Swiss Re: Insurance Industry Must Wake Up to Costs of ‘Secondary’ Catastrophe Perils

By | May 6, 2019

The insurance industry must wake up to the growing cost of “secondary” catastrophe perils, which amounted to more than 60 percent of the $76 billion price tag for insured natural catastrophe losses during 2018, according to Swiss Re Institute’s latest sigma study.

Secondary perils are defined as small-to-mid-sized events or the secondary effects of a primary peril, said Swiss Re, explaining that they often are not modeled and receive little monitoring by the industry, despite their potential for severity.

“Insurers need to develop their modelling capabilities to better assess the risk that these perils pose,” said Swiss Re’s sigma report titled “Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2018: ‘secondary’ perils on the frontline.”

Examples of secondary events include river floods, torrential rainfall, landslides, thunderstorms, snow and ice storms, draught and wildfires. Secondary effects of a primary peril might be hurricane-induced precipitation, storm surges, tsunamis, and liquefaction and fire following an earthquake.

The impact of risks posed by secondary perils is often “masked by the losses inflicted by primary events, as was the case in 2017 with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. However, their growing loss potential is becoming ever more apparent,” the study notes.

To highlight the growing costs of these secondary perils, Swiss Re said, the combined insured losses from natural catastrophes during 2017 and 2018 was $219 billion, which is the highest-ever total for a two-year period. More than half of that total resulted from secondary perils, the report affirmed.

Last year’s insured loss total of $76 billion was the fourth highest on record, although there were no mega-loss generating events. Swiss Re noted that 62 percent of the overall total was due to secondary perils.

“Large losses from secondary perils are occurring more regularly,” said Edouard Schmid, Swiss Re’s group chief underwriting officer, in a statement. “This is a trend the insurance industry must act on so that we can continue to underwrite catastrophe business sustainably.”

The acceleration in secondary peril losses is due to urbanization and associated development of flood-prone areas along coast lines and on river plains, the report indicated. Other factors include development in areas vulnerable to fire risk, such as the wildland-urban interface, as well as long-term climate change, the report said.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters had an economic cost of $165 billion during 2018, with around $155 billion resulting from natural catastrophes and the remainder from man-made events.
  • Insurance covered about half ($85 billion) of 2018’s economic losses from natural and man-made disasters, creating a global catastrophe insurance protection gap of $80 billion. (The insurance protection gap is the financial loss generated by catastrophes not covered by insurance.)
  • During 2017 and 2018, the global all-catastrophe protection gap of the past two years was $280 billion, with more than half of that resulting from independent secondary and secondary-effect peril events.
  • Approximately 13,500 people lost their lives or went missing in last year’s catastrophe events. Natural catastrophes claimed more than 9,800 victims, and man-made disasters resulted in roughly 3,600 deaths, up from around 3 000 in 2017.
  • There were 304 catastrophe events in 2018, which was level with the previous year. Of those, 181 were natural catastrophes (184 in 2017), and 123 were man-made disasters.

Swiss Re said one way re/insurers can help mitigate the impact of future secondary catastrophe perils is through investment in sustainable infrastructure projects.

“There are many examples of disaster mitigating defenses having been strengthened as part of reconstruction efforts after a catastrophic event,” the study notes.

Estimating that assets of global re/insurance organizations total around $30 trillion, Swiss Re suggests that even a fraction of that amount “could unlock a significant amount of capital for deployment into long-term resilience-building infrastructure projects.”

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Insurance Journal West May 6, 2019
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