All posts tagged 'Air Worldwide'

Super Models Are Looking Better Than Ever - What Does That Mean For Insureds?

August 20, 2014 20:19
by J. Wylie Donald
A recent article in August’s Best’s Review, The Rise of the Super Models, by Kate Smith (not Kate Upton, sorry), caught our eye.  A lot is going on in the world of computer catastrophe modeling.  First, demand by insurers and reinsurers is up and modeling firms are “broadening the scope of risks and regions that they model, with RMS, AIR Worldwide and CoreLogic EQECAT all set to release new models this year.”  Among other things, all of the top 3 modeling firms are releasing U.S. inland flood models.  This blog has been hard on FEMA and the Corps of Engineers, criticizing the backward-looking nature of flood plain mapping.  It looks like the tools to remedy that deficiency will soon be at hand. Second, modeling firms are shifting from open models to open platforms, which “offer more choice by providing access to models created by third-party suppliers.”  According to Ms. Smith, a catalyst for this change is Oasis Loss Modeling Framework, Ltd., an insurance industry-founded and -funded organization.  According to Oasis’s webpage, “Barriers to entry have restricted the ability of the insurance community to exploit large elements of available research in hazards and vulnerability.”  Such barriers include costs and knowledgeable personnel.  The goal then was to create an “open marketplace for models and data leading to much wider access to understandable tools for catastrophe risk assessment.”  Open platforms (think Linux) can have great benefits; nevertheless, some are skeptical of Oasis’s practicality in that it is not available for off-the-shelf use, is optimized for an expensive IBM platform, and runs slowly on other platforms, among other things.   The implications for policyholders of all this modeling are three-fold:  first, rates; second, policyholders’ own business decisions; and third, others' views of those business decisions. As insurers better understand the risks associated with particular locations their rates will be adjusted accordingly. This can be a good thing if insurers determine they have overestimated the risk, or if other insurers jump into that market and drive prices lower. But it will be a bad thing if the risk was underestimated and prices rise, or insurers flee a particular market as has regularly happened in Florida and other states.  Indeed, at least one state has seen high court approval of the use of models to limit insurance offerings in high risk areas. Modeling can also be a boon to business planning. What does the future likely hold for a particular location? Will water supplies hold up?  Is the flood map reliable or is it outdated?  Is the company compounding its exposure by yet another franchise or mall development in a particular region?  There is no reason that modeling expertise need be restricted to insurance and reinsurance companies.  Other businesses can benefit.  However, as pointed out in Super Models, “Models are not a perfect science; there are subjective opinions involved.”  Accordingly, businesses should be cautious. And what if a business does not bring modeling into its business planning? It is likely that if things go awry and the unpleasantness is substantial and can be attributed to an inadequate forecast, an injured party will assert the failure to model the future was negligent.  A case in point is In re PXRE Group, Ltd., Sec. Litig., 600 F. Supp. 2d 510 (S.D.N.Y. 2009), aff’d, 357 Fed. Appx. 393 (2d Cir. 2009), where a reinsurance company found its failure to rely on a particular model was the gravamen of a class action plaintiff’s security fraud suit.  PXRE was a thriving reinsurance company, whose business was conditioned on maintaining an A- rating.  Unfortunately, Hurricanes Katrina, and then Rita, and then Wilma, devastated certain portions of the Gulf Coast to its reinsureds’ detriment.  PXRE stepped in and paid on its reinsurance contracts but the losses kept increasing.  It relied on models to reassure the investment community that it remained financially sound in order to raise money.  The models it relied on, however, turned out to be inaccurate, and ultimately PXRE's rating crumbled and it succumbed to the unprecedented losses.  The class action ensued. Plaintiff claimed, among other things, that PXRE should have relied on a higher estimated loss ($40-60 billion by RMS) rather than valuations of $30-40 billion touted by PXRE’s own models as well as by ISO and Air Worldwide.  The district court opinion gives a lengthy dissertation on the standards to be applied in a securities fraud case on a motion to dismiss and concluded that PXRE was not reckless in its reliance.  More germane to the issue here, is that PXRE was able to defend itself because it had relied on models.  Granted, modeling was part of PXRE’s business and, no doubt, a lack of modeling would have been reckless.  But, is a prudent non-insurance business going to eschew modeling on the theory that no one else in its industry relies on them.  If models are becoming more widely available, as suggested by Super Models, the path of the prudent business is, at the very least, to consider whether modeling has something to offer. 

