The four hurricanes that devastated Florida this summer packed a bigger punch than Andrew, 1992’s monster storm. Together, Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne racked up more than $20 billion in insured property damage, compared with Andrew’s $15.5 billion. The number of claims from the hurricanes is expected to exceed 2 million, surpassing Andrew’s 700,000, says the Insurance Information Institute (III).
So will property-and-casualty insurance rates skyrocket, as they did in Andrew’s wake? “Across most of the country, there will be little or no impact for property or casualty costs,” predicts Robert Hartwig, chief economist at the III. “If you’re in the Southeast, it’s possible you’ll see higher property costs next year.”
Why won’t insurers jack up rates this time? “One reason is that Florida set up a pool to handle a portion of the losses,” explains Clint Harris of Conning Research & Consulting Inc. in Hartford. “There was also a buildup of insurance capital following 2001 to replenish losses from 9/11 and Tropical Storm Allison.”
Another factor is the industry’s improved ability to manage catastrophe exposure, says John Iten, a director of Standard & Poor’s North American insurance- rating group. Following Andrew and 9/11, insurers stepped up their purchases of reinsurance. The result is an industry that covers itself for the worst. “It is amazing how big a difference there’s been between Andrew and these storms,” says Iten.
Of course, businesses in hard-hit Florida may be forgiven for expecting an uptick in rates. “We’d certainly expect with this level of activity that rates are going up,” says Richard Aldred, CFO of Fidelity Federal Bank & Trust in West Palm Beach, which suffered roof damage at one of its properties during Charley.
Aldred plans to offset any premium increases by paying higher deductibles and by mitigating Fidelity’s risk via revamped hurricane shutters and straps on company buildings. Performing structural analyses is another way to minimize costs, experts say. “Uncertainty about your buildings can increase your prices, because insurers make conservative assumptions,” says Paul VanderMarck, executive vice president of Risk Management Solutions Inc. in Newark, Calif. “The more data an insurer has, the better it can understand your risk and price you appropriately.”