Industry will need to be quick to adapt as challenges for clients arise

Isaac Alfon (left) and Justin Elks Co-chairs – Institute of Risk Management’s ERM in Insurance Special Interest Group say the year ahead will present insurers with the chance to play their part in the economic recovery.

2021 is a year of opportunity for the insurance industry.  The UK government is increasingly looking to the industry to support the recovery and help it to achieve its climate ambitions.  How can the industry step up to this challenge?

Insurers can do this in two ways. Firstly, by taking risk on behalf of customers, to provide financial protection and security, avoiding them having to self-insure and tie up capital.  Secondly, by investing in assets that support sustainable economic growth.  To do this, there are two key imperatives for the industry – build resilience to risk and the trust and confidence of customers.

The insurance industry has been resilient during the crisis.  However, this was a crisis that impacted all companies in a similar way, and we were able to see the crisis unfold over weeks.  While companies typically responded well, a number weren’t prepared and struggled, with third party exposures a particular weakness.  Being ready to respond and adapt to fast, specific events that impact the extended enterprise will be key in 2021.

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, in part driven by increasing customer acceptance.  However, the industry has (at best) a patchy record on delivering transformation.  Before the pandemic, most operational failures and adverse customer impacts were caused by companies own change initiatives.  Managing transformation effectively needs to be a key competency for insurance.  On the downside, the focus on cyber threats will continue , as threats become increasingly sophisticated and pandemic working arrangements have the potential to worsen exposures.

While a vaccine will be rolled out during 2021, insurers are likely to be managing the economic consequences of the pandemic , and Brexit looms.  While central banks quantitative easing (QE) and fiscal stimulus packages have protected the economy, they may have introduced a chasm between the risk profile of corporate debt issuers and observed spreads.  What will happen when the support is phased out is anyone’s guess, but further credit deterioration cannot be ruled out. Insurers need to be aware of the impact of stresses on their portfolios in particular credit falling below investment grade.

Insurers’ profitability may also be affected.  Profitability may suffer if the pandemic subdues savings or the demand for insurance changes.  The catch-up effects of decisions deferred in 2020 could matter.  Insurers should review drivers of business profitability and stress their vulnerabilities.

At a global level we are starting finally to face the climate emergency.  Insurance companies have an important role to play.  While UK regulators are taking a lead, insurers need to think strategically too – about how they can make a difference to the world and to their stakeholders, rather than just seeing this as a compliance matter.

Regulatory rules are also in the spotlight, with consultation on changes to Solvency II and the Financial Services Future Regulatory Framework.  Much of what insurers do is constrained by regulation and capital requirements– an open discussion about what is working, and what needs to be improved, will be key in empowering insurers to use their capabilities to address the world’s problems.

A key area for insurers to address is reputation.  The challenges around Business Interruption insurance have reinforced the image of the industry as one that is eager for premiums, but slow to settle claims and fast to argue over the detail.  To take risk on behalf of others requires trust – and humility in admitting mistakes and moving on.

This has been a tough year for everyone.  The industry has a lot of work to do if it is going to thrive in a post Covid-19 world.  Insurers need to develop strategies for a world still evolving to build resilience and trust.  We hope the industry is ready to step up.

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, in part driven by increasing customer acceptance.  However, the industry has (at best) a patchy record on delivering transformation.  Before the pandemic, most operational failures and adverse customer impacts were caused by companies own change initiatives. 

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