Insurance

Data Call Would Hinder Climate-Risk EffortsMore Than It Would Help

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A new data-reporting mandate the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office (FIO) is considering imposing on certain property/casualty insurers raises a variety of concerns both for insurers and their policyholders.

In response to a request for comments on the proposed data call, Triple-I has told FIO that the requested data would be duplicative, could lead to misleading conclusions, and – by increasing insurers’ operational costs – would ultimately lead to higher premium rates for policyholders.

“Fulfilling this new mandate would require insurers to pull existing staff from the work they already are doing or hire staff to do the new work, increasing their operational costs,” Triple-I wrote. “As FIO well knows, state-by-state regulation prevents insurers from ‘tweaking’ their cash flows in response to change the way more lightly regulated industries can. Higher costs inevitably drive increases in policyholder premium rates.”

President Biden’s Executive Order on Climate-Related Financial Risk, issued in May of 2021, emphasized the important role insurers can play in addressing these risks. The order authorizes FIO “to assess climate-related issues or gaps in the supervision and regulation of insurers” and to assess “the potential for major disruptions of private insurance coverage in regions of the country particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.”

Triple-I argues that these objectives can be met by using the information insurers already are required to report, as well as other publicly available data. It also suggests that “assessing the potential” for disruptions might not be as productive an endeavor as working to prevent such disruptions by collaborating with the insurance industry to reduce their likelihood.

“There is no dearth of information to help FIO and policymakers address the conditions contributing to climate risk and drive the behavioral changes needed in the near, intermediate, and long term,” Triple-I wrote, reminding FIO that catastrophe-modeling firms prepare their industry exposure data bases from public sources, not insurer data calls. Similarly, abundant public data exists regarding the needs of vulnerable populations and the risks to which they are subject. “What is needed is to build on existing efforts and draw on the voluminous data and analysis already extant to target problem areas that are well understood.”

Insurance availability and affordability are inextricably linked to reducing damage and losses. The best way to keep insurance available and affordable is to reduce the amounts insurers have to pay in claims.

“Less damage leads to reduced claims, helping to preserve policyholder surplus and enabling insurers to limit premium rate increases over time,” Triple-I wrote.

The importance of collaboration with the industry was a major theme of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) response to FIO’s request for comments.

“While we recognize the Treasury’s desire to better understand the impact of climate risk and weather-related exposures on the availability and affordability of the homeowners’ insurance market,” NAIC wrote, “we are disappointed and concerned that Treasury chose not to engage insurance regulators in a credible exercise to identify data elements gathered by either the industry or the regulatory community.”

NAIC contrasted Treasury’s approach to prior data-gathering efforts, such as after Superstorm Sandy, when Treasury initially asked the states for a wide-ranging data set but ultimately agreed to a more focused call. In the current case, NAIC wrote, “The unilateral process Treasury employed thus far is a missed opportunity to work collaboratively with regulators on an issue we have both identified as a priority.”

Insurers are responsibly promoting a more sustainable and resilient environment and economy. The most pressing need now is to help communities adapt and make sure they are adequately insured against events that can’t be prevented.  The NAIC, as well as residual-market administrators in Florida, Louisiana, and California – states where the impacts of climate risk already are playing out – can provide relevant data and insights and help FIO translate them into actionable policy proposals.

Triple-I agrees with the NAIC that FIO should use publicly available data and work with state insurance regulators, who fully understand the risks, market and operational dynamics, and policy structures. Such an approach would spare FIO and insurers unnecessary work and the public unnecessary confusion.

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