Avoiding Scams After A Disaster

Don’t be a victim of dishonest service providers

Courtesy of iii.org

If your home was destroyed by a hurricane, wildfire or other disaster, be cautious.

Unfortunately, there are dishonest service providers that prey on disaster victims. They know that people who have lost their homes and valuables may not be thinking clearly. If you have suffered this type of loss, don’t make any rash decisions. Talk to your insurance agent, who may recommend service providers in your area.

Here are some basic guidelines for hiring service providers.

Here are some basic guidelines for hiring service providers.

Roofers and builders

  1. Don’t be rushed into signing a contract with any company. Instead, collect business cards and get written estimates for the proposed job.
  2. Beware of building contractors that encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Payments for temporary repairs are covered as part of the total settlement. If you pay a contractor a large sum for a temporary repair job, you may not have enough money for permanent repairs. In most cases, you should be able to make the temporary repairs yourself. Ask your insurance agent. And remember to keep receipts.
  3. Investigate the track record of any roofer, builder or contractor that you consider hiring. Look for professionals that have a solid reputation in your community. You can call your Better Business Bureau for help. Also, get references and never give anyone a deposit until after you have thoroughly researched their background.

A common fraud scheme is for a so-called “contractor” to convince a homeowner that a large deposit must be provided before repair work can begin. Frequently, the job will be started, but not completed. Unfortunately, these con artists are never seen or heard from again.

Public adjusters and attorneys

  1. Don’t make any rash decisions about hiring someone to handle your claim. Be especially wary of individuals who go door-to-door soliciting business in the aftermath of a catastrophe. Most importantly, don’t let anyone scare you into signing a contract. You don’t want to be victimized by someone who comes into town, hoping to make a fast buck. You could end up forfeiting a significant portion of your insurance dollars.
  2. Before hiring a public adjuster or an attorney, try to settle your claim directly with your insurance company. Your insurer provides an adjuster at no charge to you. Ask your insurance agent or company representative to help you with your claim and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you decide to work directly with your insurer, you still have the right to hire a third-party professional to help you.
  3. If your claim is complicated and you want to hire a public adjuster or attorney, make sure that person is qualified to handle your case. Ask your friends, relatives or business associates for the names of well-regarded professionals in your community. Also, call your state insurance department regarding a public adjuster, and your state or county bar association about a prospective attorney.
  4. Understand that you will have to pay a public adjuster 15 percent and an attorney as much as 30 percent of your total claim settlement.

 

Next steps: Make sure your home is properly insured before disaster strikes.

Charity Updates-Week of Giving

Courtesy of iii.org

Each year, the insurance industry comes together for the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) Week of Giving. During this eight-day international and industry-wide initiative, insurance professionals complete volunteer projects in support of community nonprofit organizations.

The IICF is a nonprofit organization that unites the insurance industry in helping communities and enriching lives through grants, volunteer service and leadership. For more than 20 years, thousands of insurance industry volunteers representing their own companies work together in the spirit of industry camaraderie to serve local communities. These projects include partnerships with hundreds of nonprofits and charities, focused in the areas of early childhood literacy; homeless and veterans causes; support of women, children and families; food insecurity; child abuse prevention; beach, river and community park clean ups; disaster preparedness and safety; and other important programs. In 2017, nearly 10,200 industry volunteers, in 173 cities, participated in the IICF Week of Giving. More than 28,800 hours of service, dedicated to projects, were completed with nonprofits and community organizations across the United States and United Kingdom.

The 2018 Week of Giving runs October 13 – 20. For more information—and to sign up as a volunteer—go to www.weekofgiving.iicf.org.

2018 IICF Week of Giving Press Release

2018 IICF Week of Giving Communications Toolkit

2018 IICF Week of Giving Volunteer Team Leader Guide

2018 IICF Week of Giving How To Report Service Guide

2018 IICF Week of Giving FAQs

Understanding Homeowners Insurance Coverage

Courtesy of iii.org

Homeowners coverage provides financial protection against loss due to disasters, theft and accidents. Most standard policies include four essential types of coverage: Coverage for the structure of your home; Coverage for your personal belongings; Liability protection; Coverage for Additional Living Expenses


Coverage for the structure of your home

Your homeowners policy pays to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or other disasters listed in your policy. Most policies also cover detached structures such as a garage, tool shed or gazebo—generally for about 10 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of the house.

A standard policy will not pay for damage caused by a flood, earthquake or routine wear and tear.

