Filed Under:Markets, Personal Lines

NU's Top-10 Insurance Stories Of 2010

It was not hard to select the top two property and casualty insurance stories for 2010.

Attempting to base our selections on the magnitude of the impact that worldwide events had on the bulk of our readers--insurance agents and brokers, insurance company professionals, and buyers of commercial insurance--the editors of National Underwriter gave top billing to the relentless soft market and slow recovery of our nation's economy.

The ordering of those two stories almost doesn't matter because their consequences are so closely intertwined.

Insurers cannot raise prices to levels their customers cannot afford to pay; businesses that are struggling or closing their doors for good mean reduced exposure bases to which insurers apply their rates.

And lower demand for insurance coverage means more competition for fewer premium dollars--a situation that is driving continued price cuts.

With a soft market already in process at the time of 2008's global financial crisis, setting the stage for an economic recession, our pages have detailed similar explanations of sagging top lines on broker and insurer income statements for three straight years.

Setting this year apart, 2010's headlines included $36 billion in insured catastrophe losses around the globe, including a multibillion-dollar earthquake in Chile, a $4 billion European winter storm early in the year and the second-most active hurricane on record. Another multibillion event--an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico--would add to the tally, but none of these events moved the market. (See Stories #5 and #7)

Anticipation, expectation and anxiety seemed to form the subtext of many of our articles in 2010, which often contained predictions about what changes might lie ahead--guesses about the date and the catalyst that would signal that the long wait was over and that conditions would be better from here on out.

The question of timing regularly looms largest among the who, what, where, when and why of our reporting efforts.

When will the economy recovery?

When will the market turn?

These were the two questions we asked most often as we wrote about the events shaping the industry. They were also the two most frequent questions we received from market participants, who hoped that each of NU's reporters might have a better read on overall trends from our unique vantage points.

Even on those days when the arrival of long-awaited changes took over the headlines on the front pages of our weekly editions, articles about our #3 and #4 stories were packed with that same overriding question: What's next?

The federal government made its first real foray into the business of regulating the insurance industry, ending more than a decade of waiting and lobbying to simplify the oversight and taxation of multistate surplus lines transactions at midyear. But the states are still buried knee-deep in the details of implementing the reforms, leaving industry representatives to question when and if the groups will get their acts together to achieve promised improvements.

Unanswered questions also remain after the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ended what Washington Editor Arthur Postal described as "many months of wrenching debate" over a package of health care reforms.

P&C insurers have now turned their attention to the uncertain effects on lines impacted by medical costs, such as workers' compensation--a line where underwriting results were deteriorating even before President Obama signed the new law.

Agents, meanwhile, have turned their attention to educating customers about what to expect, at the same time dealing with their own set of concerns--worries about the downward pressure that new requirements for health insurers might put on their commission rates.

Agents' commissions were the entire topic of our eighth-ranked story--putting contingent commissions in the news again, as state attorneys general agreed to lift a ban on contingent commissions put in place six years ago in the wake of Eliot Spitzer's investigations on industry practices.

The National Flood Insurance Program and American International Group also made repeat appearances on the top-10 list. While NFIP's curtain call, at times, showed the fate of the program even more in doubt than prior years, AIG ended the year--and the government's investment in the once ailing enterprise--on more solid footing.

Our complete top-10 list (accompanying this article) captures some of the most interesting events of the year, but it hardly scratches the surface of events that intrigued our readers--a list that includes news of a massive recall of Toyota cars, a volcanic ash cloud that grounded travelers, and even a $1 million insurance policy covering a football player's hair.

The pages that follow reflect the choices of NU's editors for the Top-10 P&C Insurance Stories of 2010. Let us know if we've left a big story out by e-mailing me at ssclafane@sbmedia.com.

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