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Europe’s windstorm season is upon us. As always, the risk is particularly uncertain, and with Solvency II due smack in the middle of the season, there is greater imperative to really understand the uncertainty surrounding the peril—and manage windstorm risk actively. Business can benefit, too: new modeling tools to explore uncertainty could help (re)insurers to better assess how much risk they can assume, without loading their solvency capital.

Spikes and Lulls

The variability of European windstorm seasons can be seen in the record of the past few years. 2014-15 was quiet until storms Mike and Niklas hit Germany in March 2015, right at the end of the season. Though insured losses were moderate[1], had their tracks been different, losses could have been so much more severe.

In contrast, 2013-14 was busy. The intense rainfall brought by some storms resulted in significant inland flooding, though wind losses overall were moderate, since most storms matured before hitting the UK. The exceptions were Christian (known as St Jude in Britain) and Xaver, both of which dealt large wind losses in the UK. These two storms were outliers during a general lull of European windstorm activity that has lasted about 20 years.

During this quieter period of activity, the average annual European windstorm loss has fallen by roughly 35% in Western Europe, but it is not safe to presume a “new normal” is upon us. Spiky losses like Niklas could occur any year, and maybe in clusters, so it is no time for complacency.

Under Pressure

The unpredictable nature of European windstorm activity clashes with the demands of Solvency II, putting increased pressure on (re)insurance companies to get to grips with model uncertainties. Under the new regime, they must validate modeled losses using historical loss data. Unfortunately, however, companies’ claims records rarely reach back more than twenty years. That is simply too little loss information to validate a European windstorm model, especially given the recent lull, which has left the industry with scant recent claims data. That exacerbates the challenge for companies building their own view based only upon their own claims.

In March we released an updated RMS Europe Windstorm model that reflects both recent and historic wind history. The model includes the most up-to-date long-term historical wind record, going back 50 years, and incorporates improved spatial correlation of hazard across countries together with a enhanced vulnerability regionalization, which is crucial for risk carriers with regional or pan-European portfolios. For Solvency II validation, it also includes an additional view based on storm activity in the past 25 years. Pleasingly, we’re hearing from our clients that the updated model is proving successful for Solvency II validation as well as risk selection and pricing, allowing informed growth in an uncertain market.

Making Sense of Clustering

Windstorm clustering—the tendency for cyclones to arrive one after another, like taxis—is another complication when dealing with Solvency II. It adds to the uncertainties surrounding capital allocations for catastrophic events, especially due to the current lack of detailed understanding of the phenomena and the limited amount of available data. To chip away at the uncertainty, we have been leading industry discussion on European windstorm clustering risk, collecting new observational datasets, and developing new modeling methods. We plan to present a new view on clustering, backed by scientific publications, in 2016. These new insights will inform a forthcoming RMS clustered view, but will be still offered at this stage as an additional view in the model, rather than becoming our reference view of risk. We will continue to research clustering uncertainty, which may lead us to revise our position, should a solid validation of a particular view of risk be achieved.

Ongoing Learning

The scientific community is still learning what drives an active European storm season. Some patterns and correlations are now better understood, but even with powerful analytics and the most complete datasets possible, we still cannot yet forecast season activity. However, our recent model update allows (re)insurers to maintain an up-to-date view, and to gain a deeper comprehension of the variability and uncertainty of managing this challenging peril. That knowledge is key not only to meeting the requirements of Solvency II, but also to increasing risk portfolios without attracting the need for additional capital.

[1] Currently estimated by PERILS at 895m Euro, which aligns with the RMS loss estimate in April 2015

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Are (Re)insurers Really Able To Plan For That Rainy Day?