When purchasing coverage for the structure of your home, remember this simple guideline: Purchase enough coverage to rebuild your home.

Coverage for your personal belongings

Your furniture, clothes, sports equipment and other personal items are covered if they are stolen or destroyed by fire, hurricane or other insured disasters. The coverage is generally 50 to 70 percent of the insurance you have on the structure of the house.

The best way to determine if this is enough coverage is to conduct a home inventory.

Personal belongings coverage includes items stored off-premises—this means you are covered anywhere in the world. Some companies limit the amount to 10 percent of the amount of insurance you have for your possessions. You also have up to $500 of coverage for unauthorized use of your credit cards.

Expensive items like jewelry, furs, art, collectibles and silverware are covered, but there are usually dollar limits if they are stolen. To insure these items to their full value, purchase a special personal property endorsement or floater and insure the item for its officially appraised value.

Trees, plants and shrubs are also covered under standard homeowners insurance—generally for about $500 per item. Trees and plants are not covered for disease, or if they have been poorly maintained.

Liability protection

Liability covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or family members cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by your pets. So, if your son, daughter (or even your dog) accidentally ruins a neighbor’s expensive rug, you are covered. (However, if they destroy your rug, you’re out of luck.)

The liability portion of your policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards—up to the limit stated in your policy documents.

Liability limits generally start at about $100,000, however, it’s a good idea to discuss whether you should purchase a higher level of protection with your insurance professional. If you have significant assets and want more coverage than is available under your homeowners policy, consider purchasing an umbrella or excess liability policy, which provides broader coverage and higher liability limits.

Your policy also provides no-fault medical coverage, so if a friend or neighbor is injured in your home, he or she can simply submit medical bills to your insurance company. This way, expenses can be paid without a liability claim being filed against you. It does not, however, pay the medical bills for your own family or your pet.

Additional living expenses (ALE)

ALE pays the additional costs of living away from home if you cannot live there due to damage from a an insured disaster. It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other costs, over and above your usual living expenses, incurred while your home is being rebuilt.

Keep in mind that the ALE coverage in your homeowners policy has limits—and some policies include a time limitation. However, these limits are separate from the amount available to rebuild or repair your home. Even if you use up your ALE your insurance company will still pay the full cost of rebuilding your home up to the policy limit.

If you rent out part of your house, ALE also covers you for the rent that you would have collected from your tenant if your home had not been destroyed.

Next steps: Purchasing a home? Get the Home Buyers Insurance Checklist.

Cyberrisks, What’s the Risk?

Courtesy of iii.org

A lawyer once warned me during a seminar that I should never, ever send an email – ever. “Get on a phone instead,” he counseled. (I assume he hadn’t watched The Wire.)

Impossible to follow as his advice was, it stuck with me because he was right, in a way. If there’s anything we should’ve learned after all the data breaches these past few years, it’s that nothing about our online lives is safe from prying eyes. Not Social Security numbers. Not medical records. And definitely not our social media activity.

People know the risks. The good news is that many American consumers are aware that their connected lives are incredibly vulnerable. According to a recent Insurance Information Institute and J.D. Power 2018 Consumer Cyber Insurance and Security Spotlight SurveySM, almost seven out of 10 connected technology owners (69 percent) are not comfortable sharing personal information on social media such as Facebook and Instagram.

But behavior is slow to change. The bad news is that only about a third changed the way they used social media or connected technology after learning about recent data abuses and breaches.

And it’s even more alarming that fully 85 percent of surveyed connected technology owners either don’t have cyberrisk insurance or don’t know if they do.

Education and insurance are important. Just like in real life (wear a helmet, everybody!), leading a safe online life starts with education about the risks involved. That education includes learning how insurance can help. Insurers are in a unique position to spearhead these education efforts – people will often turn to their insurance company after they’ve suffered losses from a data breach.

But consumers first need to learn about the cyber insurance options out there that can help immensely after a hack. For that to happen, insurers need to demonstrate to consumers the relatively inexpensive and valuable coverage that is available to protect them.

The alternative is for all of us to go back to sending letters by snail mail – or, if a certain lawyer is to be believed, never writing anything down at all.

Do You Need Renters Insurance? Here’s Why!

Courtesy of iii.org

Hey guys, I know you’re busy having fun watching football, but it’s time for us to have a talk about renters insurance. Why? Because the I.I.I. found that only 37 percent of renters have renters insurance. Which is bad, because renters insurance is important and good.

