Last week’s events in Japan has the world—and the insurance industry—reeling. Not only has Japan seen an enormous earthquake and the resulting tsunami, but the country is still trying to avoid what could be an even bigger catastrophe—failure of one or more nuclear power plants.
I contacted a couple of leading observers of the insurance and IT industry to get their views on the events. Not surprisingly, Craig Weber and Matt Josefowicz were each focused on the devastation to Japan and the citizens of that country.
Weber, senior vice president and head of the insurance team at Celent calls the events of the last few days “an unthinkable Trifecta of disasters.”
The horrific events are sure to leave a lasting mark on Japan and its insurance markets, according to Weber.
“The human cost in lives lost, injuries, and families uprooted is, of course, our first concern,” he says. “As with any event of this magnitude, I hope the best parts of human nature emerge in response, and the entire world helps Japan get back on its feet.”
From an insurance perspective, Weber believes the catastrophe costs will be staggering, but what is unclear is ultimately who will bear those costs.
“Insurers, reinsurers, the government, and private entities are all in the mix somehow,” he says. “And if the lessons from Katrina show up in Japan, we’ll see questions about what happened when, and how properties were damaged by a combination of factors. This may not test the capitalization of insurers with exposure in Japan—depending on who ends up paying for what—but the uncertainty couldn’t come at a worse time for companies just now emerging from the global market crisis.”
Josefowicz, partner and managing director of Novarica agrees with Weber.
“With some early reports putting estimates of insurable damages at $35 billion, this could be one of the largest natural-disaster losses on record, but it is still unclear how much of that will be paid by private insurers and reinsurers versus the Japanese government,” he says. “It’s reasonable to assume there will be some effects on specialty insurers that cover nuclear power, but the direct impact on most domestic US P&C insurers appears to be minimal so far.
At a minimum, Weber maintains this disaster will cause parties on all sides to re-examine policy language and coverages because of the events that have occurred there.
“Insurance is sometimes about guarding against worst-case scenarios, and that’s a lesson that the entire world will note as it watches Japan’s recovery unfold,” says Weber.
And what, ultimately, will be the effect on IT strategy moving forward?
“Any major catastrophe underscores the need to comprehensive risk modeling, which depends on data quality and accessibility to feed those models,” says Josefowicz.