Commercial P/C Premiums Drop, Underwriting Relaxes, Survey Finds

April 23, 2007

Commercial property/casualty premiums for all sizes of accounts dropped sharply during the first quarter of 2007, with indications that insurance companies are starting to loosen underwriting standards and price aggressively to get business, according to the latest Commercial Property/Casualty Market Index by The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers

“Once again, underwriting is out the door as the companies fight for growth/premium,” observed an agent from the Southwest.

“All of the carriers want and need new business, and they are willing to do anything to get it,” said another broker.

The Council memebrs write 80 percent of the premiums annually in the United States. The Council’s market surveys, which have been conducted since the fourth quarter of 1999, ask respondents to compare market conditions and premiums quarter-to-quarter.

One broker from the Northeast, calling the premium drop “dramatic,” said rates in the most recent quarter fell more sharply than during all of 2006.

Eighty-one percent of the survey respondents said their small account premiums for January through March 2007 were down 1-30 percent, while 97 percent said their medium accounts were down 1-30 percent. Ninety percent said their large accounts premiums were down 1-30 percent.

An analysis of the survey findings by Lehman Brothers placed the average premium decrease for accounts in the first quarter at 11.3 percent. The Lehman analysis said premiums for all sizes of accounts were at their lowest point since they peaked in the fourth quarter of 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Although the premium rate decreases have been evident in the last several market index surveys, this was the first time that less restrictive underwriting was widely reported. Brokers and agents from every section of the country said carriers were writing and quoting accounts that a year ago they would not consider.

“Underwriters are buying new business in the Midwest,” one broker reported.

“More companies jumping in on each line. It’s going to get more competitive still,” said a broker from the Pacific Northwest.

Coastal property/casualty, wind coverage and California earthquake coverage remained tough to find and expensive, but no worse than previously reported, the agents and brokers said. And many coverages previously placed in the surplus lines market are now moving back to the standard markets, the survey respondents said.

Source: The Council

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