Despite recent efforts to reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), most U.S. homeowners do not carry insurance to protect their properties against the risk of flooding. For most homeowners, the purchase of this coverage is mandatory only if they live in certain specified high-risk areas. However, significant risk exists in areas where the purchase of flood insurance is rare. Even in areas where flood coverage is required, data from the NFIP and private flood insurers do not indicate high degrees of coverage.
Beyond direct damages to property and communities, the flood insurance protection gap could have many downstream financial impacts. Homeowners insurance is integral to protecting the collateral that underpins the U.S. mortgage system. As a result, coverage gaps could create adverse financial exposure to bearers of mortgage risk including mortgagees, insurers, reinsurers, federal underwriting agencies, and bondholders.
In a new Society of Actuaries report, professionals from Milliman and catastrophe modeling firm KatRisk examine the countrywide residential exposure to flooding and downstream implications including its impact on mortgage default risk. They also consider how flooding may be affected by rising sea levels and evaluate how it could affect the financial health of residential householders.
As the 2020 wildfire season again exceeds historical norms, insurers and policymakers must turn their attention from the literal fires to the figurative one: the threat—and increasing likelihood—that this escalating wildfire risk will result in a homeowners insurance crisis in the state of California.
For homeowners, insurance is often the last line of defense against losing everything to wildfire. However, for many, this crucial financial backstop is rapidly becoming harder to obtain as insurers reduce their portfolios due to billions in losses and regulatory restrictions on reflecting the true cost of risk in the premiums charged. This withdrawal is creating an untenable situation for many Californians and efforts to address it are becoming an urgent priority for policy makers.
In this article, Milliman professionals explain in more detail the state of home insurance in California and the regulatory efforts to address the issues thus far.
Reinsurance helps insurers respond financially to large
catastrophes like a wildfire or earthquake. Insurers share a portion of the
premium with reinsurers to rent capital and reduce the burden of a major event
involving multiple policyholders.
In California, regulations allow reinsurance costs for earthquakes
to be included in insurance rates but not for wildfires or other catastrophes.
This penalizes insurance companies that spread the risk of major wildfires, and
results in bottom-line loss and expense outstripping premium over the long
term. This, and other issues, are making it more complicated for homeowners in
the state to find insurance with wildfire protection in the voluntary market.
As a new wildfire season in California is ablaze, answers to
questions about insurers’ pricing, underwriting, and exposure management
functions resulting from the 2017 and 2018 seasons are still taking shape.
According to Milliman estimates, the 2017 wildfire season alone wiped out just
over 10 years of underwriting profits for California homeowners insurers. Moreover,
the combined 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons wiped out about twice the combined
underwriting profits for the past 26 years, leaving the insurance industry with
an aggregate underwriting loss of over $10 billion for the California homeowners
line of business since 1991.
A historically profitable line of business has recently
become an unprofitable line exposed to a severe peril that is neither easily
measured nor fully understood. As a result, wildfire risk has become a key
focus of Californians, and their property insurers.
Catastrophe simulation models, or “CAT models,” have been
developed for a variety of catastrophic perils, such as hurricanes, floods,
winter storms, earthquakes, and wildfires, to provide insurers with scientific
techniques to quantify and assess their exposure to catastrophic risk. Recognizing
the growing importance of this peril, a number of firms have been working to
apply the latest techniques in catastrophe modeling to wildfires.
Flood was a peril once thought to be uninsurable by the private insurance market. Today, the sector is poised to grow rapidly. Milliman consultants Nancy Watkins and Dave Evans are optimistic that private insurers will significantly close the U.S. flood “protection gap” in a few years by routinely offering flood coverage alongside most homeowners policies. In a recent Carrier Management article they authored, the consultants discussed trends in the private flood market leading to this prediction, and outlined several obstacles the market will need to overcome along the way.
To learn more about what flood insurance for U.S. homeowners could look like in a couple of decades, listen to the Critical Point episode entitled “The future of flood insurance.”
If you’ve watched the news recently, it will come as no surprise that flooding has become a major issue for communities across the United States. In this episode of Critical Point, Milliman consultants Nancy Watkins and John Rollins discuss the history and future of flood insurance. They also explore what flood coverage for homeowners could look like a few decades from now.
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