Climate Change Effects | Flood Insurance | Insurance

Storm Surge in Your Lobby: You Should Have Been Thinking About Hurricane Isaac Months Ago

August 28, 2012 07:43
by J. Wylie Donald
12 feet.  Water that deep comfortably inundates the front office's front door and floats the boss's desk.  And that is the predicted maximum storm surge for coastal Louisiana and Mississippi as Hurricane Isaac bears down.   So there are likely to be a few problems in that part of the country by the time the sun goes down this afternoon.  What can be done?  At this late hour, very little unfortunately, other than heading for the hills; here the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” says it all. Other than sand bags and plywood sheeting what preventive steps have some taken?  We’d like to focus on some things lawyers and businesspeople can address ahead of time:  modeling, insurance and contracting. Modeling – Besides wreaking record havoc, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was the coming of age for catastrophe modelers. As reported by Business Insurance last week, when AIR Worldwide reported an estimated $13 billion in damage to its clients following the storm's passage, reaction ranged from “skepticism to outrage.”   Now modeling is big business and well accepted.  Indeed, modeling was approved by the Maryland Court of Appeals as an appropriate way to make business decisions in January of this year.  See People's Insurance Counsel Division v. Allstate Insurance Co., 36 A.3d 464 (Md. 2012). There is no reason to believe that Maryland’s lead would not be followed elsewhere. Today the public can get the benefit of some of the modelers’ insight in email alerts from companies’ such as AIR, or simply downloading them from the internet.  Those following Hurricane Isaac were able to learn that its ultimate effect was unsettled:  Isaac reaching hurricane status tonight leaves 24 hours of time for additional development prior to landfall; within that window, Isaac could reach Category 2 intensity. How much stronger Isaac will become will depend in part on the storm's track—that is, how much time it will spend over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Further adding to the uncertainty around Isaac’s forecast intensity is the fact that the storm will be moving over some of the warmest waters it has encountered to date, so a period of rapid intensification that leads to even stronger winds cannot be ruled out. Subscribers to services offered by modeling firms can assess their exposures long before a hurricane makes landfall and take steps to diversify or minimize risks, can optimize their response to a looming hurricane by shifting production or scheduling a shutdown, and can make time-critical decisions as the catastrophe unfolds with the best data available concerning not only the storm’s effect on one’s own facility, but on the infrastructure and other plants on which one’s facility depends. Including such modeling in business planning leads to improvement of the bottom line. Insurance – It is well-documented that insurers don’t particularly care for flood risk, including storm surge.  Following Hurricane Katrina dozens of cases sought insurance coverage for storm surge. The courts were not sympathetic; most found flood exclusions and anti-concurrent causation clauses valid and applicable. For example, where homeowners did not purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program after being told by their carrier “Your policy does not cover flood loss. You can get protection through the National Flood Insurance Program,” the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling and stated, among other things, “The omission of the specific term "storm surge" does not create ambiguity in the policy regarding coverage available in a hurricane and does not entitle the Leonards to recovery for their flood-induced damages.”  Leonard v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 419, 438 (5th Cir. 2007).  Commercial insureds fared no better.  E.g., Northrop Grumman Corp. v. Factory Mut. Ins. Co., 538 F.3d 1090, modified, 563 F.3d 777 (9th Cir. 2008). All of which is not to say that flood coverage is not available, but one has to actively seek it out, and pay for it.  This has important implications for supply chain coverage because if one's policy does not cover flood, and one's key supplier (scheduled under the contingent business interruption coverage) is shut down (as happened to many last year with Thailand's epic flooding), then there will be no coverage.  In other words, flood risk must be assessed at all relevant locations, not simply the insured's locations.  Contracting away risk – Considering storm surge, one researcher has written:  "In many places, only inches separate the once-a-decade flood from the once-a-century one; and separate the water level communities have prepared for, from the one no one has seen.  Critically, a small change can make a big difference, like the last inch of water that overflows a tub."  Ben Strauss et al., Surging Seas 4 (Mar. 14, 2012).  We saw just above that insurance may not be available for a storm surge.  Is there any other path to recovery?  Some that have purchased properties that have subsequently suffered flood damage have pursued their transaction professionals for the loss based on the theory that there should have been some disclosure.  They have had some success.  See, e.g., Perri v. Prestigious Homes, Inc., Docket No. A-0403-10T1 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Jan. 13, 2012) (suing broker for flood damage); Stonacek v. City of Lincoln, 782 N.W.2d 900 (Neb. 2010) (suing realtor, developer, engineer and city for ensuing water damage from flood); Loya v. Howard Hanna Smythe Cramer Co., 2009 Ohio 448 (Ohio Ct. App. 2009) (suing realtor for ensuing water damage from flood); Potter v. First Real Estate Co., 844 So. 2d 540 (Ala. 2002) (suing realtor based on flooding); Clay v. Walden Joint Venture, 611 So. 2d 254 (Ala. 1992) (referring to suit against realtor for flood damage).  It is relatively easy, however, to inoculate oneself against that kind of suit:  make the disclosure in the contract.  Realtors and sellers in Norfolk, Virginia apparently already do that. For a more detailed discussion see J. Wylie Donald, Getting Ahead of Storm Surge, Especially in an Era of Climate Change. Sand bags and plywood sheeting are irreplaceable as a hurricane roars in.  Maybe one should start including other preventive steps as equally necessary in order to avoid the proverbial several pounds of cure.

