The recent spate of winter weather has wreaked havoc from coast to coast over the last month, and businesses and their insurers are experiencing the damage first-hand. Munich Re's report on natural catastrophes in 2014 found that the unusually cold winter caused the greatest losses in North America, estimating that heavy frost, snowfalls and blizzards caused losses of $3.7 billion, with approximately $2.3 billion of them insured.
In addition to the damage caused to commercial property by adverse weather, businesses also have to count the cost of power outages, and the impact of blocked roads and school closures on productivity. So how can you support your clients, limit your exposure, and mitigate the losses caused by severe weather?
Assess the risk
Standard building insurance will cover most of the damage resulting from a freeze or snow and ice damage. However, it may not cover flooding caused by a backup in sewers or drains, or the inevitable business interruption caused by the wait for repairs to be completed. Review your client's insurance policy to confirm the extent of coverage and determine whether an extension is warranted.
If you do offer cover for business interruption, carefully review current systems and business processes to clarify the consequences of a power outage, work stoppage or significant damage to property or machinery. Prioritize core functions so that the most important equipment is protected or is the first to be repaired, and calculate what a period of inactivity will cost.
Should an exclusion apply, it pays to ensure that your clients are aware of the coverage restriction. This will reduce time wasted on unsupported claims and will help you maintain a good relationship with your clients and see a higher rate of business retention.
Ensure that site drawings and plans are up to date and that you are aware of any structural weaknesses which may contribute to damage to a client's building when severe weather hits. Keep apprised of any sudden changes in the weather using local and national resources (such as the NOAA's Storm Watch). When a storm is approaching, consider issuing a warning to clients along with useful emergency contact numbers and loss reduction advice. Clients will appreciate the support and insurers may significantly reduce the cost of their claims.
Shore up the defenses
Ensure clients have an inspection regime to monitor for the buildup of snow or ice on sidewalks and paths, the limbs of any trees and on the roofs of their premises. A robust maintenance regime to keep gutters free so melting snow and ice can flow freely can avoid significant damage due to water seepage. Keeping the building heated to a minimum of 65 degrees even when the building is closed for the night will prevent pipes from freezing.
Consider incentives to encourage clients to invest in back-up generators to ensure continuous power, or monitoring systems to warn them if the temperature inside the building is falling to a dangerous level. Sprinkler systems can also be monitored to ensure early detection of a pipe failure, and a monitored automatic excess flow switch can be placed on the main incoming water line to provide early detection of a broken pipe or valve. If the building will be empty for an extended period, clients should be required to drain the water system to prevent damage to pipes.
Have a plan of action
Be proactive and help clients create a comprehensive disaster recovery plan by analyzing every conceivable risk so they can minimize unnecessary delays should the worst happen. Document key business processes and ensure that sensitive and vital information is stored securely at more than one location. Set clear roles and duties so that recovery will not be hampered by the absence of one key individual.
Establish clear lines of communication with clients, emergency services and disaster recovery professionals so you can react quickly and effectively. Much of the damage caused by a storm occurs in the period following the event itself and prompt action can go a long way to control the extent of the loss.
With a little preparation and a proactive approach to the risks of severe weather, clients stand the best chance of greeting spring without a disaster, and insurers will reap the benefits of high client retention and a low cost of claims.