Auto Insurers’ Performance Improves, But Don’t Expect Rates
to Flatten Soon

Several metrics that influence auto insurance premium rates are starting to improve, but it will take time for these improvements to be reflected in flattening rates, according to a recent Triple-I Issues Brief.

Direct premiums written and underwriting profitability improved dramatically in 2023.  Additionally, 2023 net written premium growth of 14.3 percent is the highest in over 15 years. These are great gains, but it’s important to remember that they come on top of results in 2022 that were the worst in recent years.

The number of drivers on the road and miles driven have returned to pre-pandemic levels – but the risky driving behaviors that led to high losses during the pandemic have not improved. More accidents with severe injuries and fatalities have driven up claims and losses in terms of both vehicle damage and liability, while attracting greater attorney involvement and legal system abuse. Compounding these conditions has been historically high inflation, which puts upward pressure on the material and labor costs, increasing the cost of claims.

Telematics technologies, which allow insurers to analyze risk profiles and tailor rates based on individual driving habits, offer the possibility of some relief. By providing feedback that can influence driving behavior, telematics has been shown to lower risk and help reduce the cost of insurance. An Insurance Research Council survey found 45 percent of drivers said they made significant safety-related changes in how they drove after participating in a telematics program. Another 35 percent said they made small changes.

But broader risk and economic factors are likely to keep premium rates high in most cases for the foreseeable future.

NCCI Event Shines a Light on Workers Comp

William Nibbelin, Senior Research Actuary, Triple-I

The recent National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) Annual Insights Symposium (AIS) in Orlando, Fla., provided important context and clarity around the state of the workers compensation line of business. As a new senior research actuary for Triple-I, my prior knowledge of this line could best be summarized by the following words from one peer-reviewed study of a reserving project I conducted more than two decades ago: Long-tail, unprofitable.

I recently assumed responsibility for forecast modeling of the property/casualty industry, which includes workers comp. In this role, I’d seen the line’s 2023 net combined ratio at 87 – the lowest (ie., most profitable) in the past five years. But I did not yet have deep understanding of the underlying trends driving these numbers.

I saw the AIS as an opportunity to gain that knowledge, and the event delivered.

The net combined ratio of 87 – as reported by Triple-I using National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) data sourced by S&P Global Market Intelligence – was also the ninth straight calendar year in a row under 100. According to NCCI, the success of the workers comp line in recent years represents the convergence of three factors:

  • Payroll increases
  • Moderate severity increases, and
  • Larger-than-expected frequency declines.

 “The overall numbers for workers compensation show a financially healthy system,” said Donna Glenn, NCCI’s chief actuary.

Payroll increases

The line’s 2023 direct written premium (DWP) increased 2.6 percent nationally – due primarily to another strong year of payroll growth at 6.2 percent, according to NCCI.Rising wages contributed the most to that figure, with increases in all industry sectors resulting in a combined wage growth of 3.9 percent.  Improved job creation contributed 2.3 percent, with all sectors except transportation and warehousing seeing increased employment. Payroll growth was partially offset by state-approved premium rate decreases.

Moderate severity increases

Claim severity remains moderate year over year, at 3 percent in 2023, despite indemnity claim severity at 5 percent. Medical claim severity for 2023 trended at a low 2 percent, in line with the 20-year trend of 1.8 percent and below the 3.5 percent in 2022. Medical claims less than $500,000 increased 5 percent; however, claims above $500,000 decreased 16 percent, driven primarily by several large losses in 2022.

Also, more states have adopted physician medical fee schedules from 2012 to 2022, which has shifted medical cost category shares from more expensive inpatient claims to outpatient claims, as well as lower drug claims. Outpatient claims increased from 23 percent of all claims to 27 percent and drug claims decreased from 12 percent to 7 percent of all claims.

Larger-than-expected frequency declines

Overall claim frequency decreased 8 percent in 2023, compared to the 20-year average decrease of 3.4 percent. Workers compensation claims frequency has only increased twice in the past 20 years – once in 2010 from the destabilization in the construction sector in 2009 and again in 2021 from COVID-19 impacts in 2020.

From 2015 to 2022, workers comp claims frequency benefited from workplace safety improvements and technology advances, which helped the decline in all cause of injury categories, including the two largest shares of strain and slip/falls. During this same period, the largest decline in claim frequency by part of the body was in lower-back claims. Finally, the recent slowing employment market churn has also improved claim frequency as claims decline when job tenure rises.