Flood Insurance | Insurance | Rising Sea Levels | Weather

Opening Day: CAT Bonds, Climate Change and the 2012 Hurricane Season

May 31, 2012 20:54
by J. Wylie Donald
Tomorrow is June 1,  the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, which is predicted by NOAA to be near normal. It comes almost as an afterthought this year because already we have had two named storms.  In mid-May Tropical Storm Alberto appeared and quickly disappeared.  It was followed shortly after by Tropical Storm Beryl, which made landfall at Jacksonville, Florida with record winds for a May storm.   Some undoubtedly have the view that the season's early arrival is further evidence of climate change.  That conclusion may be premature.  According to a report by the Miami Herald,  single named storms in the pre-season are not that unusual, but to have two, that has happened only thrice in the 150 years of official recordkeeping.  The science too does not support increased frequency of tropical storms as a result of climate change.  In a 2010 article, Tropical cyclones and climate change, Dr. Thomas Knutson with many others set forth what they perceived as the state of the science: Frequency. It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged owing to greenhouse warming. .... Current models project changes ranging from −6 to −34% globally, and up to ±50% or more in individual basins by the late twenty-first century.Intensity. Some increase in the mean maximum wind speed of tropical cyclones is likely (+2 to +11% globally) with projected twenty-first-century warming, although increases may not occur in all tropical regions. The frequency of the most intense (rare/high-impact) storms will more likely than not increase by a substantially larger percentage in some basins.Rainfall. Rainfall rates are likely to increase. The projected magnitude is on the order of +20% within 100 km of the tropical cyclone centre. This may not be nearly as dire as some have suggested, but we point out that ignoring a substantial increase in the frequency of storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew is done at some peril.  People in harm's way are paying attention and using this kind of analysis to make decisions on how to insure the billions of dollars of at-risk property in Florida.  We have written before of the "life on the edge" of Florida's insurer of last resort, Citizens' Property Insurance Corporation.  In trying to get off the edge and get closer to financial stability, Citizens this spring made the insurance record books when it became the ceding insurer on the largest reinsurance catastrophe bond1 ever placed:  $750 million.  So where does climate change fit in?  The CAT bond's offering document doesn't mention climate change at all.  But one should not be fooled.  The modeler for the bond is AIR Worldwide.  AIR is all over climate change risks.  In fact, just this March AIR published a literature review regarding extratropical cyclones (aka North Atlantic winter storms).   • The frequency of ETCs may diminish with increasing global temperatures• The intensity of the more extreme ETCs may rise• ETC tracks are expected to shift poleward in both hemispheres One can see parallels with the conclusions reached by Dr. Knutson et al. regarding tropical cyclones.  Accordingly, we think it would be naive to conclude that AIR did not model for climate change.  We also expect that the negotiators for Citizens wanted to insure that climate change risk was applied. As did the investors. So climate change matters to the people with real skin in the game - like three-quarters of a billion dollars.  As such, one can bet all involved are paying close attention to the official opening of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, and also to what occurs before and what occurs after. 1This is not the financial instruments blog but for those who want a quick explanation try this from BusinessWeek:  "An insurance company issues bonds to financial investors, such as hedge and pension funds, that are willing to place a bet on the probability of a disaster occurring at a particular location and during a specific time frame. During the life of the bond, the insurer pays investors a coupon interest rate. If nothing happens, the insurer returns the money when the bond matures. If the fates are cruel, cat bond investors kiss off all or part of the principal."  What investors especially like is that there is no correlation between cat bond risk and stock market or corporate bond risk.

