potentially exposed.”

Shifting Focus

Development of cyber BI insurance to date reveals something of a transatlantic divide, said Hans Allnutt, head of cyber and data risk at international law firm DAC Beachcroft. The first U.S. mainstream cyber insurance products were a response to California’s data security and breach notification legislation in 2003.

Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter, Beazley

Of more recent vintage, Europe’s first cyber policies’ wordings initially reflected U.S. wordings, with the focus on data breaches. “So underwriters had to innovate and push hard on other areas of cyber cover, particularly BI and cyber crimes such as ransomware demands and distributed denial of service attacks,” said Allnut.

“Europe now has regulation coming up this May in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation across the EU, so the focus has essentially come full circle.”

Cyber insurance policies also provide a degree of cover for BI resulting from one of three main triggers, said Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter for specialist insurer Beazley. “First is the malicious-type trigger, where the system goes down or an outage results directly from a hack.

“Second is any incident involving negligence — the so-called ‘fat finger’ — where human or operational error causes a loss or there has been failure to upgrade or maintain the system. Third is any broader unplanned outage that hits either the company or anyone on which it relies, such as a service provider.”

The importance of cyber BI covering negligent acts in addition to phishing and social engineering attacks was underlined by last May’s IT meltdown suffered by airline BA.

This was triggered by a technician who switched off and then reconnected the power supply to BA’s data center, physically damaging servers and distribution panels.

Compensating delayed passengers cost the company around $80 million, although the bill fell short of the $461 million operational error loss suffered by Knight Capital in 2012, which pushed it close to bankruptcy and decimated its share price.

Mistaken Assumption

Awareness of potentially huge BI losses resulting from cyber attack was heightened by well-publicized hacks suffered by retailers such as Target and Home Depot in late 2013 and 2014, said Matt Kletzli, SVP and head of management liability at Victor O. Schinnerer & Company.


However, the incidents didn’t initially alarm smaller, less high-profile businesses, which assumed they wouldn’t be similarly targeted.

“But perpetrators employing bots and ransomware set out to expose any firms with weaknesses in their system,” he added.

“Suddenly, smaller firms found that even when they weren’t themselves targeted, many of those around them had fallen victim to attacks. Awareness started to lift, as the focus moved from large, headline-grabbing attacks to more everyday incidents.”

Publications such as the Director’s Handbook of Cyber-Risk Oversight, issued by the National Association of Corporate Directors and the Internet Security Alliance fixed the issue firmly on boardroom agendas.

“What’s possibly of greater concern is the sheer number of different businesses that can be affected by a single cyber attack and the cost of getting them up and running again quickly.” — Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter, Beazley

Reformed ex-hackers were recruited to offer board members their insights into the most vulnerable points across the company’s systems — in much the same way as forger-turned-security-expert Frank Abagnale Jr., subject of the Spielberg biopic “Catch Me If You Can.”

There also has been an increasing focus on systemic risk related to cyber attacks. Allnutt cites “Business Blackout,” a July 2015 study by Lloyd’s of London and the Cambridge University’s Centre for Risk Studies.

This detailed analysis of what could result from a major cyber attack on America’s power grid predicted a cost to the U.S. economy of hundreds of billions and claims to the insurance industry totalling upwards of $21.4 billion.

Lloyd’s described the scenario as both “technologically possible” and “improbable.” Three years on, however, it appears less fanciful.

In January, the head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, said the UK had been fortunate in so far averting a ‘category one’ attack. A C1 would shut down the financial services sector on which the country relies heavily and other vital infrastructure. It was a case of “when, not if” such an assault would be launched, he warned.

AI: Friend or Foe?

Despite daunting potential financial losses, pioneers of cyber BI insurance such as Beazley, Zurich, AIG and Chubb now see new competitors in the market. Capacity is growing steadily, said Allnutt.

“Not only is cyber insurance a new product, it also offers a new source of premium revenue so there is considerable appetite for taking it on,” he added. “However, whilst most insurers are comfortable with the liability aspects of cyber risk; not all insurers are covering loss of income.”

Matt Kletzli, SVP and head of management liability, Victor O. Schinnerer & Company

Kletzli added that available products include several well-written, broad cyber coverages that take into account all types of potential cyber attack and don’t attempt to limit cover by applying a narrow definition of BI loss.

“It’s a rapidly-evolving coverage — and needs to be — in order to keep up with changing circumstances,” he said.

The good news, according to a Fitch report, is that the cyber loss ratio has been reduced to 45 percent as more companies buy cover and the market continues to expand, bringing down the size of the average loss.

“The bad news is that at cyber events, talk is regularly turning to ‘what will be the Hurricane Katrina-type event’ for the cyber market?” said Kletzli.

“What’s worse is that with hurricane losses, underwriters know which regions are most at risk, whereas cyber is a global risk and insurers potentially face huge aggregation.”


Nor is the advent of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) necessarily cause for optimism. As Allnutt noted, while AI can potentially be used to decode malware, by the same token sophisticated criminals can employ it to develop new malware and escalate the ‘computer versus computer’ battle.

“The trend towards greater automation of business means that we can expect more incidents involving loss of income,” said Sané. “What’s possibly of greater concern is the sheer number of different businesses that can be affected by a single cyber attack and the cost of getting them up and running again quickly.

“We’re likely to see a growing number of attacks where the aim is to cause disruption, rather than demand a ransom.

“The paradox of cyber BI is that the more sophisticated your organization and the more it embraces automation, the bigger the potential impact when an outage does occur. Those old-fashioned businesses still reliant on traditional processes generally aren’t affected as much and incur smaller losses.” &

Graham Buck is editor of He can be reached at