Weathering the storm with parametric insurance


As the frequency and intensity of climate change related extreme weather events has increased, so too, has the pressure on the insurance industry to provide proper protection. Parametric insurance is proving to be essential.

Climate change-related extreme weather events such as flooding, storms and hurricanes have been on the rise in recent years. According to independent global campaign group Greenpeace, weather trends are changing markedly from long-term averages.

Increasing temperatures are causing heatwaves and drought in many parts of the world. In early 2022, Greenpeace said India and Pakistan faced early heatwaves and China reported its third driest summer.

Widespread wildfires also raged across Australia, the Amazon and US, devastating communities and wildlife. Storms and flooding are also becoming more frequent.

Extreme weather events are not just more frequent, but more severe.

In 2022, Munich Re reported that natural disasters caused losses of $65bn in the first half of the year alone. This is particularly concerning given the lack of loss protection. Torsten Jeworrek, member of the board of management at Munich Re, said that insurance penetration in developing and emerging nations is stagnating at well below 10%, and even in industrial countries there is much room for improvement.

Hurricane Ian hit the headlines late last year, which was considered to be the fifth most powerful storm to hit the US mainland and likely to be the costliest since 1992, according to the Guardian. More recently, an earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, registered as a 7.8 magnitude, killing tens of thousands of people, BBC reports revealed.

The increase in the frequency and intensity of climate-related events has put pressure on the demand for catastrophe insurance solutions to protect communities and businesses globally.

Parametric insurance cover

This is where parametric insurance comes in. Swiss Re defines parametric solutions as a type of insurance that covers the probability of a predefined event happening instead of indemnifying actual loss incurred.

The insurance cover is triggered if pre-defined parameters are met or exceeded based on observable factors; it then pays out a pre-determined amount without the need for the insured to prove actual loss suffered.  This should result in faster pay-outs for covered losses.

According to Amrit Santhirasenan, co-founder and CEO of InsurTech hyperexponential (hx) the industry is seeing a “huge amount of investment” in products such as parametric insurance and other related modern forms of coverage for climate-related risks.

Victor Bouton, senior data scientist, agriculture and parametrics at Liberty Mutual Re, Liberty Mutual’s treaty reinsurance business, said the industry has been innovating in Natural Catastrophe (NatCat) solutions for several years. “This is evident in the growth of the parametric markets and the improvement in risk modelling.”

Hx’s Santhirasenan said when considering the challenges faced by some of the biggest insurance companies in the world, a lot of them are exposed to natural perils, like earthquakes and hurricanes. “This means the providers of technology in that space are incredibly motivated and incentivised to make things better. If your clients are facing losses that your models are not allowing for, it creates a huge disconnect, which will be a key driver in pushing incumbents to innovate.”

Should the industry be doing more?

Parametric insurance is an area we are going to see a huge amount of innovation in, Santhirasenan continued. Not only is it becoming more important as the world grapples with climate-change related weather events, it also represents a valuable opportunity for insurers to better manage client satisfaction.

With the market value of $11.7bn in 2021 and projected to reach $29.3bn by 2031, LM Re’s Bouton said the parametric insurance sector has already “taken off”.

However, according to Rory Yates, senior vice president of corporate strategy, global at core platform provider EIS, the industry should be doing more to innovate.

“Firstly though, insurance is vital in the fight against [the consequences of] climate change, and it needs a lot more government level support to achieve this. This will take mass collaboration across industries as well. And not to mention the vast supply chains insurers carry to provide their services. Lots of learning and change needed across the board and insurance is starting to respond far more actively than prior to 2022,” he said.

Areas of innovation

Andrew Pedler, head of claims client relationships and innovation at Liberty Specialty Markets (LSM), Liberty Mutual’s specialty insurance business, said the company is working hard to integrate risk modelling capabilities with the claims handling process. “A claim settled quickly provides a better claim outcome for the customer and for the insurer.

“If we can mobilise our claims teams before a claim has been made, we can help the insured take preventative measures, and manage a significant amount of the claims adjustment process pre-FNOL [first notification of loss],” he said.

Eileen Potter, VP insurance marketing at Smart Communications, said that although she sees the parametric insurance market growing, we mustn’t forget the risks involved. “On one level it [parametric insurance] makes sense, because eliminating the adjustment process means that a claim is paid faster. But this type of insurance means there is a level of additional risk retention on the part of the policyholder – since they do not fully indemnify the insured when there is a loss, but instead offer a pre-specified pay-out based on a trigger event.

“This is very different from how insurance usually works, and insurers should be mindful about educating a customer on the differences and how it would impact them after a loss.”

Other areas of improvement, according to LM Re’s Bouton, would be further development of parametric triggers on indemnity-based policies. For example, when there is a notification of the risk of a flood event occurring, followed by a notification that a flood had occurred at x depth and at x location. Parametric insurance experts and claims teams can then work together to build the appropriate service structure.

“On receipt of this information, the insurance policy could do a number of things automatically: 1) appoint a restoration company 2) contact the insured 3) release an interim payment. Once the claim has been made formally and adjusted in accordance with policy terms and conditions the final payment can occur,” LSM’s Pedler explained.

 Game-changing technologies

The majority of the investments in catastrophe solutions are focussed on helping organisations be more predictive and preventative prior to the disaster event. However, Smart Communications’ Potter said that ultimately, claims are part of the business of insurance, “so companies are investing in technologies that can improve their claims processes overall and help them better manage and adjudicate losses on a large scale.”