Many (re)insurers may be taken aback by the level of claims arising from floods in the French Riviera on October 3, 2015. The reason? A large proportion of the affected homes and businesses they insure in the area are nowhere near a river or floodplain, so many models failed to identify the possibility of their inundation by rainfall and flash floods. Effective flood modeling must begin with precipitation (rain/snowfall), since river-gauge-based modeling of inland flood risk lacks the ability to cope with extreme peaks of precipitation intensity. Further, a credible flood model must incorporate risk factors as well as the hazard: the nature of the ground, such as its saturation level due to antecedent conditions, and the extent of flood defenses. Failing to provide such critical factor can cause risk to be dramatically miscalculated. A not so sunny Côte d’Azur This was clearly apparent to the RMS event reconnaissance team who visited the affected areas of southern France immediately after the floods. “High-water marks for fluvial flooding from the rivers Brague and Riou de l’Argentiere were at levels over two meters, but flash floodwaters reached heights in excess of one meter in areas well away from the rivers and their floodplains,” reported the team. This caused significant damage to many more ground-floor properties than would have been expected, including structural damage to foundations and scouring caused by fast-floating debris. Damage to vehicles parked in underground carparks was extensive, as many filled with rainwater. Vehicles struck by more than 0.5 meters of water were written off, all as a result of an event that was not modeled by many insurers. The Nice floods show clearly how European flood modeling must be taken to a new level. It is essential that modelers capture the entire temporal precipitation process that leads to floods. Antecedent conditions—primarily the capacity of the soil to absorb water must be considered, since a little additional rainfall may trigger saturation, causing “saturation excess overland flow” (or runoff). This in turn can lead to losses such as those assessed by our event reconnaissance team in Nice. Our modeling team believes that to achieve this new level of understanding, models must be based on continuous hydrological simulations, with a fine time-step discretization; the models must simulate the intensity of rainfall over time and place, at a high level of granularity. We’ve been able to see that models that are not based on continuous precipitation modeling could miss up to 50% of losses that would occur off flood plains, leading to serious underestimation of technical pricing for primary and reinsurance contracts. What’s in a model? When building a flood model, starting from precipitation is fundamental to the reproduction, and therefore the modeling, of realistic spatial correlation patterns between river basins, cities, and other areas of concentrated risks, which are driven by positive relationships between precipitation fields. Such modeling of rainfall may also identify the potential for damage from fluvial events. But credible defenses must also be included in the model. The small, poorly defended river Brague burst its banks due to rainfall, demolishing small structures in the town of Biot. Only a rainfall-based model that considers established defenses can capture this type of damage. Simulated precipitation forms the foundation of RMS inland flood models, which enables representation of both fluvial and pluvial flood risk. Since flood losses are often driven by events outside major river flood plains, such an approach, coupled with an advanced defense model, is the only way to garner a satisfactory view of risk. Visits by our event reconnaissance teams further allow RMS to integrate the latest flood data into models, for example as point validation for hazard and vulnerability. Sluggish growth in European insurance markets presents a challenge for many (re)insurers. Broad underwriting of flood risk presents an opportunity, but demands appropriate modeling solutions. RMS flood products provide just that, by ensuring that the potential for significant loss is well understood, and managed appropriately.…

Laurent Marescot
Laurent Marescot
Senior Director, Market and Product Specialists at RMS

Laurent is a catastrophe risk management expert at RMS, advising some of the largest companies in the (re)insurance industry how to best manage their nat cat, agriculture, cyber and terrorism risks. He also interacts as an expert for governmental and regulatory authorities. Laurent initially joined RMS in 2008 as part of the account management team, servicing the European (re)insurance and ILS market. He then headed the model product management group for all EMEA and APAC climatic/weather risk perils, such as windstorm, typhoon, severe convective storm and flood, as well as RMS global agricultural risk.

Prior to RMS, Laurent worked 3 years at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) as a Research Associate and Lecturer, managing multidisciplinary research projects. Laurent still lectures regularly on catastrophe modeling and insurance risk quantification at universities and gives seminars and invited talks in international industry conferences. Laurent co-authored numerous industry publications, peer-reviewed scientific articles and proceeding papers. He holds an MSc in Geology from the University of Lausanne and a PhD in Geophysics from the University of Lausanne and the University of Nantes.

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