One of the most important things renters insurance covers is damage to your personal property. Your landlord’s insurance probably doesn’t cover any of your personal belongings if a covered loss happens to the apartment.

(Covered losses usually include fire, water damage from an overflowing sink, theft, vandalism, and a few other things. But be sure to talk to an agent and read your policy because different companies often vary in their wording.)

It’s important because you own things

The first objection I often hear about renters insurance is “Lucian, I don’t need it because I don’t own a lot of stuff.” Yes, we’re all about minimalist Instagram chic ? in theory. But in practice, we own a lot of stuff, because we’re human beings who need clothes and dishes and sometimes we even own a couch.

Think about clothing for a minute. Unless you live by Miami Beach and only need a bathing suit, you own more than one set of clothes. A few pairs of pants. Blouses. Underwear (presumably). Maybe you own a suit or nice dress for work. If you live up north, you probably also have an entire winter wardrobe.

Now imagine you lost all your clothes in a fire. It could cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to replace them. Because you own a lot of clothes.

Nothing is free ? especially not replacing all your stuff

Another objection I often hear is “Lucian, won’t I just be giving those big insurance companies free money if nothing bad happens to my stuff?”

First, premiums are often pretty reasonable. The most I’ve ever paid for renters insurance was around $25 a month, and that was in a part of New York City where I was still probably getting a bargain. Some of the new app-based companies charge premiums as low as $5 a month. Your budget won’t hate you for that kind of expense.

Besides, no one ever says “at last, I can finally cash in on those insurance premiums I’ve been paying!” after their apartment building burns down and they lose everything.

Which leads me to my second point: an intangible value of insurance is peace of mind. People like to know that they don’t have to spend all their disposable income replacing everything they own. Odds are, you’re also one of those people.

Like life itself, renters insurance is about more than just the things you own

But let’s pretend for a minute you don’t actually own any stuff. Renters insurance also usually covers:

  • Your liability expenses if someone gets hurt in your apartment. Imagine someone is over at your apartment that has no furniture in it because you don’t own any stuff. Now imagine that someone gets hurt after slipping on your uncarpeted tiled floor because you don’t own carpets and they sue you. Your renters insurance will probably cover some legal costs. And even if they don’t sue you, your insurance can cover certain medical expenses for your injured guest.
  • Increased living expenses. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean your insurer will cover your rent increase. But it does mean that if a covered loss (think: apartment fire) makes your apartment uninhabitable, your policy could reimburse you for food and temporary housing. You don’t want to be that person without renters insurance standing outside their burning apartment building in 20-degree January weather with no place to go.

It’s really easy to buy

We’re all busy, but applying for renters insurance takes maybe 15 minutes, tops. Many companies let you apply via an app, so while your train is hopelessly delayed you can use that time to protect yourself and your stuff. That way, if your apartment building catches fire while you’re at work, you can rest (relatively) easy knowing that you’ll have help buying replacement stuff and having a place to stay while you find a new apartment ? for about the price of a coffee or four a month.

Seriously, get renters insurance.

What Are Hurricane Deductables for Florida

Courtesy of iii.org

After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, insurers realized that losses from hurricanes could be much higher than they had previously thought. Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, which cost insurers more than $41 billion at the time, confirmed their fears. After these extraordinary losses, reinsurance companies, insurers that share the cost of claims with primary companies, such as homeowners insurers, said that they could not assume so much risk and that primary companies must reduce their potential losses.

During the Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts from June to November, every coastal state from Florida to Maine could potentially be hit by a storm. Increasing development along the coastal areas of these states has put more and more homes at risk of severe windstorm damage. To limit their exposure to catastrophic losses from natural disasters, insurers in these states sell homeowners insurance policies with percentage deductibles for storm damage instead of the traditional dollar deductibles, which are used for other types of losses such as fire damage and theft. With a policy that has a $500 standard deductible, for example, the policyholder must pay the first $500 of the claim out of pocket. But percentage deductibles are based on the home’s insured value. So if a house is insured for $300,000 and has a 5 percent deductible, the first $15,000 of a claim must be paid out of the policyholder’s pocket. The details of hurricane deductibles are spelled out on the declarations page of homeowners policies.

To some degree, depending on the state, insurance companies determine the level of the hurricane or windstorm or wind/hail deductible and where it should apply, except in Florida where state law dictates these variables. Insurers’ hurricane deductible plans must be reviewed by the individual state insurance department where they may be subject to various regulations and laws.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have hurricane deductibles: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington DC. Listed below are reports for these states detailing hurricane deductibles.

