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Product innovation extending the reach of commercial insurance: Swiss Re sigma study


October 11, 2017   by Canadian Underwriter


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Product development and innovation around data and data analytics has expanded the scope of insurance solutions to a wider range of threats and perils, and made risk transfer more efficient, Swiss Re said in its latest sigma study.

Released on Wednesday, the Commercial insurance: innovation to expand the scope of insurability study noted that technological, economic, demographic, societal and geopolitical macro trends are driving deep changes in the business environment, creating new opportunities, but also new risks.

“At the same time, the corporate sector has changed from being dominated by physical assets to deriving more value from intangible assets, such as intellectual property, networks, platforms, data and customer relationships,” Swiss Re noted in a press release. “These transformations and the associated exposures they create are mirrored by surveys of risk perception by companies. For example, today business interruption, due to cyber and supply chain risks, is the key corporate risk concern, according to surveys of risk experts across the globe.”

Kurt Karl, Swiss Re’s chief economist, said in the release that new types of solutions are providing protection against a wider range of perils and extending insurance cover from tangible to intangible assets. For example, holistic covers combine multiple risks and/or interdependent triggers, and allow better alignment to the specific risk transfer needs of an insurance buyer. “In addition to offering coverage for multiple risks, holistic solutions offer efficient risk transfer given their focus on the joint distribution of all risks,” Karl said.

Parametric solutions based on indices rather than actual losses also offer efficiency benefits, according to the sigma report. The biggest advantage of parametric triggers is their clarity and neutrality: an insurance payout is triggered if pre-set conditions are met, providing a quick, pre-agreed pay-out without a lengthy claim investigation. For this reason, parametric solutions are particularly useful in managing earnings volatility or for business interruption type coverage, with or without physical damage to property.

Swiss Re said in the release that the utility of such solutions is demonstrated by a recently developed multi-year parametric cover for earthquake events of minimum magnitude bought by a U.S. state government entity with property assets spanning a wide area. The main objective of the buyer was to secure sufficient post-event liquidity to manage the initial cash flow needs after an earthquake event, such as for emergency evacuations and to facilitate access for repair work.

The sigma report noted that insurance solutions are also increasingly being used to protect earnings and cash flow risks. Some previously uninsurable non-core business risks can now be insured to some degree, due to the evolution of triggers, indemnity structures and data and modelling advances. Examples of perils that can be covered in more innovative ways include non-physical damage business interruption, cyber, product recall as well as weather and energy price risks.

For example, in Brazil – the world’s third largest producer of hydropower, which is also recovering from its worst drought in 40 years – an energy trading company wanted to hedge its exposure against future drought risk. A customized derivative solution based on an index that measures a river’s natural flow has been developed, Swiss Re reported. The index is calculated daily by an independent body responsible for coordinating and controlling electricity generation and transmission facilities in Brazil. If the index falls below a defined threshold, the derivative pays financial compensation. The index-based deal hedges the trading company’s position against drought risk – its most important weather-related risk – and will help stabilize its expected earnings in the future.

Swiss Re said that there have also been cases where novel solutions have enabled the operation of new types of business models, such as sharing economy start-ups, and even allowed companies to utilize risk transfer for marketing support and product differentiation. For instance, in China a company wanted to promote a client loyalty programme that would allow local farmers to benefit from free-of-charge replacement for already purchased pesticides if their crops were damaged by a severe storm. The manufacturer’s objective was to transfer this risk exposure to the insurance market. In addition to boosting sales, the pesticide manufacturer can increase client loyalty by offering an insurance add-on to its product, and also justify a small price increase for the product. The benefit to farmers is that the free-of-charge replacement feature provides financial relief when they need it most, the release said.

For its part, corporate risk management is becoming more sophisticated as a necessary response to the changing risk landscape from structural changes in the business environment. Firms are transferring risk through financial instruments in order to reduce costs associated with financial distress, and to safeguard cash flow and thereby investment projects. However, they are also using novel risk transfer solutions to create value by lowering the cost of capital and to reduce earnings volatility. New covers will expand the scope of protection products by enlarging the boundaries of insurability and also the role of insurance in corporate risk management, Swiss Re concluded.