GettyImages-936859358-1-681x1024.jpg

Coastal New Jersey Town Regains Class 3 NFIP Rating

Sea Isle City, N.J., has regained its Class 3 rating under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) after a brief demotion last year. Being rated Class 3 enables the coastal town’s property owners to receive a 35 percent discount on their federal flood insurance.

CRS is a voluntary incentive-based program designed to encourage strong floodplain management. Class 1 is the highest rating, enabling residents to obtain a 45 percent reduction in their premiums. Class 10 indicates that a community doesn’t participate in CRS. To date, only two of the 1,500 participating communities nationwide have achieved the highest rating: Tulsa, Okla., and Roseville, Calif.

High ratings are not easy to obtain or maintain. Sea Isle City first reached Class 3 in 2018, and the rating was briefly lowered to Class 4 last year after points awarded to communities after Superstorm Sandy expired. The city quickly regained Class 3 status through additional flood-management activities.

In the mid-1990s, conditions were so bad for Sea Isle City that it was nearly ejected from the NFIP. If this had happened, property owners wouldn’t have had access to federal flood insurance. Neil Byrne, the city’s floodplain manager, construction official, building sub-code official, and zoning officer, attributes the improvement to strengthened zoning ordinances that require structures to be elevated higher than FEMA recommends, as well as investment in berms and bulkheads.

“The history of Sea Isle City going from facing expulsion from the NFIP to now leading the charge in the CRS in New Jersey is truly inspirational,” said Thomas Song, FEMA resiliency specialist.  “What does not get enough attention is that success in the CRS program has to start with a strong understanding of the day-to-day compliance with NFIP requirements. It is extremely difficult to advance in CRS status without a strong foundation in floodplain-management practices.”

Achieving higher CRS rankings has become something of a friendly competition among coastal New Jersey towns, and only one other New Jersey community – Avalon – has a Class 3.

“Both Sea Isle City and Avalon have demonstrated their commitment in planning for future flooding, implementing higher building standards, and engaging in extensive public outreach,” Song said. “These efforts create an environment geared towards reducing flood damage and enhancing the safety and well-being of residents.”

As NFIP – through its Risk Rating 2.0 reforms – attempts to better align premium rates with risk, CRS discounts become even more significant to owners in flood-prone communities.

Last year, 17 Florida jurisdictions achieved Class 3 ratings. In Cutler Bay – a town on Miami’s southern flank with about 45,000 residents – the average premium dropped by $338. Citywide, that represented a savings of $2.3 million. In January 2024, Miami-Dade County became the latest municipality in the flood- and hurricane-prone state to achieve Class 3, leapfrogging from Class 5 due to the county’s flood-mitigation investments.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, Byrne says Sea Isle City hopes to become the state’s first Class 2 community.

“It’s very hard to get to the next level,” he said, but adds that flood pumps could help the city over the hump.

“Ninety-nine percent of our flooding is tidal flooding,” Byrne said, referring to inundation that happens during high tide events. “A lot of it goes away on its own, but we have little areas that need help getting the water out.”

About 90 percent of all U.S. natural disasters involve flooding. For decades, NFIP was practically the only available option for homeowners to obtain flood coverage. Before Risk Rating 2.0, however, coverage for higher-risk properties was often unfairly subsidized by lower-risk property owners.

In recent years, improved data, analysis, and modeling have helped drive increased private-sector interest in flood risk. This, combined with the NFIP reforms, should foster a more competitive flood insurance market in which coverage is both more available and more fairly priced.

“Collective responsibility and multi-disciplinary collaboration are necessary to build resilience around climate-related perils like flood,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “FEMA’s CRS program is just one example of how communities can make themselves safer and save money through targeted investments that reduce the likelihood and size of catastrophic losses.”

 Learn More:

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Flood

FEMA Reauthorization Session Highlights Importance of Risk Transfer and Reduction

Miami-Dade, Fla., Sees Flood-Insurance Rate Cuts, Thanks to Resilience Investment

FEMA Incentive Program Helps Communities Reduce Flood Insurance Rates for Their Citizens

Proposed Flood Zone Expansion Would Increase Need for Private Insurance

GettyImages-155068018-1024x683.jpg

Auto Insurers Contend With Rising Costs

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Auto premiums continue to increase as rising labor and material prices, alongside natural disasters, are forcing insurers to contend with significant losses.

As  Triple-I previously found in its January report, Insurance Economics and Underwriting Projections: A Forward View, “commercial auto underwriting losses continue, with a projected 2023 net combined ratio of 110.2, the highest since 2017,” according to Jason B. Kurtz, FCAS, MAAA, a Principal and Consulting Actuary at Milliman. Combined ratio is a standard measure of underwriting profitability, in which a result below 100 represents a profit and one above 100 represents a loss. 

Insurers are now having to increase rates in response to losses that are expected to keep rising.

“Nobody wants to have that higher-price bill,” said Sean Kevelighan, Triple-I’s CEO. However, he added companies “need to price insurance according to the risk level that’s out there.”