Explanation of Terms:

  • Beach Plan, FAIR (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) Plan; and other involuntary or residual markets: insurers of last resort, state-run pools that provide insurance to people who are unable to obtain insurance in the voluntary market. Beach Plans operate in specific coastal territories, defined by zip codes, counties or geography; FAIR Plans are generally statewide.
  • Deductible: amount of loss paid by the policyholder before insurance kicks in.
  • Dollar deductibles: a flat dollar amount.
  • Mandatory deductibles: may be set by insurance rules, regulations or state law, or by an insurer.
  • Market Assistance Plan (MAP): a voluntary clearinghouse and referral system designed to put people looking for insurance in touch with insurance companies that have agreed to take on more business.
  • Optional deductibles: mostly used in less vulnerable areas. Policyholders may opt for these higher deductibles in order to pay a lower premium.
  • Percentage deductibles: calculated as a specified percentage, for example 2 percent, of the insured value of the property.
  • Standard deductibles: an indication of the usual homeowners insurance deductibles in the state or area.
  • Trigger: an event that is needed for a hurricane deductible to be applied. Hurricane deductibles are “triggered” only when there is a hurricane, or a tropical storm. Triggers vary by state and insurer and may apply when the National Weather Service (NWS) “names” a tropical storm, declares a hurricane watch or warning or defines the hurricane’s intensity. Triggers generally include a timing factor, i.e., damage occurring within 24 hours before the storm is named or a hurricane makes landfall up to as long as 72 hours after the hurricane is downgraded to a lesser storm or a hurricane watch cancelled.

How Hurricane Deductibles Work

There are two kinds of wind damage deductibles: hurricane deductibles, which apply to damage solely from hurricanes, and windstorm or wind/hail deductibles, which apply to any kind of wind damage. Percentage deductibles typically vary from 1 percent of a home’s insured value to 5 percent. In some coastal areas with high wind risk, hurricane deductibles may be higher. The amount that the homeowner will pay depends on the home’s insured value and the “trigger” selected by the insurance company, which determines under what circumstances the deductible applies. In some states, policyholders may have the option of paying a higher premium in return for a traditional dollar deductible, depending on how close to the shore they live. In some high-risk coastal areas, insurers may not give policyholders this option, making the percentage deductible mandatory. (See Infographic: Hurricane Deductibles.)

Florida Hurricane Deductibles

By Florida statute, the application of hurricane deductibles is triggered by windstorm losses resulting only from a hurricane declared by National Weather Service. Hurricane deductibles apply for damage that occurs from the time a hurricane watch or warning is issued for any part of Florida, up to 72 hours after such a watch or warning ends and anytime hurricane conditions exist throughout the state.

Hurricane deductibles and their triggers are set by law and are the same for the private, or regular market, as well as Florida?s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (CPIC), the state-run program which provides property insurance to consumers. The hurricane deductible applies only once during a hurricane season. All insurers must offer a hurricane deductible of $500, 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent of the policy dwelling or structure limits. The percentages are based on the total value of the home. By Florida law, property insurance rate filings must include mitigation discounts or credits. These are applied to property insurance premiums. These discounts are available for personal and commercial residential property only. See Florida Office of Insurance Regulation for details.

The CPIC (Citizens), Florida’s state-run insurer of last resort will insure new homeowners in high-risk areas and others who cannot find coverage in the open private market. Under Florida law, Citizens may write a new insurance policy only if no comparable private market coverage is available or comparable private market policy premiums are more than 15 percent higher than a comparable Citizens policy See website for details.

The Florida Market Assistance Program is a free referral service designed to match consumers who cannot find property insurance with Florida-licensed agents and insurers who are writing new business. See website for details.

Information Sources:

 

Hurricanes What to Do

Courtesy of iii.org

Hurricanes are violent and dangerous to your family and your home. When a hurricane threatens to bear down, make sure that you know how to batten down your hatches and protect yourself, your loved ones and your property.


When it’s hurricane season

Hurricane season starts June 1 and runs through November 30. But don’t wait until a warning?take steps to prepare in advance for a potential hurricane?it’s the best way to protect your family, your home and your business.

For more preparedness tips, handy checklists (including ones you can personalize yourself) and evacuation planning advice to cover a variety of disasters, get the I.I.I.?s Know Your Plan app. It’s a great tool to help get you and your family?including pets?organized and ready to act more quickly if a hurricane or other emergency strikes.

