Triple-I/Milliman Report: 2020 Turmoil Takes Toll on P/C Insurer Finances

The global pandemic and costly natural catastrophes will contribute to a projected 101.7 combined ratio for the U.S.’s property/casualty (P/C) insurers in 2020, higher than the 98.8 the industry posted last year, according to the latest Underwriting Projections: 2020-2022 report from Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and Milliman.

The combined ratio is the percentage of each premium dollar a P/C insurer spends on claims and expenses. An increase in the combined ratio means financial results are deteriorating, while a decrease means they are improving.

For 2020, insurers are projected to pay nearly $1.02 (101.7) in claims and expenses for every premium dollar they collected. In 2019, they paid about 99 cents (98.8) on every premium dollar in claims and expenses.

The latest report is somewhat rosier than prior projections. For 2020, P/C insurer annual premium growth is projected to be 1.5%, an improvement from the decline of 0.5% projected three months ago, the report noted.

“Our estimates of premium growth are tied pretty tightly to economic indicators. Estimates of 2020 nominal GDP, while still showing shrinkage, have improved. That, plus a more nuanced understanding of how insurers booked the personal auto givebacks, helped us revise our premium estimates,” said Jason B. Kurtz, FCAS, MAAA, Principal & Consulting Actuary, Milliman. 

In addition, the latest report incorporates more information as to how the industry is performing financially year-to-date. Filed first-half results provide a good idea of how premium and insured loss trends are impacting results.

“We can compare loss ratios for this year against last year and prior years and, after a couple of quarters, we can fine-tune our projection,” Kurtz said. “And we know a lot more about catastrophe losses, which are usually the biggest wildcard, and the third quarter is when the hardest catastrophes generally hit.”

For most lines of business, the forecast changed little from three months ago. Premium forecasts for lines like general liability and commercial auto insurance were affected because of the economic forecast.

“In commercial auto, for example, we thought the increase in online shopping would affect exposures more than it appears to have done. But as to the underwriting result, we didn’t change things much. Rates are higher, as we expected, and those lines are still fighting social inflation,” said James Lynch, FCAS, MAAA, Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary, Triple-I.

The report forecasts U.S. P/C insurance industry premium growth of 5 to 6 percent for 2021-22, slightly lower than the prior forecast released by Triple-I and Milliman.

What to Watch for

There’s still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the pandemic. “The industry continues to grapple with how big the impact will be,” said Lynch. “There’s more certainty than three months ago, but that still leaves a whole lot of uncertainty,” he said. “Our stance remains where it was – the net loss impact will be the equivalent of a major hurricane – but as industry veterans know, some major hurricanes hit harder than others.”   

Also, the path the economy takes as a result of the pandemic matters, added Kurtz. “Gross domestic product (GDP) rose the fastest in U.S. history last quarter, but the resurgence of COVID cases could mean another lockdown – perhaps softer than what we saw in the spring, but any lockdown triggers a slowdown. So, we might see a double-dip recession, and that suppresses premium growth.” He noted that a K-shaped recovery would be good for some segments of the U.S. economy while not being good for others.

Another wild card: government and regulatory responses. Another Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that puts money in the hands of individuals and businesses is likely to buoy the economy as it did in the spring, the report states. Liability protections for reopening businesses would be favorable for the industry. “Congress may deal with that in the lame duck session or next year, but we will see,” said Kurtz.

The quarterly report was presented on November 17 at an exclusive members only virtual webinar moderated by Sean Kevelighan, Chief Executive Officer, Triple-I.

“This webinar series is another example of how the Insurance Information Institute is modernizing and innovating,” Kevelighan said.  “Under the leadership of our chief actuary, James Lynch, the Triple-I is now giving its members timely, data-driven, and unique insights on insurance industry underwriting projections.”