While inflation is partially to blame for these increases, natural disasters are also contributing to rising costs—and not only in traditionally disaster-prone areas like Florida and California.

As the overall P&C industry has struggled with severe convective storms, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, these losses have also been felt in commercial auto. In fact, 2023 witnessed around two dozen U.S. storms,  each with losses of around a billion dollars or more. This included major lightning, hail, and damaging winds around many areas of the of the U.S.

“While a lot of these storms don’t make national headlines, they do tend to be very costly at the local level,” says Tim Zawacki, principal research analyst for insurance at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “And the breadth of where these storms are occurring is something that I think the industry is quite concerned about.”

While disasters and economic inflation continue to roil commercial auto, so too does social inflation. As the Triple-I previously reported, “social inflation,” which is the presence of inflation in excess of economic inflation, has also significantly contributed to increases in commercial auto premiums.

Triple-I found that “from 2013 to 2022, increasing inflation drove losses up by between $35 billion and $44 billion, or between 19 percent and 24 percent. The pandemic brought significant change to commercial auto liability, decreasing claim frequency while increasing claim severity more dramatically.”

This increased claim severity is at least partially due to changing driving patterns since the pandemic, including distracted driving, which involves behaviors like cellphone use while behind the wheel. A Triple-I Issues Brief, Distracted Driving: State of the Risk, enumerated these concerns, which have undoubtedly played a role in rising commercial auto premiums.

Indeed, a confluence of issues are playing into rising auto premiums. While natural disasters are out of the control of insurance providers and their policyholders, other factors must be addressed to steady the cost of this line of insurance. This includes telematics and usage-based insurance, which has gained more acceptance since the pandemic.

Still, it is incumbent on insurers, policyholders, and policymakers to create a more sustainable market for auto insurance, working together to tackle the challenges of both climate risk and dangerous driving behavior.

GettyImages-594826537-1024x775.jpg

Evolving Risks Demand Integrated Approaches

Even as the Smokehouse Creek Fire – the largest wildfire ever to burn across Texas – was declared “nearly contained” this week, the Texas A&M Service warned that conditions are such that the remaining blazes could spread and even more might break out.

“Today, the fire environment will support the potential for multiple, high impact, large wildfires that are highly resistant to control” in the Texas Panhandle, the service said.

This year’s historic Texas fires – like the state’s 2021 anomalous winter storms, California’s recent flooding after years of drought, and a surge in insured losses due to severe convective storms across the United States – underscore the variability of climate-related perils and the need for insurers to be able to adapt their underwriting and pricing to reflect this dynamic environment. It also highlights the importance of using advanced data capabilities to help risk managers better understand the sources and behaviors of these events in order to predict and prevent losses.

For example, Whisker Labs – a company whose advanced sensor network helps monitor home fire perils, as well as tracking faults in the U.S. power grid – recorded about 50 such faults in Texas ahead of the Smokehouse Creek fires.

Bob Marshall, Whisker Labs founder and chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal that evidence suggests Xcel Energy’s equipment was not durable enough to withstand the kind of extreme weather the nation and world increasingly face. Xcel – a major utility with operations in Texas and other states — has acknowledged that its power lines and equipment “appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire.”

“We know from many recent wildfires that the consequences of poor grid resilience can be catastrophic,” said Marshall, noting that his company’s sensor network recorded similar malfunctions in Maui before last year’s deadly blaze that ripped across the town of Lahaina.

Role of government

Government has a critical role to play in addressing the risk crisis. Modernizing building and land-use codes; revising statutes that facilitate fraud and legal system abuse that drive up claim costs; investing in infrastructure to reduce costly damage related to storms – these and other avenues exist for state and federal government to aid disaster mitigation and resilience.

Too often, however, the public discussion frames the current situation as an “insurance crisis” – confusing cause with effect. Legislators, spurred by calls from their constituents for lower premiums, often propose measures that would tend to worsen the problem because they fail to reflect the importance of accurately valuing risk when pricing coverage.

The federal “reinsurance” proposal put forth in January by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California is a case in point. If enacted, it would dismantle the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and create a “catastrophic property loss reinsurance program” that, among other things, would set coverage thresholds and dictate rating factors based on input from a board in which the insurance industry is only nominally represented.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (also of California) has proposed a Wildfire Insurance Coverage Study Act to research issues around insurance availability and affordability in wildfire-prone communities. During  House Financial Services Committee deliberations, Waters compared current challenges in these communities to conditions related to flood risk that led to the establishment of NFIP in 1968. She said there is a precedent for the federal government to step in when there is a “private market failure.”

However, flood risk in 1968 and wildfire risk in 2024 could not be more different. Before FEMA established the NFIP, private insurers were generally unwilling to underwrite flood risk because the peril was considered too unpredictable. The rise of sophisticated computer modeling has since given private insurers much greater confidence covering flood (see chart).