When a hurricane watch is issued

A hurricane watch is issued when there is a threat of a hurricane within a 24-36 hour period. At that time, you should:

  • Purchase any emergency supplies that you don’t already have on hand. Hit the stores early, as items such as batteries, candles and flashlights will get snapped up quickly.
  • Prepare your yard by removing all outdoor furniture, lawn items, planters and other materials that could be picked up by high winds. If you haven’t already, remove weak branches on plants and trees. Lower antennas and retractable awnings.
  • Fully charge your cellphone.
  • Fill your car’s gasoline tank.
  • Jot down the name and phone number of your insurer and insurance professional and keep this information handy in your wallet or purse.

When a warning is issued

A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions are expected in 24 hours or less, which means a storm is imminent.

  • Stay informed of the storm’s progress by listening to the radio or TV. Even better, listen to a NOAA Weather Radio for critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Install hurricane shutters, board up or otherwise securely shutter large windows and draw drapes across windows and doors.
  • Get off the boat?never remain on a boat during a hurricane! Check mooring lines of boats in water.

If evacuation becomes necessary

Hopefully, you’re fully prepared with an evacuation plan. Also remember:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute?shelters might be full or the roads might be jammed. If you have pets, consider traveling before an evacuation is ordered?otherwise, you might be ordered by officials to leave your pet home.
  • Take along survival supplies from your list.
  • Keep important papers with you at all times, including your home inventory and make sure you have the name and phone number of your insurance professional.
  • Take warm, protective clothing for the whole family in case you get stuck.
  • Lock all windows and doors on your home. Don’t compound hurricane damage with the threat of possible looters.
  • Keep all receipts for anything that might be considered to be an additional living expense (ALE) in the event your home is destroyed or damaged and rendered uninhabitable.

If you remain at home during a hurricane

Stay indoors. Don’t go out even during the brief calm when the eye of the storm passes over as wind speeds can increase dramatically in seconds.

  • Stay away from windows and glass doors and move furniture away from exposed doors and windows.
  • Stay on the downwind side of house. If your home has an “inside” room, stay there during the height of the hurricane.
  • Keep the television or radio tuned into information from official sources.

After the hurricane, beware of the dangers that remain

The storm may have passed, but it likely has created new dangers.

  • Beware of outdoor hazards like loose or fallen tree limbs, loose signage or awnings that are in danger of breaking off and falling.
  • Keep away from loose or dangling power lines, and report them immediately to the proper authority.
  • Walk or drive extra cautiously as washouts may weaken road and bridge structures.
  • In the event of a power outage, throw out food that may be spoiled.
  • Boil municipal water before drinking until you have been told it is safe.

If your home is damaged

Notify your insurance professional as soon as possible of any losses. If you had to relocate, let your representative know where you can be contacted. In addition:

  • Make temporary repairs?if they can be made safely?to protect property from further damage or looting; for insurance purposes, keep all receipts for materials used.
  • Get written estimates for any proposed repair jobs and use only reputable contractors. Be especially careful of building contractors who want huge deposits up front or encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Ask for their references and check with the Better Business Bureau on complaints.
  • Gather any other receipts for expenses that will be covered by insurance or will be tax deductible.

Additional resources

Red Cross Hurricane Safety Checklist

Next steps: If you’ve been hit by hurricane that’s a declared national disaster, learn about FEMA assistance.

How to Make a Car Insurance Claim

Courtesy of iii.org

1. Call your insurance professional as soon as possible — even from the scene of the accident—regardless of who is at fault. Even if the accident appears minor, it’s important to let your insurance company know about the incident and to find out whether your auto insurance policy covers you for the particular loss.

2. Use a mobile app to jumpstart your claim. Many insurers now offer apps that allow you to report a claim, check the status, upload photos, check your deductible, schedule an appraisal, reserve a rental car and request reimbursements for towing and glass claims. Some apps even allow you to notify the insurance adjuster what happened by visually re-creating the events and circumstances of your car accident.

3. Find out what documents are needed to support your claim. Your insurance company will require a “proof of claim” form and, if you filled one out at the scene of the accident, a copy of the police report. Your insurer may have a feature on its website that allows you to monitor the progress of your claim.

4. Understand the timing of your claim. To avoid missing a critical claim deadline, ask:

  • Does my policy contain a time limit for filing claims and submitting bills?
  • Is there a time limit for resolving claims disputes?
  • If I need to submit additional information, is there a deadline?
  • When can I expect the insurance company to contact me?

