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Monday, April 2, 2012

Lessons from Christchurch - how reinsurers are being hurt by health and safety concerns

An article Lessons from Christchurch about how reinsurers are being hurt by health and safety concerns has been written by Marcus Johnson. Johnson is a long time underwriting member of Lloyd's, and Chief Executive of Financial and Insurance Advisers, NW Brown. The article arises from a visit he made to Christchurch.

The second paragraph sets the tone of the article:
"In this article he suggests that reinsurers need to exercise better controls over major claims in developed economies due to a systematic tendency for government action to inflate economic losses which then become reinsurance losses through the back door. His example is Christchurch but exactly the same problem is evident with the Fukushima event where exclusion zones and consequential losses have been inflated far beyond all reasonable levels by a zero tolerance approach to risk rather than an economic one."
A bit short in the fact department Johnson is long on emotional concern, and fanciful with the use of numbers, to demonstrate how re-insurers are losing money due to the heavy over-emphasis on health and safety. Based upon the Christchurch experience his proposed planned emergency response for a national emergency in London, developed late in the article, is for a local dictatorship approach for the duration of the emergency.

For the future in general, Johnson's view is to
  • change policy wordings so that re-insurers take control of the rebuild processes
  • be prepared for a PR budget
  • plan to engage in the political debate on the side of those whose policies will keep down the cost of reconstruction
"The argument for cost minimisation and for the fastest possible restoration of normal business is just not heard, and yet it is vital for re-insurers that it is. A few million dollars spend on establishing a press office and an information databank for local press would yield huge return. It should be a natural response to any catastrophe."
What voice or contractual rights would the insured have? Considering the under-developed journalism skills displayed in most NZ media, free handouts would be accepted, published and promoted unquestioningly.

This is the summary for the article:
"Stephen Fry has been quoted as saying, 'Health and Safety are the two most dangerous words in the English language', and the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake is a mournful illustration of the truth of his words.
In summary, the dreadful devastation of the 'Act of God' has cost much in terms of loss of life and property, but this loss is dwarfed by the terrible delays, confusion and extra expense caused by the consequential manmade losses. Confusion causes cost and the extra resource devoted to resolving the conflicting views of several well-meaning, well qualified and well-staffed agencies, all of whom have the best intentions, will have cost more in terms of cash and lives than the original event. Delay in returning Christchurch to the vibrant functioning business hub it should be is not an 'Act of God', it is a result of man's devotion to the flawed false 'God of Health and Safety'.
Below I give a very brief description of the physical losses, then describe how those two fatal words, 'Health and Safety', have effectively stymied our response to the losses, explain why, although we cannot say who the victims are, the loss of revenue to government alone has almost certainly cost more lives than the earthquake ever did and then, lastly, ask what reinsurance industry should learn from the Canterbury experience.
A long read but worth the effort if disaster planning and national sovereignty are important to you. The article, published on the 19th of March on the NW Brown website, is here.

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