Stephen Cooper, senior economist at NCCI, speaking on the state of the economy and its impact on workers comp, said job growth and steadily increasing wage rates continue to favor the workers compensation system. He also gave an overview of the contribution to labor force by age and generation from 1980 to 2030, including changes in claim share from 2020 actuals to 2030 forecasts. Overall, the double-digit growth in labor force of 24 percent in 2000 over 1980 and 18 percent in 2020 over 2000 is expected to fall to only 4 percent in 2030 over 2020.

The only age group with an expected increasing contribution to the labor force from 2020 to 2030 are those age 65 and older. The contribution to labor force for the age group 16 to 24 is expected to remain flat from 2020 to 2030 however their representative share of Workers Compensation claims has the largest expected increase from 9% to 11 percent.

Beyond the numbers

 The symposium provided valuable insight into several factors affecting workers comp, including the role of AI and innovation in workplace safety technology. In a panel moderated by Damian England, NCCI’s executive director of affiliate services, the audience got to see a demonstration of AI camera monitoring of warehouse employee activity and the use of wearable technology to highlight improper lifting techniques.

“It is clear that safety technologies will be a vital part of future safety initiatives,” England said. “They may even be a gamechanger for evaluating and improving workplaces and reducing injuries.”

AIS also touched on challenges facing today’s workers, from climate to mental health.

“Our new NCCI research shows worker injuries increase by as much as 10 percent on very hot days, as well as on wet and freezing days, compared to mild weather,” said Patrick Coate, NCCI senior economist. “High temperatures impact construction and other outdoor workers most, while cold and wet weather leads to a lot more slip and fall injuries.”

Anae Myers, assistant actuary at NCCI, focused on the difference between claims that include mental health diagnosis versus those that do not.

“New research from NCCI shows that claims exceeding $500,000 are 12 times more likely to be diagnosed with an associated mental condition during the course of treatment, underscoring the potential for the impact of mental health in large claims,” Myers said.

I left the conference with a better understanding of workers comp rate making and the indices to track for future forecasts. Many thanks to Cristine Pike and Madison White at NCCI for their hospitality and guidance, as well as to all the attendees who patiently provided their expertise and generously offered their support when I introduced myself to them and to this stunning line of insurance.

Dynamic trends in TPLF and securities class actions increase risks for insurers

An annual report on securities class actions from Cornerstone Research indicates the median settlement amount increased 11%, and the proportion of settlements of at least $100 million climbed to nearly two-thirds of the total settlement dollars in 2023.  

Research from Westfleet Advisors focused on third-party litigation funding (TPLF) for US commercial litigation suggests the David versus Goliath narrative surrounding the early years of the market is growing tenuous. The overall percentage of commitments allocated to Big Law continues to increase, from 28% in 2022 to 35% in 2023.  

These and other persistent upward trends in litigation, settlement, and other legal costs continue to have implications for insurers, the policyholders they serve, and, ultimately, consumer prices. 

Mega settlements and institutional investors as lead plaintiffs are increasing. 

Cornerstone reports that despite a more than 20% decline in the number of settlements, total settlement dollars remained approximately the same, standing at little over half of the 2016 peak.  

There were 83 securities class action settlements in 2023, with an approximate total value of $3.9 billion, versus 105 settlements in 2022, totaling $4.0 billion. Other highlights in the 2023 data: 

  • The median settlement amount of $15 million is the highest since 2010.    
  • The nine “mega” settlements in 2023–the highest annual frequency since 2016–ranged from $102.5 million to $1 billion. 
  • All of the mega settlements included an institutional investor as the lead plaintiff.  
  • Only 6% of cases settled for less than $2 million, the lowest percentage since 2013.  

Analysis indicates that settlements were also higher in cases involving certain factors: “accounting allegations, a corresponding SEC action, criminal charges, an accompanying derivative action, an institutional investor lead plaintiff, or securities.” Further, an increasing number of cases that settle at later stages involved an institutional lead plaintiff, continuing the trend from 2022.  

Results also suggest that drawing out cases can amplify other factors, such as total assets and median “simplified tiered damages,” a Cornerstone term that refers to the model used to estimate settlement amounts. For both of these categories in 2023, median amounts for cases after class certification rulings were twice that of cases that settled before these rulings were made. However, in the five-year period from 2019 through 2023, over 90% of cases were settled before filing a motion for summary judgment.  

Accompanying derivative actions are down. 

