Library: Deloitte – Accelerating recovery from the pandemic while pivoting to thrive (2021 insurance outlook)
Executive summary :
The COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted insurer operations, prompting an overnight shift to remote work and virtual customer engagement while exposing gaps in digital capabilities and raising cybersecurity concerns.
Deloitte’s global outlook survey of insurance executives found expense management more strongly emphasised than before the outbreak. However, rather than cutting costs across the board, most insurers are likely delaying or scaling back pre-pandemic investments in part to free up capital for higher priority projects and talent that can help them adapt sooner rather than later.
The need to accelerate digitisation and enhance virtual operations turned headwinds into tailwinds at many insurers, driving faster action to deliver within the coming year what might originally have been three-to-five-year transformation plans.
Necessity might have been the mother of reinvention for many insurers during the pandemic, but the speed of change and much greater reliance on connectivity and remote access may also generate a host of new exposures for carriers and their policyholders, particularly in terms of cyber risk and business interruption.
Where do insurers stand as they enter 2021?
What a difference a year makes. Or even a few months. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout radically shifted consumer and employee needs, habits, and expectations, while compelling virtualisation of insurer operations practically overnight. But while most of those in the industry adapted quickly, insurers are still likely facing lingering obstacles to growth and profitability in the year ahead.
A global outlook survey by Deloitte’s Center for Financial Services found that many insurers know they still have their work cut out for them, even after spending most of 2020 adapting to the outbreak’s impact.
Forty-eight percent of 200 responding insurance executives agreed the pandemic “showed how unprepared our business was to weather this economic storm,” while only 25% strongly agreed their carrier had “a clear vision and action plan to maintain operational and financial resilience” during the crisis.
Pandemic losses hurt the property-casualty bottom line
The pandemic and other catastrophe losses hit many insurers hard in first-half 2020, especially those writing events cancellation and workers’ compensation.
To illustrate, North American property-casualty insurers saw first-half annualised GAAP operating return-on-average equity fall to 2.8% from 8.3% the year before, in large part due to US$6.8 billion in incurred losses related to COVID-19 and concurrent drops in premium volume for key lines.
Overall, the year-to-date total return of S&P’s Insurance Industry Index lagged the broader S&P 500 by 24.6% as of September 30, 2020.
Given the pandemic’s impact on employment, business activity, and trade, global non-life premiums are expected to be flat for full-year 2020, including a 1% decline in advanced markets.
However, despite these challenges, the industry may yet rebound to 3% growth in 2021, led by a potential 7% boost in emerging regions (figure 1).
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