 

5. Find out whether or not your policy pays for a rental car if your car needs to be in the shop for repair, and learn about the estimate and repair process as it relates to claims.

6. Supply the information your insurer requests. Fill out the claim forms carefully. Keep thorough and organized records of anything related to the claim, including the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak with at your insurer and copies of any bills related to the accident. Contact your adjuster, your insurance professional or your state insurance department if you have any questions.

More Need to Know: Flood Insurance

Courtesy of iii.org

National Flood Insurance Reform

 

In 2012 the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act was passed in an attempt to make the federal flood insurance program more financially self-sufficient by eliminating rate subsidies that many property owners in high-risk areas receive.

But in March 2014 Congress rescinded many of the rate increases called for by the Biggert-Waters Act. The new law reduced some rate increases already implemented, prevented some future increases and put a surcharge on all policyholders. The measure also authorized funds for the National Academy of Sciences to complete an affordability study.

The 2014 law prevents any policyholder from seeing an annual rate increase exceeding 18 percent. It calls on the flood program’s administrator, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to “strive” to prevent coverage from costing more than 1 percent of the amount covered. In other words, if the policy offered $100,000 of coverage, the premium would not exceed $1,000.

The 18 percent cap will result in refunds in some cases. Refunds began in October 2014. FEMA has a fact sheet on who is eligible for refunds.

The law also reinstates a practice known as grandfathering, meaning that properties re-categorized as being at a higher risk of flooding under FEMA’s revised maps would not be subject to large increases.

It also ends a provision in Biggert-Waters that removed a subsidy once a home was sold. People who purchased homes after Biggert-Waters became law will receive a refund. Many lawmakers in coastal states were concerned that the higher cost of flood insurance would have a negative impact on the real estate industry. The subsidy will now be covered by a $25 surcharge on homeowners flood policies and a $250 surcharge on insurance for nonresidential properties and secondary (vacation) homes.

According to data from FEMA, most current flood insurance policyholders (81 percent, or 4.5 million) pay rates based on the true risk of flood damage and so were not affected by Biggert-Waters or the subsequent rollback. Properties most affected by the rate hikes were in high-risk flood zones; were built before communities adopted their first Flood Insurance Rate Map; were second homes; or are second homes that have not been elevated. Others affected include businesses and those who live in homes that have been repeatedly flooded.

In June 2014 Florida enacted a law that encourages private companies to offer flood insurance. The legislation permits four types of flood coverage – a standard policy, which resembles National Flood Insurance Program coverage, and three enhanced policies. To encourage market growth, the law allows insurers to file their own rates until October 1, 2019. After that, rates will be subject to regulatory approval.

Flood Resilience

Disaster resilience refers to the ability of communities to prepare for, recover from, and adapt to adverse events.

Some of the best practices for community flood resilience recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency include: a comprehensive disaster recovery plan; green infrastructure techniques; land conservation in river corridors; restoring wetland vegetation; discouraging development in frequent flood areas; adapting flood resistant building codes; and coordinating with neighboring jurisdictions to implement a watershed-wide approach to storm-water management.

Urban planners and engineers around the world are developing innovative flood solutions such as amphibious housing, porous roads and sidewalks, and use of satellite data for more frequent flood alarms.

A 2017 National Institute of Building Sciences href=”http://www.nibs.org/page/mitigationsaves”>study found that for every dollar invested in riverine flood mitigation the return was $7 in cost savings.

Flood coverage in other countries

The system in the United States is unique in that for the most part the government underwrites the coverage and private insurers act as administrators bearing no actual flood risk.

In other developed countries, there are two basic methods of providing flood insurance. Under the first, the optional system, insurers extend their standard policy to include supplemental coverage for flood damage on payment of additional premium. The coverage tends to be expensive because only those most likely to be flooded, and therefore to file claims, purchase it, a situation known in the insurance industry as adverse selection. Among the countries with optional coverage are Germany and Italy.

The other method is “bundling.” Under this system, flood coverage is combined with coverage for other perils such as fire and windstorm, thus spreading the risk of flood losses across a large geographical area and greatly increasing the percentage of the population covered for flood damage. Countries that have adopted this method include the United Kingdom, Spain and Japan. In addition, in some countries such as France and Spain there are government compensation programs for major disasters, including flooding, that take effect when the cost of a disaster reaches a certain level.