Whereas a securities class action is filed on behalf of shareholders, a shareholder derivative action is typically brought by a shareholder on behalf of and (arguably) for the benefit of the company (usually against the company’s directors and/or officers). Derivative actions typically only happen in parallel with class action lawsuits, and the majority don’t result in monetary settlements (except for attorney fees). Instead, the plaintiff wins tend to center around measures for reforming corporate governance or operational controls.  

Other research from Cornerstone shows the probability of a monetary settlement for these lawsuits increases when the associated class action settlement is rather large. Also, historically, securities actions with accompanying derivative litigation tend to settle for higher amounts than those that don’t carry parallel derivative claims. Thus, Cornerstone also tracks the percentage of cases involving accompanying derivative actions. In 2023, the portion was 40%, the lowest since 2011.  

New capital commitments decreased for commercial litigation TPLF, but claim monetization increased. 

With a reported 39 active funders, 353 new deals, and $15.2 billion AUM, commercial litigation (versus consumer litigation) receives the majority of third-party litigation funding (TPLF). Investors target intellectual property, arbitration, business torts, contract breaches, and, of course, class action suits. These TPLF deals, also referred to as transactions or commitments, are arranged between funders and corporate litigants or law firms. Westfleet Advisors’ most recent market report on TPLF is the fifth edition, and it covers transactions from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023. Some noted exceptions and data adjustments are described in the report. 

The report reveals that despite some funders leaving the market and a 14% decrease in new capital commitments, key data points remained close to amounts tracked for last year. For example, attorneys still make the majority of these deals with a 64% share of the agreements, in contrast to only 36% for clients. Patent litigation is still reaping the largest amount of funds for a single legal area, about 19% of new commitments. Figures for type of deal and average deal size also remain fairly stable.  

However, some annual numbers have increased, highlighting an ongoing strategic shift in TPLF use. For the third year in a row, the report noted a rise in capital allocated for the monetization of claims, with 21% (versus 14% in 2022) going to new commitments. The biggest law firms (ranked in the AmLaw 200 according to gross revenue) have increased their use of TPLF, snagging 35% of the new deals. Arguably, both trends weaken the “David vs Goliath” narrative, and commercial TPLF may evolve to be less about helping scrappy firms and plaintiffs and more about extracting profits from litigation.  

Drawn out litigation and more outsized settlements may have implications for insurance coverage

Triple-I and other industry thought leaders define Legal System Abuse as policyholder or plaintiff attorney actions that unnecessarily increase the costs and time to settle insurance claims. Qualifying actions can arise from attorneys or clients drawing out litigation to reap a larger settlement simply because TPLF investors take such a giant piece of the settlement pie. As there is little transparency around the use of TPLF, insurers and courts have virtually no leeway in mitigating any of this risk. 

Thus, as with other channels for potential legal system abuse, TPLF use is nearly impossible to forecast and mitigate. Increases in litigation and claim costs have threatened the affordability and availability of many other areas of insurance coverage. TPLF can impact product lines such as Directors and Officers (D&O) in commercial litigation via securities class actions. TPLF can produce a financially counterproductive effect for plaintiffs by extracting a disproportionate amount of value from settlements, weakening the primary purpose of a financial payout: to enable the claimant to restore losses.  

Nonetheless, insurers seek to carefully manage these risks through underwriting practices, policy exclusions, and setting appropriate reserves to mitigate the financial impact. Meanwhile, Triple-I and various other stakeholders have called for a regulatory rein-in on TPLF to increase transparency.  To keep abreast of the conversation, follow our blog and check out our regularly updated knowledge hub for Legal System Abuse. 

Personal Auto Line Propels Strong 1Q
P&C Insurance Results

Strong improvements in personal auto insurance results helped drive the U.S. property and casualty insurance industry to its second-highest net underwriting gain in any quarter since at least 2000, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis.

Just 12 months from its worst-on-record start to a calendar year – with a combined ratio of 102.2 – the industry generated a ratio of approximately 94.0. Combined ratio is a measure of underwriting profitability in which a ratio under 100 indicates a profit and one above 100 represents a loss.

While quarterly statutory data is insufficient to calculate combined ratios at the line-of-business level, S&P previously estimated that a direct incurred loss ratio of approximately 71.3 percent in the personal auto sector would have produced break-even underwriting results in the first quarter.

“Applying the same methodology to the first-quarter result of 66.7% yields an estimated combined ratio of 95.6,” S&P said. The industry’s full-year 2023 private auto combined ratio was 104.9.

On a consolidated basis across business lines, incurred losses increased only modestly, while net premiums earned continued to rise rapidly. This reflects the combination of continued top-line strength in many commercial lines of business and what S&P called “the hardest private auto pricing environment in 47 years.”

