OCTOBER 29, 2019 09:34:22 Eastern Daylight Time

Best’s Commentary: 2019 California Wildfires Signal ‘New Normal’ for Insurers

 Jason Hopper
Associate Director,
Industry Research and Analytics
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5016

Richard Attanasio
Senior Director
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5432
Christopher Sharkey
Manager, Public Relations
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5159

Jim Peavy
Director, Public Relations
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5644


OLDWICK - OCTOBER 29, 2019 09:34:22 Eastern Daylight Time
Given the proliferation of wildfire losses in California, AM Best believes insurers will continue to re-examine this peril, and likely make adjustments to risk appetites, capital management strategies and reinsurance partnerships, according to a new AM Best commentary. Enterprise risk management practices and risk-scoring models used by catastrophe modeling firms also likely need to become more sophisticated as record-breaking wildfire seasons continue to plague the state.

The new Best’s Commentary, “2019 California Wildfires – Yet Another Sign of a ‘New Normal,’” states that the growth of housing in the wildland-urban interface have exacerbated issues for homeowners carriers and their reinsurers, especially in areas that had been viewed historically as having relatively low wildfire risk. Additionally, current modeling techniques are less cultivated than those used for hurricanes and earthquakes, and likely need to be updated.

The commentary notes that although wildfire losses cannot be completely avoided, insurers have been proactive in harnessing loss-reduction strategies, particularly following the last two years of catastrophic wildfire seasons. These actions include stricter underwriting practices with respect to new business with identified wildfire exposure; reducing concentrations of risk in wildfire-prone areas; and leveraging internal and external resources to better understand the risk as well as reinsurance solutions, where available. With admitted carriers becoming more reluctant to offer insurance, more excess and surplus carriers with freedom of rate and form have entered the market. The residual market, the California FAIR plan, also may have to step in.

AM Best notes that much of the market share in California is held by the larger national companies with significant capital to manage this peril and effective risk management strategies, including robust reinsurance programs. As was the case in recent years, AM Best expects to see an uptick in reinsurance pricing in loss-affected areas, which would result in higher reinsurance costs for the primary carriers, as well as a tightening of terms and conditions.

The “new normal” trend continues to challenge insurers, regulators and government agencies, as the separation between wildland and urban areas diminishes, often compounding the severity of these fires. As insurers look at the last three years, the sheer number of events and their severity undoubtedly will lead them to continue their re-examination of this peril.

To access the full copy of this commentary, please visit http://www3.ambest.com/bestweek/purchase.asp?record_code=291241 .

AM Best is a global credit rating agency and information provider with an exclusive focus on the insurance industry.