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The latest edition of sigma promotes the need for improved underwriting margins in most non-life primary markets. Pricing dynamics may have reached an inflection point with some moderate rate increase since late 2017, but it is too soon to declare a return to hard market conditions. We expect positive economic momentum to support earnings but this alone will not generate sustained improvement in profitability: more rate increases are needed. All told, insurance remains an attractive long-term investment opportunity, having delivered returns comparable with others sectors over the long run, and also offering diversification benefits.
Swiss Re Institute's latest sigma examines the development of life and non-life premiums in the global primary insurance industry in 2017. Overall, global insurance premiums increased 1.5% in real terms to nearly USD 5 trillion. Global life premiums increased 0.5% to roughly USD 2.7 trillion, while global non-life premiums rose 2.8% to approximately USD 2.2 trillion. The study also includes a market outlook as well as a special anniversary double pager analysing worldwide premium developments since the late 1960s.
Global engineering insurance premiums for 2017 were estimated at USD 21 billion. Compared with other specialty insurance lines, engineering has been relatively profitable. But premiums have stagnated in recent years due to the limited growth in exposures and persistent weakness in insurance pricing. Digital technologies are starting to be used more in construction which could lead to significant improvements in efficiency including enhanced monitoring, mitigation and management of engineering-related risks. However, the increasing use of technology may lead to new risks such as cyber.
At USD 144 billion, the insured losses from natural and man-made disasters worldwide in 2017 were the highest ever recorded in a single year. The main driver of the high insured losses was an active hurricane season in the North Atlantic. In particular, three major hurricanes -- Harvey, Irma and Maria left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean Islands, Puerto Rico, Texas and parts of western Florida. In other major disasters, wildfires ravaged parts of California in particular, as well as regions outside of the US. There were also a number of severe precipitation events in 2017, in different regions. Total economic losses from disaster events were USD 337 billion in 2017, leaving a protection gap of USD 193 billion, up from USD 124 billion in 2016.
For long-term sustainability, life insurers need to maintain a strong connection with their consumers. Increasingly, insurers are focusing on improving relations with existing policyholders by steering customers toward high-value products, increasing persistency and improving claims management. This increased focus on existing rather than new business is about enhancing long-run profitability. Insurers can improve profits on in-force life books by judicious asset management, optimal capital allocation and reduced operating costs. These actions can reduce the cost of providing insurance and hence increase sales with lower prices.
Technological, economic, demographic, societal and geopolitical macro trends are driving deep changes in the business environment. These structural changes create new opportunities, but also new risks. Further, the corporate sector has changed from being dominated by physical assets to deriving more value from intangible ones. These transformations and the associated exposures they give rise to show in the risks that companies are most concerned about. For example, today business interruption is the key corporate risk concern, increasingly linked to cyber and supply chain risks, according to surveys of risk experts across the globe.
Emerging markets have been a major driver of global insurance premium growth over the last two decades. In 2016, emerging markets accounted for 20% of global premiums, up from 5% two decades ago. Nevertheless, many individuals and enterprises in emerging markets remain under- or uninsured, and therefore unprotected against external shocks arising from illnesses, natural disasters and accidents. These shocks can have lasting negative consequences for both economic growth and human development.
Growth in the global economy was little changed in 2016 from the previous year with real gross domestic product (GDP) up 2.5%. Advanced economies’ GDP remained below the pre-financial crisis average, but was slightly above the annual average of the previous 10 years. Emerging market growth picked up only marginally, and was still far below the 10-year average.
In terms of devastation wreaked, there were a number of large-scale disasters across the world in 2016, including earthquakes in Japan, Ecuador, Tanzania, Italy and New Zealand. There were also a number of severe floods in the US and across Europe and Asia, and a record high number of weather events in the US. The strongest was Hurricane Matthew, which became the first Category 5 storm to form over the North Atlantic since 2007, and which caused the largest loss of life – more than 700 victims, mostly in Haiti – of a single event in the year. Another expansive, and expensive, disaster was the wildfire that spread through Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada from May to July.
Cyber threats are evolving rapidly due to the growing digital transformation of society, the widespread use of internet-enabled devices and processes, and the changing profile of hackers. Recent high-profile cyber attacks demonstrate that the extent of associated possible losses is also broadening, increasingly comprising both physical and financial damage relating to data privacy breaches and to companies’ tangible and intangible assets, and also business interruption costs. As a result, the issue of cyber protection is rising up the corporate agenda, at both large and small companies.
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(Swiss Re Institute) Risk Dialogue Magazine
The Risk Dialogue Magazine is a newsletter exploring future risk topics, featuring multimedia articles from the Swiss Re Institute's events and insights from our global network of experts.
Our sigma publication series provides comprehensive information on the international insurance markets and analyses of economic trends and strategic issues in re/insurance and financial services.
Swiss Re Publications
Our publications share our expertise on issues of concern to our clients, the re/insurance industry and society - from food, health, longevity and financial security to managing climate and natural disaster risk.