In California, some insurers have begun rethinking their appetite for writing homeowners insurance – not because wildfire losses make properties in the state uninsurable but because policy and regulatory decisions made over 30 years ago have made it hard to write the coverage profitably. Specifically, Proposition 103 and its regulatory implementation have blocked the use of modeling to inform underwriting and pricing and restricted insurers’ ability to incorporate reinsurance costs into their premium pricing.

California’s Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara last year announced a Sustainable Insurance Strategy for the state that includes allowing insurers to use forward-looking risk models that prioritize wildfire safety and mitigation and include reinsurance costs into their pricing. It is reasonable to expect that Lara’s modernization plan will lead to insurers increasing their business in the state.

It’s understandable that California legislators are eager to act on climate risk, given their long history with drought, fire, landslides and more recent experience with flooding due to “atmospheric rivers.” But it’s important that any such measures be well thought out and not exacerbate existing problems.

Partners in resilience

Insurers have been addressing climate-related risks for decades, using advanced data and analytical tools to inform underwriting and pricing to ensure sufficient funds exist to pay claims. They also have a natural stake in predicting and preventing losses, rather than just continuing to assess and pay for mounting claims.

As such, they are ideal partners for businesses, communities, governments, and nonprofits – anyone with a stake in climate risk and resilience. Triple-I is engaged in numerous projects aimed at uniting diverse parties in this effort. If you represent an organization that is working to address the risk crisis and your efforts would benefit from involvement with the insurance industry, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us with a brief description of your work and how the insurance industry might help.

Learn More:

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Wildfire

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Flood

Triple-I “Trends and Insights” Issues Brief: California’s Risk Crisis

Triple-I “Trends and Insights” Issues Brief: Risk-Based Pricing of Insurance

Stemming a Rising Tide: How Insurers Can Close the Flood Protection Gap

Tamping Down Wildfire Threats

GettyImages-186653928-1024x683.jpg

Calif. Risk/Regulatory Environment Highlights Role of Risk-Based Pricing

Even as California moves to address regulatory obstacles to fair, actuarially sound insurance underwriting and pricing, the state’s risk profile continues to evolve in ways that underscore the importance of risk-based insurance pricing and investment in mitigation and resilience.

Triple-I’s latest “State of the Risk” Issues Brief discusses this changing risk environment and the impact of Proposition 103 – a three-decades-old measure that has made it hard for insurers to profitably write coverage in the state. In a dynamically evolving risk environment that includes earthquakes, drought, wildfire, landslides, and — in recent years, due to “atmospheric rivers” — damaging floods, Proposition 103 has prevented insurers from using the most current data and advanced modeling technologies. Instead, it has required them to price coverage based on historical data alone.

It also has restricted accurate underwriting and pricing by not allowing insurers to incorporate the cost of reinsurance into their pricing. Insurers use reinsurance to maximize their capacity to write coverage, and reinsurance rates have been rising for many of the same reasons as primary insurance rates. If insurers can’t reflect reinsurance costs in their pricing – particularly in catastrophe-prone areas – they must pay for these costs from policyholder surplus, reduce their market share in the state, or do both.

Proposition 103 also has impeded premium rate changes by allowing consumer advocacy groups to intervene in the rate-approval process. This makes it hard to respond quickly to changing market conditions, resulting in approval delays and rates that don’t accurately reflect current (let alone future) risk. It also drives up legal and administrative costs.

This has led, in some cases, to insurers deciding to limit or reduce their business in the state. With fewer private insurance options available, more Californians are resorting to the state’s FAIR Plan, which offers less coverage for a higher premium.

This isn’t a tenable situation.

In September 2023, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara announced a Sustainable Insurance Strategy for the state that includes allowing insurers to use forward-looking risk models that prioritize wildfire safety and mitigation and include reinsurance costs into their premium pricing. In exchange, insurers must cover homeowners in wildfire-prone parts of the state at 85 percent of their statewide coverage.

Issues around property insurance affordability are not confined to California. They’ve been a long time in the making, and they won’t be resolved overnight.

“Any sustainable solutions will have to rest on actuarially sound underwriting and pricing principles,” the Triple-I brief says. “Unfortunately, too often, the public discourse frames the risk crisis as an `insurance crisis’ – conflating cause with effect. Legislators, spurred by calls from their constituents for lower insurance premiums, often propose measures that would tend to worsen the problem because these proposals generally fail to reflect the importance of accurately valuing risk when pricing coverage.”

California’s Proposition 103 and the federal flood insurance program prior to its Risk Rating 2.0 reforms are just two examples, according to Triple-I.

Learn More:

Triple-I Issues Brief: Wildfire

Triple-I Issues Brief: Flood

Triple-I Issues Brief: Risk-Based Pricing of Insurance

How Proposition 103 Worsens Risk Crisis in California

Is California Serious About Wildfire Risk?

Dear California: As You Prep for Wildfire, Don’t Neglect Quake Risk