Vol: 44 Issue: 1 | May 2021
January 1 renewals were expected to be tough, but according to reinsurance brokers in Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific, price rises weren’t as steep as initially expected or hoped for by reinsurers.
Overall, however, negotiations were more complicated and took longer than usual.
John Carroll, head of broking — reinsurance solutions at Aon, notes that some markets have referred to the renewal outcomes globally as ‘underwhelming’.
‘The final pricing outcomes were impacted by additional capacity into the market,’ he says.
‘Other factors include the ability of cedants to differentiate the specific risk and exposure metrics of their portfolios, as well as leveraging their longer-term relationships with major reinsurance partners.’
Cameron Green, chair of Willis Re Australia and head of its international casualty reinsurance practice, explains that 1/1 renewals were expected to be tough, largely because all reinsurance placements from just before 1 April last year were tough for anyone buying reinsurance in the Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) markets.
He says reinsurers weren’t quite sure of how they should handle COVID-19.
‘There was a lot of finding their feet, so to speak. For most of our 31 December business, we went into the renewals fully expecting it to be a continuation of what we saw in April, July and October.’
But in January 2021, Green says more capital was deployed in the ANZ market — albeit in a very cautious manner — than in 2020, when many reinsurers weren’t quite sure what their COVID-19 exposure looked like.
‘In those earlier 2020 renewals, reinsurers went through that process in a very methodical way, trying to work out what they were going to do. That created some need for additional capital,’ he says.
‘RenaissanceRe raised additional capital. Fidelis did a quota share with Berkshire Hathaway and then raised more capital.’
In addition to being ready with more capital, there were some new entrants into the market.
‘Convex Insurance, for example, really came into play probably really for the first time at 1/1 2020 taking advantage of the market dynamics to establish its position on a lot of programs,’ says Green.
The market was also calmer. ‘People had been through some of the issues that were going to confront them at 1/1 and were prepared. Back in July, you had no real idea how the market was going to react, and they hadn’t quite discussed the issues.’
Carroll adds: ‘Globally, capacity was still readily available for reinsurance placements, and we have also seen no shortage of appetite or capacity for ANZ specific placements.
'Areas under stress are catastrophe aggregate and frequency protections, mainly because of their poor experience in recent years and the lower levels of modelling sophistication available to price these placements.
'Capacity for these placements, however, could be secured but often at significant price uplifts or after some restructuring of covers.’
Carroll, however, notes that the real driver behind the hardening market was not COVID-19 per se.
‘The reinsurance industry has struggled to meet its cost of capital for the past three to four years and price correction was a required remedial course of action for the industry as a whole.'
'The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent economic environment impact were the catalysts for this price action to finally be “implemented” in the market.’
ALL EYES ON COVID-19 AND CYBER
Both Green and Carroll reveal that at 1/1, there was a significant focus on coverage items, particularly around communicable disease and cyber exclusions.
‘The stress factor was not so much that reinsurers wanted to take a firm line on these coverage points — it was flagged in advance that this would be the likely outcome — but more that the reinsurance industry doesn’t have a consistent position on the coverage or exclusions that it wants to impose,’ says Carroll.
‘The number of variations of acceptable clauses made for a lot of work and potential uncertainty for insurers who are wanting to try to align reinsurance coverage with original policy language coverage.’
Carroll says most of the dialogue in ANZ relates to property catastrophe exposed accounts. ‘But casualty classes of business are certainly seeing more dialogue on coverage [communicable disease and cyber] items now and we see this as being a continued focus for 2021 renewals,’ he says.
Green describes the property catastrophe market as challenging. ‘Unfortunately, part of what’s happened in Australia over the past two to three years is that most of the losses have been from those non-modelled perils, such as bushfire, hail and flood, where there is a very wide range of views as to what the expected cost is,’ he says.
‘On the casualty side, it was simpler. The insurance market is pushing rates up bit by bit, but not necessarily by as much as reinsurers would like.
