Managing a "Hard" Insurance Market
In the 1996 movie classic, “Twister,” Dusty runs out of the RV at the drive-in movie theater and yells to Bill, “It’s coming! It’s coming straight for us!” and Bill replies with an apprehensive and fearful look at the ominous, night sky, “It’s already here.”
That scene reminds me of the property insurance world and the hard market. The “hard market” isn’t coming—it’s already here!
For those of you new to this terminology, a “hard” insurance market represents a period of rising rates, less capacity, and unfavorable terms mandated by insurance companies to the insurance buyer. Our team at Cottingham & Butler has been sounding the bell about the hard market, and dealing with a challenging property renewal is less about “if” than “when.” Ten years ago, a dozen admitted insurance carriers would insure property insurance for foundries—today there are less than five. This article is designed around what you can do to be prepared to manage upcoming insurance renewals.
Let’s start with a brief overview of the current insurance market. Property insurance is no longer (and hasn’t been for a while) a regional issue. In today’s climate, what happens in Florida or California, affects us in the Midwest and vice versa. We’ve dealt with wildfires, windstorms, snowstorms, hurricanes, and flooding. These natural catastrophes have caused many billions of dollars in claims costs to insurers. In 2022, natural disaster damages were over $115 billion and that follows $121 billion in 2021. Along with those disasters, the industry still manages the additional losses from less catastrophic but just as costly claims ranging from fires and explosions to broken water pipes.
In response, insurance carriers and their insurance providers (known as reinsurance carriers) are increasing their rates, diminishing their appetite for risk, offering less favorable terms, and heightening underwriting scrutiny. In December 2022, Ernst & Young Global predicted reinsurance rates to rise 50% during the January 2023 renewals, setting the stage for further increases throughout 2023.
Another factor impacting insurance costs is the valuation of assets and inflation. The material costs of construction (e.g., concrete, drywall, pvc pipes, etc.) are up as much as 53% year-over-year. Lumber cost is the one category that saw a reduction during 2022. With that in consideration, many property valuations on insurance schedules are likely undervalued versus their true cost. The cost to rebuild your facility is significantly higher than it was three or four years ago. When was the last time you had a formal appraisal of the cost to replace your building? Likely you haven’t and therefore insurance carriers are scrutinizing the cost per square foot much closer.
One final factor for the foundry industry is reputation. Google search “foundry fires” and “foundry accidents” and look at just the first results page. This is what underwriters and insurance company analysts see and use to formulate their opinions about foundries. Despite the fact that every day, 1,750 foundries are operating safely, historical events influence and cast doubt on the viability of a foundry as a good underwriting risk.
These factors create the perfect storm for insurance companies to dictate purchasing terms in what we collectively call a “hard” market. In some cases, insurance companies are simply walking away from insuring what they consider “riskier” businesses. Metalcasting is one category that is considered high risk and unfavorable for underwriting.
From the graph in Figure 1, the property market is seeing continued upward pressure for the last six years with a substantial spike during the latter part of 2022. The first quarter of 2023 rate increases so far have continued their upward trend.
With that said, you can survive the hard market. It takes additional work and effort on your part and the part of your insurance broker, however. Here are some strategies on what we can collectively do to get through these challenging conditions:
1 Strategize with your broker and do it early!
The standard approach taken by insurance brokers for the renewal process is to make submissions 90 days in advance of the expiration date with the likelihood of having the renewal finalized two weeks before your policies expire. That process works in a soft market but in the market we are in today, that process will fail. Instead, have your planning meeting five months in advance of the expiration date, update all underwriting materials, and make sure submissions go out early. Every insurance company is going to want loss control, every insurance company is going to question the values, and every insurance company is going to have to go to their reinsurance markets to build limits for your business. This takes time so use it to your advantage.
2 Decide on your risk tolerance.
What deductibles can you live with? Does every structure need to be insured? Does the program need to be on replacement cost or would actual cash value suffice? These are questions many businesses are considering in order to lower their insurance premiums.
3 Update your values.
When was the last time you hired an appraisal company to provide a true estimate on the replacement cost value of your buildings and equipment? When I ask that question, the answer is typically “It’s been years” or “Never.” Insurance companies are going to demand the values of your buildings be based on either a third-party valuation or another metric for you to justify why your 50,000-sq.-ft. facility is insured for $2.5 million when their data suggests it should be valued at $6 million. Higher values drive more premium, which insurance companies want; therefore, take control and tell them what your values are. If you don’t, they will dictate those terms to you, which could cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
4 Satisfy the loss control recommendations.
This may be the most critical area for your team to review and the one area you can directly control. Remember when the loss control person from the insurance company visited your facility and then provided you a list of “recommendations” for improvements? You likely “filed” this and moved on with your day. No more! If those recommendations (let’s call them mandates) are not addressed or completed to the insurer’s satisfaction, there is a high likelihood that insurance carrier will non-renew your insurance policies.
Key areas to review are:
Fire protection: We all know we can’t have sprinkler systems over the pour floor, but insurance carriers will expect sprinkler systems everywhere else, especially your pattern and mold shops and storage areas.
Hot work permit systems: I’ve seen this on almost every inspection report and the requirement to have a hot work scope of work and procedures written out in detail.
Dust collection: More and more carriers will want to see updated dust collections systems with spark detection and fire suppression as part of the system.
Flammables: Everything from 275-gallon solvent totes to 1 gallon paint cans need to be stored properly and away from heat and flame. I had one insurance carrier dictate they would only offer a quote if the foundry would build a separate building with sprinklers for the foundry to store all their placard flammable materials.
5 Be thorough in your description of operations.
Do your insurance underwriters actually know who you are and what you do and what makes your business different from all the other metalcasters they get submissions on? Having a narrative or a “description of operations” on your business is an often overlooked part of the insurance marketing process, but if you don’t have one, then you are relying on an application and the Google search the underwriter will review to be the narrative. Again, take control and get your story told the way you want it told.
6 Know your insurance policies.
I know you are working with your broker to be your advisor, but I would suggest educating yourself on what is in your insurance policy and what you are actually paying premium for. How is the business interruption and extra expense calculated? Is your policy a blanket or scheduled? What are the sub-limits? The key is to be an educated consumer so you can negotiate your options effectively.
7 Meet with underwriters directly (if this makes sense).
This goes hand in hand with the description of operations discussion in that the underwriters need to know who you are and your business. Do you know many of the underwriters I speak with have never been in a foundry? Yet, we expect them to write the insurance for you! Work on getting your underwriter to come to your facility so they can see firsthand your operations and what you are doing to make your operations best in class. If you don’t feel your facility is ready for an underwriter visit, consult with your broker to uncover the steps to be prepared for this visit.
The hard market is not going away anytime soon. In this market the insurance companies control who they will sell to and the terms of the sale. As buyers of insurance, the more educated we can be about the seller’s interests the better we can position ourselves for the best terms. Therefore, take charge of what you can control:
• Update the valuation of your assets.
• Conduct and document safety, site management, and basic housekeeping.
• Document and communicate
facility upgrades and improvements.
• Create a clear description of
• Partner with your insurance
broker/agent for a renewal marketing plan.
There are many things we cannot control, such as the facultative reinsurance market or if the insurance company “suits” decide they are pulling out of writing more foundries. However, focusing on what we can control and taking action will drive results. An adage around our firm is, “We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” As the storm continues to churn and winds blow, let’s adjust the sails and find calmer seas.
Click here to view the column in the May 2023 Modern Casting digital edition.