The industry also benefited from relatively mild catastrophe activity compared with the comparable prior-year period.

While these strong first-quarter results are noteworthy, it will take time to know whether they represent the start of a trend. Multiple severe convective storm events already have occurred in the second quarter, and the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be “extremely active.”

Personal auto’s recent improvements follow 2022 results that were among the worst in recent years.  The number of drivers on the road has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and the risky driving behavior that led to high losses during the pandemic has not improved. More accidents with severe injuries and fatalities have driven up claims and losses in terms of both vehicle damage and liability, attracting greater attorney involvement and legal system abuse.

Compounding these loss drivers has been historically high inflation, which puts upward pressure on the material and labor costs for both the auto and property lines.

Favorable first-quarter results are good news, but it’s important for policyholders and policymakers to remember that the current hard market wasn’t created overnight. It will take time for insurers’ performance and drivers’ rates to stabilize.

Growing EV Insurance Market Faces Profitability Challenges: Swiss Re

The global market for electric vehicle (EV) insurance is rapidly expanding, estimated to quadruple by 2030, but higher accident rates and steeper repair costs for EVs are creating challenges for insurers to maintain underwriting profitability in this burgeoning market segment, according to a new report from the Swiss Re Institute.

The electric vehicle market has experienced a surge in growth in recent years, with global EV sales reaching nearly 14 million units in 2023, a 35% increase compared to the previous year. EVs now account for 18% of all new car sales worldwide, highlighting their move into the mainstream, the report notes.

Industry experts predict this robust growth will continue in the coming years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that global EV sales will increase at an average annual rate of approximately 30% from 2022 through 2030.

The rapid rise in EV adoption is fueling corresponding growth in adjacent industries like EV insurance. Research by Allied Market Research projects that the global EV insurance market will expand from $51 billion in 2022 to over $200 billion by 2030, driven by double-digit annual growth rates throughout the decade. As more consumers switch to electric vehicles, demand for specialized EV insurance policies is poised to skyrocket.

Challenges for EV Insurance Underwriting Profitability

The rapid rise of electric vehicles is introducing new challenges for auto insurers in maintaining underwriting profitability, according to Swiss Re.

One emerging issue is that EVs are exhibiting higher accident rates compared to traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. In China, one insurer has reported that the accident frequency for EVs is nearly double that of ICE vehicles, partly attributed to a higher proportion of EVs being used commercially.

When accidents do occur, EVs are proving significantly more expensive to repair. A 2022 study in the U.S. found that on average, total repair costs for EVs were 26.6% higher than for ICE vehicles. Similar trends have been observed in Europe, with a German study showing EV repair costs 30% to 35% higher, while data from the U.K. revealed a 35% increase in accidental damage costs for electric models.

Several factors are contributing to the elevated repair expenses for EVs, per Swiss Re. The main engine and battery are typically located at the front of the vehicle, an area prone to damage in a collision. Electric cars also incorporate more advanced technology like digital sensors, lasers and radar that add significantly to repair costs when damaged.

The high degree of embedded software and driver assistance systems in EVs means more labor time is required for diagnostics and calibrations by mechanics. Additionally, the integrated design of many electric models makes them inherently more difficult and time-consuming to repair.

For auto insurers, these higher accident rates and steeper repair costs are putting pressure on underwriting margins for EV policies, necessitating new risk models and pricing approaches to ensure sustainable profitability as electric vehicle adoption continues to accelerate, Swiss Re explained.

Potential Solutions to Address EV Insurance Challenges

As the electric vehicle market continues to grow, some automakers are taking steps to tackle insurance challenges head-on. A number of EV producers have begun acquiring their own insurance licenses, allowing them to underwrite policies for their vehicles directly, the report states.

Others are partnering with established insurance companies to offer risk coverage as part of the vehicle purchase process. By bringing insurance in-house or aligning with experienced insurers, EV manufacturers aim to streamline the buying experience and alleviate coverage concerns for potential customers.

While these individual initiatives are a good start, deeper cooperation between the auto and insurance industries may be key to overcoming near-term obstacles in the EV insurance market.

“EV producers know their vehicles’ risk features and are accumulating driving data, while insurers are accumulating claims experience,” the report’s authors stated.

Pooling this wealth of knowledge through joint innovation efforts could support the development of customized EV insurance products that better serve consumers’ need, Swiss Re concludes.

For a copy of the report, visit the Swiss Re website.