Climate Change | Insurance | Regulation | Weather

Ceres and a Series of Serious Thoughts About the NAIC Climate Disclosures - Part II

September 16, 2011 05:09
by J. Wylie Donald
We wrote yesterday to introduce Ceres’ report on the disclosure of climate risks by insurers and considered its first Recommendation to Regulators concerning mandatory and public disclosures.  We address today the second recommendation in Climate Risk Disclosures by Insurers:  Evaluating Insurer Responses to the NAIC Climate Disclosure Survey.    Ceres’ second recommendation is to "[c]reate shared resources around the implications of climate trends on enterprise risk management."  Id. at 51.  In other words, more research should be made available concerning investment risks and opportunities, correlated risks, loss modeling, the potential for loss of health and life, and customer resilience (ability to resist extreme events).  Id.  Taking modeling by way of example, Ceres discusses modeling thoroughly in Part 2 and the discussion is thought-provoking.  Several insurers are conducting climate change modeling internally.  For the rest, they rely on third-party vendors, which invokes much criticism from Ceres.  "The majority of insurers that report using catastrophe models describe them in terms that suggest their company does not have a clear understanding of how the models can or cannot be used to anticipate changing risk.  Most of the industry relies on third-party catastrophe risk models that only marginally integrate changing extreme weather."  Id. at 6.  "[I]nsurers relying entirely on third-party models may be severely unequipped to adjust pricing to incorporate emerging climate risks." Id. at 31.  "Insurers' disclosures suggest that the majority of insurers may be setting pricing based on flawed assumptions of how the industry's loss models incorporate changing climate trends."  Id. at 32. Ceres lauds those companies that can do it in-house.  But specialization and economies of scale are fundamental drivers of the market.  Were every insurer to bring modeling inside, undoubtedly there would be some new insights not presently uncovered.  But there would also be insurers who got the models grievously wrong and, in most cases, the resources spent on modeling would be more cost-effectively spent on other items necessary to delivering products or services. To be sure, reliance on EQECAT, AIR Worldwide and RMS as the sources for all climate change modeling has its flaws.  One need only think back a few years to where another triumvirate dispensing financial ratings (allegedly) misled sophisticated investors around the globe.  But in a world of constrained resources, or even an unconstrained one, third-party modelers are necessary and beneficial.  Further, a disadvantage to society from in-house modeling is that the insights developed from proprietary work may remain just that:  proprietary.  Ceres acknowledges "it is ... possible that asymmetrical information can be used by individual companies to secure a competitive edge against their peers."  Id. at 38.  Indeed, "larger insurers more readily recognize the inherent limitations of current catastrophe models in light of changing climate than do their smaller competitors or clients.  These players have a clear competitive advantage in deploying resources to build the latest climate science into their pricing models."  Id. at 37.  Third-party vendors, on the other hand, spread their best products across many insurers, in effect sharing their best research (but only to those willing to pay for it).  We wrote yesterday of the need to recognize that intellectual capital is a business asset and criticizing a goal of making climate change disclosures public available.  We think those comments apply likewise to the sharing of resources. Nevertheless, Ceres does great work in raising the bar for third-party vendors.  By pointing out to insurer-users that they may not be getting what they really need from the modeling firms, we expect the modelers will have to go out and address Ceres’ criticisms.  For example, insurers are exposed if (as Ceres asserts) "few insured perils are modeled by insurers, leaving the possibility for climate-affected perils to be underpriced."  Id. at 35.  More specifically, "recent years have demonstrated that climate change may be driving up aggregated losses from smaller events, including perils such as floods, snowstorms and hailstorms, in ways that erode insurer profitability."  Id. Tomorrow we conclude our review with a look at Ceres’ third recommendation as well as sharing some concerns about research.

Climate Change | Insurance | Regulation

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