There is no doubt that there are losses in the market, but it’s far less than in the property market and there remains a surplus of capacity wanting to underwrite casualty in Australia and New Zealand.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the main issue in recent renewals has been whether particular client portfolios have communicable disease exposure from certain industries, occupations or risk classifications.’
Green adds that reinsurers for both casualty and property business are looking much more closely at premium adequacy as well as their history with particular clients or geographic areas. ‘They’re verifying what I would describe as the risk selection process that clients have articulated and marking the clients accordingly.’
DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES FOR DIFFERENT PLAYERS
Green says the two large, listed insurers, QBE and IAG, managed their reinsurance processes extremely well. ‘They were out very early and understood what they were trying to buy. In many instances, they also had multi-year deals and certain arrangements that could insulate them from market shocks.’
However, he says smaller clients experienced more drama at 1/1 renewals.
‘Companies like IAG and QBE are buying significant reinsurance capacity to manage a number of objectives across a number of territories and / or placements, so they have parts of the placements and programs that they can trade. Some of those smaller clients aren’t quite in the same position.’
Green says an important factor in January was the effect of Australian-specific property losses on different clients’ portfolios.
‘I think the sort of programs that had been loss impacted bore greater increases than those that hadn’t. We saw a lot of differentiation in the reinsurance market for clients that had actually had good loss performances versus those that had less positive experiences,’ he says.
‘It then it became a question of trying to match the demand with the supply. I have no doubt that a number of reinsurers changed their risk appetites away from the bottom end of catastrophe reinsurance placements to support much more in the middle to top of the catastrophe programs.’
According to a report from Guy Carpenter, the quoting and firm order process in 1/1 renewals globally was more complex than in recent years, particularly for stressed geographies and lines of business.
Green agrees. ‘I think any one of the renewals over the last nine months has been more complicated and has taken longer than previously. It’s a hardening market, with most of the world working from home, so these things are taking more time,’ he says.
‘You have to work with reinsurers and get them on board with what your clients are doing in relation to the management of their business generally, their exposure to communicable diseases and any number of other considerations.
'I think it’s all about differentiation and trying to help our clients differentiate themselves and look better from a reinsurance perspective than other clients.’
THE STORY IN ASIA PACIFIC
In the Asian market, the 1/1 renewals were tougher than in previous years with many deals being concluded later than usual, according to Jude Yeung, head of broking at Rare Earth Insurance Partners in Hong Kong.
One factor influencing this was less capacity in the market. ‘In broad terms, the London market largely preferred to direct its capacity towards its more traditional areas of North America and Europe. Very little new London capacity was made available in this region,’ says Yeung.
‘The Asian insurance market has also changed dramatically during the past two years with fewer reinsurers available due to mergers, withdrawals from unprofitable classes or business closures.’
Yeung says this contraction in reinsurance capacity is reflected in the decreasing number of Lloyd’s syndicates in Hong Kong, Singapore and China.
‘The challenge for 1/1 renewals was finding new capacity to replace that which had been lost. Given that limited markets were available, the time pressure of placement dramatically increased as the end of the year approached.’
Yeung adds that underwriters were keen to increase pricing in the hardening market. ‘Perhaps unsurprisingly, assureds, many of whom were badly hit by the pandemic, were neither expecting nor necessarily able to accept the price increases demanded.
'This clearly created renewal difficulties and, in many instances, led to the reassured retaining higher shares and / or deductibles.’
Yeung says many underwriters also tightened their underwriting guidelines and ‘commercial considerations’ could no longer be used as a justification for underwriting decisions.
Overall, he says the negotiating process was more complex than in recent years and required extra effort within the available timeframe to close an acceptable deal for both sides.
Rare Earth Insurance Partners is a marine and specialty lines reinsurance broker. ‘In our portfolio, we saw stock throughput and cargo being the most affected insurance line in 1/1 renewals,’ says Yeung.