In 2014 the United Kingdom launched Flood Re, a not-for-profit reinsurance organization to take on flood risks that primary insurers do not want. If an insurer calculates that the flood risk of a particular policy exceeds the flood premium, it will cede that risk to Flood Re. The insurer will pay the claim, then seek reimbursement from Flood Re. In all likelihood, Flood Re’s losses and expenses will exceed its premium. Additional funding will come from a levy raised from insurers by market share.

Spotlight on Flood Insurance

Courtesy of iii.org

Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States, causing billions in economic losses each year. According to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), 90 percent of all natural disasters in the United States involve flooding.

There is no coverage for flooding in standard homeowners or renters policies or in most commercial property insurance policies. Coverage is available in a separate policy from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from a few private insurers.

Recent developments

  • ?NFIP reauthorization: Congress must periodically renew the NFIP’s statutory authority to operate. Congress must reauthorize the NFIP by no later than November 30, 2018. In the unlikely event the NFIP’s authorization lapses, claims would still be paid but the NFIP would stop selling and renewing policies (more details here.)
  • Hurricane Harvey: Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm on August 25, 2017 and then turned into the single biggest rain event in U.S. history. Harvey’s floodwaters have caused multiple deaths and billions of dollars in property damage in Texas. Harvey made a second landfall in Louisiana on August 30th. As of January 24, 2018, $7.9 billion in closed claims have been paid out to Texas and Louisiana flood insurance policyholders, according to FEMA.
  • NFIP Reinsurance: In September 2016, the NFIP began a reinsurance program to put it in a better position to manage losses incurred from major events by transferring exposure to reinsurers. In January 2017, FEMA expanded its September 2016 placement and transferred $1.04 billion of the NFIP’s financial risk to 25 reinsurers in a program to be in force through January 1, 2018. The NFIP recovered the entire $1.04 billion from Hurricane Harvey’s floods. The NFIP returned to the private reinsurance market for 2018, paying $235 million for $1.46 billion coverage from a single flood event.
  • NFIP policies and premiums: The number of policies in force has been declining from the high point of 5.7 million in 2009 to 5.1 million in 2016. The 2016 level is about the same as in 2005, the year of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. NFIP earned premiums fell 3.0 percent to $3.33 billion in 2016 from $3.44 billion in 2015. In 2016, 59,332 claims were paid, compared with 25,798 claims in 2015 and 213,515 in 2005. The cost of claims was $3.70 billion in 2016, compared with $1.03 billion in 2015 and $17.8 billion in 2005.
  • Private flood insurance: Flood insurance had long been considered an untouchable risk by private insurers because they did not have a reliable way of measuring flood risk. In recent years insurers have become increasingly comfortable with using sophisticated models to underwrite insurance risk, and modeling firms are getting better at predicting flood risk. In 2017 private insurers reported their flood insurance premiums separately for the first time. FM Global had 54 percent of the market share (based on 2016 year-end premiums). And the top three companies held almost 81 percent of the market share. Direct premiums written for all companies totaled $376 million.
  • Low flood insurance take-up rates: A 2016 Insurance Information Institute survey found that 12 percent of American homeowners had a flood insurance policy, down from 14 percent in 2015. A McKinsey & Co. analysis of take up rates for flood insurance in areas most affected by the three Category 4 hurricanes that recently made landfall in the United States — Harvey, Irma and Maria — found that as many as 80 percent of Texas, 60 percent of Florida and 99 percent of Puerto Rico homeowners lacked flood insurance. Some of the reasons cited for lack of coverage is that it is too expensive, that homeowners are not aware they don’t have it; and that people underestimate the risk of flooding.

Background

The National Flood Insurance Program: Before Congress passed the National Flood Insurance Act in 1968, the national response to flood disasters had been to build dams, levees and other structures to hold back flood waters, a policy that may have encouraged building in flood zones.

The National Flood Insurance Act created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which was designed to stem the rising cost of taxpayer funded relief for flood victims and the increasing amount of damage caused by floods. The NFIP has three components: to provide flood insurance, floodplain management and flood hazard mapping. Federal flood insurance is only available where local governments have adopted adequate floodplain management regulations for their floodplain areas as set out by NFIP. More than 20,000 communities across the country participate in the program. NFIP coverage is also available outside of the high-hazard areas.

The law was amended in 1969 to provide coverage for mud flows and again in 1973. Until then, the purchase of flood insurance had been voluntary, with only about one million policies in force. The 1973 amendment put constraints on the use of federal funds in high-risk floodplains, a measure that was expected to lead to almost universal flood coverage in these zones. The law prohibits lenders that are federally regulated, supervised or insured by federal agencies from lending money on a property in a floodplain when a community is participating in the NFIP, unless the property is covered by flood insurance. The requirement for flood insurance also applies to buildings that receive financial assistance from federal agencies such as the Veterans Administration. However, because the initial mortgage on the property is frequently sold by the originating bank to another entity, enforcement of this law has been poor.

