Allow me to begin, in my usual quiet and reserved way, with an observation. The vast majority of general insurers are clueless amateurs when it comes to resolving weather-related claims – and we're all paying for the consequences with sloppy claims procedures and higher premiums.
My apologies to the small minority of insurers who do have an appropriate weather risk management structure in place. Unfortunately, my experience leads me to believe that claims offices up and down the land are not even out of first gear when it comes to meteorological experience, know-how and a robust weather claims strategy.
Let me put things into perspective. Here at British Weather Services, we deal with hundreds of weather claim cases every month, out of what must amount to tens and thousands of country-wide incidents. Understanding that, for the most part, we are only offering the raw weather data to the enquirer over the telephone, it is our opinion that in more than 50% of cases, there is a question mark over the legitimacy of the claim. Closer examination reveals that over 30% of claims are, in one way or another, mishandled. The wrong conclusion is often reached.
However, weather claims and the mitigation of weather claims are not simply about correct procedure. In order to achieve what I would call a proactive and informed weather risk management policy, there are several pertinent points to consider. Allow me to lay the foundations.
Like it or not, the weather is changing and there's not an awful lot we can physically do about it. Average air temperatures have risenmore than 1ÞC over the past 100 years. Given that the global rise since the last Ice Age (20,000 years ago) has been just over 5ÞC, the recent increase is phenomenal.
So what are the consequences? With more heat in the atmosphere, we are almost certainly looking at larger scale rainfall events. Increased green-field building will result in bigger floods with a shorter return period. In fact, rising sea levels are probably the direst consequence of the air temperature rise. The full impact may not be felt for several decades, but it only takes one exceptional North Sea storm to discover exactly where we stand. Nevertheless, there appears to be scant evidence that increasing temperatures have led to higher velocity winds.
The blind leading the blind
Loss adjusters have traditionally bridged the gap between insurers and meteorological information. There are some very good, informed loss adjusters out there. Unfortunately, there are also many who are simply inexperienced and frankly not at the races when it comes to adjudicating on meteorological matters.
Many loss adjusting firms do take weather data – from ourselves and from other sources. But weather data is one thing and doing the right thing with it is another. Ask three loss adjusters to cast an eye at the same claim verification and you'll invariably end up with three completely different answers.
When is a storm a storm? Well, much depends upon the precise policy wording of an insurance document – or upon the ombudsman's view of disputed cases. What is written in policy documents is often misleading, more often than not bears no relation to a true weather claim situation, and is frequently written in language dating from Noah's Ark. My experience leads me to believe that insurers let themselves down at the very first fence. Policy wording should be simple, meaningful and honestly reflective of UK weather experiences.
Forewarned is forearmed
Weather warnings are a necessary part of the claim mitigation process. We can't stop the weather doing its worst, but preventative measures can help stem the losses. Bums on seats in claims offices at least shows willingness. But the real savings come in getting the message across to policyholders.
OK, a storm is expected, so what can you do? Well, many claims are the result of things flying around in the wind. So advising that cars be garaged and garden equipment stowed away is obvious (but frequently overlooked) advice. I'm not suggesting that insurers ring around all their insured to advise each one directly. Nevertheless, there are ways and means of getting a timely message to intended recipients. It's just a matter of imagination and a little outlay – which can be more than recouped in good PR and saved claims.
Claims verifications may be the biggest area of concern, since it is where most mistakes are made. All elements of the weather have the potential to damage infrastructure – and equally, each has the capacity to lead claims investigators up the garden path. There is a knack to understanding the weather and its impact. It is not simply a case of locating the nearest weather station to find out if winds have exceeded a certain level.
I could write a book about the various swings and roundabouts that, justifiably, must be taken into consideration when investigating weather-related claims. The obvious cases are exactly that – obvious. But those cases add up to less than 10% of annual weather losses.
The rest is a minefield. It takes more than a brief look at the Beaufort wind-scale to justify the majority of claims. If I had the space to go through each and every claim scenario and what every claims office should be arming themselves with, I would. Unfortunately, I do not.
You do have a number of options in educating yourself, though. You can either come to one of my claim mitigation seminars (next one: June 29 – Beaconsfield), or read an awful lot of sensible, relevant, but generally very boring meteorological literature. The other option is to do nothing, of course, and that is where we began.