JERSEY CITY, N.J., February 8, 2021 — In the first nine months of 2020, the private U.S. property and casualty (P&C) insurance industry dealt with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well an historic catastrophe season, according to a report from Verisk, a global data analytics provider, and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.
The industry’s net income after taxes dropped 27.5 percent to $35.1 billion in the first nine months of 2020 and net underwriting gains declined to $0.3 billion, from $5.4 billion a year earlier. The deterioration in underwriting results was due, in part, to a major increase in the losses and loss adjustment expenses from catastrophes, which more than doubled to $47.1 billion for nine-months 2020 from $21.5 billion in the same nine-month period a year earlier
Catastrophic Events Set A Record In U.S.
PCS, a Verisk business, reported that 2020 set a record for the number of U.S. catastrophic events. The 2020 catastrophes included 19 events with at least $1 billion in direct insured losses in the United States (17 in the first nine months), including the first riot and civil disorder event to exceed that threshold.
The United States also recorded one of the largest deteriorations on the Verisk Maplecroft Civil Unrest Index over the past year—increasing from the 91st riskiest jurisdiction by the second quarter of 2020 to the 34th. The index assesses the risk of disruption to business caused by civil unrest and includes a spectrum of incidents, from protests to violent mass demonstrations and rioting.
Policyholders’ surplus rose $16 billion to $863.3 billion as of September 30, 2020, from $847.3 billion as of December 31, 2019, driven by growth in the stock market.
The industry continues to face many unknowns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the year started strong and insurers reported robust premium growth and promising underwriting results in the first quarter, the results for the remainder of the year reflect the major disruptions of daily life and the economic downturn stemming from COVID-19. It might take significant time before the insured losses directly attributable to pandemic can be reliably estimated, but the impact on premiums was immediate. Due to the economic disruption, consumers and businesses deferred and canceled large purchases and capital investments, which led to reduced premium activity. The written direct premium growth slowed to 2.3% for the first nine months of 2020 compared to 4.8% in the same time period in 2019.
Automotive Insurers Saw Improved Loss Ratio
Automotive insurers benefited from the reduced driving activity in the first nine months of 2020, with the pure loss ratio for auto insurance improving to 56.6 percent from 65 percent compared to the same period in the previous year. Many auto insurers took steps to account for the abrupt changes in losses, providing partial premium refunds to current policyholders and adjusting the rates. ISO, a Verisk business, estimates that insurers provided approximately $11 billion in direct premium refunds and renewal credits to policyholders. The effect of prospective rate changes driven in part by COVID-19 can’t be reliably estimated.
“Insurers in the third quarter of 2020 continued to be hammered by COVID-19, natural catastrophes, and civil unrest losses,” said Robert Gordon, APCIA senior vice president, policy, research and international. “Net underwriting losses climbed to $4.3 billion, with premium growth significantly slowing and net income plummeting nearly 30%. Industry surplus, volatile throughout the year, restabilized in the third quarter. Automobile insurers responded to reduced driving during the pandemic with extraordinary amounts of premium relief to policyholders in 2020 including rate reductions, and we expect commercial lines insurers to face significant reductions in premiums due to audits that reflect reduced revenues and payrolls. The industry continues to face the strong headwinds of unknown but potentially severe future COVID-19 related losses and long-term claims.”
“The beginning of COVID-19 vaccination efforts has provided some hope for people in the United States and across the globe,” said Neil Spector, president of ISO at Verisk. “But the U.S. economy and the insurance industry still face many challenges which will depend on our progress in ending the pandemic.”
“How long will it take to vaccinate the majority of the population? What impact will new strains of the disease have on its spread? How will businesses that require large in-person crowds continue to survive? Which of the pandemic-driven changes are here to stay? All of these questions will have a major impact on the types of insurance and service that customers expect,” Spector added.
“Now more than ever, insurers that make it easy for customers to buy coverage and settle claims online will have the biggest advantage in the evolving marketplace,” Spector said.
After taxes, insurers' net income fell to $10.9 billion in third-quarter 2020 from $15.4 billion in third-quarter 2019, and their combined ratio deteriorated to 101.3% in third-quarter 2020 from 98.8% in the same period a year earlier.
Net written premiums rose $5.0 billion, or 3.0%, to $171.3 billion in third-quarter 2020 from $166.2 billion in third-quarter 2019. Net earned premiums grew 2.3% to $162.9 billion in third-quarter 2020 from $159.2 billion from the third quarter a year earlier.
View the full report from Verisk and APCIA.