Tough Insurance Market Remains as COVID Restrictions Ease
The upcoming summer months promise to bring a resurgence of festivals, concerts, and community events after the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the live entertainment industry for the past two years.
Pent-up demand for in-person events is fueling cautious optimism among specialists in the entertainment and event space, who say they are busier than ever trying to secure adequate coverage for their clients.
“The market is absolutely rebounding and it’s exciting to see,” said Debbie Spinner, underwriting manager in the Entertainment division of Alive Risk, which is part of Ryan Specialty Underwriting Managers.
But getting back to pre-pandemic event normalcy will be a slow process for the insurance market, entertainment specialists say. Market conditions for mid-size and large events were extremely challenging before the pandemic began and with little to no event business for carriers to write and a slew of claims to pay, the market’s hardening has accelerated.
Several carriers left the market altogether and those that remain pulled back on their capacity, leaving agents and brokers scrambling to place business with fewer markets to choose from.
Those looking for coverage for large events are finding markets offering lower limits, higher rates and strict underwriting requirements, according to experts.
“On average, we are experiencing rate increases for nearly all coverages as carriers need additional premium to support increased losses and expenses,” said Hub International’s “2022 US Insurance Market and Rate Report.” Rate increases average 5% to 20% or higher, depending on the line of business.
The event cancellation/contingency market has been hit hardest, said Christian Phillips, president of Paragon Insurance Holdings’ Contingency Practices. The pandemic caused more than $6 billion to $8 billion in event cancellation losses. Overall, coverage has become significantly more restrictive and there are zero options available to purchase coverage for communicable diseases, Phillips said.
“The whole market was hit dramatically, whether you were a small event organizer or a large event organizer — everybody was impacted in the same way,” he said.
Carriers are scrutinizing all event risks much more closely than they were before COVID, said Martin Ridgers, president of MKR Specialty Insurance Brokerage, an independent agency in Long Island City, N.Y. Experienced event organizers who can demonstrate they are prepared in terms of safety and security will be prioritized by underwriters.
“It is a hard market and underwriters will ask questions and let risks go,” he said.
Spinner said risk transfer has become extremely important to carriers for events of all sizes, which includes requiring vendors or third parties to have their own insurance that indemnifies the insured.
“It is essentially like a puzzle … and every piece of that puzzle has to be underwritten,” she said.
What that means for agents and brokers is significantly more work and time spent on policy submissions, and time is of the essence when it comes to securing coverage, Spinner said.
“We’re seeing an influx of new business submissions, and everybody wants to see that, but unfortunately the underwriters are extremely inundated with the amount of business coming across their desk and now the challenge is actually turning those quotes around for insureds in time,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic, event organizers could easily buy event cancellation coverage with an optional endorsement for communicable diseases, typically for an additional premium, Phillips said, but that is no longer the case as companies deal with “dramatic” losses.
“What’s happened post-COVID is there’s no option now to purchase it because obviously COVID is an ongoing thing, and everybody knows about it … it would be almost like saying ‘that building’s got smoke coming out of it — would you like to insure it with a fire policy?'” Phillips said.
Aristotle Moulopoulos, a production specialist in Alive Risk’s Entertainment division, said companies are not only excluding the coverage, but requiring “written confirmation that the insured understands there is no coverage for COVID or communicable disease” when quoting event cancellation coverage.
“It’s just another protection for the carrier because it’s an uninsurable risk right now,” he said. “They want transparency with the insured that they’re not trying to sell any product that’s misleading.”
While some insureds are asking for coverage to protect them against COVID-related cancellations, most understand it’s “an impossible placement,” Moulopoulos said.
At some point, underwriters may look at insuring communicable diseases with a COVID exclusion, Moulopoulos said, but he doesn’t see that happening as long as the virus is a prevalent issue.
There are other exposures besides COVID making underwriters nervous in the event cancellation market, as well, such as extreme weather and security threats.
The pandemic tipped the scales for those companies that were already pulling back on capacity and limits on bigger events, said Phillips. For smaller events, underwriters have adapted with new policy forms that specifically exclude communicable disease coverage, new rates and deductibles, and the market is more able to absorb losses.
“The market I would say right now is struggling from the point of view of capacity, especially with the larger events.
Obviously smaller events are much easier to deal with,” he said. “When you get to the medium-size and larger events it’s a real struggle to get 100% of the limit placed, especially for certain types of events.”
However, Phillips noted, some of the markets that left are being replaced with a few companies that were holding back while rates were low.
“For many years we were in a soft market within our industry, so this was a perfect time to come into this industry as rates went up massively, coverage narrowed and capacity reduced,” he said.
Risk Management, Education Critical Components
Safety has always been a major underwriting component in the event space, noted Alive Risk’s Spinner, but it’s more important than ever in the midst of the current hard market and COVID-19.
Underwriters have stepped up their underwriting requirements but those vary depending on the type and size of the event.
Underwriters want detailed information on event safety and emergency plans, as well as what COVID protocols are in place even though COVID is not a covered exposure, Spinner said. COVID vaccine or testing requirements are lightening up, but underwriters still want to know if appropriate health and safety precautions are being taken to minimize the event’s overall exposure.
“They want to make sure that [the insured] is trying to create a safe and well-run event,” she said.
MKR Specialty’s Ridgers said event organizers have learned “more than they probably wanted to” in the last two years on how to make their events safer, and the good news is they’ve taken a number of steps to improve in that area.
Those risks that can demonstrate they are experienced and well-organized will get quicker responses from underwriters, better policy terms and better coverage, he said. It is up to brokers to represent their customer in a proper manner, as well.
“Put [the policy submission] together as early as possible and find out what underwriters are concerned about,” he said. “Don’t just throw it to the underwriters and hope they can give you an answer — you need to go through the questions the underwriters have.”
Brokers also need to take the time to read and clearly communicate the terms and conditions of their clients’ event policies, particularly given that policies are not as comprehensive as they once were, Ridgers said.
“Underwriters are going to include terms that keep them away from risk,” he said.
Paragon’s Phillips said he has found it helpful to bring together the event organizer and the underwriter so they can go through the policy and ask questions.
“Then you’ve got much happier clients because in the event of a claim they know if they are covered or if they’re not covered, and things will run much, much more smoothly,” he said.
It is up to agents and brokers to be the trusted advisor and educate their clients on what is required to effectively — and affordably — secure coverage, Spinner said.
“With a lot of these events, especially the larger ones, it’s going to be a lot of information required to obtain insurance,” she said. “Ultimately, what these requirements are there for is to protect the insured and help them run a safe event. And, by doing all this it can help them get a better quote and a better rate.”
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