Insurance and Climate Change column

Could More State Commissioners Require Climate Disclosure?

By | October 20, 2016

Max Messervy took a decidedly positive tack when pried again and again to reveal any negative reaction to a report he puts together every so often.

Messervy, the insurance program manager at sustainability leadership advocate Ceres, is one of the authors of a biennial report that assesses insurer disclosures on climate change risks.

The report more than likely rankles at least a few people

Boston, Mass.-based Ceres works with insurers to open dialogues about preparing for and dealing with climate change, but their reports don’t always portray all insurers in a great light – especially U.S.-based insurers, which in the past two reports have shown to be lagging behind their European counterparts. Though U.S.-based insurers have improved report to report.

Asked to discuss the responses he gets following a report, Messervy at first offered a few PRish replies, clearly sensitive to the fact the corporate world is being asked to give up information that is often closely held.

Then, after repeated questions aimed at wearing him down, he relented. A bit.

“I would say that we get questions from skeptical people certainly,” Messervy said. “They don’t necessarily believe that the science is as conclusive as the evidence that climate scientists have put forth.”

Beyond that, he said he’s never been cussed out or sued over the reports, each of which evaluates and benchmarks the quality of responses from insurance companies in the annual National Association of Insurance Commissioners Climate Risk Disclosure Survey.

Several U.S.-based insurers earned high marks for climate change-related disclosures in a report out from Ceres.

Several U.S.-based insurers earned high marks for climate change-related disclosures in a report out from Ceres.

The NAIC survey, which is required for insurers writing in excess of $100 million in premiums by regulators in California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York and Washington, asks several questions about business practices and lines of business.

“The challenge in the work that we try to do is that they’re difficult questions, and they’re difficult questions for companies to respond to, and we recognize that and we recognize that they’re often sensitive topics,” Messervy said.

The report covers 148 top insurers representing more than 70 percent of the U.S. market. Those carriers are among the largest insurers from the 375 that took the NAIC survey. Ceres weeded out smaller carriers, which don’t tend to have the resources bigger carriers do to dedicate to the survey.

Messervy believes even more large insurers may at some point be required to participate in the NAIC survey, and because of that the Ceres report will cover an even larger portion of the nation’s insurance market.

More state regulators are said to be considering joining the six state insurance commissioners that require carriers to participate in the climate change disclosure survey.

“We have heard that there are at least a couple of states that are considering joining,” he said.

But he wasn’t offering details on which states.

The responses from the NAIC survey are collected each year and placed on the California Department of Insurance website for the public to see.

Ceres assimilates those responses every two years and puts out a report. This year’s report, “Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey Report and Scorecard,” bodes better for insurers than the last report, which Messervy called “pretty underwhelming.”

The latest report shows that insurers are increasingly willing to disclose their risk management practices related to climate change.

And unlike the last report, in which only two U.S.-based insurers earned a “High Quality” rating, the current report shows 13 insurers based in the U.S. got that rating.

Read an Insurance Journal story detailing findings in the report

Messervy believes the run up to last year’s global meeting in Paris on climate change and shifting attitudes in the business world on the topic of sustainability have helped raise awareness among U.S.-based insurers for the need to deliver more information about what they are doing to be proactive about climate change.

He also thinks companies are beginning to realize that this can be a valuable tool to attract quality employees, especially socially conscious millennials.

“Employees like to know that the company they work for is behaving well and ethically and thinking ahead into future and being good corporate citizens,” Messervy said.

The report calls out a response in the NAIC survey from The Hartford in which the carrier states that its branding as a “green company” plays an important part in employee recruitment and retention:

“Competition in property casualty insurance is intense. Companies are constantly looking for ways to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. We believe that companies that themselves demonstrate a strong, comprehensive and sustained approach to environmental stewardship and offer appropriate products at the appropriate price can build a green insurance brand. Also, in the war for talent, companies that can demonstrate a serious commitment to environmental stewardship are better positioned to attract and engage talented employees.”

While insurer responses improved from the last report, some were quick to point out that well over half of those in the report received low grades.

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who has pushed for greater insurer disclosure on climate risk in the past, issued a statement earlier today following the Ceres report.

Kreidler note that most of the insurers evaluated – 64 percent of the companies earned “Low Quality or “Minimal Quality” ratings – are neither addressing climate risks, nor focusing on investment opportunities related to climate change.

“The changing climate affects consumers’ homes, transportation, their health and in some cases can be life-threatening,” Kreidler said in the statement. “I want to find out what insurance companies — among the largest economic sectors in our nation — are doing to prepare for the potential damage they are poised to pay for and if their assets will be stranded in carbon-based investments.”

It’s Messervy’s hopes that the report opens up further dialogue between groups like his and the insurance community.

“We are hopefully going to be able to talk with key insurance industry groups and companies and figure out how we can help them address these risks and seize the opportunities that climate change presents to the insurance sector,” Messervy said.

After the previous report was released, Ceres had a number of conversations with carriers about the findings, and held a webinar attended by various insurers to discuss good disclosure practices.

“The thing that we are always open to is certainly conversations,” he said. “We are not just trying to wag fingers at industry, we are trying to share information.”

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Latest Comments

  • October 21, 2016 at 1:43 pm
    milner says:
    When will the commissioners ask for a report on the impact of overreaching commissioners, a much more immediate risk.
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