Saturday, November 04, 2006

Mild Hurricane Season Brings Record Insurance Profits

The past few weeks have brought third quarter earnings reports from some of the major insurance carriers, and it's been interesting. As has been discussed here during our articles about the homeowners insurance situation here on Long Island and elsewhere along the coast, insurance carriers spent the last year and a half goint into a very conservative mode, cutting back on their coastal property risk (by cancelling policies in the case of Allstate, Encompass, Vesta Shelby and others) and raising prices.

What has happened is that this ended up being one of the mildest seasons in years for catastrophes such as hurricanes, and so we are seeing reports in the newspapers and financial publications that the companies are showing record profits. Sort of like what happened to the oil companies whe prices rose a few months back.

Unfortunately, and maybe rightly so, these record profits will, if the industry is not very careful, create a public relations nightmare. While they are canceling policies and restricting coverages, crying that they need to protect themselves from catastrophe risk, the idea that their shareholders are making tons of money does not seem to be in the best public interest.

In addition, they are not encouraged by tax laws to put this money away for possible future losses, as would seem to make sense. Unfortunately insurance carriers are not allowed to set aside money on a tax-deferred basis for future losses. And we all know that savings, whether it's your personal IRA or other retirement plan, or planning for catastrophes, is driven by the tax code.

One of the parts of the overall future plans to help insurance carriers and the public to deal with the problems in the homeowers and flood insurance areas will be the ability to put money away on a tax-deferred basis to cover possible future losses. This will apply to both insurance carriers and insurance customers.

For the carriers, they would then be able to take some of these record profits and put them away for the inevitable bad year. Unfortunately Congress could not get agreement on this quickly enough to help with the current profits, which would have made for a great opportunity to get started.

This sort of thing will help consumers as well. Right now in the Long Island homeowners insurance market, most people anywhere near the water (and we're talking 3-5 miles here, which includes most of the island) face a deductible on their home insurance policy of anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 or more. (Most deductibles are in the form of a percentage of the coverage on your house - if you don't understand your coverage, please ask your agent or visit our web site at for contact info and we will explain it to you at no cost or obligation) . One proposal currently being reviewed would allow people to set up tax-deferred savings accounts, similar to an IRA, that would be used to cover that deductible in the event a major storm struck.

As always, for more info please visit our site and/or contact us. Insurance is one of those areas that the public needs to educate itself, because your policy these days can come back to bite you at the time you need it most.