South Africans set to pay more for insurance

South Africans are set to pay more for insurance in the coming years as weather-related claims spike, increasing the reinsurance costs for insurers who will pass the increases on. 

This is feedback from the chief actuary at Old Mutual Insure, Ronald Richman, who said that local insurers are bracing for the impacts of increased claims from weather-related events.

“While the country used to be a Catastrophic Event (CAT) free zone, the scale and magnitude at which disasters have taken place recently means we are now experiencing a dramatic shift,” said Richman.

In 2023, Old Mutual Insure recorded ten weather-related claims events, three of which were significant, amounting to millions of rands. 

These were the Western Cape storms in June and then again on Heritage Day weekend in September, as well as the Gauteng and Mpumalanga hailstorms in November 2023.

This is not a phenomenon unique to South Africa. Globally, severe weather is impacting the sustainability of the insurance industry in new and unexpected ways.

Whereas large single events, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, have often driven record CAT losses in previous years, data from 2023 suggests that smaller events were the main issue during that year. 

This was likewise the case in the South African environment.

“Given this picture, it is not far-fetched to believe that climate change has the potential to destabilise the global insurance industry, with ripple effects for South Africa,” said Richman.

“This structural shift in the reinsurance market has far-reaching implications, demanding a fundamental re-evaluation of how the market approaches risk and pricing,” said Richman. 

He emphasised that contrary to popular belief, profit margins in the traditional lines of business in the non-life insurance industry are slim. 

“This, together with the convergence of inflationary pressures and losses from CAT events, means that we are in a pressure pot, ready to bubble over.”

He said that for insurance to be sustainable, the right price must be charged for coverage reflecting the true risk cost in the current volatile climate.

“Otherwise, you jeopardise the trust placed in the insurance system to be there when things fall apart,” said Richman. 

“To fund the level of coverage policyholders have previously enjoyed, price increases will be necessary over time to account for these losses and needs to be done in a manner that reflects the true risk posed by each policy.”

He added that it is not all bad news, as sophisticated modelling techniques and innovative solutions are being explored to better quantify the rising climate risks. 

Earlier in 2024, Old Mutual Insure announced an innovative new approach to capturing climate change data and aligning this with the insurance policy experience to help close the gap between predicting and pricing weather-related risks. 

It is the first project of its kind in SA to overlay climate data with claims data. 

“Mitigation efforts are essential. Education is key, as consumers must understand the importance of risk management and asset protection against climate change,” said Richman. 

In addition, public-private partnerships can help address underinsurance in the local market and spread risk more equitably. 

Currently, there isn’t a structure for this type of solution, unlike in other parts of the world where it has been introduced successfully.

“The insurance industry in South Africa has the breadth and depth of knowledge and skill, coupled with a desire to help and be a solution to the problem. Ultimately, this would ease the burden of these events on all stakeholders.”


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