2009_CoverTeaseAs I scanned all the 2009 editions of National Underwriter, picking candidates for my annual choices as the year’s biggest stories, one thought kept crossing my mind—it could’ve been worse. Read on for my top-10 picks and a retrospective on the year that was for p&c insurance.

No one will look back fondly on 2009. The economy was in a shambles. Insurable exposures disappeared at an alarming rate. The investment markets—especially in the first half—were volatile at best.

Insurers saw their net written premiums flat-line and their net income plummet. Washington raced to restructure the entire financial services regulatory system, including insurance.

But all things considered, this recap could have been far more grim, for insurers as well as their agents and brokers.

For one, the property and casualty market, while still soft on the commercial lines side, at least began to stabilize, with the average rate cut much lower these days than at the start of the year.

For another, we were spared any major natural or man-made disasters, compared to the multi-event years we’ve seen far too often in this decade. The lack of catastrophe losses might leave the industry with some excess capacity–especially for property insurance–but I do not hear any underwriters complaining about a lack of hurricanes, earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

The industry did face one major coverage crisis–over claims for damage from Chinese drywall. But as our recap notes, drywall is far from the dreaded “next asbestos,” with short-term losses potentially large, but long-term exposure very limited.

Thus far, another potential mega-threat–the feared H1N1 flu pandemic–has had a limited impact on insurers, except for a few specialty carriers that offered new covers.

Meanwhile, in Washington, at the start of the year lawmakers seemed determined to sweep the insurance industry into their orbit with some heavy-duty federal regulations. But today, it appears the impact on most insurers will be limited.

Health care reform dominated the debate in D.C., but with a public option dead-on-arrival in the Senate, not only health insurers, but p&c agents generating a huge chunk of their revenue and profits from group health sales can sleep easier.

Claims related to the biggest Ponzi scheme in history started to pour in, but while the insurance industry is indeed paying for some of the losses caused by the notorious Bernie Madoff, the ultimate liability is unlikely to be off the charts.

Like I said, 2009 was awful, but it could have been a lot worse!

The list below reflects my personal choices for the Top-10 P&C Insurance Stories of 2009. If you feel I’ve left a big story out, by all means let me know by filing a comment below.

In my blog entry of Dec. 17, I review my predictions a year ago for what I thought would be 2009′s top stories. Go back and see how I did.

What will be the top-10 stories of 2010? Check out my blog on Jan. 4, 2010, for my crystal ball outlook, and give me your feedback.

I very much appreciate your readership and comments here on my blog, where we have had some lively discussions.

All of us here at National Underwriter wish you and yours a very happy, healthy and profitable new year!

Editor’s Picks For Top-10 P&C Insurance Stories Of 2009! (You can read the full stories for each pick in the Dec. 21/28 edition of NU, available online at www.property-casualty.com.)

#1: Invisible Hard Market Nowhere To Be Seen!

#2: P&C Insurers Might Dodge Regulatory Reform Bullet!

#3: Health Reform Threatens P&C Agency Income!

#4: AIG Reinventing Itself On The Fly!

#5: Greenberg Returns To Center Stage!

#6: Chinese Drywall Won’t Be Next Asbestos!

#7: Madoff Might Be Scourge Of Insurers!

#8: Calm Winds Leave NFIP Reform Adrift!

#9: Contingency Fee Firestorm Reignites! 

#10: Swine Flu Bug Leaves Firms Exposed!