He adds that many cedants, concerned about losing business due to pricing increases, appointed more than one intermediary on the same deal in an effort to squeeze more out of the market, and then provided the placement order at the very last minute.
‘In addition to price increases, some reinsurers negotiated heavily on contract wordings for difficult risk exposures, which again prolonged the time for the negotiations between reinsurers and cedants.’
Tony Gallagher, CEO of Guy Carpenter’s Asia-Pacific region, says there was uncertainty about potential rate increases heading into the renewal period.
'However, the combined impact of the better-than-expected results and growing clarity around the predicted impacts of COVID-19 led to a moderate rate increase across the region.’
‘Communicable disease exclusions were a priority discussion topic during the renewals with one of the key challenges being the lack of uniformity across the pandemic-related clauses. Ultimately, some form of communicable disease exclusion was included in most treaties at the January renewals.’
Gallagher points to other noteworthy developments across the Asia-Pacific region, including ‘the continued growth of exposures, with mainland China and Taiwan being two markets in particular that are experiencing marked increases.
'We also observed that capacity was more constrained for pro-rata treaties, while a review of treaty structures and retentions impacted renewal pricing.’
From a capital perspective, Gallagher says the reinsurance sector continued to provide an attractive marketplace. ‘
According to Guy Carpenter and AM Best data, dedicated reinsurance capital increased slightly compared with January 2020 levels. Critically, reinsurer appetite to deploy capacity improved noticeably from the mid-year 2020 renewals,’ he says.
‘The reinsurance sector continues to demonstrate capital strength and resilience despite the impact of various disruptive forces. The increase in the dedicated capital estimate reflects the amounts of capital raised by both new and existing participants.
'Additionally, 2020 was a record year for new catastrophe bond issuances, which totalled US$10.8 billion and was driven primarily by heightened investor demand.’
THE PROSPECTS FOR 2021
The market is expected to continue to harden in 2021, but Aon’s John Carroll believes this won’t be as pronounced as it was at June 2020.
‘The main factor driving the firming market will be the loss experience on the lower ends of catastrophe programs as well as aggregate and frequency protections,’ he says.
‘Where reinsurance is being purchased above so-called “attritional” levels, we expect a much more muted price environment as there is a strong degree of oversupply for the upper layers of catastrophe programs.’
Willis Re’s Cameron Green adds: ‘A lot of the hardening will be driven by the reinsurers seeking to achieve price adequacy for those reinsurance programs they support. I think reinsurers used 2020 as the start of a process to try and get better price adequacy across their portfolio of business.
'And I don’t think they really got it all their own way, even with the tougher renewals of July and October.’
But he doesn’t expect negotiations to be anywhere near as complicated as in 1/1 because there are now exclusion clauses in most property contracts for communicable diseases and cyber.
It’s a similar story in Asia Pacific.
‘On the one hand there is certainly new capacity starting to emerge, but in my view, the pressure on reinsurers to rebuild their books and demonstrate the ability to maintain sustainable profits will result in a continuing hard market throughout 2021,’ says Hong Kong-based reinsurance broker Jude Yeung.
‘But the market direction is not necessarily a predictable, straight line — much uncertainty around the timing and nature of the global economic recovery remains, and the impact on the insurance industry as a whole is almost impossible to predict. Expect the unexpected!’
Guy Carpenter’s Tony Gallagher cautions that the impact of COVID-19 losses on existing coverage still remains unclear and the ultimate magnitude of losses will affect negotiations and rate developments going forward.
‘The escalating severity and frequency of catastrophe events could also create rate pressures in loss-affected zones and programs,’ he says.
‘In addition, original market results, M&A activity, developments in the retrocession market and levels of investment returns in the reinsurance sector are all likely to prove key factors in how the market develops over the coming months.
‘2021 will certainly be a year of new challenges but, equally, one of new opportunities. We would also expect that rate developments across markets, clients and portfolios will be very much dependent on business results.’
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