Insurance for a better world

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An Investigation into the Insurability of Pandemic Risk

- Life and health risks for pandemics similar to COVID-19 are insurable: they are generally non-systemic and modellable.

- Property & casualty (P&C) insurers, on the other hand, would have to collect business interruption policy premiums for 150 years to make up for projected global output losses in 2020 related to COVID-19.

- Insurers have an important role to play in protecting businesses and supporting economies, but it must be through participation in government-led initiatives. A Geneva Association report on ‘pandemic risk solutions’ is forthcoming later in 2020.

Amid widespread public discussion on how to address the deep financial implications of COVID-19, The Geneva Association, in collaboration with the University of St. Gallen, has issued a new evidence-based study on the risk-taking capacities of insurers related to pandemics, An Investigation into the Insurability of Pandemic Risk.

Among the report’s main findings are that, encouragingly, health and life risks for a pandemic resembling COVID-19 pose no fundamental insurability challenges. However, P&C insurers have nowhere near the capacity needed to shoulder projected global output losses of more than USD 4 trillion for 2020. By comparison, they collect USD 1.6 trillion in annual premiums, with just USD 30 billion for business interruption policies.

Jad Ariss, The Geneva Association’s Managing Director, said: “When COVID-19 hit, insurers moved quickly to provide relief to their customers – for example, through reduced premiums – safeguard their employees, and engage with governments. They are promptly paying all legitimate claims where pandemic risk is covered. But, as our research shows, the pandemic exposed a massive protection gap in the area of business continuity risk. We need to find sustainable solutions which harness the industry’s potential contributions while maintaining its solvency and viability.”

Kai-Uwe Schanz, The Geneva Association’s Head of Research & Foresight and the leading author of the report, said: “Insurers are providing meaningful support to people in the areas of health and life during COVID-19. But pandemic-induced business losses defy basic, widely-accepted criteria for insurability. Unlike risks like natural catastrophes, they occur on a global scale and are not diversifiable. Governments and insurers urgently need to figure out the right partnership modalities to prepare for – and respond to – extreme risks like pandemics. The Geneva Association’s research will support this endeavour.”

Following the publication of An Investigation into the Insurability of Pandemic Risk, The Geneva Association will publish Public- and Private-Sector Solutions to Pandemic Risk later in 2020.