Shock to the system: Insurance’s role in absorbing the impact of inflation
Heard in the news and felt in our pockets; since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation has, with ever-increasing regularity, become a fact of life. Back then, higher commodity costs, supply-chain bottlenecks, and rising energy prices lay at the heart of the matter. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022 only served to push the needle further.
Now, we are feeling the effects of an inflationary environment and periods of lower economic growth, illustrated most plainly by price shocks and the subsequent cost of living crisis. In such a landscape, insurers have a unique perspective and, indeed, responsibility in absorbing the impact for both consumers and the wider economy.
A safety net in difficult times
In plain sight, the high cost of living and decreased purchasing power of individuals has an obvious consequence of a lower demand for insurance – especially in areas where customers view the expense as non-essential.
However, this ignores the crucial role insurance plays in loss prevention and reduction, especially during times of high inflation. At a time of such economic volatility, when unexpected (and uninsured) losses have a larger financial sting than they ever have before, the safety net of insurance can be the difference-maker.
Take a household fire for example – it is now much more expensive to repair or rebuild damaged property due to the increased cost of building materials and services, and in many counties, wages haven’t increased at the same rate. What’s more, repairs can take longer due to labor shortages and disrupted supply chains. No coverage (or underinsurance, where the total value of insured assets has been wrongly estimated or hasn’t increased in line with inflation) can lead to a significant financial burden that can have a disastrous impact on people’s lives.
The flip-side of the coin: Sharpened risk awareness
Adapting to customer needs
7 management actions insurers can take to respond to inflation
There are a number of actions insurers can take to respond to the new macroeconomic environment and soften the blow to customers:
1) Product innovation: Insurers can offer products and solutions that address some of the macroeconomic risks customers are facing. For example, more affordable low-cost products with an increased focus on risk and loss prevention, as well as usage-based propositions. A good example of the latter is telematics technology.
2) Indexation: Incorporating an indexation feature in insurance policies ensures that the policy benefits keep up with the rising costs of living and inflation.
3) Review of indemnity periods: At times of shock, a small business might not fully understand how long it will take to return to full operations. Drawing customer attention to this and working together to set realistic indemnity periods is crucial.
4) Investment in technology and digitalization: Technology can help insurance companies automate various processes and streamline their operations, reducing costs and increasing efficiency. For example, online marketing and distribution, digital customer self-service, and claims automation.
5) Communication with customers: Educating customers on the potential impact of inflation on their coverage and the risks of underinsurance, as well as providing regular updates on any adjustments to products or pricing to account for inflation are key.
6) Strategic partnerships: Insurers can combat inflation by partnering with other organizations, such as healthcare providers or technology companies, to develop new products and services that are more efficient and cost-effective.
7) Diversification of investments: Preventative asset allocation that invests in a range of different asset classes, such as equities, real estate and commodities can help insurers to spread their risk and generate returns that are not undermined by inflation. Insurers can also invest in inflation-linked bonds, building additional protection through investment returns that are directly linked to inflation.
“We can’t cover all eventualities, but we can provide a better degree of predictability by maintaining standards in our profession, providing sterling and reliable advice, enabling products that respond to the uncertainty of our time, and communicating with our broker partners,” says Hobbs.
Allianz: Securing the future in times of inflation
At Allianz, the response to inflation is already visible across our global business lines. “Most Allianz operating entities have always applied indexation to the customers’ sum insured where relevant, such as Household or Commercial property values or Motor policies with an agreed value,” says Darren Robb, Head of Underwriting and Portfolio Management within Global Property and Casualty. “In markets where this was not the case, many actions have been taken in the last 12 months: inflation clauses have been added to policies, customers have been contacted directly to inform them of the need to update their sum insured data, and where possible, external inflation benchmarks have been automatically applied to sum insured. A good example of customer communication in action is the ‘Are you adequately insured?’ marketing campaign which ran in Malaysia from July to October 2022, encouraging customers to use the online sum-insured calculator and adopt an agreed value clause in home insurance policies.”
At Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS), the team works with clients and brokers in the run up to renewals to update asset values and ensure clients have appropriate cover that is fit for purpose, understood, and appropriately priced and financially monitored in our portfolio. “Nobody wants a dispute about underinsurance after the loss. It’s much better for all parties to get the right value and charge the right premium in the first place,” says Philipp Cremer, Global Head of Claims Performance & Liaison at AGCS.
Also on the investment side, our teams have their fingers permanently on the pulse, building in protection for our business and customers where possible. In the investment portfolio, Allianz further increased its already sizable allocation to inflation-linked bonds over the past year. This provides additional protection should inflation turn out to be more persistent than markets currently anticipate.
** As of June 30, 2023.
*** As reported – not adjusted to reflect the application of IFRS 9 and IFRS 17.