Deteriorating infrastructure risks South African insurance crisis

South Africa’s deteriorating infrastructure threatens to accelerate the country’s looming insurance crisis caused by changing weather patterns and more severe natural disasters. 

This is feedback from Old Mutual Insure’s chief actuary, Ronald Richman, and the head of strategic accounts at Old Mutual Insure, Molebatsi Langa. 

Richman explained that while South Africa used to be a Catastrophic Event (CAT) free zone, it is experiencing a dramatic shift where these events become more common. 

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 phenomenon is not 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 also the case in South Africa.

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

He says structural changes in the reinsurance market have compounded the challenges.

“While many of the recent events have not been unprecedented, insurers have experienced them as particularly acute losses hitting their bottom lines and capital reserves.” 

“This is due to reinsurers taking significantly less risk from these types of events, leaving insurers unable to smooth out the losses over time,” said Richman.

This is compounded by unique risks in South Africa, such as political instability, load-shedding-related claims, and water shortages. 

Thus, local insurers are facing increasing pressure from rising reinsurance costs, forcing them to either hike prices to accommodate the elevated costs or reduce coverage. 

Langa explained that deteriorating infrastructure, particularly road infrastructure, is exacerbating this looming crisis. 

“Lately, we’re witnessing an increase in volatility and frequency in weather-related impact across the country, and so it is not isolated to a specific area,” said Langa.

She says that besides extreme weather, poorly maintained road infrastructure and congestion are also to blame for drivers experiencing safety issues on the roads. 

“The infrastructure is not able to handle the pressure on the roads stemming from an increased number of vehicles.”

The deterioration of infrastructure coupled with the increased frequency of severe weather events has created a perfect storm for road users, resulting in increased insurance claims. 


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