Legislation was enacted in 1994 to tighten enforcement. Regulators can now fine banks that consistently fail to enforce the law, and lenders can purchase flood insurance on behalf of homeowners who fail to buy it themselves, then bill them for coverage. The law includes a provision that denies federal disaster aid to people who have been flooded twice and have failed to purchase insurance after the first flood.

Buildings constructed in a floodplain after a community has met regulations must conform to elevation requirements. When repair, reconstruction or improvement to an older building equals or exceeds 50 percent of its market value, the structure must be updated to conform to current building codes. A 2007 NFIP study on the benefits of elevating buildings showed that due to significantly lower premiums, homeowners can usually recover the higher construction costs in less than five years for homes built in a “velocity” zone, where the structure is likely to be subject to wave damage, and in five to 15 years in a standard flood zone. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that buildings constructed to NFIP standards suffer about 80 percent less damage annually that those not built in compliance.

How it works: The NFIP is administered by FEMA, part of the Department of Homeland Security. Flood insurance was initially only available through insurance agents who dealt directly with the federal program. The direct policy program has been supplemented since 1983 with a private/public cooperative arrangement, known as “Write Your Own,” through which a pool of insurance companies issue policies and adjust flood claims on behalf of the federal government under their own names, charging the same premium as the direct program. Participating insurers receive an expense allowance for policies written and claims processed. The federal government retains responsibility for underwriting losses. Today, most policies are issued through the Write-Your-Own program but some non-federally backed coverage is available from the private market.

The NFIP is expected to be self-supporting in an average loss year, as reflected in past experience. In an extraordinary year, as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, losses can greatly exceed premiums, leaving the NFIP with a huge debt to the U.S. Treasury that it is unlikely to pay back. Hurricane Katrina losses and the percentage of flood damage that was uninsured led to calls for a revamping of the entire flood program.

Flood adjusters must be trained and certified to work on NFIP claims. NFIP general adjusters typically re-examine a sample of flood settlements. Insurers that fail to meet NFIP requirements must correct problems; otherwise they can be dropped from the program.

What’s in a typical policy: Flood insurance covers direct physical losses by flood and losses resulting from flood-related erosion caused by heavy or prolonged rain, coastal storm surge, snow melt, blocked storm drainage systems, levee dam failure or other similar causes. To be considered a flood, waters must cover at least two acres or affect two properties. Homes are covered for up to $250,000 on a replacement cost basis and the contents for up to $100,000 on an actual cash value basis. Replacement cost coverage pays to rebuild the structure as it was before the damage. Actual cash value is replacement cost minus the depreciation in value that occurs over time. (Excess flood insurance is available in all risk zones from some private insurers for NFIP policyholders who want additional coverage or where the homeowner’s community does not participate in the NFIP.) Coverage for the contents of basements is limited. Coverage limits for commercial property are $500,000 for the structure and another $500,000 for its contents.

To prevent people from putting off the purchase of coverage until waters are rising and flooding is inevitable, policyholders must wait 30 days before their policy takes effect. In 1993, 7,800 policies purchased at the last minute resulted in $48 million in claims against only $625,000 in premiums.

Flood Risk: As with other types of insurance, rates for flood insurance are based on the degree of risk. FEMA assesses flood risk for all the participating communities, resulting in the publication of thousands of individual flood rate maps. High-risk areas are known as Special Flood Hazard Areas or SFHAs.

Flood plain maps are redrawn periodically, removing some properties previously designated as high hazard and adding new ones. New technology enables flood mitigation programs to more accurately pinpoint areas vulnerable to flooding. As development in and around flood plains increases, run off patterns can change, causing flooding in areas that were formerly not considered high risk and vice versa.

People tend to underestimate the risk of flooding. The highest-risk areas (Zone A) have an annual flood risk of 1 percent and a 26 percent chance of flooding over the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage, compared with a 9 percent risk of fire over the same period. In addition, people who live in areas adjacent to high-risk zones may still be exposed to floods on occasion. Since the inception of the federal program, some 25 to 30 percent of all paid losses were for damage in areas not officially designated at the time of loss as SFHAs. NFIP coverage is available outside high-risk zones at a lower premium. to be continued…