Such technologies include satellite, aerial and Synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) imagery. LM Re’s Bouton said these are “game changers.”

Testament to the funding going into this area, was ICEYE’s $136m Series D funding round last year. ICEYE is an expert in natural catastrophe (NatCat) solutions and owns and operates the world’s largest constellation of SAR satellites. SAR is a type of data collection that can be used to gather information about floods, land cover changes, and modifications of the Earth’s surface from landslides, earthquakes and tectonic movements.

LM Re’s Bouton said that standard optical data can gather much of the same intelligence, but that “the primary advantage and differentiator of SAR technology is to ‘see’ through cloud. This can be hugely important post event when cloud cover, both during event and post event, can hinder early post event analysis.”

ICEYE also partnered with Arturo, a PropTech company, to bring insurers flood and property damage insights with its real-time flood imagery.

As these technologies become ubiquitous and the quality of the imagery improves, Pedler said the industry will be in a position to significantly enhance its claims services. “Imagine a world where insurers pay a claim before a claim has been made? We’re not far off that now.”

The claims process

When a customer is making a claim with their insurance company, it is usually a heightened emotional time. This is exacerbated when it comes to disaster or catastrophe insurance. In such instances, a policyholder’s home may have been destroyed in a storm for example.

In light of this, insurers in this space need to have technologies in place that will enable them to respond faster, with empathy, Smart Communications’ Potter said. “This means personalised, conversational interactions, and through multiple channels, which is especially important since their customers may not have access to a computer, or power may be an issue.”

Having this level of customer communications management, Potter continued, will give the insurers’ claims handlers, whether on the phone or in the field, the right tools to communicate with their customers when they need them the most.

According to Liberty Specialty’s Pedler, much of the issue surrounding making claims is the anxiety involved, and this is what insurers should be looking to remove as much as possible. Policyholders will be wondering what the status of their claim is, if they are covered, and when it may be paid.

To illustrate this, Pedler pointed to the introduction of the Uber map as an example. Studies show that customers aren’t much interested in how quickly a taxi arrives but rather they desire certainty as to when it will arrive. This is why the UBER map was introduced into the product, he said.

“The map and ability to track the taxi in real time removes much of the anxiety from the process. Deliveroo, Just Eat and others have since followed suit. For insurers, this is definitely food for thought.”

A question of survival

Effective parametric insurance is not only important to individuals, but also businesses. According to EIS’s Yates, business insurance cover is critical, and often a question of survival.

The economic cost of natural disasters has an immense impact, he continued. Natural catastrophes averaged $313bn in total costs in 2022, with insured losses covering $132bn, representing a huge economic impact.

Smart Communications’ Potter said it is incumbent upon insurance providers, either the company or an agent or a broker, to offer guidance and explanations about what is included and excluded in cover, so that there are no surprises.

When it comes to small businesses, hx’s Santhirasenan highlighted that they have had a particularly difficult time in recent years from the Covid-19 pandemic and chronic supply chain disruption. “It’s already so much harder for small businesses to thrive but insurance is risk protection and can help offset some of that risk,” he said.

However, Santhirasenan said catastrophe insurance needs to evolve to support businesses. “It can’t be so expensive no one can afford it. That’s not a useful form of protection and yet catastrophe insurance is going to be critical in certain areas for companies to be able to continue. That means as an industry, we need to leverage all the advances in technology to make more of the world insurable.”

Nothing is off the table

Although there is still much to be done, the pressures on the industry mean significant resources are being funnelled into innovation efforts to make disaster and catastrophe insurance more efficient, and support individuals and businesses in times of crises.

Parametric insurance plays a key role in this. However, it is not confined to the case of natural disasters, it is also deployed in industries such as travel, cargo, agriculture and digital asset protection. According to Bouton, parametric insurance plays an important role in the energy market as well, covering both production shortfall and damage. This means progress made could have positive knock-on effects in these industries also.

For example, Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock) recently partnered with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and Blue Marble to provide a parametric insurance product to protect women workers in the informal sector. The project is activated when specific heat conditions that are expected to result in negative health outcomes are met. At this point, a payment to SEWA members’ bank accounts is generated to compensate for the loss of income from unsafe working conditions.

The use of parametric products is also popular in the travel insurance industry. The holiday period of 2022 saw severe travel disruption in the US and Canada as a result of weather conditions, InsurTech Blink Parametric protected over 60,000 Canadian and US travellers over this period with its parametric products.

Last year, Neptune Mutual, a marketplace for parametric coverage protection of digital assets, closed a private funding round of $5.3m. Neptune Mutual provides a marketplace for parametric cover protection of digital assets against hacks and exploits.

The nature of parametric insurance, according to hx’s Santhirasenan, is in the name: there is a parameter, which is used to decide if a claim is eligible.

“As technology becomes available to consume more data in the world, we’ll start to see more things become legitimate parameters,” he said.

Take, for example, cyber insurance, Santhirasenan continued. “You could look at the data of any given company and its vulnerability surface; how often is it being attacked? By whom? When does it normally happen? You could use that data to deliver parametric cover.”

Being able to convert that data into insights creates the opportunity to offer parametric cover in a range of areas. “Parametric cover is only really held back by the world’s investment in data and technology,” he added, “Nothing is ‘off the table’.”

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