At the same time insurers have a reduced appetite to take on real estate risks, real estate developers during a pandemic-induced economic recession have an aversion to investing a lot of money into risk-reduction measures. These twin dynamics are a recipe for a long and arduous hard market in real estate insurance lines, according to a real estate insurance expert.
“What we’re facing right now is a circumstance where there is less and less appetite to take on the broader and wider risk,” said Jeff Charles, managing director for Gallagher. “That’s the whole supply-and-demand issue that the market is facing. And then there is the multi-year accumulation of attritional losses compounded by cat losses. And it’s a zero per cent interest rate environment. The insurance companies are on their heels with where they can be profitable, and that is driving the focus on their underwriting.”
Carriers are looking for more information about risks associated with where developers are building, primarily in areas with a high flood risk, Charles observed. Absent the right amount of information, it’s easier for companies to say they’re going to pass on an application. “’It doesn’t suit our profile and we don’t have enough information,’” said Charles, reciting what brokers are hearing insurance companies say. “That’s becoming more common and, arguably, appropriate.”
Broker conversations with clients are now shifting, Charles said. Clients will be asked if they’re willing to fork over the money and take on the increased costs to transfer the risks to insurance. Or they have the option to do something different, like take that money and invest in actions to mitigate risks and be pro-active.
There’s no straightforward path for clients to take in this environment, Charles told Canadian Underwriter. He finds the market “fascinating,” since one developer will see things differently from another.
When asked if the aversion to investing in risk mitigation would mean a day of reckoning was coming, Charles said it’s already here.
“The reckoning is starting,” he said. “But what’s particularly unique about this [hardening market in real estate] is that as long as we continue to operate in this low interest rate environment, and insurers are restricted in how they generate their income — they’re playing with one arm tied behind their back with the investment returns — that’s going to leave a continued focus on underwriting profitability and potential reliance on generating the majority of their returns to shareholders from their underwriting profitability.”
In other words, insurers have to make better decisions about the risks to which they are deploying capacity, and how much premium they’re going to charge. “We’ve started to see price move and we’re starting to see limitations on terms and conditions,” Charles said.
This is not just a Canada-only problem, he pointed out. The same issues are playing out around the world. Compared to other countries, Canadian flood risk may be small potatoes for global insurers who operate in Canada.
“What’s missing from this conversation is the reinsurance conversation,” Charles said. “What kind of price increases is the insurance company seeing. And what’s the driving impact to the end-user of that cost of reinsurance? That’s where you see…the tolerance to take on additional water issues is being tightened fastest.”